Traveling to North Korea is a big enough choice in itself, then of course you have to decide which company to go with. There are a lot of different (Western) companies offering various tour packages to North Korea.
Now for obvious reasons we consider Young Pioneer Tours to be the best company! Not only are we the cheapest, but we have consistently been a driving force of innovation for tourism into North Korea. It is worth noting that our main rivals have dropped their prices to match us (rather than the other way around). Other things like Christmas and New Year’s tours to North Korea St Patrick’s Day pub crawl, and watching international football were driven by us.
Another kind of myth is that “all companies use a North Korean fixer, so all tours are basically the same”. This is partly true in that all foreign companies must have a local partner, but in fact there are lots of local partners to choose from.
Here’s a few…
Korean International Travel Company (KITC)
The main travel agency from North Korea, and the government monolith fairly comparable to InTourist from the former Soviet Union, or pre-open-door CITS (China International Travel Service) from the People’s Republic of China. They have the biggest fleet of vehicles, and by far the best guides.
It is for this reason that we use KITC as a local travel partner in North Korea.
Korean International Taekwondo Travel Company (KITTC)
One of the newer travel agencies that spring from North Korea, being founded in 2012. One of the better local agencies with their expertise being in Taekwondo and other sporting events in North Korea.
Korean International Youth & Childrens Travel Company (KIYCTC)
The second major travel agency in North Korea, having being formed in 1985. Formerly focussed on youth and children’s travel to North Korea, they now cover all ages. They mainly focus on Chinese groups or Western agencies that do not bother sending a Western guide.
There are 3 or 4 other agencies from the DPRK, but you are unlikely to encounter them. In our opinion, to get the best tour experience in North Korea, use a company that has KITC as their local agent.
Another question when choosing which travel agent to visit North Korea with that we think is important is the guides. Most companies do not send a Western guide into North Korea, and some send freelance Chinese guides. So why is this important?
North Korean guides are amazing, but they are still human, and in some respects will do anything for a quiet life. They tend to be relatively inflexible, and a tour without a Western guide will not be “bad”, it just won’t be amazing. Western guides that accompany groups into North Korea know the boundaries, and can open doors that would otherwise remain closed. From a personal point of view we could refrain from sending a guide and make more money (as some companies do), but it would not be delivering the same product.
Young Pioneer Tours are the only company to send a foreign guide no matter what the numbers are.
As well as sending a guide, the quality of the guide is also important. Many of the companies that run tours exclusively from Dandong send a freelance Chinese guide. Now whilst these guys are quite adequate, they are not up to the standard of guides that work full time for their companies.
In summary: obviously we feel we are the best (check out our Trip Advisor), but regardless of whether you choose us or others, check who the company uses in North Korea, if they offer the best price, and if they send a guide or merely dump you in Dandong.
See you in North Korea, hopefully…