The Koryo Tours Blog

Setting the Stage: North Korea Photography Exhibition

Eddo Hartmann’s photo series Setting the Stage: Pyongyang, North Korea is currently being exhibited at the Huis Marseille, Amsterdam. The show closes this Sunday, June 7th so if you are in the area don’t miss this opportunity to see these images TIME magazine called “a considered, slow-burning meditation — one fascinated with public space.”

All images @Eddo Hartmann/ Koryo Studio

Setting The Stage_05 Setting The Stage_11 Setting The Stage_06 Setting The Stage_01 Setting The Stage_07 Setting The Stage_10

The Architecture of North Korea

architecture tour 2013

Our Exclusive Architecture Tour: Now Open for Booking!

In October 2014 we received news from Pyongyang that North Korea was closing to international tourism immediately, and for the foreseeable future. The first of our tours that this affected was our bespoke and exclusive Architecture Tour. Most of the tourists booked to travel were already in China and on the eve of their proposed departure spent an afternoon in the Koryo Tours office enjoying a presentation on Soviet and North Korean architecture, before organising alternative travel to countries not closed for the threat of the Ebola virus.

This July our third Architecture Tour of North Korea, is finally going ahead!

Architecture Tour Logo - Blue print 

DATE: July 25th – August 1st (7 nights)
TOUR ITINERARY: 2015 Architecture Tour
The Unique and Monumental Architecture of North Korea
Tour Highlights
 - Visit to the new residential district around Mansudae Street, with a visit to the interior of a Pyongyang apartment.
 - Ride the full Pyongyang Metro system and visit all stations, followed by a visit to the brutalist Pyongyang Metro Museum.
 - A detailed tour of the interior of the April 25 House of Culture, built in 1975 and one of the best examples of 1970s socialist monumentality in the city.
 - Moranbong Theatre, Pyongyang’s first socialist theatre, featuring classic post-war neoclassical design, built in 1946.
 - Exterior and interior tour of Pyongyang Grand Theatre, one of Pyongyang’s landmark buildings, built in 1960 in a mixture of modernist and traditional styles.
 - Mangyongdae Revolutionary School, built in a grandiose neoclassical style in 1946 for orphans of heroes who had perished in the anti-Japanese struggle.
 - Pyongyang Architecture Institute, featuring fascinating paintings, plans and photographs which tell the story of Pyongyang’s post-war reconstruction.

About Architecture in the DPRK (North Korea)

The architecture of Pyongyang is one of the DPRK’s highlights. In any socialist regime, architecture plays a key part in the process of building up a new social and political environment following revolutionary events. The total destruction of Pyongyang during the Korean War gave Korean architects and construction workers a clean slate from which to build a perfect socialist capital anew, and they seized upon that opportunity with relish. We will have access to many buildings not usually open to tourist groups, and will listen to lectures from Korean architects and interior designers at many of the locations we visit, learning a tremendous amount about both the functions and the history of Pyongyang’s remarkable buildings. This will be both an architectural and a historical journey through North Korea’s socialist development like no other. This special Architecture Tour will be led by Soviet cultural historian Dr. Daniel Levitsky. Tour:

Koryo Tours commissioned North Korean architects to create these visions of future for the 2014 Venice Architectural Biennale – helping the Korea pavilion win the Golden Lion!

Online Magazine on Architecture – “Architecture for the Masses” [FREE]
Architecture for the Massesw - online magazine (free)
click to view
Do you know the reason some of the buildings in Pyongyang were built in the style they were? Is this style similar to that of Soviet buildings? What is/was the primary tool for transmitting the revolutionary message for the Korean people and foreign visitors?
Are you interested in knowing more about the architecture of the North Korean cities of Pyongyang and Kaesong? Don’t miss out on our Architecture Tour 2015, which features some of Pyongyang’s most important architectural highlights
This magazine describes briefly what the tour includes. If you want to learn about the DPRK’s architecture and urban history, why not visit the country in person, get a real feel for how Pyongyang was constructed, and take part in the adventure of a lifetime?
Full itinerary can be found here:


North Korea open to Tourists Man


North Korea (DPRK) officially reopened to tourists

Temporary suspension of tours now lifted: effective immediately

The Pyongyang Marathon is now OPEN to tourists

Koryo Tours will be taking its first tour group of 2015 to Pyongyang on Sat 14 March. 


IT’S OFFICIAL! North Korea’s borders have been reopened to international tourists with immediate effect. After being contacted earlier this week with news that there was some movement in the four-month-long border closure, our partners in Pyongyang have now confirmed that tourism to the DPRK will resume as normal this month.

With the North Korean border now open once more, Koryo Tours is pleased to have applied for its first trip to the country this year with a tour group now scheduled to arrive in Pyongyang on Saturday 14 March.

Koryo Tours received confirmation today that foreign amateurs have once more been invited to take part in this year’s Pyongyang Marathon. 

Following the reopening of North Korea’s borders this week, and the subsequent resumption of tourism to the country, our contacts in North Korea called us this morning to say that — after much petitioning on our part — the decision to bar foreign amateurs from this year’s Pyongyang Marathon has also now been reversed.

We will now be accepting bookings for this event up until March 16Everyone running with us will be automatically entered into the Koryo Cup — an amateur competition with prizes on offer for the top three finishers — and have a donation made on their behalf to our humanitarian project delivering food aid to North Korean orphanages.

British-run, Beijing-based Koryo Tours is the world’s leading travel specialist to North Korea, and has been running trips to the DPRK since 1993, taking around 2,500 Western tourists each year.

In response to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced on 24 October 2014 that no tourists would be allowed to enter North Korea until further notice.

While that decision has now been reversed, and tourism is to resume in North Korea once more, we are sorry to say that some restrictions remain on those travelling from Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Senegal or Sierra Leone, and that we are still unable to take anyone who is from, or who has recently visited, those countries.

Anyone interested in being one of the first tourists to visit North Korea in 2015 can join our next available tour, which departs Beijing on 4 April.

All our other tours for 2015 can be seen here.

Apply for your place on a tour of North Korea here.

Nick Bonner, co-founder and director of Koryo Tours, says

“We’re pleased to announce that tourism to North Korea has now fully resumed after more than four months of uncertainty. Koryo Tours this morning received official written confirmation that the borders have been reopened to tourists. Our partners in North Korea have since called to inform us that — after much petitioning on our part — the decision to bar foreign amateurs from the Pyongyang Marathon has also now been reversed, and any of our tourists visiting North Korea’s capital during this time will now be able to participate in the race. We are currently in the process of rebooking any of the 450 people who had previously signed up and would still like to participate, and will also be accepting new bookings for the marathon until 16 March.


“Koryo Tours is the only travel company working in North Korea that practices responsible tourism, and we are absolutely committed to working on cultural engagement projects — including via film, sport and art — as well as providing humanitarian aid where we can. Indeed, as part of our ongoing charity efforts, for every person who runs the Pyongyang Marathon with us, we will be able to donate 365 extra meals to our pre-existing project sending nutritional food packages to North Korean orphanages.


“Koryo Tours takes around 2,500 people a year to North Korea. In our 22 years of tourism we have opened up a number of new destinations within the country and helped develop thousands upon thousands of positive interactions between North Koreans and Westerners. The fact that the restrictions of the last four months have now been lifted is not just good news for those interested in visiting one of the world’s most mysterious countries, but also in terms of the work that can now continue in breaking down the barriers and misunderstanding that still exist, and resuming the positive engagement projects that we are able to operate in tandem with tourism to North Korea.”


In 2015, Koryo Tours continues its 22-year history of innovating and opening new opportunities in North Korea for curious visitors.



Highlights for visitors in the year ahead include:


70th Anniversary of Liberation (15 August) >> This major holiday will take place on August 15. Big celebrations, dances and parades are all expected; be there on this anniversary of the ending of the Japanese occupation for an experience like no other.


The Mount Paekdu Half Marathon (21 August) >> Koryo Tours is exclusively hosting the first ever half-marathon to be held in the Mt Paekdu area in the north-east of the DPRK.


70th Anniversary of Party Foundation (10 October) >> The Workers’ Party of Korea has ruled the DPRK since 10 Oct 1945. Its founding anniversary is another major holiday with mass events, and more of North Korea’s signature celebrations expected to take place.


Kimchi Tours >> Koryo’s entry-level division is running four tours throughout 2015 for those looking for a more frugally minded trip taking in North Korea’s tourism highlights.


The full list of Koryo’s 2015 group tours — as well as the options for organising a bespoke trip at dates of your choosing (with a specially created itinerary planned for you by Koryo’s specialists) — can be found here.


Email the team at Koryo Tours ( for a consultation and to receive expert answers to any questions you may have about travel to and within North Korea.

Pyongyang Marathon Closed to Foreign Runners

We are sorry to announce that our North Korean partners contacted us this morning with news that the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon has — as of today — been closed to amateur and professional foreign runners. We were told that this is due to the ongoing precautions that the country has put in place in relation to fears held there over the Ebola virus.


It is still unclear when the borders will be reopened, but we were also advised not to cancel our March tours, and to expect an update on the border situation at the end of February. If you are booked on any of our tours in March or April then please do not hesitate to get in touch.


We have two further running events scheduled for 2015 — a 10K in Pyongyang in June, which will be held in support of our ongoing charity project providing food aid to several orphanages in North Korea, as well as a half-marathon in the Mount Paekdu area in August. Please email for more.


Mass Games and Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium

In 2014 we were informed that the spectacular Mass Games events, held in the May Day stadium regularly since 2002, would not be taking place. The first Mass Games were held in North Korea in 1946, although the Mass Gymnastics Production Company was not formed until 1971. The May Day stadium itself was closed for renovation in 2014 and is set to re-open this year – scroll down for pictures of the new interior.

At Koryo we have watched all sorts of activities in the May Day stadium since we started our tours in 1993. The stadium was built in 1980 with a 150,000 capacity which is currently a world record – though physically it’s not the biggest stadium as is proved when you find yourself sitting in rather close quarters to your neighbour!

North Korean Linocut showing the Construction of the May Day Stadium

Mass Games originally were performed in the 100,000 seat Kim Il Sung stadium built in 1982 and it was only when Arirang started that the May Day Stadium was seen as the permanent venue for the Mass Games. See a video about the history and philosophy behind the Mass Games here.

For our documentary film The Game of Their Lives (2002) we filmed football teams who were still playing football matches in the stadium (they were later moved to Kim Il Sung stadium for their matches) and of course the  gymnast Pak Hyon Sun the star of A State of Mind (2004). We filmed  her practice outside the May Day stadium and watched her perform there in 2008.


Filming footballers for the documentary The Game of Their Lives

Filming footballers for the documentary The Game of Their Lives


We have had amazing access to the Stadium for filming and of course the preparations for the ‘largest picture in the world’ made up of around 20,000 school kids. The backdrop is painted onto small pieces of card which is then transformed into a page on the books the kids use to depict each scene.

Mass Games

Mass Games

Having spent almost every month since 1993 observing the May Day Stadium from almost new to tired to renovated we  are looking forward to getting you back in there!


The newly renovated May Day Stadium - complete with running track and football pitch.

The newly renovated May Day Stadium – complete with running track and football pitch.



Our Top Ten Moments in 2014!

2014 has been a truly exceptional year for us at Koryo Tours. 
From skiing, cycling and camping above the 38th parallel to riding reindeer and herding horses in some of Asia’s least visited locales, our 21st year has been our best yet – and it’s all thanks to you! 
Read on for our 2014 top ten – and we look forward to even more adventures in the New Year!



In May 2014 we took an intrepid group of tourists for our first ever train tour – something we have been keen to do since we first started travelling to DPRK, and which we have been pushing for since Koryo founder, Nick Bonner, travelled to Mount Paekdu by train while shooting award winning documentary, A State of Mind. 


Take a look at some of the footage we captured on our epic journey from Pyongyang to Chongjin, via Wonsan and Hamhung, and then check out our 2015 train tour, right here.


North Korea by Rail
North Korea by Rail



Utopian Tours

Building on decades of cultural exchange with North Korean artists, Nick Bonner commissioned paintings depicting visions of the future of architecture in North Korea, for the Korea Pavilion at the Venice Architectural Biennale – helping the pavilion to win the Golden Lion.


“We asked them to go crazy, to see what they would come up with given absolutely no constraints.” 


Read more here





2014 saw us offering trolley bus rides on all Pyongyang city tours – check out the video below to catch a glimpse of what it’s like to rumble around Pyongyang in a vintage trolley bus! 



Also this year we were allowed to do a preview tour of the entire Pyongyang Metro system – our 2015 public transport and architecture tours will also be allowed to see these so-called ‘secret’ stations.


Go Pro North Korean Tram and Trolleybus Rides
Go Pro North Korean Tram and Trolleybus Rides





At Koryo Tours, we have always been ­firm believers in responsible tourism, every year we facilitate humanitarian projects which benefi­t the people of North Korea. We never take in money, only goods that we ensure are delivered to where they are needed.


At the start of 2014 we launched an appeal to raise money to rebuild the school building attached to the Wonsan Primary School Orphanage. We’re pleased to say that thanks to the generosity of our tourists and some invaluable support from the British Embassy in Pyongyang, the project was completed in July 2014.


Wonsan Primary School Orphanage BEFORE

Wonsan Primary School Orphanage AFTER

Wonsan Primary School Orphanage AFTER




In 2015 Koryo are working to raise a total of €40,000 to deliver 8 containers of nutritional 

food packets to 8 orphanages. 

These specially formulated meals are needed to ensure that the orphans receive all the necessary vitamins and minerals for heathy growth. Read more here.




In January 2014 after no little controversy in the global press, North Korea’s first ski resort opened up at Masik Pass – we were among the first to test out the slopes, and brought over a ski instructor to help our guides master their newly required ski skills!

In winter, our tours have an optional Masik Pass Ski Extension if you fancy hitting the slopes of North Korea – or staying in one of DPRK’s fanciest hotels!

North Koreans Learning to Ski
North Koreans Learning to Ski


Koryo Tours has a long standing relationship with cinema in North Korea and the Pyongyang International Film Festival – and this year was no exception! After delivering a popcorn machine to the April 25th Film Studio earlier in the year, we then helped co-ordinate hundreds of international submissions to the Pyongyang International Film Festival and took a group of tourists to the 14th edition of PIFF. We also spotted a new addition to the hand-painted posters at the entrance to the International Cinema House – our very own Comrade Kim Goes Flying!


Pyongyang International Film Festival
Pyongyang International Film Festival



Our team at Koryo is made up of a group of passionate travellers, artists and adventurers, we thrive on developing new cultural projects – and exploring new destinations! In 2015 we went beyond DPRK with trips to Turkmenistan, Magadan, Mongolia and Tofalaria, our intrepid tourists travelled on horseback, by 4×4 and helicopter – some even hopping on the back of a reindeer! One of our Turkmenistan tourists, Patrik Wallner captured some incredible footage in the video below. 


In 2015, we’re excited to expanding our portfolio with another truly innovative Asian adventure - The Republic of Tajikistan!






Almost every tour group we have taken to the DPRK since 1993 has asked the same question: “can we see where North Koreans live?” – up until 2014 the response was a chuckle from our guides, and “maybe next year”. 


Finally in April our Architecture Tour group were able to do just that, and visited a brand new housing complex occupied by faculty of Kim Il Sung University – read the full account on our blog.





Enter Pyongyang


Travelling to the top of the Juche Tower before 5am on a clear and chilly day in late April, we knew the timelapse video of Pyongyang we were shooting with JT Singh and photographer Rob Whitworth was going to be special – but when the views on the Vimeo upload started climbing past one, two, and then three million views, we were stunned!


Anyone who has travelled to North Korea with us knows that being able to see locals in Pyongyang going about their daily business can be a wonderful once in a lifetime travel experience – and through the incredible technical skills of Rob, we were able to share this experience with almost four million viewers.





It’s been an incredible year for us at Koryo Tours but the highlight just has to be running the Pyongyang Marathon in April. Having old ladies cheer us on, and young kids high-fiving us before running off giggling this was the engagement experience. 


Whether it was getting a medal, simply finishing the route, or even cheering from the stands, all of our tourists (and the five Koryo Tours tour leaders who ran) had an incredible day. We’re excited to launch the Koryo Cup for 2015 and are looking forward to taking an unprecedented numbers of tourists over for the race. 


The Road to Pyongyang
The Road to Pyongyang



HERE’S TO 2015!


So that was 2014… we’d like to extend genuine thanks to all our tourists, collaborators, and supporters who helped make our 21st year our best yet. We wish you all the best in 2015 – and if your travels happen to bring you to Beijing, do drop by the office, we’d love to see you!


Happy New Year!


From all of us at Koryo Tours!


Comrade Kim Flies in Shanghai Again!

Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Comrade Kim Flies in Shanghai again! Free screening on 11th Dec at Kulou Bar, 19:00

Back by popular demand! Koryo Tours’ North Korean romantic comedy Comrade Kim Goes Flying will be screened at Kulou Bar at 7PM on Thursday 11th December.

Comrade Kim is the first UK/North Korea co-production ever made and tells the story of a young female coal miner who dreams of joining the Pyongyang circus. As with all films made in North Korea, production had to follow the guidelines laid out by Kim Jong Il on how to make a film, but the usual propaganda is twisted in a unique way in this one-of-a-kind movie. Come along and see for yourself!

Comrade Kim Goes Flying is 81 mins long, and is in Korean with English subtitles.

Simon Cockerell, Koryo Tours’ General Manager (who also worked on the film) will be there to present it, and to take any questions after the screening has finished.

Where: Kulou Bar, 222 Xiangyang Nan Lu (between Yongkang and Fuxing)

Reservations recommended to guarantee seating: email


Buy-one-get-one happy hour will run from 6-9pm; don’t miss out on a unique film, and a great deal on drinks!

That’s Not All!

Simon Cockerell will also be speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) in Shanghai on Tuesday 9th Dec, giving a brief presentation about the recent changes we’ve seen in Pyongyang and beyond. The talk will be open to non-members so if you’re interested in coming along please contact Shanghai FCCC for more details.

More about Comrade Kim Goes Flying

“Comrade Kim has the makings of a cult heroine” — Variety

Comrade Kim on left and her trapeze instructor, Jang Phil, on right.

Comrade Kim on left and her trapeze instructor, Jang Phil, on right.

Directors: Kim Gwang Hun, Nicholas Bonner, Anja Daelemans
Producers: Anja Daelemans, Nicholas Bonner, Ryom Mi Hwa

A Belgium/UK/North Korea co-production
Drama; live action — 81 min — 1:1.85 — color — sound 5.1 — DCP

Cast: Han Jong Sim, Pak Chung Guk, Ri Yong Ho, Kim Son Nam, Han Kil Myong, An Chang Sun
Screenplay: Sin Myong Sik, Kim Chol
Production info: Anja Daelemans (Another Dimension of an Idea/Belgium), Nicholas Bonner (Koryo Group /UK), Ryom Mi Hwa (KFEIC/North Korea)

Sales agent: Another Dimension of an Idea (

You can also find more information on the Comrade Kim goes Flying website
Follow Comrade Kim goes Flying:

Town of Dongrim Opens to Tourists!

Koryo Tours are excited to announce that the town of Dongrim is soon to be open to tourists!

For anyone looking for an exciting opportunity to travel in one of the least-seen parts of the least-seen nation in the world Koryo Tours is proud to offer the option to visit the city of Sinuiju, and take a drive down to the city of Dongrim – newly open to western tourists after years of our hard work pushing for access.

We have two options available for tours to this area; a day trip from the Chinese border city of Dandong, or an overnight extension to one of our regular DPRK trips as an extension to any tour that leaves the country by train – both on group and independent tours.

These areas were opened to western tourists due to the hard work of Koryo Tours’ staff in negotiating with the local and national authorities in the DPRK for access to these areas – know that if you join one of these trips, or any of our tours, you’re travelling with the company that made it all possible, we’d be glad to have you along with us!

You can now visit Sinuiju, Dongrim, and stay overnight either if you finish your tour in the DPRK by train travelling from Pyongyang up to Sinuiju on the Chinese border – this is a 24 hour extension that offers a great way to see some sites in North Pyongan province; a rarely seen part of North Korea.

This special offer is exclusive to clients of Koryo Tours – you won’t find this unique trip available anywhere else.

For more information:

Temporary Suspension of Tours to the DPRK – Update

Current suspension of tours expected to be lifted in Q1 2015

North Korean official confirms border will be reopened for tourists
in time for the Pyongyang Marathon in April

Last updated: Tue 9 Dec

The latest information we currently have from our contacts is that the temporary suspension of tours to North Korea – enacted by the DPRK government on 25 October 2014 in response to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa – will be lifted at some point during Q1 of 2015.

While the exact date is yet to be confirmed at this stage we are confident that tours will resume during this period and will be sure to post more detailed news here as soon as we have further updates.

Additionally, a North Korean official at the DPRK’s Ministry of Sport has since confirmed with us that the Pyongyang Marathon on 12 April 2015 will be open to international tourists.

As official travel partner of the Pyongyang Marathon, we have received notice from contacts within North Korea’s Ministry of Sport that the IAAF event will be going ahead, and that foreign visitors will be welcomed to the race – only the second time in history that Western amateurs have been permitted to participate.

We’ve been unable to take any tourists to North Korea from 25 October through to the end of 2014 due to the border closure surrounding concerns held there over the potential threat posed by the international spread of the Ebola virus – a temporary measure that applies to all tourists while the necessary protocols are put in place.

However, having worked in the country since 1993, we were faced with a similar issue during the 2003 SARS crisis, and have been in lengthy discussions with our partners in Pyongyang to reach an agreement that those booked through our company should be cleared for entry into North Korea.

With the border set to reopen in time for the race, our North Korean partners have now asked Koryo Tours to help foreign amateur runners sign up, and reach out to the wider world.

We have five trips arranged for April 2015 for people wanting to run the Pyongyang Marathon. And, in keeping with the charity focus of many other marathons, Koryo Tours will, for each person travelling with us, be able to donate an extra 365 high-nutrition meals to our pre-existing humanitarian project supporting eight North Korean orphanages.

Such is the expectation surrounding the marathon that North Korea’s national carrier Air Koryo is even laying on an extra flight from Shanghai to Pyongyang on 9 April 2015 – an unusual route for the airline, with Koryo Tours having secured a limited number of spaces for Western tourists to travel aboard this rarely scheduled flight.

See here for more.

There is much to look forward to in 2015 – including, of course, the Pyongyang Marathon in April – and we look forward to receiving your booking for one of our scheduled trips in the year ahead.