Young Pioneer Tours

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Young Pioneer Tours is an independent travel company based in Xi'an, China, which specialises in budget group and independent tours to North Korea.


Founded in 2008 by British expat Gareth Johnson, the company caters in particular for the adventurous traveler on a budget.[1] Its motto is "providing budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from", referring to the fact that at present all foreign tourists in North Korea must be accompanied by a guide.[2]

More recently it has branched out to international travel, developing on the theme of 'tours to places your mother wants you to stay away from' to include other politically tense or off-the-beaten-track destinations such as Iran, Iraq, Eastern Europe and Russia (Eurasia), Armenia, Antarctica, Cuba, Burma, Tibet and Xinjiang.[3]


Group tours to North Korea are accompanied by a Western guide and two Korean guides. Independent tours are accompanied by Korean guides only. Tour locations include Pyongyang, Nampo, Chongjin, Hamhung, the Rason Special Economic Zone, and the Korean Demilitarized Zone, where the country is separated from South Korea.[4]

Young Pioneer Tours have been at the forefront of tourism development in the DPRK, being the first company to organise scuba diving tours,[5] parkour tours,[6] fishing tours and Juche study tours.[7]


The company has courted both positive and negative press for its tours to North Korea, which range from cultural and sporting trips to pub crawls for St Patrick's Day and New Year's Eve. It has featured on numerous mainstream news sites such as CNN, ABC News, the BBC,[8] Reuters,[9] and The Guardian.[10][11][12]

On January 2, 2016, Otto Frederick Warmbier, an American student traveling on a tour organized by the company, was detained by the North Korean government and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for attempting to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel in Pyongyang.[13]

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