Freerunning at the Coliseum? Been there. Vaulting across Machu Picchu? No big deal. If you’re looking for parkour bragging rights even Ryan Doyle might not have, look no further than North Korea.
Konging across a country the U.S. doesn’t even have diplomatic relations with might sound like an extreme fantasy, but Beijing-based budget travel operator Young Pioneer Tours (YPT) plans to make it reality. This summer, YPT will hold the first parkour tour to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. If basketball diplomacy didn’t work (we’re looking at you Dennis Rodman), maybe it’s time to give monkey vault diplomacy a shot.
YPT was founded in China in 2008 by British expat to, Gareth Johnson, whose staff consists of expats from the U.S., U.K., and New Zealand, and one Chinese national. The company offers extensive trip options within North Korea for everything from sporting to cruises to a “political interest” tour, and trips to other places, as they put it “your mother would rather you stay away from” like Burma, Iran, and Cuba.
While on tour, visitors must be accompanied by a guide at all times, but YPT’s website explains, this only “adds to the mysticism of the country.” YPT claims no political agenda. While the company’s logo does include a man wearing a certain short brimmed cap waving a red hammer and sickle flag, YPT’s Charlie Holley insists this is purely for marketing. “Communist countries pose a certain sense of mystery,” he explains. “The name Young Pioneers is based on groups of young people who served in communist countries,” he admits, but insists this is also simply for marketing.
Either way, YPT’s years of operation mean they have fostered a cozy relationship with government officials and the Korean International Tourism Company, the government-run tourism bureau. This helps make travel in and out of North Korea easier.
For the parkour tour, YPT will take care of some of the difficult logistics, like obtaining visas. Most attendees can catch the train from Beijing to Pyongyang. However, Americans are not allowed to enter the country by land, so American passport holders will need to fly in instead. YPT will take care of that too.
Once in North Korea, traceurs will visit some of the nation’s famous sites, like the Koryo Museum, a thousand-year-old palace-like building containing enormous historic relics. At Kaeson Youth Park, trip members will get a taste of authentic Korean youth culture by hanging with locals. Food and drink highlights are plentiful too, like a stop for dog soup and a visit to a shooting range that doubles as a bar.
Amidst all the sightseeing, there will be plenty of time for parkour. The Korea Film Studios in Pyongyang will be the main stage for training. According to YPT, the studio houses both traditional Korean-style buildings, as well as Japanese and American architecture, used primarily in filming pro-DRPK propaganda. The last day of the trip, back in China, also offers an opportunity to train on the Great Wall.
Slots are still open on the trip. “If it is successful then hopefully it can take place again soon,” Holley says. “It is a whole new concept so whoever goes will be setting the standard.”
Two different trips will embark July 28 from China en route to Pyongyang. Group A returns August 4 and runs 940 euros (about $1260), while Group B comes back two days later for a price of 1090 euros (about $1460). Check YPT’s website for more information and a full itinerary.