Young Pioneer Travel
I am an avid, experienced, cold water SCUBA diver with a taste for "off the beaten path" diving adventures. I've dove all over Southern California, Albania and Poland and when I heard that YPT tours offered SCUBA diving in Vladivostok and North Korea, I knew that was the trip for me.
On September 24, 2016 I made an initial deposit to reserve my spot for my SCUBA diving trip of a life time. I was assured that North Korea is safe and that the people are warm and friendly, even for American citizens.
To go diving in Russia, I needed to be PADI certified. I have been a NAUI certified diver for 12 years and have over 500 cold water dives. That didn't matter, and even PADI was mystified because PADI considers all non-professional certifications equivalent. Nope - I needed to be PADI certified, and on recommendation of PADI, I paid $175 to be an "Enriched Air Diver," which exceeded their requirements of at least PADI Open Water certified.
So now I can dive in Russia and North Korea!
Getting a Russian Visa was also a jump through hoops! I bought a letter of invitation ($50) from YPT, and they re-wrote it for free when the visa service flagged that the letter was for single entry, as opposed to double entry. I specifically told YPT that I was going on the DPRK SCUBA diving trip. No problem there, they made good on it.
I paid the balance due on June 2nd, 2017 - I was all set to go. I paid for my airfare, booked hotels before and after the tour and met several local people online who would fill the void between the tour ending and my flying home.
This was going to be a SCUBA diving trip of a lifetime! To my close friends, I even bragged that I was going SCUBA diving in North Korea and Russia.
Thirteen days before I was suppose to leave, I was emailed stating that "We have reassessed our decision to bring American travelers into North Korea and have decided we will no longer be coordinating tours for American visitors to the DPRK, starting immediately. This means that we will have to cancel your booking for the upcoming SCUBA diving tour to North Korea."
I actually begged for an exception - NO - I could have actually been an asset to this trip because of my diving experience - NO! They just banned me because of my national origin.
YPT still says that the DPRK is safe, they will just no longer take US citizens. So, it is not a safety issue.
They did not cancel the trip, they just banned me for being an American citizen.
No travel laws changed, it was completely arbitrarily punitive to me. Four other tour groups will still allow US citizens in to the DPRK - Uri Tours, Lupine Travel, Secret Compass and Koryo Tours.
Maybe I'll forget about SCUBA diving in the DPRK, and go beer tasting or bike riding?
As far as YPT, they cheated me out of a trip. Yeah, sorry, I'm American, but they did nothing to warm relations by banning me from their trip.