By Tom Dare
THESE FASCINATING images have given a rare glimpse into the life of a Westerner operating tours into the oppressive regime of Kim Jong Un’s North Korea – just a month before American citizens face a complete ban from visiting the nation.
The photos, which show everything from soldiers at work to families sharing a laugh at a recently finished water park, were taken by Irishman Shane Horan. Shane is the International tours manager for Young Pioneers Tours, which specialises in running tours to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
It’s a job that not many people would fancy. And yet Shane, who’s taken around 40 trips to North Korea so far, says it was all he wanted to do after university.
“I’ve always been fascinated with North Korea and other so called “rogue nations”, especially since studying international relations in university,” he said.
“I had my eye on the job for a few years after stumbling across the company in my search for ways of travelling to the DPRK. I asked, they accepted and I was on a plane to Beijing to begin a new life.”
Shane began working for Young Pioneers Tours back in April 2014, and has slowly seen the country become more and more open to westerners in this time.
And, while travelling to North Korea remains extremely difficult if you’re an American, he says visiting the country is not as difficult as it might seem.
“It’s very easy to actually get a visa and travel into the country, Americans aside,” he says.
“The country itself is an incredibly fascinating and beautiful place. I hope that one day it opens and becomes less restrictive for tourists to visit.
“But the country is opening slowly but surely to tourists. There are more places than ever that you can visit all over the country and not just in Pyongyang.
“Of course, we have to stick to places we’re supposed to, but we can choose what to put on our itineraries.
“You are watched when out and about on the street, but not in your hotel rooms and not so much when visiting the places you’re allowed.
“But I’ve never been anywhere that’s restricted.”
However, Shane says that despite the fact that certain access is restricted, there are still large parts of North Korea where you can go and meet real locals.
“Our tours are geared towards balancing the history and monuments with genuine interactions with locals,” he says.
“I always push for visits to local bars, bowling alleys, parks, waterparks etc where we can roam free and genuinely interact with locals doing casual, leisurely things.”
Recent months have seen tensions between North Korea and the west, particularly America, ratcheted up to a level rarely seen since the days of the Korean War.
But Shane says these developments haven’t concerned him, and that even his family have stopped worrying now when he takes a trip.
“These tensions are quite normal and seem to flare up at least once a year,” he says.
“I’m not concerned as I feel I’ve seen it all before and nothing will change.
“At first my family were slightly concerned when I first took the job. But having seen me return from Pyongyang 40 plus times, I don’t even think they care anymore!”