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A Tour Company Is Trying to Sell a St. Paddy's 'Pub Crawl' in North Korea

Organizers insist the country is tourist-friendly, though they "stress the importance of not upsetting North Korean beliefs or customs."

by Jelisa Castrodale
Nov 14 2019, 8:05pm

Photo: Getty Images

The same thing happens pretty much every St. Patrick's Day: You go out, you drink something that's either dyed green, or filled with glitter, or both, and you spend the rest of the afternoon being hugged by over-served strangers wearing shamrock-topped headbands. But a British travel company wants to save you from having to sidestep puddles of pale green vomit by taking you on a different kind of St. Paddy's pub crawl… in North Korea.

According to The Telegraph, Smiling Grape Adventure Tours has a five-day tour package that involves visiting six different drinking spots in and around Pyongyang, the reclusive country's capital city. "Taking customers to community drinking spots to actually meet the locals is a good way to get insight into people’s lives and different cultures," Matt Ellis, the director of Smiling Grape, told the outlet. "Alcohol helps to bring down the barriers slightly, which helps.”

Ellis insists that the country is a friendly one, although he did say that the tour would "stress the importance of not upsetting North Korean beliefs or customs," and said that each tour would include a pair of Western guides to keep everyone in line and appropriately quiet.

Although Smiling Grape's website is currently unavailable, a cached version of the £1,295 ($1,662) tour itinerary lists stops at microbreweries, pubs, bars, restaurants, and a vineyard. (Day two also includes a trip to a shooting range, which seems like a super idea. "Here’s your chance to shoot Soviet style weapons in the DPRK," the itinerary enthuses.)

"Despite what you may hear from the media, for most nationalities, North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit provided you follow the laws as provided by our documentation and pre-tour meeting," the company wrote. "A journey to this remarkable country will change your choice of future destination forever."

An Irish company, Global Village Tours, previously offered a similar St. Patrick's Day "pub crawl" to North Korea. "If I’m in a bar in Pyongyang and I have the opportunity to sit and have a conversation with a North Korean citizen that isn’t about war, that isn’t about politics, but is about sport, or music, or entertainment, or work," company co-founder David McCarthy told JOE in 2016.

"The hope is that I can come back to Ireland and tell my friends about how normal that was, and that North Korean individual might then tell their family about meeting this Westerner who wasn’t an American imperialist."

Even if a Pyongyang pub crawl sounds slightly better than having a half-dozen Baby Guinness shots spilled on your shoes, the U.S. State Department warns that the country is mostly off-limits to United States citizens. "Do not travel to North Korea due to the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals," the department says. "Individuals cannot use a U.S. passport to travel to, in, or through North Korea without a special validation from the Department of State."

The State Department also warns that it cannot provide emergency services to any U.S. citizens who run into problems in North Korea, and it also suggests that any still-determined travelers should "draft a will" and discuss funeral wishes with loved ones before traveling to the country.

So, uhh, that overpriced green beer here in the United States seems fine, perfectly fine.