Hamhung

Interview with Deathandtaxes Online Magazine

The online magazine Deathandtaxes recently asked me some questions about my firsthand experiences traveling in North Korea – check out the full interview here !

A question from the interview:

I saw a short video online made by a guy who visited North Korea  back in 2011. The video is shot like it’s hidden in his jacket or something. It seems like you were just freely taking pictures. How were you able to do that? Is it a misconception that photos and video aren’t allowed in North Korea?

There are quite a few sensationalized videos out there and I think they present an entirely wrong impression of what the tourist experience in the DPRK is all about.  There are some photography rules, but when the North Korean guides see that the group is diligent about following those rules they tend to relax and let everyone have some photography freedom.  It helps that I keep my groups relatively small and manageable at around 10 people.  With a group that size we can really develop a positive relationship, developing an optimum situation where the guides feel secure and in control enough to let us enjoy more freedom while not feeling that we are putting them at risk.

Conversely I have witnessed a full tour bus of about 30 camera touting foreigners clearly disregarding the photography rules within the first couple hours of their trip.  The North Korean guides are responsible for the rules broken by the tourists under their care, and this group’s North Korean guides were clearly upset.  The remedy to these situations is easy, punish the tour group by restricting access to sites.  That group was allowed to drive to sites but only got to visit the parking lots.  We saw them restricted to the bus at the Hamhung fertilizer plant, a site where we were given full and unrestricted photography access.

The Q & A above allows me the opportunely to highlight a few photos from my experience with the tour group that lost its access to sites over its disregard to the photography rules.

West Sea Barrage, North Korea

Both tour group crossed the West Sea Barrage on the same morning.  The above photo shows the entrance to the eight-kilometer-long road crossing – this is a perfectly acceptable photo.

West Sea Barrage, North Korea

There were amazing photography opportunists as both buses got stuck in the midst of a crowd of North Korean locals on bicycles; barrage road transportation was delayed as ships passed through the locks.  We were directed not take pictures at this time, we didn’t.  Those on the other bus did and lost access to other sites because of it.

Locals waiting for ships to pass through the locks – I took the above photo from the West Sea Barrage visitors center on the hill above, we were not prohibited to take photos from there.

North Korea Fertilizer Plant Hamhung

We later met the other tour group at the Hamhung Fertilizer Plant. We were granted full access to the site.  The other group never developed their relationship with their guides and were restricted to the bus and not allowed to take photos.

Below are more photos from our visit to the Hamhung Fertilizer Plant:

North Korea Fertilizer Plant Hamhung

North Korea Fertilizer Plant Hamhung

North Korea Fertilizer Plant Hamhung

North Korea Fertilizer Plant Hamhung

North Korea Fertilizer Plant Hamhung

Hamhung Fertilizer Plant, North Korea

North Korea Fertilizer Plant Hamhung

North Korea Fertilizer Plant Hamhung

North Korea Fertilizer Plant Hamhung


Dongbong Co-Operative Farm

A few days ago I shared some pictures of The Cutest North Korean Soldier  taken during our visit to the Dongbong Co-Operative Farm outside Hamhung, North Korea.  Below are more photos from that visit showing how farmers and their families live and work under the Juche-communist style of cooperative farming:

Tongbong Cooperative Farm

Tongbong Cooperative Farm

Tongbong Cooperative Farm

Tongbong Cooperative Farm

Tongbong Cooperative Farm

Tongbong Cooperative Farm

Tongbong Cooperative Farm

Tongbong Cooperative Farm

Tongbong Cooperative Farm

Tongbong Cooperative Farm Sign

Info on the North Korean co-operative farm system is hard to find online, web searches on the subject bring up this blog as a top hit, but I do remember learning from books I read for my pre-trip background studies that those who live and work on co-operative farms have a fantastic standard of living (by North Korean standards), with the farms being profitable enough that the workers and families living within the cooperative system typically have more material goods and higher savings compared to average workers from Pyongyang.


The Cutest North Korean Soldier and Our Visit to the Dongbong Co-Operative Farm

Dongbong Co-Operative Farm, Hamhung, North Korea

The Cutest North Korean Soldier

On our visit to the Dongbong Co-Operative Farm cooperative farm outside Hamhung, we were allowed time to interact with a group of young children during their preschool recess activities.  Waddling around, tugging at our beards, and pawing at our cameras to look at our digital pictures, our experience with these kids was a highlight of the trip.   After about 15 minutes the children were called back to the schoolyard for some marching and saluting practice lead by their teachers and minders.

Dongbong Co-Operative Farm, Hamhung, North Korea

Some people in my group felt this entire interaction and schoolyard display was some sort of playacting show put on by citizen actors for us foreigners, but I tend to not be so pessimistic and believe we were fortunate enough to witness some authentic rural scenes of life not commonly glimpsed by foreigners.

Dongbong Co-Operative Farm, Hamhung, North Korea

Dongbong Co-Operative Farm, Hamhung, North Korea

All photos by Joseph A Ferris III
– more photos from this series linked below.
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Small Town Juche

No tool is too humble in the struggle for self reliance – from my own interpretation of Juche Idea.

Hamhung, DPRK, North Korea

Locals get by with what they have; transportation by hand cart in the small North Korean city of Hamhung – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Working for a Strong and Prosperous North Korea

More rare photos from the North Korean countryside:  road construction, transportation, industry, and farming in Hamhung/Wonsan region.

Wonsan - Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Wonsan - Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Wonsan - Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Hamhung Countryside

Hamhung Countryside

Tram Repairs North Korea

North Korean Rail Service

Hamhung Countryside

Industry Hamhung, North Korea

Working for the Bumper Harvest

Working for the Bumper Harvest

Working for the Bumper Harvest

Please note that tourists are not generally permitted to take photos such as these due to the government’s fear that they could be used to portray the country in a negative manner. Our guides gracilcly permitted me to take photos of the “beautiful countryside”, which I post here with total respect and in appreciation for the DPRK rural way of life.

All photos by Joseph A Ferris III


Working for a Bountiful Harvest in the North Korean Countryside

Rare photos of farmers in the North Korean countryside (between Hamhung and Wonsan) preparing fields and working for the upcoming planting season.

Pyongyang - Wonsan Countyside North Korea

Pyongyang - Wonsan Countyside North Korea

Pyongyang - Wonsan Countyside North Korea

Wonsan - Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Wonsan - Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Wonsan - Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Wonsan - Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Wonsan - Hamhung Countryside North Korea

Pyongyang - Wonsan Countyside North Korea

Pyongyang - Wonsan Countyside North Korea

Pyongyang - Wonsan Countyside North Korea

Wonsan - Pyongyang Countryside

Wonsan - Pyongyang Countryside

Please note that tourists are not generally permitted to take photos such as these due to the government’s fear that they could be used to portray the country in a negative manner. Our guides gracilcly permitted me to take photos of the “beautiful countryside”, which I post here with total respect and in appreciation for the DPRK rural way of life.

All photos by Joseph A Ferris III


North Korean Cell Phone Revolution

Cell phones may have arrived in North Korea, but apparently public service announcements teaching the dangers of texting and driving haven’t.

Hamhung City Square, DPRK, North Korea

Hamhung, North Korea - photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Twin Sisters Hamhung City, North Korea

Hamhung City Square, DPRK, North Korea

Hamhung City Square, DPRK, North Korea

Twin Sisters in the main square of Hamhung City, North Korea – photos by Joseph A Ferris III