The main activity for our second day in the Hamhung area was a trip to an amazing stone river at Mount Okryon in Pujon County together with a look at some very special trees which played an important part in the fight to end Japanese colonial rule in Korea. In this review (in two parts) I will cover our bus trip from Hamhung to Pujon County, three hours each way, through some of the most scenic parts of North Korea, affording us glimpses of this scenery and views of everyday life in this rarely visited part of the North Korea.

After about twenty minutes we had passed through Hamhung city and on crossing the railway line which also linked Hamhung to Pujon (the main town that we would pass through) we started our journey north, through a gorgeous valley and along the Songch’on River before climbing up into the mountains. This part of a two part pictorial review of the trip will take us to the highest point of our drive, a lookout point about fifteen kilometres to the south of Pujon town. In Part B I will continue our journey to the entrance area for the stone river.

I want to point out that I have included a number of photographs in this review which possibly do not meet the guidelines for photography in North Korea – in particular the prohibition on taking photographs of anything which might portray the country in a bad light. The reason for this prohibition is not because North Korea does not admit there is poverty within the country or that life is hard for its citizens – it readily admits both – but it is because it feels that people (not necessarily those who take the photographs) misuse photographs, as propaganda material, to make things seem worse than they are. Also, North Koreans are a very proud people and only want to visitor to see and experience the best they have to offer.

I have thought long and hard about whether to include certain photographs here but have proceeded to include some of those I have included below, not to portray the country in a bad light but rather, by illustrating openly admitted shortcomings, to portray the resilience and dogged determination of a downtrodden people to overcome everything that much of the outside world and ‘the country’s internal situation’ can throw at it. Also, in reality, the photos I have included portray conditions or ways of life that are no worse than in numerous other developing countries and, ‘Yes’, I was not let see conditions which, in all likelihood, are much worse than anything I have included here.

I will leave my reader to draw their own conclusion as to whether ‘the country’s internal situation’ means (a) a despotic Leadership which does not care about its own people, or (b) a Leadership which is forced to divert scare funds to military expenditure (including building a nuclear arsenal) to protect itself and its citizens and a Leadership which is unable to develop the country (and cope with otherwise manageable natural disasters such as floods and droughts) due to this diversion of funds and strangling US led sanctions which have been in force, at one level or another, for decades, or (c) something in between these two extremes.

Corn crop in the valley just outside Hamhung.
Corn crop. Note the small piles of stones and fine gravel on the side of the road. This is used for road maintenance.
Having a break and a bite to eat!
Roadwork Gang – In the country-side villagers are responsible for the ongoing maintenance of roads in their immediate areas and this includes major highways. Materials are generally sourced locally.
More corn. Note the small hut centre picture. I understand this is for resting (often overnight) and shade and eating during breaks. I am unable to ascertain why they are always at a higher level than the crop and overlooking the crop. I suspected this was so that owners could guard their crops but was told by our guides that this is not the case.
Rice to the left. Across the border in China which has access to abundant fertiliser farmers can grow two rice crops per year with much higher yields than in North Korea (in otherwise similar conditions to North Korea). Only one much lower yielding crop per year can be grown in North Korea. Accordingly North Korea is not self sufficient in rice – Corn is growing to the right in the picture above. Like the rice, it is rather more stunted than would normally be expected for the time of year. While there is certainly some mechanisation in the agricultural sector, a significant amount of crop planting, care and harvesting is carried out using ox drawn machinery and by hand.
Villagers sourcing raw materials for road maintenance from a hill near the road. Note the bicycle park which confirms that the workers are from a nearby village. Further up the mountain work gangs come and go by truck.
Note the Eternal Life monument in the village to the rear. All towns and villages have one of these to remind residents that Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are with them, guiding them, forever.
Not everything is hauled by animals. The tyre tread looks a bit low!
Filling a hole in the road.
Transferring material from the village hills (?) to cart.
Roadside village near the small town of Sinhung.
The Songch’on River – with cosmos flowers growing by the roadside. In season, cosmos flowers are grown along side nearly all roads and highways throughout the country. Our guide indicated that ‘the people’ plant these to acknowledge the great work done by the Leader. Should the Leader happens to pass by he will feel happy that ‘the people’ are acknowledging his great work and displaying their love for him.
An old dredge by the Songch’on River. It is always hard to tell if things like this have been abandoned or are still in use. Nothing goes to waste in North Korea and recycling and repurposing is big business – through necessity rather than an attempt to be green though there is nothing to suggest that North Koreans are not environmentally conscious and I doubt if there is a country in the world that produced less ‘landfill’ on a per capita basis.
Onwards towards the mountains. Note all the little piles of stones and gravel on the right hand side of the road such that holes can be filled without delay.
Crossing the Songch’on River at the turnoff towards the mountains and Pujon.
Leaving the valley for the steep climb up into the mountains.
Workmen quarrying stones for mountain road maintenance.
Having a well earned rest!
Preparing a hot lunch for the road maintenance gang.
Nearing the mountain lookout point looking down to valley we had driven up from. Note the cosmos flowers by the roadside even up here.

In Part B of this review I will share with you the views from the lookout and move on to the Stone River via Pujon township.

My next North Korea (2018) – Hamhung review– HERE

Return to the beginning of my North Korea (2018) – Hamhung reviews – HERE


22 thoughts on “Driving from Hamhung to Pujon County, North Korea – Part A

    1. Firstly thank you for reading and commenting on my posts. I really appreciate your feedback. I sometimes wonder what Americans, in particular, make of them. To date I have only had one American take issue with my content – I am pleased she told me. You clearly come with an open and enquiring mind and that is the type of reader I prefer. In terms of balance, in my introduction to the country I state “The image presented in my blog is not a balanced picture of North Korea but rather, as I have just said, a picture based on what I saw and heard. Make no mistake about it, what you see and hear in North Korea is exactly as the Government wish you to see and hear – it is pro-North Korean, anti Japanese and anti-American (though to a much, much lesser extent than it was in 2014), in particular.” – Perhaps you have read this That said, and contrary to my initial plans, I have at times included contra views and refer to non North Korean sources . whether it be to relay a contrary view or provide external support for an NK position. I take a lot of time over each entry in terms of content and how I relay it. Great to have you on board 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What you said toward the end here is what it’s all about. It’s clear to me that you take a lot of time writing your posts. Thoughtfulness is a refreshing “commodity” these days! 😉 I’m curious about what originally motivated you to visit N. Korea but maybe it was plain old curiosity, with a dose of adventurousness thrown in. I read about you leaping at the chance to go work in PNG so you clearly are interested in less well-known places. I’ve been a reluctant armchair traveler mostly, one who dreams of places like PNG, Tibet, Laos, etc. We were finally about to get to Asia (Vietnam) this spring when COVID hit and we had to cancel. Australia & NZ are high on our list, too.

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        1. Yes to “plain old curiosity, with a dose of adventurousness thrown in” but I have also read quite a bit about NK over the years and developed an interest in it long before I decided to visit. The big difficulty is finding unbiased/factual information on it from anywhere. Both NK and its detractors peddle lies and BS .. its all part of the propaganda play and you certainly need to take defector accounts with a pinch of salt too. The mainstream press sensationalise. I read anything I can find on it and try to come to a view but its hard. I have not been to Tibet (on my list!) and only a few days in Laos which was part work part pleasure. I thoroughly recommend Vietnam, one of my favourite Asian countries. Of course Aus and NZ are good too 🙂

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          1. I totally agree – it’s so hard to pick through everything that is written about the DPRK and come to dispassionate conclusions. It has to be said that even by visiting you won’t get a full picture, as the visitor experience is so carefully curated and controlled, but it adds a further dimension to any conclusions you might draw about the place.

            I was there last year but more recently in Laos and Cambodia (and Vietnam too, come to that). I thoroughly recommend Laos in particular as a relatively easy but authentic introduction to Asia. The temples are magnificent, the scenery stunning, the people friendly and the food tasty 🙂

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    1. I agree about the ‘almost medieval’ feel, and also that this is not the only place in the world you get that feeling (parts of rural Laos, for instance, ditto India and I’m sure elsewhere). But we couldn’t convince our N Korean guides that to us it was not that shocking to see unmechanised farming techniques nor that sharing images of them here wouldn’t shock the outside world!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I do wish we’d had the chance for this side trip from Hamhung! You’re braver than I was in choosing what photos to share – after consultation with my travel company I held back on several, especially those taken in the north east, as I was concerned that using them would reflect badly on the company. And I didn’t even dare tell them about the illicit image of an ox cart taken in Chongjin and hidden on my camera’s hard drive before the ‘purge’ ahead of the threatened airport check that never happened! But Colin has asked me to give a talk on Zoom to his camera club next month and I may share some of the ‘forbidden’ shots with them 😉

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      1. What swung my decision was the company telling me about similar shots they’d had on the company website which the DPRK authorities had picked up on and asked them to delete. As I was mentioning the company in my blog I didn’t want the same authorities, if scanning for the name, to find my images and ‘punish’ the company because of them.


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