In a county no one travels to, the least visited province was the most genuine. North Hamgyong greeted us with excited smiles, warm waters, and bonfire party nights.
North Hamgyong is a necessary addition to any DPRK trip for anyone wanting to experience a less regulated side of the country. Sprawling countrysides paint the north, crisp ocean waters beg for a quick dip, and the sight of the jungled hillsides of Mount Chilbo are a true cherry on top of what is already an amazing country to explore. But nothing beats the opportunity to spend a night or two at the local home-stay, which got us up-close-and-personal with locals, their families, and even our Korean guides. North Hamgyong is a place to relax and get to know each other.
Once settled in, after taking some time to meet our hosts, play with their kids, and pet some cute puppies, we were painfully embarrassed by locals in a game of beach volley ball and, to top it all off, an unsuccessful Korean wrestling match between guests, guides, and locals. With bruised egos we returned to our homes to hand-press noodles and make dinner together, reunited as a team.
Finishing our night with a little too much Soju and just a few too many beers, we all flocked to the beach for some universally-loved bonfire dancing and drunken laughing. No security checks, no photo limits, no translations needed, just fun on a beach with new friends.
"Everyone had their guard down, conversation was casual, connection and understanding was inevitable. If you have time to see Northern Hamgyong Province, do not hesitate to go."
North Hamgyong Province was the highlight of my trip to the DPRK because it was absolutely unexpected. Never in my life would I have thought I'd be hiking through the mountains of North Korea with not a worry in the world. If you commit to seeing this country, you cannot miss the north.
It's hard to truly capture our experience in the DPRK in words, and it will probably take some time to decompress and digest everything we saw and experienced during those 10 days, visiting a nation forgotten in the past.
Early morning you may open up your window on the 40th floor, briefly notice there is nothing stopping you from jumping straight out to your demise, and take a listen to the eerie sounds of the city waking up.