Days like today feed my travel instinct, experiences like this just make me want to go out and see what this planet has to offer. Today we took a tour to the DMZ (Demilitarized zone), the border between North Korea and South Korea. This place is the most militarized area in the world, there are an approximate 1 million soldiers waiting orders from their respective sides to start world war III.
We started the tour very early on our meeting point in Seoul which is around 40 Km from the border. We jumped into the bus and our guide S.P. (stands for Sexy Person according to him) started explaining the background of the 2 Koreas, why are they divided, the Korean war, etc… Overall great explanations but I will not bore you too much with that. The tour was very well explored and S.P. was yet another very cute and kind Korean we have met.
We arrived at Camp Bonifas, a United Nations Command / US Army base which is the last one before the border with North Korea, unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures of the base for security reasons so you will just have to imagine how cool it was. This base used to have soldiers from 16 countries (same that fought on the South Korean side during the war) but now its basically only U.S. military personnel. Soldiers station here are on high alert and are not allowed to leave the base just in case Kim Jung Un goes crazy, so they are ready to respond.
We were welcomed by a U.S. Militay police that checked our passports for the 3rd time. We watched a 20 min presentation about what we were going to see next. He talked so fast I could barely understand what he was saying, so it was nice to have the visuals. There were a lot of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” especially do not interact, gesture, point at or communicate in any way with any North Korean Soldiers, which was repeated to us a thousand times (we were not planning on doing it anyways).
The DMZ is a buffer zone 4 km wide that divides the 2 koreas. This was decided in 1953 after the Korean War that costed the lives of 3 million people. Its important to know that there is still not a peace treaty in place, just an armistice between North Korea and the U.S./U.N. The south did not sign that one so they are basically at war right now. When you see the amount of walls, obstacles, cameras, checkpoints, observation points, soldiers around that area, you start to think about what Bill Clinton said about this area “The scariest place on earth” (I still believe Syria must been scarier). And despite it being scary we also felt safe, it was a touristy attraction with at least one soldier always with us.
We drove 2 Km to the JSA (Joint Security Area), which has the DML (Military Demarcation Line) which is basically the line that divides the Korea. Eitan especially was very very very excited to see this!
We arrived at the border where you can clearly see the South and North Korean soldiers looking at each other and ready to respond. There are a million cameras and our MP encourage us to take pictures of their cameras and buildings as we were already being photographed by North Korean soldiers anyways.
Funny looking North Korean soldier watching us, I was going to give him the finger but didn’t feel like starting World War III today.
Sarah was acting all tough…
We were then escorted to the Conference Room, the meeting room for world leaders to meet and agree on ceasefires, humanitarian aid, and other things. The room is located right in the middle of the MDL (the border line) so this is were the fun starts, with a few steps more you can literally enter North Korean territory, you can’t start opening doors though, there are 2 North Korean guards behind that door. We were giving a few minutes to enjoy our North Korean vacation and then were were escorted out.
Eitan is standing in North Korea in this photo!!!! obviously protected by this super cool looking South Korean soldier who didn’t move at all.
We then continued to see the “Bridge of no return”, this is were there was a very important prisoner swap between the two Koreas and nobody has crossed since then. If you try to walk across it you will have a 100% probability that you will get shot, that is why they don’t even let you get off the bus on this one.
One of the stops was a military observation post where we were able to see Panmunjon Villge (“Propaganda Village” known in the west) for the first time, this village was build by North Korea to try to convince South Korean to defect to this “perfect city”; the problem? this city is completely empty and only a few workers work on maintaining the streets and the front facade of the houses to look nice. This is one of only 2 villages allowed inside the DMZ, the other one is Daeseong-Dong on the South Korean side.
North Korea uses speakers 24/7 with propaganda music and messages that we could easily hear (but not understand) where we were standing. it gave us a very creepy feeling. Also, they have several jamming towers to block all radio and tv signals from the South so their citizens don’t kill themselves after listening to K-pop. At this moment Sarah especially felt the weirdness and creepiness of it all and stated how what was different about this tour than most is that the history we were learning about isn’t just history but a current issue.
We drove by the Ax murder site where there is a monument now. This incident ocurred when the U.S army tried to chop down a tree that was obstructing the view from one of the outposts, they were received by a bunch of north Korean soldiers that used the Axes to kill the U.S. soldiers.
We continued this amazing tour on the Dora Observatory, which is the touristy way to see North Korea, if you don’t get a tour you are still able to come to this observatory. The view again was fantastic and the flag was waving nicely. This flag is 100 meters tall (300 ft) and the flag weight is 130 Kg (287 Lbs).
Our next stop was the Dorasan Station, this is the last station of South Korea and if you continue you get to North Korea. For obvious reasons there are no trains traveling after this station but the place remains a reminder of the division of the two Koreas, it has several little monuments donated by other countries like a piece of the Berlin Wall donated by Germany, and some other statues donated by the U.S. In the future, if there is peace, Korea will be connected by land to Asia and Europe!
The platform to Pyeongyang (Capital city of N. Korea) is ready, only peace is needed.
Our last stop was the 3rd infiltration tunnel. North Korea made 4 tunnels to allow a quick attack on South Korean territory, but luckily they were discovered thanks to a North Korean defector. The only tunnel open to public was this one; it is 70 m deep and .5 km long on a 11 degree incline. The end of the tunnel is blocked by 3 walls of reinforced concrete and steel so there is no way we could end up walking into North Korea again.
And that concluded one of the best experiences of my life! If you ever come to South Korea, do not miss this tour and then you can say you also went to North Korea!
And you may even make new friends (the two guys in the M) who we ended up doing Karaoke with the following night…stay tuned for that blog post!