I was told that I couldn’t leave South Korea without seeing the Northern part, and since I have no desire to step foot in the DPRK, I figured a DMZ tour was my best option.
I booked a weekend day trip through an agency in Seoul knowing that a few friends of mine were planning on going. While it wasn’t the full experience I wanted, I figured I’d better take the opportunity save I don’t have the chance to later on.
We checked out two areas along the DMZ – the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. The name “demilitarized zone” is a bit of a misnomer, since this 2 or 3 kilometer band of land is quite possibly the most heavily fortified, militarized stretch of earth on the planet. With the exception of a small complex that used to house cooperative work between the two countries, this land largely exists as a nature reserve safe (for now) from the expansive development of South Korea. It’s main purpose however is to provide a “no touching zone” between the two still-at-war countries.
Our tour was very informative, taking us to several locations, letting us know the history – and current situations – behind each stop. We visited two towns; Paju and Cheorwon.
At one stop, we visited a museum before donning hardhats and descending a good half kilometer into the Earth to explore the third tunnel – named so as it was the third tunnel discovered by South Korea. So far four have been discovered; tunnels dug from North to South for the purpose of invading the latter. The third tunnel was described as the biggest discovered so far, and from the amount of times I hit my head, and the ache in my back after leaving, I don’t want to imagine how small the others are.
At another, I got to see (albeit through a telescope) the North Korean flag flying on a tower built specifically so it could be higher than the South’s.
We explored the popular DMZ tour area close to Seoul, before heading off to a less popular area where we were able to take pictures of the North, and meet with a recent defector. For me that was the most interesting, as she had only been out of North Korea for a little more than a year. She recounted her tale to us, and we were able to ask her questions about her new life here. My question was in regards to the difficulty of adjusting, and what aspect had been the most difficult. Her answer was the integration of English into Korean, as North Korea rejects almost anything English, but the South incorporates thousands of English words into their language. I also sat across from her on the bus, and her texting skills of one year put my lifetime of texting to shame.
Overall it was a pretty good tour. I’m definitely interested in doing it again – but this time checking out the JSA (Joint Security Area) which offers you the chance to actually (and safely) step into North Korean territory. I wouldn’t mind having that one on my bucket list.