Monday, August 10, 2009

I Stepped Into North Korea...

DMZ = Demilitarized Zone.

For many guys, this day trip to the DMZ is the highlight of their trip to Korea. Since it has been almost 3 months since my visit to the border between South and North Korea, I can't really remember all the details... and also, I don't want to give too much information away, especially if you plan to go there.

The DMZ is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Korea (pretty much only available for tourists... I believe I heard that Koreans need to do a bunch of paperwork - lots of hassle - in order to do it). From comparisons to other tour packages and from what we were most interested in seeing, I believe the tour USO offers is one with the most value. The tour cost something along the lines of $59 USD.. compared to ones I've seen that cost over $115USD and did not cover all the sites we went through.

It seemed as though people were flocking to join these tours because of all the speculation regarding North Korea's plan to restart their nuclear program and how it was becoming ever so unsafe to tour that it could be canceled. We had no problems, though... and it was reassuring to know that this border is the most heavily guarded in the world.

So that morning, Bern and I woke up pretty early and made our way over to the USO building to embark on our half day tour called the USO Panmunjeom Tour. By the way, there's a semi-strict dress code. Once we signed in (we had to pay and reserve spots way in advance -- spots filled up quickly), we were split into two or three Grayhound-type buses. Each bus came with an English-speaking tour guide. Everyone on the bus, besides B and I, were English teachers, mainly from the US!

First, we went to Camp Bonifas and watched a powerpoint to help us understand the history and situation between the North and South. Throughout the trip, we were lead by either our tour guide or by a couple of dudes from the United Nations Command military personnel.
You are here.
We were not allowed to take pictures in certain places. They strictly reinforced this rule.

Panmunjeom: Joint Security Area (JSA) where negotiations are held (since 1953).
This is the closest you will ever get to North Korea.
The Military Demarcation Line (MDL) - the border that separates North from South.
South Korean military... they stay just as still as the Queen's guards...
North Koreans chatting away ^^
Unfortunately, it was a very cloudy day so we weren't able to see very far... You'll have to go to see the village yourself.

The Bridge of No Return: the only bridge connecting North and South Korea...
Once you walk one way, you're not allowed to come back... dun dun dunnnn
On the bus
Incursion Tunnels (I thought this was sooo neat). Basically, in 1974, the South Koreans found four tunnels running North to South under the DMZ! They were dug by North Korean military, presumably for invasion purposes. The North Koreans claimed that they dug the tunnel to mine coal but there is no coal in these tunnels... the North even painted some rock black to make it look like coal!! haha!
It is too small and narrow for any vehicles to pass (it had enough room for 2 average-sized people to pass at the same time... but if I stood up straight, I would hit my head on the granite (I'm 5'6)!). The tunnel tilted a bit so that the water did not stagnate (kind of high tech that way). We went through the Third Infiltration Tunnel (1.6km long, allowing 30,000 soldiers to pass through per hour). So yea - we got to go into the tunnel wearing construction hats haha

Oh yea we also had a good lunch somewhere in between.

At the store~ You can get tons of camo-wear here.
I bought my brother a gun bullet keychain. Used, perhaps? It had scratches on it.

You can also buy a plaque with a piece of barbed wire in it for around 12USD.

I thought it was quite interesting - I'm glad I went. What better way to learn about the situation than to go see for yourself? Now I can say I've been to North Korea! kk
Learn more about the USO tour HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Nat! So glad to have you back home!!! your blog is so fun to read!!! :) we gotta chill again!! omg im taking more linguistics haha TAKE IT WITH ME :p lets go out before school starts!! we.ll go to that kimbap place in lougheed that u really like! remember i was suppose to go with u? hehehe <3