2013 has been a year of adventures, and I’m glad to add DMZ into this growing list. DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone, and symbolized war, peace, division and unification efforts.
After much research online, we settled for the Koridoor tour at 96,000 won（80 USD for civilians), which started at 7.30am in the morning and concluded around 3.30pm in the afternoon.
Panmunjom, 55km north of Seoul (about an hour away), was where it all begun. The actual border is known as MDL, or Military Demarcation Line.
We arrived in the rain (the July weather’s terrible in Seoul, or in Korea generally), attended a briefing which gave us a background of the historical significance of this area (which you can probably read up online too), and start on a guided tour of the DMZ as well as the Joint Security Area (JSA), with repeated reminders of when you can whip out your cameras, and when not to, unless you want to risk getting shot by the North Koreans or your cameras confiscated by the military folks.
Walk in single file or in pairs; Do not point at the North Koreans; Do not stand beyond this line if you wish to take photos etc, there were many rules that the visitors were subjected to for the whole journey. Our US guide (US soldiers are here for 12 months) tried cracking a few jokes, to make it less tense. After all, he’s been leading this for X times (apparently 100,000 tours are held each year, do the math and that’s crazily aplenty) since his duty started in Camp Bonifas.
The iconic blue UN buildings, where Security Battalion Soldiers stand guard, rain or shine.
You get a view of the North, from the southern side of JSA, and your only chance of seeing a North Korean besides (NK president), who’s looking at you too through his binoculars. Well, powerful zoom lens ain’t allowed, so unless you have a compact camera which has a powerful zoom, you can’t capture too much of the other side.
One of the small conference rooms within these buildings, is the MAC Conference Room that straddles across the border, where talks take place between North Korea and United Nations Command.
The soldiers were perpetually in a “taekwondo” stance – a combat ready position, in case of surprise attacks which had happened previously.
By the way, if you stand beside the soldier nearer to the exit to North Korea, you have your three seconds on standing on North Korean ground. Cheap thrill it is 😛
The Dorasan Station
For 500 won, you can enter the station, walk around the platform and visit the empty tracks.The track that leads to North Korea. This is a train station that’s operational ready.
Getting a picture in front of the station sign which tells you the distance from Dorasan to Pyeongyang and Seoul respectively.
Names of the folks who contributed to the building this station.
About the villages
We were reminded not to take pictures when our coach drove past the Daesung village (mostly farmlands on both sides of our road), which was at a distance and I guess it’s pretty much up to our imagination what how life would be in there.
Daesung-dong (Freedom village)
With a daily 11pm curfew, regulations on residency (you have to be in for 249 days per year to maintain your residency status), free schooling till tertiary years, tax free income and no military services exemption, the 230 villagers chose to live their lives in an unique mix of danger and peace.
Giljong-dong (Peace village)
Commonly referred to as a ghost town, Giljong was apparently just a propaganda village where huge loud hailers are positioned to broadcast messages to anyone, for six to eleven hours a day. The guide would point out to you about the huge flag that North Koreans put up together with a 300kg humongous flag post, just to make sure that the NK flag cannot be missed by any passing-by visitor.
Tunnel No.3 (no photos allowed too)
What seemed like a simple walk, was pretty taxing as we ventured into one of the underground tunnels that led to another tunnel that North Koreans dug, in order to launch an attack on Seoul.
It reminded me of the journey through the underground lava tubes in Jeju (where were of course much larger and breath-taking). In this tunnel, you’ve got to walk in a single file for some parts, wear your helmet and bend a little (I’m just a petite five foot three), and while jostling some ajumas (Korean middle age ladies), try to not trip and fall.
It’s an eye-opener for a curious visitor like me, but at the same time, tacky. Don’t be surprised by the souvenir shops peddling DMZ branded apparels, postcards, chocolates and magnets. I got a magnet myself. Some small stores sold North Korean currency, wine and rice! Everyone wants a piece of DMZ to bring home with them.
Nervous or tense? Not much, even though military tensions broke out earlier this year.
Lunch’s not provided within the 96,000 tour fees. For 10,000 won, you get a simple Korean meal around 12 noon. Beef or vegetarian options are available.