A trip to one of the weirdest places on the planet.
Tuesday 11 September 2012 - Tuesday 11 September 2012
Tuesday 11 September
This is a place where all logic seems to disappear. The word "Demilitarized" is a complete misnomer as there are two large, ugly armies staring at each other over a line on a map and 251km of barbed wire and minefields.
It is however an interesting place to visit to see one of the large vestiges of the Cold War.
The best and easiest way to see everything is on an organised tour. They are however quite expensive.
We departed the Lotte Hotel in central Seoul at 8am ish after waiting for a passenger to return to his hotel to collect his passport.
We had two groups on the bus, a Japanese group and an English speaking group. Hence everything was repeated twice and there was lots of talking by the two tour leaders.
Our first stop was at Imjimjak and the 3rd infiltration tunnel. This is a tunnel dug by the North Koreans in case they wanted to invade the south. We were able to walk (hunched over with a hard hat as the the tunnel is only about 1.70 metes high) right to the blocked off end which is within 100 metres or so of the border. There are three concrete walls across the tunnel to stop any further attempts.
The entrance to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel.
A memorial at the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel.
Tourists at the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel.
The next stop was Dora Observatory. This is perched on a hill and you can see directly over the DMZ and into North Korea. They city of Kaesong is visible in the distance as are the two large flag poles (mine is bigger than yours). Taking photos was a bit of an issue ans you were only allowed to take photos from within a yellow marked box, but a decent zoom on the camera helps.
North Korea from Dora Observatory.
The South Korean flag.
From there we went back to Imjinjak to visit a couple of memorials and the railway line that crosses to the north.
The second to last train station heading north.
A memorial at Imjinjak.
Messages for family members still in the North.
The railway heading towards the border with the North.
A pile of waterpipe.
After lunch we headed into the DMZ with a stop at Camp Boniface. There we had a lecture on what the DMZ and Panmumjon is all about. We picked up our guide, Specialist Ahmed from Texas who outlined the many rules for visiting the JSA (Joint Security Area). From there we drove the 4 km to the JSA. This is where the United Nations and North Korea agreed the armistice in 1953 and regularly hold meetings.
We were allowed to take photos to the north only, i.e. towards the North Korean facility but not anything else in the JSA. We went into the main negotiating room where you can actually walk on the North Korean part of the building. If you tried to exit the building from the northern door, you would be serious trouble with just about everyone, and your life could be in danger. The place is no laughing matter.
Specialist Ahmed, the UN buildings and the North Korean facility.
I can see you. A North Korean soldier keeping an eye on us.
South Korean soldiers keeping an eye on the North.
We stayed there a short time only as there is not actually a lot you can see and the visits are tightly controlled. The two sides are heavily armed and things can get tense in a hurry if someone does something silly.
From there was dropped Specialist Ahmed off and carried on back to Seoul.
In all, an interesting day to one of the weirdest places I think I have ever been.
After a short nap, I had dinner in Itaewon (not sure why I went back there). I tried to have a beer in a small bar by the hotel but when they discovered I did not want any food, they refused to let me sit at a table with a beer and newspaper. Their loss as I went somewhere else that did not mind at all.