Adventure, Culture

North Korea – at the Border – DMZ

The DMZ tour was a good experience, but definitely not what we’re going to remember S. Korea for. It was a fun excursion where we got to see a bit into the military of S. Korea and learn a bit about the N./S. Korean conflict, but it was not a trip we’d recommend or say we can’t live without.

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Before coming to the DMZ the only thing Danielle and I heard was that it was the “demilitarized zone” between North and South Korea. We heard it was dangerous and that the conflict between Northern and Southern Korea was iffy. When asked why we were traveling to Korea, we would innocently answer, because we’re curious and want to see the world. A friend of mine joked that the crazy/cool thing to do would be to visit the DMZ, and most other people commented that the DMZ must be pretty crazy and risky.

Once we arrived in Korea we spoke to a couple tourists who told us they had done the DMZ excursion. They told us it was pretty good and worth doing, so Danielle and I set out to get set up for the excursion. We started calling all kinds of brochures, and quickly realized that there are a few ways to get into the DMZ with different excursions, one of them was through a US DMZ tour, it was also the least expensive. We quickly found out this was full for the next month, and we decided to cough up the extra $16 and take the DMZ tour we could find… we were also looking for a Sunday excursion and most of the DMZ tours only ran MondaySaturday.

We were expecting to be taking a trip into a war zone. We came downstairs in our hotel, with our passports (we had to bring them and share the passport information with the US embassy incase something happened to us).  We thought to ourselves, well this is risky but it’s going to be fun. We snuck some of the breakfast goodies the hotel offered, and loaded into the bus. On the way we met some nice girls who were teaching Engligh in Japan, and they gave us some great advice for our next stops. For 1 hour and 15 minutes we drove, first through the city then down the highway, until we arrived in a huge parking lot. We parked and were told by the tour guide, “you have 20 minutes to walk around before we load up the bus and go to the DMZ, please arrive promptly by 13:00.” we all got off the bus. We look around… we’re at a mini amusement park. With kids on rides and a bunch of cotton candy, ice cream and “delicious snacks”, like seashells you suck on and cheap sushi types of rolls. We were definitely shocked with this stop. But we explored, a bit, and made it up to a vista point where you can see the border of the DMZ.

We get back on the bus promptly at 13:00, and take a 15 minute drive into the DMZ, the border has heavy military troops, S. Korean soldiers even come into the truck to see who we are… “Just some white people, let them in”…So we drive to the actual DMZ, tunnel 3 to be exact. So the low down they give us in that short 15 minute ride is that the DMZ is a 4km wide and 250km long zone on the border between N and S. Korea which has 4 “found” tunnels. They explained that they expect there are 20 of these tunnels heading towards Seoul that they haven’t found yet, but they’re also not looking too hard. They found the tunnels by accident while doing excavation or archaeological work, but they don’t know what else there is coming their way.

Arriving at the DMZ we’re told “you’re about to walk into a long tunnel, dug by the N. Koreans, which is 263 meters long, until you hit a wall. That wall is the N. Korean border (underground), you’re welcome to walk to it and walk back. See you back at the entrance in 45 minutes. and by the way, no pictures.” We walk down a long carved tunnel that reaches the tunnel made by the N. Koreans. We’re skeptical on how this was constructed and what exactly the conflict is like, we wonder why they’re not looking for the 20 (estimated) other tunnels, and why they’re not more eager to be safe. But when I ask the tour guide she assures me they’re safe and it’s not something to worry about.

After the tunnel visit they take us into a large movie theater with 4 projections of the same video. On 3 different walls (2 next to each other, and 2 on the angled walls), the movie tells us about how the N. Koreans were trying to invade and how there’s a lot of turmoil. They drop little animations of bombs to show us where the four tunnels are located, and how scary the situation is. Then suddenly the script flips and there are beautiful butterflies and deer prancing around and the video tells us how great this new demilitarized zone between North and South Korea is since there is wildlife living in peace in that in between zone.

While the video was cute, it felt like propaganda a bunch of fluff around how great the DMZ is. At first we felt like the story could have been made up because of how bizarre the whole experience was. But after a while and a bit of research we realized that the inflict between N. and S. Korea is not a joke, but it’s just not taught or properly expressed.

After the DMZ video we were taken to a point where we were able to see the border of N. Korea, and even into N. Korea a bit. It was really just grassy lands and some buildings we could see, but it felt kind of cool to be able to see the border of the land ruled by the “evil dictator” Kim Jong Il.

We spent a few minutes taking pictures, and I even snuck a video with our Go-Pro, but it was nothing too crazy.

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Our Recommendation?

If you’re interested in seeing the border of N. Korea for bragging rights, it might be worth taking the trip and doing the tour. If you’re looking for a good experience and a good excursion you will feel let down after doing the DMZ tour.

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