Visiting the Korean Demilitarized Zone

Stranger than fiction.

On Sunday, Andrie and I took a trip out the the DMZ with North Korea. Unfortunately the JSA was closed that day, so we didn’t get to see any North Korean Soldiers up close.

It’s still a very weird place. Driving up to it the river Imjin straddles the highway. Since it flows from North Korea, they’ve fenced it off halfway to Seoul and there are armed guard towers every few hundred metres. Once you get to the outskirts of the DMZ you have to switch to a special tour bus. Photography going forward is extremely limited. I was only allowed to take pictures from specific approved areas. Driving to our first stop, you have to go through a checkpoint where South Korean soldiers come on and check all the passports of the tourists. After this the bus goes on a bridge and zig-zag around barriers.

Once in the DMZ, if something were to happen to the bus, we’d have to stay on the road as the forests are minefields. Interestingly, there’s a lot of garbage around. Noticing that this was the first garbage I’d seen lying around, I wondered for a few seconds why they don’t clean it up. Then I realized that cleaning up a minefield wouldn’t be a typical endeavor. Our first stop was a tunnel that the NK tried to build into the South. It, along with 3 others, was discovered after a defector informed them. After walking down a 300m ramp, you get to duck for another 200 metres into a mine-like rock tunnel. We went to the end, which is sealed off and made our way back.

Next up was a vantage point of NK. We could only take pictures from behind a line, but we got a good view overall of some of the fake “perfect” towns that they’ve built. There was also a small factory that’s a joint venture between North and South Korea for economic development. Through telescopic lenses, you could see a single farmer tending to a field in an ancient tractor and the buildings with no glass in the windows.

Overall it was a very sad experience. There are millions starving just to satisfy the ego of a few people. Although North Korea and communism in general is really fascinating, I’m glad I don’t live in a place where you can get shot for not having a pin of your leader on your jacket.