It is most likely the one border that is constantly in the focus of the world. The demarcation line between North and South Korea is always hot and edgy. You better hold your horses and don’t get silly, because the soldiers have their finger on the trigger. But beside from that, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in South Korea can also be considered as a political version of Disneyland.
The Korean war of 1950 until 1953 tore apart a nation and people in a manner, which is only comparable to the socialist and Western version of Germany. Maybe because of that, I was always very interested in Korean history. There is a seize fire between the two Korean nations, so basically they are still in a state of war with each other and the North is using this as leverage to get a cookie once in a while. After the war, a demilitarized zone was established, that cuts Korea evenly in two halves. This zone is full of mines and is roughly 250 kilometers long and 4km wide. Because no one is allowed to go there, nature took over and it is an environmental paradise with many kinds of animals and plants around. Well almost. Nowadays the South Korean military placed some funky new robots there to control the area. Robots and birds – what a peaceful world this would be. Recently, there was a mineral water brand established that sells clean spring water from this paradise. The Koreans are pretty smart and ambitious when it comes to business, so they even found their own way of exploiting the DMZ touristically for telling their side of the story. There are buses from Seoul who took on two-hour rides up north with guided tours. You can book these trips in any tourist office or hotel.
On your way back, you most likely have will have a stop at a Ginseng Museum where you are offered healthy dragées at a proud price. Maybe you are into that kind of stuff, but I found it quite silly. But back to business. For the bus ride you are often picked up directly at your hotel, which is very convenient. And you will have to change buses, a few times because at the DMZ, soldiers won’t allow other than their own buses.
But there are other ways to the DMZ. From the North, you can go by tunnel, at least that was the plan of the Northern regime. They dug south through the hardest minerals and stones with an impressive energy. But four tunnels were detected from the south and sealed, they expect that there are maybe many hundreds of tunnels underneath the surface. Now, little trains go into the tunnels and are at display for the visitors. It’s kind of Indiana Jones with a little bit of bling bling, LED lights at the carved stones. Back on the surface you will watch some movies about the DMZ. They are pretty graphic and due to the American voice over, it feels like a trailer for a war movie. In my personal opinion, they lose a little bit of the original tone there. But I don’t live on a remote peninsula threatened by your own people from the north, so all this kind of image work is understandable. And I understand that you have to create some sort of touristy infrastructure to meet the demands of the visitors.
After the tunnels the buses take you to the viewing platform where you can utilize telescopes to look over to the north. But photos are forbidden. But without a Photo-Sniper that would be useless anyway – but that would be a fun turmoil if you would pull such a massive tool from your pocket!
Oh by the way, here’s a nice trivia. I went to the DMZ in the winter of 2011, it was a Sunday. Only the day after we understood that the second president of North Korea, Kim Jong Il passed away while riding a train. But he died already on Saturday. So we have been at the border the day after he died, but nobody knew. Shortly after, word got around about Kim Jong Il’s passing and the whole military was at its highest alert and closed the border.
I would definitely recommend a visit to the DMZ. It’s living history and a very interesting monument. And after all, how long will it continue to exist? I am convinced that one day Korea will be reunited, you just can’t separate a people. You can’t! It is just a matter of time. But today the DMZ still makes its mark in many areas of Korean life. A few years back, I bought a pair of used camouflage army pants together with a red handkerchief buried in its pocket. I was into them at first glance when I saw them at a flea market in Seoul. First they had my size and they came from that zone. A living piece of history around my hairy legs – that was a sure win!