The DMZ and stepping into North Korea (and no, we didn't need Bill Clinton's help getting out)

Paju Travel Blog

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Freedom Bridge at Imjingak
Organized tours!  Noooooooo!  But unfortunately, to go to the DMZ and Panmunjom, you have to go with a tour.  This is not a DIY thing.  We didn't do an all-day tour since those left Seoul at 8am, which would have meant leaving the apartment at around 5am.  So not happening.  So we didn't see the tunnels.  We also didn't see the Bridge of No Return, which I wanted to see.  But the tour guide (translating for our ROK- Republic of Korea aka South Korea- military escort) said that it was under repair and too dangerous because it's so close to North Korea and tensions are high.

The Bridge is important because at the end of the Korean War, that's where POWs were exchanged.  It's named this because once a person crossed that bridge, they couldn't go back.
me (technically in North Korea) and the guard (yes, he's real- though he didn't move at all the entire time we were in there)
  This was also the area where the Axe Murder Incident of 1976 took place.  And more recently, it was portrayed in the James Bond movie Die Another Day.

The first stop (after lunch) was Imjingak.  It's a park with monuments and statues relating to the Korean War.  The Freedom Bridge is another place where POWs were swapped.  I walked along part of it, but it's blocked partway across by a board with ribbons and paper on it.  On top, barbed wire.  We didn't have much time here, so I quickly took some pictures of a bell and a stone wall memorial.  From there, to the JSA.

The JSA (Joint Security Area) is on the border between North and South Korea.  Before we could even get out of the bus at Camp Bonifas (inside the JSA) our passports were checked twice, and our dress code was checked.
inside the JSA and MAC Conference Room. I was technically in North Korea taking this picture. The guard is on the border.


Yup, there's a dress code for this tour.  No ripped jeans, no flip-flops, etc.  Neat and clean appearance.  They say it's because North Korea will take pictures and use them as propaganda material. 

At Camp Bonifas, we were breifed on history and current events.  Then there was the waiver- absolving South Korea, the US, and the UN in case of hostilities, etc.  Essentially, we were about to enter an area where our safety couldn't be guaranteed.  But the fact that the area's been calm for a while now, plus the ROK soldiers all around, I didn't feel shaky at all.  From there, we got on the bus for a 10 minute drive up to the JSA.

We weren't allowed to take pictures as we pleased at Camp Bonifas or the JSA.  There were designated photo areas and that was it.
a wall with the flags of South Korea and other allied countries
  We went through the Freedom House to the MAC Conference Room.  Inside this room were us tourists, our tour guide and two ROK soldiers.  There were a bunch of desks and one long table with three microphones down the center.  Those microphones, other than recording everything in the room 24-7, also mark the line between North and South Korea.  In this room, it is possible to step into North Korea without fear of capture because no North Koreans were there.  It's the same when tourists from the North Korean side step into the room, they can step into South Korea, and there are two North Korean guards there.

So, yup, I stepped into North Korea, wasn't grabbed, and didn't need Bill to come bail me out. 

From there we went to the Freedom House Pagoda where we were allowed to take pictures again.  After a few minutes where, we went back to the bus to the gift shop.  And a really cool souvenir- the waiver we signed.  WooHoo!

From there, back to Seoul and back to Suwon and an early night (though I did manage to watch some *ahem* Power Rangers on YouTube) since I had to be up early for my flight back to Beijing.
betaori says:
cool! wonder if that room between North and South is still accessible.
Posted on: Jan 01, 2010
rotorhead85 says:
Now that's living on the edge!
Posted on: Aug 11, 2009
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Freedom Bridge at Imjingak
Freedom Bridge at Imjingak
me (technically in North Korea) an…
me (technically in North Korea) a…
inside the JSA and MAC Conference …
inside the JSA and MAC Conference…
a wall with the flags of South Kor…
a wall with the flags of South Ko…
a pagoda with a bell
a pagoda with a bell
along the fence near the Freedom B…
along the fence near the Freedom …
at one end of the Freedom Bridge
at one end of the Freedom Bridge
at one end of the Freedom Bridge
at one end of the Freedom Bridge
at one end of the Freedom Bridge
at one end of the Freedom Bridge
the Freedom Bridge- cant go any f…
the Freedom Bridge- can't go any …
the Freedom Bridge- cant go any f…
the Freedom Bridge- can't go any …
a guard post behind the fence
a guard post behind the fence
the fence running along the bridge
the fence running along the bridge
the bell up close
the bell up close
The Stones of the Peace Wall
The Stones of the Peace Wall
the Peace Wall
the Peace Wall
Looking into the North Korean side…
Looking into the North Korean sid…
the guard and the table
the guard and the table
looking out from the Freedom House…
looking out from the Freedom Hous…
the South Korean flag in a nearby …
the South Korean flag in a nearby…
A view into North Korea.  When the…
A view into North Korea. When th…
Still in S.Korea, two guards near …
Still in S.Korea, two guards near…
me, and a view into North Korea
me, and a view into North Korea
on the ceiling of the pagoda
on the ceiling of the pagoda
another view looking out
another view looking out
Paju
photo by: saltycoco