A pleasant stroll along the world's most heavily fortified border.
Seoul Travel Blog› entry 28 of 251 › view all entries
April 13th, 2008 – by: cmgervais
And we went there on a tour bus!
We were lucky to secure a tour at the last minute (yesterday), as I have heard that tours fill up weeks in advance. The DMZ is reportedly South Korea's most popular tourist destination. I love that the South Koreans have turned something so negative into such a huge opportunity.
Our bus took us (along with about 40 other Americans, Canadians, and Chinese) about 1-1/2 hours outside of Seoul. There was a marathon (with very high participation I might add -- streams and streams of runners) along the way that slowed things down a bit. At one point our driver got out and angrily kicked away some orange safety cones, which prompted an educational lecture by our tour guide about Koreans' short tempers!
We noticed that the Han river banks were fortified with ominous looking barbed wire rolls well before we got to the actual DMZ. When we got to the general entry area, we were stopped at a checkpoint and a soldier came on to check everyone's passports.
We then made our first stop -- Imjingak Park, where the "Freedom" bridge (actually, its pillars -- the original bridge was destroyed) stands. It is where 13,000 war captives crossed over to the South after fighting ended, hence its name. The rebuilt bridge that currently exists is the only bridge connecting North and South Korea, so there are plenty of soldiers around, and lots of barbed wire. We looked around a bit, and I took a picture where I wasn't supposed to, because some other people were and they didn't get in trouble.
Next we went to the 3rd Invasion Tunnel, which was my favorite part of the trip. This tunnel, dug by North Korea (although they dispute it!) and possibly part of a planned surprise attack on Seoul, was discovered in 1978.
To get to the tunnel, we had to first don helmets, then descend through an "interception tunnel" which was amazingly steep and hurt my knees to walk down. When we got to the actual tunnel-tunnel, the "ceiling" was pretty low, hence the need for helmets. The guy in front of me must have whacked his head five times! It was not all that comfortable to walk along all hunched over, but luckily it lasted only about 500 meters. When we came to the end, we could see through a window to the North Korean side. It was locked up tight and covered with barbed wire. There was a "no photography" sign; although someone in my party may have accidentally snapped a shot. I am not saying whom. Then we had to walk back up the steep interception tunnel, which gave some people difficulties.
There was a statue outside of the tunnel area, showing people pushing together the two halves of a large sphere. We couldn't explore the area too much though, as the surrounding land was roped off and flagged with "mine" caution signs (our guide said there were about a million land mines that South Korea "had imported from America."). Next door, there was a movie, that oddly showed the DMZ as a positive place full of sunshine and happiness. And butterflies. Hello, it's an armed border! There was also footage of some reunions between North and South Korean families who had been separated for so very long.
Then we were off to the Dora observatory, where we could get a peek at North Korea. Photography was allowed only to a certain point, and there were many guards around to make sure you didn't step in front of the yellow line. Consequently, it was pretty much impossible to get a photo of the North Korean side. You could look all you wanted though. I didn't see any communist activity though. There were trees, some grass.
The last stop of the day was Dorasan Station. This was a totally bizarre, brand shiny new train station to connect the North and the South. Very optimistic, and currently very unused. We stamped our passports with a "commemorative" stamp. Maybe (hopefully!) this station will someday be used for peaceful commuting between the two countries.
Our bus ride back seemed to take forever. When we got to Seoul, the bus stopped at an amethyst factory that had not to do with demilitarization. Time to sell stuff to the tourists. It was 2:00 and we hadn't eaten yet, so I was annoyed to be trapped there. Several people opted to stay in the bus (including me and Steve), but it seemed like several of the people who did go in bought stuff. We were finally dropped off near Lotte department store (I thought it odd that they picked us up from our hotel but did not drop us back off there!).
We had just missed the hotel shuttle, so we decided to find some lunch. We found bibimbap (vegetables in a bowl, to which you add sauce and rice) displayed outside a place close to our drop off point, so we went in.
We were pretty exhausted at that point, and walked around a little until it was time to catch the bus. That evening, we relaxed in the room for a while, and were so tired we canceled our restaurant plans, opting instead to grab some lame food at the 7-Eleven close by. Hey, we've been going nonstop! It was nice to have a chill night, watching TV downloaded from iTunes.
Tomorrow we need to get up early ... we're off to China!
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