Seoul Travel Blog› entry 77 of 80 › view all entries
Despite all the culture and attractions of Seoul the one thing you must do when in south Korea is visit the DMZ that runs across the penisular separating the south from the north.
We have followed the recomendation of the Rough Guide and have booked a trip to the DMZ through the USO - the tourist wing of the US Army. This tour has the beauty of visiting the JSA - the area in the middle of the DMZ where soldiers from both sides patrol a special compound where the "talks" between the two nations still take place. There are some special security restrictions for access to the JSA so many DMZ tours omit this - we have heard it is a must do.
The day starts off tamely with a visit to a museum and the 3rd tunnel where strangely you are not permitted to take photos.
It's now that the tour gets serious when we arrive at Camp Bonitas and are passed over to US Army control. We have a briefing are are then required to sign a liability waiver for whatever might happen in the DMZ. Afterwards we are bused through the DMZ to the JSA. The JSA is a very very odd, and I am sure, unique place. Here both North and South Korean soldiers face off across an open area about 100 yds wide. Both sides have a large building but exactly in the middle of the DMZ are buildings built to hold meetings between the 2 sides.
Accompanied by armed soldiers we are pemitted to enter the central building which has been used for many of the peace negotiations. Inside, by walking to the north half of the building we are actually walking into North Korea. All the time we are surrounded by armed guards. The South Korean soldiers are all black-belt martial arts experts, wear mirror shades and stand impassive. The whole experience is very surreal but also incredibly intense - this is all very real and one of the very few active war zones in the world and I am sure the only one you can visit as a tourist.
Afterwards, as we stand looking over to the North Korean guards, our US guides answer questions.
Back in the camp we are able to buy souveniers. I buy a fridge magnet and hankerchief, tacky but where else can you get this stuff? After that it is all a bit of an anti-climax as we work our way back to Seoul but what a day!