Thursday, April 10, 2008

4/14/08 Demilitarized Zone

March 25th: Korea

I knew that any trip to Korea for me was going to include a tour to the Demilitarized Zone. I am a big international politics geek, and the DMZ is a focal point. I have heard it described as the last place on earth where the cold war is still raging, and I read that it is the most heavily armed border in the world. The antics that occur between the north and south often unfold through this patch of earth. The fact that tours are safe and allowed seems pretty amazing.

Of all days, my camera picked this one to weird out on me. An unexplained little blob appeared in my pictures, no matter how many times I tried to wipe off the lens. I haven't noticed it recently, so I'm hoping that its gone. Soo, all of my pictures from probably the coolest part of the trip are less than perfect. Oh well.

The DMZ is the strip of land that separates the two Koreas. The Joint Security Area(JSA), by contrast, is contained within the zone and serves as a place that officials from the two Koreas often have talks. It is the only place where the two countries actually touch.

The bus ride down freedom road was pretty smooth. The road's main purpose is to allow tanks and military personnel access to the border in case of conflict, and I don't believe we saw another automobile the entire trip. A river ran adjacent to the road for a while. The riverbank was covered in barbed wire and dotted with guard posts and search lights, as the opposing river bank was North Korea. One interesting feature were the large concrete structures that were occasionally built over the road like bridges. In fact, they were structures filled with explosives that would be blown to block the road in case of an attack.

The first stop was Ballinger Hall, where we were given a short intro on the history and the significance of what we were about to see. The "in front of them all" slogan was plastered everywhere, and it refers to the fact that the base is the closest to North Korea.

We were also asked to sign this waver. The first line really sets a cheery tone. "The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action."

The cool part was unfortunately short. We were led into the United Nations blue buildings that straddle the line between North and South. I took a couple of shots with our cool dude military police escort.

A meeting table was stuck sideways in the building. The opposing rows of seats were in different countries. I thought it was pretty cool when I walked over to the other side of the room into the axis of evil.

This sun-spectacled gentlemen is guarding the door that opens into North Korea. He didn't seem receptive to me having a little peek.

Then I began looking out the window in search of my forbidden friends."Where the heck were all the Northies?" Not a soul was guarding the north side of the line. Our annoying tour guide started to push everyone towards the door when some North Korean soldiers goose-stepped their way over. Perhaps there was a changing of the guard or something. I snapped a quick couple pictures before I was ushered out... the last tourist to leave the building, of course.

You might notice that North Korea has no gravel on their side. Score one for America's embargo!

I think he was trying to send me a message with his eyes. It was either "Please take me with you!" or "Please die, capitalist pig-dog!". You can just make out the Kim Sung Il pin over his heart, a requirement for all adult North Koreans.

Here's a nice little pan of the buildings on our way out. You can hear our annoying tour guide in the background.

Here was a guard post on the North side. Complete with little guard man.

Later on we saw this model, which gives a bit better idea of how the buildings are situated.

The tour continued on from there, but it seemed silly to do the coolest part first. Nothing could possibly beat what we had already seen.

We got a couple of glimpses at the world's tallest flag pole. It is located in Kijong-dong, also known as propaganda village due to the fact that it the area is well maintained but largely uninhabited.

My favorite souvenir find has got to be this bottle of Insamsul. It's apparently ginseng flavored, and it even has a small root right in the bottle. Its made in Kaesong, right over the border in the DPRK. Wow.

Quite the trip!


  1. That is definately one of the most bizarre places in the world. Weird how tourists can go right up and stand next to the guards or take pictures of the NK guards.

  2. Yeah, it was hard to take the place seriously. Its almost like the north and south are simply putting on this show at the border in order to make tourism dollars. Very strange.

  3. John! I can't believe you went to North Korea...well almost. You're crazy man! I really enjoyed reading about it though.

  4. Apparently it is possible to take tours of some North Korean cities, even for Americans! I really wish I could've gone for a day trip. That would have been pretty memorable I think.