Today we’re going to the DMZ from the south side and Kimberly and I start out a wee bit tired (of which our gracious travel mates aren’t slow to take advantage…) A bus takes us there and a guide tells us a thing or two about the DMZ; for instance about the time when the boss of Hyundai (being a former North Korean) gave away 1001 cows to North Korea. Or that the people who live in the DMZ, yes there actually are people living there, earn from $80k to $100k a year just to live there and farm the land. But then again, you do run the risk of stepping on a mine or being axed down by crazed soldiers…
Entering the DMZ we come across the South Korean version of tank traps which consists of cement “portals” sort of like the ones at Stonehenge. When you need to stop something, the top part is blown off using explosives, falling down on the road and blocking it.
As we get to the actual Joint Security Area, where the blue barracks are, we get surprisingly strict instructions. There is to be absolutely no pointing, no stopping unless told so or even looking in the wrong direction. The North Koreans were much more laid back! The South Korean soldiers on duty were also very constipated, all wearing pilot glasses, helmets and standing with closed fists in front of their bodies. There was also a peculiar sound about them that took me a while to figure out what it was. It seems like they have steel balls sewn into the hem of their pants in order for them to fall just right! And when they walk around, those balls roll around and clatter against each other, hilarious! =D
Then again I guess they do have reason to be a bit more jumpy what with the North Koreans and their less than stellar track record of predictability… On the way out we stop by the usual souvenir shop and I buy a couple of trinkets. The place seems to be mostly staffed by Americans, interestingly enough.
Next stop is the “Third Tunnel of Aggression” where the North Koreans tried digging an invasion tunnel under the DMZ and nearly succeeded. If it wasn’t for the South Koreans capturing a spy that told them about its location. The North Koreans of course denied it being an invasion tunnel and claimed that it was a coal mine, pointing to black patches on the tunnel walls. (patches soon to be found being paint since the kind of rock that’s in this region never contains coal…) We did get to go down into the tunnel itself as well, wearing yellow hardhats. Which was fortunate since I bumped my head in the ceiling more than five times going back and forth.
Back up top we get to see a propaganda movie that is only slightly more balanced than the North Korean ones. There is also a little museum covering larger DMZ incidents. Interestingly enough the entry about the Pueblo (the captured spy ship) is rather tiny here and hardly mentioned… Outside the building are a few monuments, but the coolest thing I find is the “Mine” warning sign off to the side. I guess stepping out into the forest to pee is out of the question!
We hop on the bus again and arrive at some sort of watch tower with a view of North Korea and a joint factory venture between North and South Korea. The place is actually rather silly with a line some 10 meters from the actual view after which you weren’t allowed to take pictures. The view wasn’t all that special, especially since we’d just been in North Korea, I feel that they could’ve skipped this bit and gone straight for the train station which is the last stop on the tour.
What makes this train station special is its role as a symbol for the reunification effort, one day you’re supposed to be able to board a train to Pyongyang on this station. But right now it’s just shipping the workers at the joint venture factory to and fro.
On the way back to Seoul we’re herded into one of those crappy crystal shops you always end up in on tours like this. We manage to escape unscathed and spend the rest of the evening spelunking around the less touristy parts of Seoul and finishing off the evening with some excellent Indian food.