The DMZ. The border between North and South Korea. The line in the sand that separates democracy from dictatorship, a stark contrast between freedom and totalitarianism. Heavy stuff.
But still fascinating. It’s really the only place on earth like it. And when it finally does crumble, something like it will probably(hopefully) never happen again..at least not in our lifetimes!
We planned an excursion to the DMZ during our time in Seoul and gathered bright and early at the hotel for our bus to pick us up.
Not before breakfast, though! Isaac’s Toast is kind of like the bodega of Seoul. The hole in the wall shops are scattered throughout the city serving grilled sandwiches. Two pieces of white bread, slathered in butter, grilled, and stuffed with a few toppings – mainly meat, cheese, and sauce.
For $3 a pop, it was a delicious start to the day in a city where we couldn’t easily find quick and fast early breakfasts. I give it a……THUMBS UP!
The bus drove about an hour to get to the DMZ which stands for de-militarized zone. The DMZ is a strip of land which essentially serves as a buffer zone for the border between South and North Korea. It is about 4km (2.5 miles) wide – so about 2km on each side of the border – and was established in 1953 as part of the Korean War Armistice Agreement. The Korean peninsula had already been divided in half at the end of World War II in 1945 when Soviet forces took over the Northern half of Korea while American forces looked over the Southern half. The division was at the 38th parallel and the DMZ surrounds this latitude line.
You can only enter the DMZ as part of a tour group that is escorted personally by American and South Korean military personnel. The American soldier boarded our bus and was our guide for the whole day, explaining the history of the area, the current political climate, and other interesting anecdotes.
We made our way through the DMZ and towards the JSA, the Joint Security Area, the only part of the border where North and South Korean forces stand face to face. It’s also called Panmunjom or Truce Village, and is the site for diplomatic engagements and military negotiations.
We learned that everything was painted blue because blue is the color of peace! It’s also the official color of the United Nations,
Strangely enough there were tourist groups on the North Korean side looking at us as we were looking at them.
The blue buildings that sit in a row actually straddle the border. Representatives from both nations enter the building on their respective sides and meet in the middle for negotiations. We were able to enter one of the buildings and cross over the center into the North Korean side of the room. I’ve been to the DMZ before, years ago when I visited with my family. Standing in North Korea twice in my life was not something I’d think would happen twice in my life but there I was!
We saw the Freedom Bridge which crosses the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) from South to North Korea.
We then went up to the Dora Observatory for a 360 degree view of South Korea juxtaposed against the stark, barren landscape of North Korea.
The Dorasan Train Station was the next stop on the visit. Though not in use currently, the station represents hope for an eventual reunification of the two Koreas.
We ended by learning about the tunnels that have been discovered leading from North Korea to South. We were invited to walk down to explore and before we knew it were 20 minutes underground with an entire mountain to climb to get back up. It was exhausting!
Our tour guide filled the hour long ride home sharing all his last tidbits of knowledge – an interesting day indeed.