Last week, Steven and I arrived in Seoul as the last stop to our Asian adventure. Steven has a bunch of friends in Korea that we've been and will be visiting. But I really wanted to come to Korea to see the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, the only border in the world that is heavily patrolled by the military... on both sides!
It's a fascinating, scary, and sad place. This border separates families--they have absolutely no way to reach their ancestral homes, or contact any surviving members on the other side. Only 4 km wide, but spanning over 200 km in length, the border cuts Korea right in half. For a country that has been through so much war, defended itself in history against Japan, China, Mongols, etc., it's a shame for it to still be fighting itself.
|This statue from the War Memorial in Seoul really says it all; Brothers meeting each other on the battlefield and embracing.One is from South Korea, one from North.|
You can't really take many photos in the real and proper DMZ, so I don't have much to post about here. But the tour is definitely worth your time if you are ever in the neighbourhood. Even though it's PACKED with tourists from all ends of the world, the infiltration tunnels, the info centres, the observatory, the train station...these are all fascinating to see and learn about.
Just a note: the DMZ isn't something you can see on your own as a civilian. If you're driving, guards will turn you back far before you get anywhere close to the DMZ. So everyone must sign up for a tour. REMEMBER TO BRING YOUR PASSPORT!!!! I was amazed that so many people would actually forget! Sure, they've made it all nice and easy and pretty for tourists to see, but IT'S A FRIGGIN' MILITARY ZONE. Bring that identification shizzle yo, and keep it on you!
|Toeing the "No Photo Line" at the Doresan Observatory.|
Though I'm talking non-stop about the DMZ in this post, the main attraction is really Panmunjom, the Joint Security Area, where guards stand face-to-face like in all those famous photos. Panmunjom is where heads of state gathered to discuss peace, so it is an important location in history. It's also smack dab on the border, where one step either way means you've crossed over to the other jurisdiction (but I doubt they'd allow tourists to even get within stepping distance).
To book this tour, you will need to reserve a spot 3 days ahead. They require a passport check and have quite a strict dress code. Unluckily for us, the tour was already full so we couldn't go even though we were ready and willing!
Anyway, it's definitely a wake-up-call kind of place. You realize how lucky we are to be safe and happy back in North America, no mandatory military service, no unfriendly neighbour to the North... kind of important, eh?