Thomas Ross Hallock

Asia 2012 – Part 5 – DMZ tour of the North / South Korean Border

This post covers September 18th of my 2012 trip to Asia. Start with Part 1 if you want the whole story.

On Tuesday, I took a tour of the DMZ area between North and South Korea through the PanmunJom Travel Center. I found the tour enjoyable and educational, and was overall surprised at how hopeful South Korea’s attitude is towards the possibility of uniting again with North Korea. I recommend taking the tour if you ever visit Seoul and have a day for it.

The bus ride from Seoul to the DMZ was down a large highway that got more and more vacant the farther we went. The DMZ area is known for its quality ginseng crops as well as an abundance of natural wildlife because of the unusually low human population.

The tour included several historical sites that you can read more about on Wikipedia, so I’ll just list them here, along with some photos I took.

  • Imjingak, a “resort” / museum for people who can not return to their home town because of border issues. It was a bit eerie to see an amusement park so close to an “active” war zone.

    It is on the south end of the Freedom Bridge:

    There’s a shot-up locomotive from the Korean War on display:

    …and some funny-looking South Korean soldier cartoon statues:
  • The Third Tunnel. Yeah, I managed to go caving! One of 4 known, and possibly up to 20 still undiscovered tunnels that North Korea dug under the border as part of a plan to invade Seoul.
  • Dorsan Station. A fully functional modern train station that is the last stop on the railroad that connects to North Korea.

  • Dora Observatory You can see farm fields and a “city” in North Korea from this terrestrial observatory. The “city” is Kijŏng-dong, a Potemkin village that was built to lure South Koreans over to North Korea in the 1960s as part of their propaganda campaign. North Korea apparently still broadcasts propaganda from loudspeakers here that can be heard across the border.
  • Panmunjom village, I still can’t quite figure this place out; there is a ten foot section where there is a gap in fence between the two Koreas, and the best-looking soldiers from North and South Korea stare at each other all day.

    I actually crossed over the border into North Korea for a few minutes. Through the window you can see the demarcation line that separates the south from the north. The Korean soldier is in South Korea while I am in North Korea.

I try to avoid souvenirs since like to travel light, but I couldn’t resist getting some things as the gift shop, since they are so unique.

That’s ginseng wine made in Pyongyang. There is an actual ginseng root in the wine. I don’t think I’ll ever drink it, but it looks pretty cool.

The 1978 series set of North Korean banknotes, totals 166KPW, I paid 26000₩ (about $23 US). Total cash value on the black market would be about $0.16 US. In other words, the gift shop exchange rate is 143 times higher than the black market exchange rate. Someone out there must be making a killing with this kind of arbitrage.

Continue to part 6, “Surfing Itaewon, American style”

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