Thursday, 27 March 2014

Visiting the DMZ and JSA

Last March, Aaron and I had the opportunity to visit the Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area between North and South Korea. It was a really interesting time to go, as attitudes between North Korea and South Korea and the US had been very tense. If you are planning on visiting the DMZ and JSA, you will need to book a tour. We booked our tour with Sally Tour. It was a full day tour, and cost about $120 per person, with lunch included (you can never go wrong with beef bulgogi!) The tour was conducted in English, but we had the added surprise of having a North Korean defector accompany part of our tour to tell us her story and answer questions for us. Our tour guide was able to translate for us, and it was absolutely incredible to hear about North Korea and escaping first hand.

Our first stop was Imjingak Park, which you can access without a tour. This is what used to be meeting place between families that are separated in North and South Korea. The photo below of the ribbons on the barbed wire fence was taken there. The ribbons are prayer ribbons in hope of a reunified Korea.

Other stops included Dorasan Train Station, Dorasan Observatory, the 3rd infiltration tunnel, and the JSA. I learned so much at each of these stops. The photo below is from the Dorasan Observatory. From here, we could look out to North Korea and see one of the propaganda villages. We could also hear North Korean artillery practice from here. We were allowed to use the binoculars to get a closer look, but we were only allowed to take photos from behind a line about 12 feet away from the binoculars.

The 3rd infiltration tunnel, or The Third Tunnel of Aggression, is one of four known tunnels that have been discovered under the border between North and South Korea. It was made for a surprise attack on Seoul by the North, and was only discovered because of information from a Northern defector. It is believed that there are up to twenty more tunnels along the border made by the North. The US and South Korea often drill in the DMZ searching for more tunnels. Visitors can now go down into the Third tunnel, provided they wear helmets. Aaron and I went down, but I got freaked out about being underground and in small spaces after a little bit, so I turned around early. Aaron went all the way to the farthest point visitors are allowed to go to.

The photo below is from the Joint Security Area. The large building in the back belongs to North Korea. The blue buildings are used by both North and South Korea. The soldiers in the foreground of the photo are ROK soldiers, and they are looking at a DPRK soldier, that you can just see from behind the column on the left. He had binoculars and kept peeking out at us.
While at the JSA, we also saw the Bridge of No Return. This bridge crosses the line between North and South Korea. This is where prisoner exchanges are done.

If you are ever in Korea, I highly recommend taking a tour of the DMZ and JSA. You will learn so much, and while a lot of it is extremely sad, it is a very eye opening experience.

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