Continuing with our tours of South Korea (Republic of Korea), at Nate’s request, we signed up for a DMZ/JSA tour. The DMZ is the demilitarized zone, running approx. 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide as a non residential, non militarized zone between the two countries. This was part of the 1953 agreement. The JSA (Joint Security Area), is a meeting point for the two nations. Both actively maintain and guard the area.
The DMZ and JSA have become noted foreign tourist attractions. You have to sign up in advance and they will background check you. You must bring your passport along and you have to sign paperwork in order to be granted admittance.
This is generally one of those things I would have been nervousngoing to do, but it was the main thing that Nate wished to see. I am so happy that we went. It’s a little scary (whether that is a justified feeling or not), but you learn such an incredible amount of history. (Just as an FYI, this is a noted tourist activity, and my weird reservations should not be an indicator as to the safety of this tour. Buses and buses of tourists visit this site every week, and if there is an incident that warrants concern they shut it down at the border well away from anything).
Our tour had us make several stops. Imjingak is a border town, and the last stopping point prior to the DMZ. Their rest and community area holds a host of historical artifacts.
It eerily felt a lot like Mexico/US borders. Many families are separated by the 38th parallel, and there have been a number of exchanges since.
People can write messages of hope to people on the other side on these ribbons. Very powerful.
Even after the armistice, North Korea still planned to one day capture Seoul. They created a series of tunnels, that were discovered in the 70’s. It is believed that there are still tunnels out there that have not yet been found. We were able to visit the 3rd tunnel. They do not allow photos inside, but we all are given a hard hat and told to walk down the 356 meter tunnel to the bottom. Nate and I started off, I made it all the way down to the 100 meter mark, but with my asthma and claustrophobia and the exertion just going down the INCREDIBLY steep tunnel, I decided to turn back. THANK GOODNESS. That tunnel was so steep going down, it was a huge effort going back up. I am glad that I knew my limits and turned around when I did. I think adding another 100 meters of climb would have done me in. It was getting very hard for me to breathe as it was, and the climb back was no joke. I really pulled myself along on the hand rail. Everyone else emerged from the tunnel about 15 minutes after me, sweating profusely and gasping for water. Everyone was dripping with sweat. Please wear active shoes and clothes that won’t get wrecked if you take this tour!
A visual of the tunnel to get to the tunnel.
We also stopped at the Dorasan Railway station. The train rail line runs all the way to China, but obviously is not running between North and South Korea currently. It was really inspiring to hear our tour guide’s talk about their desire for unification, and the factors that make it so much of a hot issue. South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, which means they do not have as young of a work force. By comparison, North Korea has a lot of young workers, but far fewer jobs for them.
You can purchase a “ticket” to Pyeongyang, that hey, maybe someday we’ll get to use.
One of our last stops before the JSA was the observation bridge, where you can see all the way into North Korea.
Miles of security on the perimeter of the DMZ.
Just before the JSA, we stopped back at Imjingak for lunch. We took a few minutes after lunch to shoot some photos of my dress, and we were so excited to finally meet up with Owen. Though he was on a different tour, we all went to the JSA together which was really fun. We met Owen on our first full day in Seoul at our Food Tour. (It was just us and him). He’s a cool Boston guy, and we all clicked right away. We ended up getting together again for another Food venture PIZZA BOMBA – (post to come), and he booked a tour of the DMZ the same day we did. We had hoped to be together, but no such luck. Still, it was better than we could have expected to have side by side tours!
I was so excited to see him get off a bus at this rest area! Nate was taking photos of me in my Postcard dress (see end of the post), and I saw Owen! I started to run over to hug him, and he quickly motioned for me not to give away the surprise. So I tried to act normal while Nate took photos and Owen snuck up on him. Nate almost jumped in surprise. Hilarious. 🙂.
The last stop on the tour is the Joint Security Area. This is a very restricted area, and they checked our ids multiple times. We also have to sign agreements. They give very careful instructions, even how we should handle seeing tourists from the opposite side of the compound. They instruct you to not wave, not even make eye contact if you can avoid it. There are very specific areas that you may take photos, and only when they give you permission. We are accompanied by soldiers the whole tour. The SK side is also governed by the US, so it was comforting to see a group of US soldiers, in such a tightly secure area. There are very conservative dress code requirements, so I brought along this beautiful Persifor scarf to create a wrap for myself.
The flag and microphones sit right on the border. If you sit across from each other, you are in two different countries.
And we switched.
Owen and Nate hamming it up at the JSA Museum.
Isn’t my wrap lovely? Pineapples by Persifor, can’t go wrong! It’s also extremely lightweight which was perfect for this scorching day.
I saw this dress on J.Crew, and even though I had the ASOS Postcard print, I really wanted this one too. I like that it’s versatile in that it can be off the shoulder or made into a scoop neck. The print is very festive and colorful. J.Crew made a variety of items in this print and it took a great deal of willpower to not order them all!