Wednesday, April 22, 2015

South Korea Day 4

The DMZ


            The DMZ or demilitarized zone is the border between North and South Korea, who are technically still at war.  It is also one of the most, if not the most heavily fortified locations on the planet.  According to the guide it will take over 400 years to remove all of the land mines strewn over the 2.5 mile wide, 160 mile long zone cutting the Korean Peninsula in half.  This of course begs the question why there are tours into the zone, or how they are allowed in the first place.  Well I can officially say that the tours in no way jeopardize the ongoing mission.

            Stop number one is a tour is a small site just outside the DMZ with a number memorials, little shops, and even a small amusement park.  I guess Korea has a south of the border too, but  all kidding aside seeing the rides was more than a little weird, especially when placed next to various memorials.

Korean War Memorial



            The memorial is to commemorate all of the soldiers who fought in the war to protect South Korea.  Over 970,000 soldiers fought in the war on the side of South Korea with over 178,426 dead, 32,925 missing, and 566,434 wounded.

The Peace Bell



            The bell was erected in the hope that the two Korea’s will one day be unified.

A relic of the war



The DMZ



            Now for the main event, at the check point soldiers entered the bus and examined our passports, while another group scans the bus.  Now that we are past the barbed wire, road blocks and everything else, I spy helicopters flying overhead.  Fully loaded Apache helicopters chock full of missiles, and rockets just looking for something to erase from existence.  So yes even if it doesn't look like it, this place is a full on fortress.

The DMZ


            Our first real stop inside the DMZ is the third of four incursion tunnels the North Koreans built under the DMZ.  Now the North Koreans claim it was for mining coal, but even I know you don't find coal mixed in with granite.  Oh and no pictures, not that it stopped certain types of tourists, but I wasn't taking any chances.  The rule for entering the tunnel was if you are over 150 cm you must wear a helmet no exceptions.  So being 190 cm I snagged the plastic yellow helmet and trudged down a rather steep path into the depths of the earth.  The first part of the tunnel is a large concrete lined tube several meters in diameter, so I just thought the South Koreans were being overly cautious.  Boy was I wrong, the actual tunnel is insanely small, (at least for me) and it is a dynamite blasted and hand carved path.  The rough jagged rocks are a concussion waiting to happen, and frankly I wanted a metal helmet, not a cheap plastic one.

            Now to give you an idea I was using the old duck walk from high school football, for a hell of a lot longer than my coaches ever did.  What made it worse was there are places where you can stand up a bit higher than others, and a few times I could stand up completely.  My traveling buddy for the day was a nice guy from Switzerland, and we had a nice time conversing about various topics.  The most interesting conversation was the one we had while walking/ crawling through the tunnel.  FYI- The tunnels are monitored 24/7/365 by the UN in case of North Korean incursions

            Me- I can’t believe this place is a tourist attraction
            Swiss guy- There would be a lot of dead tourists if the North Koreans invaded right now
            Me- Ugh, don’t remind me
            Swiss guy- why do you think I’m walking behind you
            Me- Somehow I’m not surprised

            Sometime later after viewing the barbed wire barrier with a large concrete wall and steel door behind it with a small window.  A camera is pointed through the window monitoring another barrier on the other side.

            Me- It still amazes me that the South Koreans left this place intact
            Swiss guy- Yup, and there might be some politics involved
            Me- I mean the North Koreans have to know the South Koreans are watching it
            Swiss guy- Maybe the South Koreans are banking on stupidity on the other side
            Me- So they wired the entire place to blow in case the North Koreans ever used it
            Swiss guy- Maybe
            Me- Then what the hell are we doing down here
            Swiss guy- It was on the tour

            I’m just happy that the people around us A didn’t speak English, and or B just thought we were a pair of stupid westerns or something.  I don’t relish the idea of ending up disappearing in some sort of facility for saying something dumb.

Alright time for the main event- AKA getting as close to North Korea as I ever want to


            The second stop inside the DMZ was the viewing point to see across the DMZ into North Korea, and the fake town they built there.  It was a bit hazy and cloudy so I couldn’t see much, so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

North Korea



The giant flag Pole



            The final stop on the tour was the Dorasan station, a train station built in the DMZ in the hope that A the Korean Peninsula is unified at some point, or B North Korean relations normalize to the point that normal rail traffic can occur.


A future plan of the South Koreans, to reduce shipping costs, and time to certain markets.



Hey Mom look where I’m headed next



Close up of my ticket



Passport stamp



The Train