When I started organizing my trip to Seoul, South Korea, I was certain of one thing: I wanted to visit DMZ, Demilitarized Zone about 60 km away from the capital, a place that has been found and is still at the center of political and military tensions that have attracted the attention of the whole world.
After years of nuclear threats and missile tests there seems to be an opening signal: Kim Jong-un will really make peace with the "rest of the world"? Will we help demilitarize the border between the two countries? While waiting for the events I tell you my experience and how I organized the visit to the DMZ .
Let's start with order: what do we mean by talking about DMZ?
The DMZ is a strip of land 4 km long and over 200 km long that separates the two Korean states along the 38th parallel. This border was traced following the war that saw them involved from 1950 to 1953 . It is since then that Korea is divided: North Korea, with Pyongyang capital and South Korea, with Seoul capital.
DMZ is defined as "the most dangerous place on Earth." The reason for this definition is simple: in 1953 the armistice was signed between the two countries but there is no peace agreement, therefore, they are still officially in war and Kim's real intentions are an enigma … This security strip is , in fact, bordered by barbed wire fences, locks, anti-personnel and anti-personnel mines and armed guards. Along the South Korean border, security is guaranteed by US military personnel working with the South Korean Army. It is obviously not allowed to live in the area and the villages along the frontier have been progressively abandoned, but irony of fate due to forced isolation has become the habitat of rare plant and animal species .
How to Visit the DMZ: My Experience
The DMZ can not be visited autonomously and you have to book one of the many tours that depart from Seoul.
This is perhaps the only positive aspect of the war. ] We turned to the Tour DMZ site, specifically we purchased the Combined tour / Panmunjom and 3rd Tunnel.
The one I choose is as a starting point for a hotel in the city center where you make cash or cards of credit. The group is made up of about 10 people from Europeans, Americans and Africans. Once the practice is done, a courier takes us out of Seoul heading north; after about one hour we get to the first checkpoint that regulates access to the Civilian Control Zone. Here a military officer boarded and checked the passports of all passengers. This is a practice that will be repeated several times during the tour. Once we make sure we are all right, the coach goes on his way
Our first stop is Camp Bonifas, a border area between the two Koreas under control of the United Nations. Within its perimeter is the Joint Security Area (JSA) the only place along the border where North and South Korea literally look into the eyes . Being the only physical contact point here is that the diplomacy has always come together. The JSA is also known as Panmunjeom, the small town here and where the armistice was signed.
Before leaving the courier, American soldiers impart orders: they will tell us when it is possible or forbidden to take photographs, but they must always and only be taken with the goal directed north. They must not circulate images that will allow "enemies" to know buildings and sensitive information.
We enter an auditorium where they sign a release: we are in a war zone and if something happens, responsibility is only nostra. From here, strictly in line for two, we head outside to the Conference Room escorted by the military. In deafening silence, we observe the famous blue houses that appear on television: in these buildings, negotiations and negotiations have been conducted. The two sides of the military face the property without moving their eyelids, it seems they do not even breathe. Those North Koreans from afar – not so much …! – they look at us. You can see a thin reinforced concrete strip pointing to the border. They authorize us to take pictures by (still) always and only north and then enter us into the room where the armistice was signed. The line that signals the border goes on inside the blue lodge and crosses the table as well. We stay a few minutes in this room and allow us to overwhelm: here it is possible to cross the strip and enter North Korea for a few minutes. A South Korean military, wearing his sunglasses like his colleagues, protects the door, never balking anyone!
The tour resumes with a brief stop at the bookshop at the stele commemorating the killing of Captain Bonifas and Lieutenant Barrett North Korean forces on August 18, 1976 (Ax Murder Incident) and Non-Return Bridge so called because there was the exchange of prisoners of war: who had been captured could decide whether to return home or stay where he was. The decision was definitive, hence the term "no return". We then go to the Liberty Bridge that the war prisoners crossed while returning to their homes in 1953.
The tour includes korean style lunch and then the view continues towards a modern building steel and glass. It is the train station Dorasan Station which is now empty and with interrupted tracks. This stop has an interesting history: opened in 1906 connecting Seoul and Pyongyang; was closed due to hostilities between the two countries; reopened in 2007 to allow the passage of freight trains with unused industrial supplies from the following year when the North Korean government closed the border. Since then, the Dorasan station is waiting to accommodate passengers again not only between the two countries ("Next stop Pyongyang") but also those heading to Europe, as it would represent a major junction within of the Trans Siberiana line. That is why a desert station becomes an intense and meaningful experience, hoping for a future reunion between the two countries.
Next to the station is the Dora Observatory from which you can spot the North Korean village of Kijongdong, made to propagate purpose of course. Then catch the attention the enormous flag that the Pyongyang dictator has hoisted. It wakes up to 160 meters and is said to have been raised to beat South Korea's – just – 98 feet tall.
Being so close to North Korea is a fascinating experience: distant mountains, lush greenery sure the ground is mined …) and roads. The other Korea is one step away from us. All this makes sense the absurdity and the pain of the situation lived by people who speak the same language, have the same somatic traits and the same religion but for more than sixty years they can no longer communicate freely. Pure human madness? Visit the dmz ” width=”1000″ height=”563″ />
The visit as the last destination is the Third Infiltration Tunnel . After the creation of the DMZ, North Koreans dug up numerous galleries in an attempt to invade Seoul suddenly. Four of them were discovered by South Koreans and the third one, which came to light in 1978, is accessible by tourists. You have to wear a protective helmet and go down a 350 meter trail. The tunnel is damp, narrow and very low but not particularly impervious. Once discovered, it was closed with reinforced concrete walls. The disturbing aspect is that there might be others that have not yet been discovered. Crossing it is a significant experience to understand both the state of perpetual anxiety that South Koreans have been living for over half a century and the enormous work force used by enemies for its realization.
The visit ends and our bus takes us back to Seoul in the late afternoon. The atmosphere that breathes along the DMZ is surreal to us westerners, accustomed not only to the open borders but also to live in its relative tranquility. During the tour I never really felt in danger, for my unconsciousness or maybe because at that time the situation was calm, or at least that's what the military and the guides told us. Visit the DMZ is an experience that is becoming more and more popular: tours are also organized in North Korea, certainly with a different approach and propaganda.
My advice for those wishing to visit the DMZ
- Book in advance : Tours do not take place every day and there are times of the year when they are not scheduled because the military is engaged in exercises. Do not forget that the border situation is dynamic and if it is considered dangerous, the visits are interrupted.
- Make sure that the tour you choose leads you to the Joint Security Area, not everyone is expecting this stage that is the one that's unavoidable in my opinion. 19659032] There are strict rules on clothing: wearing long pants, no torn jeans (this is a matter of propaganda: North Koreans might argue that Westerners can not afford decent clothes), no t-shirts, no t-shirts with written obvious
- Avoid visual contact with North Korean military, do not address them and ignore them.
- Respectful: DMZ is not a museum but a concrete witness to the suffering that causes wars
The article Visiting the DMZ: where North and South Korea meet seems to be the first on Diarioinviaggio.