Okay, I need to disclaimer this. I WAS in North Korea buuuuttt, only via a tunnel, and only in the way that you reach a land border and jump from one side to the next saying “I’m in Wales!…Now I’m in England!…Now I’m in Wales.” But still, I absolutely WAS in North Korea, albeit for a bit.
The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is an area of land running across the 38th parallel and Korean Peninsula, created at the end of the Korean War. It aimed to create a safety ‘buffer’ between the tension lingering between the North and the South. The strip of land is 160 miles long, 2.5 miles wide and the most heavily militarized border in the world, despite its’ name. I believe it. We were in Seoul, at the National History Museum (which I really recommend by the way) and couldn’t believe how many tanks we saw rolling by. Spot the soldiers just chilling on the steps of the Museum:
The five of us had a private 1 day tour of the DMZ – it wasn’t much more than a group tour and seemed pretty reasonable. Our guide was a young South Korean girl with amazing English. She was incredibly knowledgable and engaging without being overbearing. She also recommend some excellent cocktails and clubs. Appreciated.
The highlight was a tour down one of the tunnels, discovered in 1978 and named “Third Tunnel of Aggression.” It was discovered after information was provided by a defector and apparently designed for a stealth, surprise attack on the South’s capital, Seoul from North Korea. It can apparently easily accommodate 30,000 men per hour along with light weaponry. WHAT THE HECK. There have been 4 tunnels discovered and apparently many more suspected – possibly around 20.
You are instructed to leave your backpacks and personal items in a locker at the top of the tunnel, given a bright yellow hardhat (the beams get pretty low) and set off in a convoy down a long, long slope. There is also a little tram for the less-abled. The South Koreans have blocked the actual Military Demarcation Line in the tunnel with three concrete barricades. You can walk as far as the third barricade, and the second barricade is visible through a small window in the third. The whole things is pretty freaky and mostly quite wet from dripping pipes.
What made our whole escapade a little cooler is that Justin’s dad (my bezzie from Japan) actually discovered one of the four tunnels! He was in American military and was part of the team that stumbled across it. Go Family Stafford.
The tunnel was just one part of the day and a trip to the DMZ is a must-do whilst in Korea. Just before we left for the trip (May 2013), things were getting tense once more between the North and the South. The media was full of scare stories and my parents emailed me, more than a little concerned. We shrugged it off and I’m so glad we did. When we were there, locals said that it was the media that hyped things up and living with the threat of attack was really a non-issue. The city is vibrant and exciting – it’s easy to forget what’s going on mere miles away.