Wednesday, August 14, 2013

a glimpse into North Korea...

How could we visit South Korea and not take a tour of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) & Panmunjom area?? The name is actually a little misleading because a lot of people want to visit the DMZ but the place where you can cross into North Korea territory is actually the JSA (Joint Security Area) and that area is usually included in Panmunjom tours. We did a whole day tour that combined both the DMZ and Panmunjom. The "half day" tours visit only one area and are a couple of hours shorter, they start later so you end up back in Seoul almost around the same time. I highly recommend just doing the JSA/Panmunjom tour because you get to actually step into North Korean territory and see North Korean soldiers. The DMZ tour was nice and included a lot of different buildings and important landmarks of the Korean War but the highlight would have to be the Third Infiltration Tunnel - the sole reason we booked the whole day tour instead of just visiting the JSA.

our ride down into the tunnel - awesome car seats
The tunnel can also be accessed by foot but we got the VIP service, riding this cool little tram/train? It gets really cold down in the tunnel so I recommend jackets! Pictures aren't allowed in the tunnel so that's a bummer. North Korea denied building this tunnel but later declared that this tunnel was part of a coal mine. Black "coal" was painted on the walls to confirm this statement - you can still see parts of the tunnel with "coal" on it.

In order to get this picture I had to put on my bitchy persona. We were waiting in line to take pictures with the signs but the Chinese tourists kept cutting everyone. I got annoyed when they did it to us and I snapped at them to wait their turns. Ugh!

the DMZ
our tour included lunch - bulgogi!
endless side dishes - nom nom nom
There must just be one Korean restaurant in the DMZ because every tour bus stopped here for lunch. I've had better bulgogi for sure but it was nice to have this included in our tour package.

JSA - looking into North Korea
North Korean soldier spying on us - he tried to hide behind the pillar in the beginning
in North Korea territory posing with a South Korean soldier - the door behind us leads to North Korea
The JSA portion of the tour is guided by American soldiers stationed there. It was really cool listening to all the cool little facts they had about North Korea and the JSA. The reason why South Korean soldiers stand like that is because it is used as a form of intimidation. The sunglasses prevent eye contact with North Korean soldiers and therefore any connection with them. Only ROK soldiers stand guard around the blue buildings and they all hold black belts! Our tour included a North Korean defector whom you could ask questions about her escape and her life back in North Korea. Prior to this trip I had read Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea which included how North Koreans left North Korea, but it was an amazing experience to be able to hear it firsthand.

The Details
The JSA area has a strict dress code but t-shirts are allowed.
Tour Company we used: Panmunjom Travel Center
I liked our tour. The tour guide was meh but the chance to talk to a North Korean defector was cool. Also it has one of the cheaper prices for a full day tour at 120,000 won per person.

A highly recommended and popular tour is offered by the USO through Koridoor. They sell out fast so you need to book far in advance - our trip was planned really last minute or we would have wanted to go with this company. At $80 it is a lot cheaper than our tour.

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