Sunday, February 6, 2011

Seoul: Before The Enemy Line

Contrary to the title of this post is the term "Beyond the enemy line" which means that you are in the enemy's territory, there is a particular experience that you have to include when you visit Seoul which is basically (in my own words) - is 'Before the enemy line'. No need to be alarmed and think that this is a highly specialized tour because it is actually one of the "must do" when paying a visit in South Korea. This is more popularly known as the DMZ tour. 

The DMZ  (DeMilitarized Zone) Tour , is a tour of the border of South and North Korea. Now before you go and search for a good travel insurance, this particular tour is quite safe and they have been running this tour for quite sometime already so no need to get paranoid and deny yourself this different travel experince in the land of K-Pop. Various tour groups arrange outings in the DMZ, you can check with your hostel/hotel to have you booked with one.Usually what happens is that  a particular tour group have contacts with several hotel/hostel and they will gather tourist from different hotels/hostels to create one group excursion - this means that there will be no problem if you are a solo traveler the tour fee will be a per head basis. There are two tours you can choose: Half day DMZ tour and DMZ & Panmunjeom tour (whole day). Due to budget constraints, for our trip we opted for the half day DMZ tour.

It was a rainy morning when we did the DMZ tour (which is my valid reason for taking very few photos), we were picked up at around 7:30 am at the hostel. We then transferred to the tour bus in one of the hotels in downtown Seoul. From downtown Seoul, it is about an hour  ride to the DMZ. You are required to bring your passport when you do this tour from what I know they need to log all visitors and the form of identification required is the passport.

First stop is Imjingak Park where you can find the Freedom Bridge. This is built to serve as a memorial for the fallen soldiers during the war.

Second stop is the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel.You are allowed to go inside the tunnel but as be prepared for a climb back up. Though the pathways are good, still it is quite a climb and will leave you huffing and puffing. This tunnel was created by the North Koreans but were discovered and shut down by the South Koreans. They say that if they were able to successfully build this tunnel, it can accommodate thousands of troops to go down to Seoul in a matter of few hours. Oh yes, that is how close Seoul is with North Korea.

Third stop is the Dorasan Observatory and now is the once in a lifetime chance of catching a view of North Korea (provided there is no fog and it is a clear weather). Security in this area is very tight, you are not allowed to take photos outside the allowed areas. You will also see here the North Korea flag on the opposite side and the South Korea flag on the DMZ side, according to the tour guide the level of the flag for both should be the same, no one should be higher than the other and vice versa.

Final stop is the Dorasan Train station is the emblem of the undying hope for the unification of Korea. Dorasan train station is a future train station to connect South and North Korea (in Pyeongyang).They said that the train station can be fully operational on the next day once North Korea opens it gate.There is a commemmorative stamp that you can stamp on your travel journal to serve as a souvenir. 

Once you have been in South Korea, you already have the bragging right of saying that you have been in a country that is at war (a bit of a trivia, South and North Korea are still at war but they have just signed a ceasefire treaty). What better way to see this side of South Korea but to join a DMZ tour and also get a chance to catch a glimpse of North Korea. But as you leave the heavily guarded gates of DMZ, remember the hope that Dorasan station will not be the last station in the South but the first station toward the North


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