A trip to South Korea is an exquisite experience, filled with cherry blossoms, grand palaces, handicraft streets and whole handicraft villages, as well as an amazing if not somewhat creepy availability to the DMZ of North Korea just an hour outside of Seoul. And a visit to the North Korean Demilitarized zone is indeed worth the effort. No dramatic changing of the guard with the majestic pounding drums and vibrant color guard as seen at the palaces in the South. Instead, it is an active military area, with soldiers training on both sides for a possible confrontation with each other. United Stated military escorts join the bus as they tour the JSA, or Joint Security Area.
There are numerous day trips that go to the DMZ, some just to the Bridge of No Return, some to just Joint Security Area, and some to a combination of the two. The Bridge of No Return is called that since that is where prisoner swaps took place. Once the prisoner crossed over there was no going back. It was last used for exchanges in the 1970’s, and serves as the point where the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) between the North and South exists.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of this visit is the actual JSA, where visitors can step onto North Korean soil under the control of the military. Or rather, several military organizations. The US Army provides escort, the South Koreans supervise the endeavor while standing guard, and the North Koreans look on as well. At this juncture, the tourist is in the village of Panmunjom. South Korean soldiers stand guard against the North Korean Soldiers during the part of the visit, and it is obvious that surveillance devices and the Northern soldiers are looking on from the other side as well. The US Army asks the tourists not to turn their head at any time, since that can be taken as an act of aggression against the North. After a briefing where they face the North, tourists are escorted into one of the blue bungalows, where they are literally invited to step on to North Korean soil. Following, there is a drive along the MDL and the tourist can see more of the barren farm land that is North Korea, and the “welcoming” propaganda villages.
This day trip can be purchased online on Viator. However, weather the tip is purchased in advance or while in Seoul, a passport needs to be sent n 48 hours in advance or the trip will cancel. It is truly a remarkable trip to an area widely publicized and little known. It is creepy to say the least, but educational as well. And as current events unfold between the North and the South, and these images appear on the nightly news and social media, it is amazing to realize that this destination was once part of an Asian vacation.