The De-Militarized Zone

The De-Militarized Zone

There’s no doubt that the DMZ is one of the key experiences of any visit to Korea, and a great insight into the ethos and emotion that plays a key role in a culture that many regard as divided in half spiritually as well as politically. It’s also the closest you’re likely to get to North Korea, unless the border situation changes. The DMZ is actually a buffer zone between the two countries, and most tours involve staring across no mans land towards the heavily guarded North Korean border posts. The land in between is actually about as heavily militarized as any area of land in the world, lending the name an ironic air, but it’s also a strangely beautiful natural sight, having become home to a host of wildlife (a point that one welcome video drills home a little too forcefully, making the DMZ out as a positive tourist attraction).

The most striking effect of the DMZ is often in seeing the messages from loved ones hanging from the border fences, or the elder generations weeping mournfully over loved ones they’ll probably never see again. Aside from the fence, though, you can also enter the DMZ, where you’ll be shown one of a number of North Korean invasion tunnels (in a yellow workman’s hat), right down to the guarded barbed wire point where the thing’s been concreted in from the South Korean side. Elsewhere, you can see the South Korean military bases and numerous lookouts that guard the area, and observe the mammoth North Korean flag intended to win the cross border propaganda war. On some days, you’ll also here a babble of Korean over the fences, a North Korean attempt to speak directly to the South Korean people.

If you go on the USO tour, you’ll find yourself visiting the rooms where the peacekeeping takes place, and staring into the sunglasses are stock-still North Korean soldiers. The more public tours, meanwhile, get a little less access (and can include irritating and compulsory trips to things like gem stores), but generally speaking the DMZ is a great experience. So good, in fact, that you’ll probably find yourself a touch emotional at the sheer iconography and solemn feel of the place, and you’re unlikely to come back with too many smiling photos. The statue of the ‘two Korea’s’, divided and waiting patiently to be pushed back together, is firm and unmovable, and arguably as iconic as anything else: it reflects the opinion of many in modern day Korea. Expect an enlightening and difficult but ultimately worthwhile day.