The main reason I wanted to take this trip was curiosity. It’s so impressive to me when I see places with huge historical significance (like the Berlin wall, which I have still to write about). We made sure that none of the money from our tour would go to the North Korean government – it’s a South Korean tour company so I’d imagine the only money going across the border would be if you purchased some of the North Korean made products at the gift shops (more about this later).
Ok this is definitely not a cute place, but I figured I will write about all of my travels here, not just the cute ones. Of course in most countries I travel to, I search for cute things (and there were certainly a ton in Seoul) but some of my interests are more serious. For example, I am addicted to reading news websites (BBC and Reddit World News in particular) so I’ve been reading about North Korea for quite a while, I’ve also read some books about it. My friend found out that you can take a day tour to the North Korean border from Seoul (it’s not as far as I would have expected) so we decided to do it.
We booked the tour with Viator. I think it was this one. The little van above picked us up and it stopped on the way so we could stock up on snacks. We later switched to a proper tour coach. It’s not a long drive at all, around two hours, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get some unique Korean snacks like these yoghurt Doritos which were really yummy and actually did taste like yoghurt.
I also got this peach bun with a mascot who had a butt for a head (I guess it’s a peach but it doesn’t look that way!).
The tour involved a stop at Imjingak Park which is a memorial park featuring many monuments relating to the Korean war. There is also a fairground which seems out of place in such a serious location.
There were also some mascots in the park, which again, I found a little out of place, but I still had to get a picture with one as I love mascots.
Next we visited one of the “infiltration tunnels” where North Korean soldiers dug under the border. I believe this one is 1.7km long and 73m below ground. I didn’t go into it because it was too claustrophobic for me. Nearby is the DMZ museum which is very small and mainly features dioramas of the area. We watched a short film about the history of the Korean War which I thought was very sensationalized. It was full of special effects and the voice-over was overly dramatic – like an action movie. Maybe it’s just me but I think things like this should be presented in a more serious manner. But it is a tourist trap after all… The sculpture above is outside the museum and represents reunification of North and South Korea.
Next we went to the Dora Observatory where you can look through a telescope into North Korea (above).
The picture above is the Dora Observatory, and to the right is a sign warning of landmines as we travelled to Camp Bonifas – a military base which straddles the border.
Next we visited Dorasan Station which is the last stop on the line which used to connect North and South Korea. It had a lot of information about what would happen if reunification of North and South occurs in the future, such as a train line connecting with the Trans Siberian Express into Europe. It doesn’t seem very realistic to me – something else created just for the tourists.
After Doresan Station, the tour group split, some people opted for a shorter tour which didn’t go to Camp Bonifas. I’m glad we took the longer tour as the earlier attractions seemed like tourist traps with no genuine history. We were given lunch at Imjingak Park.
I saw this “old hot dog” stand at Imjingak Park too, I wonder is it really stale hot dogs? Even if I wasn’t vegetarian, I don’t think I would be brave enough to try this. Side note – we were given strict guidelines on how to dress to visit the military base, that’as why I’m dressed so formally.
After this we went back to the border to Camp Bonifas. I was surprised that the military base had a gift shop. At the gift shop you could buy alcohol made in North Korea or teddy bear versions of the soldiers. Is it just me or is this a bit too tacky for such a serious location?
You can see the famous blue huts which straddle the border in the first picture in this post. So this is where we actually got to set foot in North Korea (although barely). Inside the huts are South Korean soldiers. The soldier above is guarding the door into North Korea. We were encouraged to take pictures beside the soldiers, which again I thought was a bit tacky and disrespectful. The picture on the right is the “bridge of no return” where prisoners were exchanged between the two countries during the Korean War. We were told that we can’t leave the bus here (we had changed to a military bus at this point) as there could be North Korean soldiers in the bushes.
Overall, I would recommend the second half of this tour but not the first. It was a little bit scary but I’m glad that I did it.