Seoul, South Korea. May 2017: 2 hours after leaving Seoul Station the train pulls up at Baengmagoji, a rather small halt in the middle of nowhere. The station official users everyone to a ticket counter and the waiting coach. About £20 for the ticket, a 4 hour tour for what I’m hoping are the sights and sounds of South Korea’s de-militarised zone, the famous DMZ. Virtually no English here, just a giant map that really isn’t much use to a non Korean – yes, I remain the only white tourist in the group.
And so the DMZ tour begins. 5 minutes and arrival at the first stop. Lunch, which is included with the ticket. here we are at a canteen of pick and mix. Steaming rice, noodles, soup and all the good things Korean’s like to eat. The tofu with seaweed is rather tasty., even second helpings on offer but the big let down here is the coffee – that god awful 3 in 1 mix, you have been warned!
The lunch was very good actually. In England that alone would have been about £8-£10. So on with the tour, where we are gong and a few rules to follow – well I’m assuming this is what the tour guide is saying since the whole spiel is in Korean. Next stop is monument to the fallen – a memorial standing tall on the brow of a hill. Its quite a long walk up the hill, much like an avenue of remembrance. The view from the top though is pretty good giving visitors a first glimpse towards North Korea – unfortunately photography from the hill towards the DMZ is prohibited although I did sneak a few shots before getting caught by the beady eyed soldier! In my defence, Well, I don’t understand Korean sir!
Here the area is called Cherowan. Although the place is essentially a military camp the fields below are farmed by villagers. The high banks are designed to stop North Korean tanks according to the guide, who, on this occasion was happy to speak in English.
The hills here in these photos below mark the start of the South Korean side of the DMZ, the swathe of land separating to nations still officially at war. Dotted around the place are look-out forts and various military installations…
A pleasant enough 40 minutes or so looking at the scenery with all the commentary still in Korean. On the road again, next stop being a large building in ruins – a relic from the Korean war presumably. Yes, according to the tourist info board it’s a building once occupied by the North Koreans. A symbolic monument reminding South Koreans the brutality of communist control. No access inside but one can see where bullet shells made their mark.
Next stop, a significant military checkpoint – oh dear, perhaps they’ll drag me away for sneaking those photo’s! A soldier jumps on and looks sternly at each one of us. Thankfully no dramas and off we go once again, this time with the soldier! Up into the hills and onto an army camp. Getting off the bus under the watchful eyes of three soldiers here and another looking down from a watch tower. Quick as a flash I did manage to sneak a couple of snaps before getting caught again! The group is herded up into an darkened observatory accompanied by the soldiers constantly watching, observing each of us closely. A 20 minute presentation all in Korean but I get the picture – war! Then the blinds a rolled up to reveal the DMZ – a stunningly beautiful lush green valley cutting through mountains and hills. Remember the TV series M.A.S.H, its just like that!
In Part 3… An eerie sense of danger amidst the gunfire…