Wednesday, September 7, 2016


It's not pretty - it's not even nice - but you can't visit South Korea without paying due respect to the DMZ (the demilitarized zone on either side of the border between North and South Korea).  It's only a bit over an hour's drive from Seoul - so an easy half day trip!

I took a tour organised by the hotel - without Rob as he wasn't well today (a bout of flu I think!). It was very tightly controlled so I felt a bit like a sheep at times but I guess you can't expect to have too much individuality this close to North Korea.

Our first stop was near the Imjin River - site of many reclamation efforts (for remains of soldiers killed in the war 1950-1953). This area is not even in the DMZ; it's in the restricted access Civilian Control Zone, adjacent to the DMZ!
 The Peace Bell (made of melted weapons) at Imjingak Park...
Next stop was the so called 3rd Infiltration Tunnel complex - covering a tunnel discovered in 1976 - 73 metres below ground - that was being dug by the North Koreans under the DMZ as part of a larger network of tunnels that would enable them to launch an invasion of South Korea undetected. Luckily they were detected.
South Korea built an interception tunnel (very steep) down to the base tunnel (which is much smaller and very deep below the ground). Now it's open for visitors (no cameras allowed) - a pretty spooky experience and just another example of the day to day dangers of living this close to North Korea and the Kim Jung Un dictatorship.
The Dora observatory is located within the DMZ and is the northernmost high point where you can see North Korea spread out in front of you.  It was a very hazy day today (which is quite normal apparently) but we could still see quite clearly (though not in photographs) the South Korean flag flying above Gaeseong and the Gaeseong Industrial Village on the Korean side of the DMZ and the much taller North Korean flagpole (with flag hanging limply) above the "propaganda village" (so called because no one lives there) on the northern side of the border.

 Of course this observatory is not just for tourists!

There's a strong military presence here too of course. Every South Korean male must complete 21 months of military duty once they're past the age of 18. North Korean males have to complete 10 years of military duty apparently. Females can serve too of course but they're not required to!
Last stop was at the world's most optimistic railway station.....the last word in modern efficiency......
 But destination Pyeongyang - what were they thinking!!
In much less tense times in the early 2000s North and South Korea agreed to connect the railway line across the DMZ that had been destroyed by years of war. The railway line was connected and Dorasan Station was opened in 2003 with much fanfare (including a commemorative visit by George W Bush). 

Unfortunately the rail line is not used now, not even for freight, as relations between North and South have reverted to being much more confrontational. South Korea dreams of being reconnected with the land mass of Eurasia this way eventually as it would end their island state status, with China, Russia and North Korea all breathing down their necks.

Things are really livening up back at the Somerset Palace Hotel. There are now 11 family members in residence (not counting Joel) and a mob of Aussie lads who've arrived for the wedding on Saturday. Things are much more complicated for Joel and Kay keeping track of us and helping us navigate the place. Apart from that it's wonderful! 

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