After WWII, Korea was divided in two: the Russian occupied North Korea created a communist government, and the USA-occupied South Korea moved to a new democratic government. As the country started to develop, tensions began to rise and the Korean war began that further separated this single country into two very different and opposing sides.
Years later, with the help of the United Nations Command, Korea tried to unite the two governments and bring peace. This started with making the DMZ (a demilitarized zone) and the JSA (a joint security area) that allowed leaders on both sides to meet on a neutral ground to negotiate.
We had the privilege of visiting the JSA under the UN Command and it was an eye opening experience!
Here are some pictures of our short visit to North Korea (we got to step across the boarder line to North Korean territory) and some final pictures of our time in Seoul before heading to our final destination.
Our first stop on the tour was at one of the tunnels built by North Koreans. It is 75 meters deep under ground and crosses the border from North to South. When South Korea found it — they asked the North what was going on, giving them the benefit of the doubt. North Korea responded that it was used to mine coal. And the next time the South Koreans went to investigate — black paint had been spread on the walls of the marble tunnel… as a coverup for the story. There is absolutely no coal anywhere near this area, so we’ll call that a lie.
There are dynamite holes in the walls and you walk down there in a single file line. It gets pretty claustrophobic at some point. There are 4 tunnels that have been found, but it is believed that there are about 10 total. North Korea was expected to be using the tunnels to smuggle spies across the border.
No pictures are allowed to be taken inside, but they have a TON of photo ops once you get out.
Our second stop on the tour was to an observatory where you can see the border between the two countries, the JSA, the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and two tiny towns that are built within in buffer zone itself. These two towns were built (one on the North Korean side and one on the south) for the same reason.
The towns are built for propaganda purposes — to showcase how good life is on their side, and encourage people to defect to their side. The town on the North is completely fake — nobody lives there, and the houses are empty.
The observatory had free binoculars for us to use and look at the cities in the North. It was quite eerie to look at the gigantic North Korean flag floating over the town.
After that, we headed to an abandoned (but brand new!) train station. In Korea, every thing is made in Korea. No joke, things you would typically see tags that read “made in China, Bangladesh, Thailand” etc.. it’s all made locally in Korea. For a while, South Korea wanted to take advantage of the cheaper labour across the border and built a train line for workers and authorized people to travel, to a place right across the border called the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The train station was anticipated to connect South Korea to a train lain that connects to the Trans-Siberian railway that crosses Russia, and to railroads that cross China, giving both Koreas massive growth opportunities. However, shortly after the train station was built, North Korea started testing its nuclear missiles and South Korea decided to pull the plug and stop the train from operating. The Industrial Complex is currently abandoned, waiting for tensions to die down. Today, the train station it is a bit of an art gallery, hosting pictures of the historic meeting between the North and the South government last year to show a sign of hope for peace.
Then our last stop of the day brought us right to the South Korean border, we were now entering the JSA and North Korean zone.
We did have a laugh, there was no lineup at the border which is something we’ve never seen!
After a crazy special day, we headed back to Seoul. Here are our final pictures from our time in South Korea.