Oct. 19, 2013 (Sat) – A few weeks prior to our trip, Pam contacted Tour DMZ in Korea to arrange for our tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). We originally intended to join the tour that includes a visit to the third tunnel, but after getting feedback online that the schedule for that tour would be too cramped (and well, aside from the fact that we might need to go inside the tunnel with hard hats and all — and it costs more, too), we decided to just join the Panmunjom (Joint Security Area) tour.
It was a pretty early day for us since we had to be at Lotte Hotel by 8:20 am. It was a bit near from where we were staying so we decided to just walk (I think we walked for around 10-15 minutes). But first off, I needed to get breakfast, so we bought coffee at the nearby Paris Baguette:
We arrived at the 6th floor of Lotte Hotel and found a lot of people lined up in the Tour DMZ office. The line was quick though — when it was our turn, we gave our passports and paid the tour fee of 78,000 won each. Shortly after, we went down to the parking area where we would be waiting for our tour bus.
We left at around 9 am. It was a pretty long travel — around an hour, I think (although come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t that long, considering we came from the city and we’re going to the border). I wanted to sleep during the trip, but our tour guide Mr. Kim was talking during the entire trip and his stories were quite interesting that I couldn’t get myself to doze off (mostly on topics about the rift between North & South Korea, among others).
At the first checkpoint, a South Korean soldier entered our tour bus and checked our passports. Can’t really explain why exactly, but it felt a bit tense once we entered the vicinity of Panmunjom. As soon as we reached Camp Bonifas, we transferred to another bus (provided by the UN). We were accompanied by a military officer who also served as our tour guide inside the DMZ premises. He looked at our passports again and also checked if everyone followed the dress code.
The tour group attended a quick briefing and slideshow, giving us an overview of the South Korea & North Korea conflict. They also gave us reminders again — do not take pictures unless told otherwise and do not communicate with the North Koreans (no waving, no pointing, no talking with people from the other side).
During the briefing, we were asked to sign this waiver form:
Yes, it actually says — “The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail the entrance into a hostile area and the possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action.” Wow.. Nothing like that statement to actually make me feel more tense than I already was. Hah!
Anyway, after the briefing, we formed two lines and went to the Freedom House Pagoda. By this time, the group was then allowed to take photos — notice though that security in this area is pretty strict. Here is our view from the Freedom House. That building at the back is Panmungak, the main North Korean building.
If you actually look closely or zoom in, there is one North Korean soldier guarding their side of the border, looking intently at us (and yeah, that same guard immediately picked up his binoculars the moment we stepped out of the Freedom House.. intense!)
Here is our military escort, Officer Park, making sure that everyone from our group is behaving. (Oh and did I mention that I’ve got a major crush on him?! Ahahaayyyy! ♥)
Here’s my solo shot:
We were actually at the end of the line when we were outside the Freedom House for the picture taking, we had to settle with standing at the side. Good thing our tour guide called us and told us to go at the middle area. As you may notice, there were a lot of tall people in our tour group, so thank God we were able to squeeze in that space and take our photos with a good view:
After taking photos from the pagoda, we lined up again to enter the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC) conference building. This is where meetings between both sides usually take place.
Half of the conference room was considered part of North Korea — so yeah, technically we got to step inside NK for a few minutes which was totally awesome.
It’s actually funny that I couldn’t get myself to have a full smile while we were in the Freedom House Pagoda and UNCMAC conference room. For some reason, it felt like I was going to get arrested for smiling or something — ofcourse that was just me, hehe (yes, I’m that weird).
After visiting the Freedom House, we went back to Camp Bonifas and visited the souvenir shop. I bought this ref magnet and cute pin:
All in all, this tour was definitely eye-opening (to say the least). We always hear the conflict between these two countries from the news, but to be there and learn about it from people who actually have first hand information about it is something else. And besides, how many times in my lifetime can I say that I’ve been to North Korea?
Next post on our quick visit to Dorasan Station and our Bulgogi lunch ;)