North Korea is a country that I never thought i would see- it was no where near close to even making it onto my bucket list. But sometimes life can be unexpected and for a total of two minutes I stepped into this mysterious and corrupt country. Let me explain.
First off, North Korea is not a country that I would recommend visiting. It is only really accessible through communist China and costs thousands of dollars to visit. Once there you are there, you are never left on your own and what you do and do not see is completely under the control of the communist leader, Kim Young Jun. All of this is manageable, but the real issue with visiting this country is your safety.
There are many situations where Westerners visiting North did something that the communist Korea did not like and they were then forced to years of hard labour in prison. One man was sentenced to prison in North Korea because he accidentally left a bible behind in his hotel room. Can you imagine not being able to see your family for ten years and being sentenced to what one can only imagine as one of the worst prisons on the planet just because you forgot something?
North Korea is too unpredictable and unsafe to be worth the visit -no matter how interested you are in learning about it. So now you must be thinking I’m a hypocrite and wondering why I went if I just told you not to.
I didn’t venture into North Korea, instead, I went on a very well organized tour from Seoul, South Korea where I visited the DMZ (demilitarized zone between North and South Korea) and the JSA (Joint Security Area).
The tour started with the JSA- which was my main reason for doing the tour. When entering the JSA we were escorted by the U.S military. This is where North Korea meets South Korea and it is one of the most highly militarized areas in the world. As well, this area has conference rooms where the two countries meet to discuss issues and hopefully one day reunification.
When you step out into the JSA, the first thing that you notice is the intense soldiers with their sunglasses covering their eyes standing motionless in an intimidating taekwondo stance. The soldiers only stand with half of their bodies exposed to North Korea, in case they are attacked. On some days there are multiple North Korean soldiers out but on the day that I went there was only one visible.
We were briefly let into one of the conference rooms- where the two countries meet face to face. We were not allowed to touch anything in the room. Half of the room is in South Korea and the other half is in North Korea. This is where I was allowed to step over the border into North Korea. You are only allowed there for about two minutes and you don’t get a stamp on your passport but you do get to be in the most mysterious country in the world.
Then before I knew it we were hurried away. We were then taken to different lookouts posts where you could see into North Korea. Here we heard loud music and talking coming from huge speakers that was being played by North Korea as propaganda. South Korea has speakers too where they play K-pop music and the news ect. They do this so that people in North Korea can learn more about the world outside of their prison of a country.
Bridge of No Return
On the way to the next stop we drove past the ‘Bridge of no Return.’ It got this dark name because after the war people could cross this bridge to chose which side they wanted to live in- North or South- but once they crossed the bridge they could never go back. For obvious reasons you are not allowed to get off of the bus at this area.
We also drove past the place where an American soldier was murdered to death with an axe by North Korean soldiers. I won’t give it all away though- on the tour you will get the full story about how this tragic event took place.
South Korean can freely visit this park for it was built to console families who have been torn apart by the border of North and South Korea. Many families have not been able to be reunited since the war.
Here you can also see the Bridge of Freedom- a much more positively named bridge than the last one. A historical moment here was when about 13,000 prisoners of war were returned to South Korea (freedom) over this bridge.
The next stop we drove through an active landmine to the Dora Observatory. At this lookout point you can actually see into North Korea. With the binoculars there, you can see the a small village and the outskirts of one of North Korea’s largest cities. You can also see a fake village that North Korea built to portray an image of success to the South.
Unfortunately, on the day that I went it was raining and the visibility was literally zero. It was a shame but at least I had signed up for the JSA tour otherwise I would have seen none of North Korea. This is also the first point in the DMZ to get shut down if there is a scare with North Korea.
This is a train station that has been built in hopes of one day it being a mode of transportation for a unified Korea. It is interesting because the train station looks exactly like any other train station in Korea..except that it is deadly quiet. Here you can also get a North Korean stamp- but you cannot put it in your passport.
A great idea would be to bring an old passport if you have one because it is perfectly legal to stamp that.
The last stop was at the Third Infiltration Tunnel. North Korea secretly dug three tunnels into South Korea-all meeting in Seoul with the hopes of attacking. South Korea stumbled upon these tunnels completely by accident- and it is still unknown if there are more of them.
Of the tunnels that they did find, they put a stop to them and you can go inside to view them-up until the point that they reach the North. The tunnel that the tours take you on is the one closest to Seoul. It is a very steep climb into and out of the tunnel so make sure you are physically fit and have good walking shoes.
When you finally finish this long yet interesting day, there is a souvenir shop where they take. Here, you can buy alcohol from North Korea- which I can’t imagine to be that tasty. They do have some cool things hough like a piece of the fence that was between North and South Korea and North Korean currency.
And there you have it-a look into North Korea. If this is a country that you are curious about I would recommend doing a tour from South Korea so that you are protected and feel safe. At this point in time, visiting through China is just not worth the risk. If you do chose to do a tour make sure to do the JSA & DMZ tour- just the DMZ tour won’t be nearly as exciting.
Another thing worth mentioning is that because of tensions and political issues between North and South Korea it is common for JSA tours to not be running. However, if you contact a tour provider they will let you know if tours are running or not.