September 24, 2012

South Korea : Panmunjeom / Joint Security Area (JSA)

It's always interesting to read news of the relationship between South Korea and its northern neighbor.

The division of the Korean peninsula into two totally different countries dates back to the Japanese colonial period (1910 ~ 1945). After Japan's defeat in World War 2, Korea gained independence from them. There was no official government on the peninsula during that period so the United Nations developed plans for a trusteeship administration.

However, the politics of Cold War resulted in the peninsula to be divided. USA and USSR both wanted to get as many allies on their side as possible, so they intervened the peninsula, the Soviet Union administering the northern part of the 38th parallel and the southern area is administered by the United States.

This was worsen when the northern communist, led by Kim Il Sung, attacked the south, which was the start of Korean War in 1950 until 1953. After three years of fighting,  the United Nations called for a ceasefire at the 38th parallel and the war came to a rest for a while after the creation of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which is the border separating the two countries.

We, Malaysians, are allowed to visit North Korea but I am not sure how the visa application process is. I know for sure it's difficult. Not only that, you can't travel on your own in the country. From what I read, you must follow a guided tours and be with them all the time. Photography is strictly controlled too.

Before going for my trip to South Korea, I thought why not cover North Korea too? The easiest way of course, by following a tour. Mind you, tour from South Korea is not allowed. Since it is a sensitive country, tour with a reputable company is highly recommended. I found one but they are based in Beijing. 
So... yeah. Next time, perhaps?

The closest I could get to North Korea was by following a tour to the DMZ. My guide book suggested following a tour with USO, but they were fully booked. So I opted to go with Tour DMZ. Their office is located at Level 6 in Lotte Hotel.

Paid KRW 120000 for a tour to JSA/Panmunjeom and DMZ.

The Joint Security Area (JSA) is the only portion of the DMZ where the South and North Korean forces stand face to face. Lying in the village of Panmunjeom, it is also the only place where it is possible for them to hold talks.

As it is a sensitive area, there are a few things to note :
1. Do bring your passport with you on the tour and wear appropriate clothes.
2. They don't allow torn jeans, leather pants, short pants, sleeveless tops, sports attire, military style attire, slippers and sandals.
3. Don't drink alcohol before the tour.
4. Children below 11 are not allowed to join the tour.
5. You must stay together with the group and follow the tour leader's instructions at all times. 

Before entering the DMZ, we had to stop at the check point for passport checking, and given this tag.  

 Oh yeah... you cannot take pictures freely here. Photography are restricted in DMZ area, you can only take pictures at designated points. *camwhore mode off* 

 We were brought to Camp Bonifas, located at the southern entrance to DMZ. Here, we had to change bus as travel within the DMZ is possible only in UN vehicle, and accompanied by a soldier. 

We were then brought to visitor centre for a briefing about the area and then, we had to sign this! 

"The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action." 


Next, we were brought to the Freedom House, South Korea's propaganda building facing the Military Demarcation Line (MDL).

The tour guide led us out from the building and asked us to stand in two lines. 

 "OK you can take pictures now".

the Joint Security Area (JSA) as seen from the south side

Hello North Korea! 

main North Korean building, Panmungak

UNCMAC Conference Building

Military Police guarding the area 

Because tension still exist between the two countries, visitors are not allowed to cross the border at the JSA. Visitors are allowed to go inside the UNCMAC Conference Room though. But you are forbidden to exit the door into the other country, unless you wanna die la.

South Korean Military Police stand guard in the UNCMAC Conference Room

the concrete boundary in Conference Row, JSA

As you can see in the picture above, that's the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) between the two Koreas. The MDL is the actual border between North and South Korea.

So technically I had stepped foot in North Korea!

in North Korean side

Don't you dare point, wave and do any gestures to them. It's off limit here.

Military Police from both South Korea and North Korea

visitors from North Korea looking at us

JSA is an almost circular area with an 800m diameter. Other landmark within this area include this spot.

This is where a yellow poplar tree used to be located. The tree was the focal point in the Axe Murder Incident, where two UNC officers were attacked and killed by North Korean forces while supervising a work party trimming the tree in 1976. 

This is another landmark, the Bridge of No Return.

After the Korean War, some prisoners of war were given choices; whether to stay on the side of their captors, or cross over the bridge. Once they cross over the bridge, they can't return anymore, hence the name.

Can you see a flag below?

That is North Korean flag. The visibility was so bad cos it was raining and SNOWING!!

Before we left JSA, it's time for some souvenir shopping at the visitor centre.

Fridge magnets, shirts, caps, books... you can buy memorabilia of DMZ here.

My tour package included lunch so we went for lunch at a local restaurant. Tour DMZ is very good cos they asked beforehand your choice of lunch. You can choose between Bulgogi or Bibimbap

I opted for Bibimbap, of course.

After lunch, we continued the tour around the DMZ. 

to be continued...


syieda said...

i really adore uuu!!!!! nampak askar north korea pun i dah gerun!

rara said...

syieda: i pon gerun jugak pegi DMZ tu.. tapi buat2 berani.

Danny / John said...

definitely gonna visit DMZ next year! i dh beli tiket to seoul! hahah one more time!

rara said...

danny: wahh repeat! beli tiket promo last week ke? i pon nak repeat jugak sebenanyer.. haritu tak sempat pegi jeju island and busan..

Danny / John said...

yup...i beli rm624 return. couldnt resist the promo. pegi kejap je dlm 4hari solid. my target initially to visit mt sorak and DMZ. kalo sempat boleh pegi jeju island skali. hehhe

MaximGhost said...

Very nice, excellent job!