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Last updated : Nov 2009
DMZ
Rating: (5.0) (14 Votes)

Seoul, Korea
August 2nd, 2005

Pros: A true highlight
Cons: None

A real highlight of our stay in Korea was our visit to the de-militarised zone between the two Koreas. This 4km strip of no-man's land runs the entire breadth of the country and is just a short drive from Seoul. Although relations are at a relative high, this remains the most heavily fortified border on the planet and strict visitor dress codes and rules (no pointing!) are enforced without exception. After numerous checkpoints, we finally approached camp Bonafis (named after an American captain who was one of two to die in the 1976 axe-murder incident near the Bridge-of-No-Return) where the remaining
US troops are based. Camp Bonafis lies just outside the JSA (joint security area) where soldiers from the North and South come within inches of each other. This area was established to allow the two sides to talk to each other without having to leave their respective countries. A series of buildings straddle the actual military demarcation line and these play hosts to the ongoing discussions.

Throughout our tour, a number of North Korean soldiers a mere 75 metres away were watching us through binoculars and all conversations in neutral buildings are listened to by both sides. It's very hard to describe the atmosphere here but you really can feel the tension. Other highlights included distant views of Propaganda Village where the North Koreans used to broadcast a constant stream of communist garbage until last year. This village is strange in that it is deserted and it is also home to the world's largest flagpole and flag. The South erected a flagpole over 100 metres high near the border so the North decided to build its to 160 metres, one of the many incidents of petty point-scoring that have taken place over the years.

In the afternoon we visited the third infiltration tunnel. Discovered in 1978 after a tip-off from a defector, the tunnel was found to be over 1km inside Korea South. The tunnel itself in about 2m x 2m and was designed to allow one division an hour to pass into the South and support an attack on Seoul. The wily Northerners had even painted the walls on the tunnel black so it appeared to be a disused coal mine. The fact that the paint comes off easily and that no coal has ever been found in this area didn't exactly support the Northern side of the story. The US and the ROK (Republic of Korea) Armies have specialist tunnel detection teams as it is estimated that the North has dug or is in the process of digging around 70 tunnels towards the South.

On the way back to Seoul we stopped at a small station that has just been built to accommodate future trains running from Pyongyang to Seoul. The place is totally finished with services expected to commence in October but understandably this is subject to considerable uncertainty. If and when this becomes reality, it will be possible to take the train continuously from Aberdeen to Seoul.