Saturday 24 August 2013

My visit to Imjingak - Demilitarised Zone DMZ

Hunger Games', 'Wool' and '1984'. Novels which describe rules and regulation, conformity and societal control.
I am in South Korea and I realise I am free: to observe a completely new country and to embrace unfamiliarity with curiosity.
This feeling came to me strongly during my visit to Imjingak: I wonder if travelling is self-indulgent. Is it escapism? Is it governed purely by self interest?

I wonder why I travel, then I realise its the feeling of utmost liberation. The assault on the senses, the different cultures and goods and the random encounters with others who love to do the same. It's self discovery mixed with interconnectivity and spontaneity and it makes me feel so alive. 

I visited Imjingak on a weekend trip, a resort park for the "Demilitarised Zone".  Korea is the only split country in the world. A guarded 250km demarcation line embodies history, war and division. With brute honesty, I actually knew very little about North Korea and it's history. My knowledge didn't extend past the 1 - 2 school history lessons or the occasional smudge of information about North Korea in the media. 

Going to Imjingak was a eye-opening experience. I looked across the water. Just ahead was another country shrouded in secrecy, relentless propaganda and no human rights. Citizens who are controlled by their government, forbidden to leave their country or express their views. I couldn't comprehend it. Why, in our one world, does this happen? 

Across the River: North Korea 
Imjingak is home to memorials, a museum, a observatory and the 'Freedom Bridge'. Jennifer and I embraced the sights and I took in all the information with curiosity.

2013 marks the 60th anniversary for the end of the war. There are high hopes for unification and the end of freedom bridge is brightened up with flags, messages of hope and ribbons. 

Imjingak is the village closest to the North Korean border, without entering the DMZ area. A group of friends undertook the 'DMZ tour' the week after, where you are driven into the military zone. Their passport details were taken and they toured a unused train station (which connects the two countries together).They also visited a tunnel where the North Koreans attempted to burrow through to South Korea.
The tours are popular, and they have to be booked at least three days in advance. Both of the experiences provide a great insight into the DMZ and the history behind it. 

Trip Tips 

  • I visited Imjingak with a host family by car, but the park is easily accessed from Soeul via train.
  • There are lots of food stalls, some restaurants and a convenience store. Everything you need is there.
  • As we drove closer and closer to the border, there were abandoned Army watchposts and stations dotted around the roadside. 
  • No passport is required for visiting Imjingak, it is only required if you are undertaking the full DMZ tour.
  • If you want to get up close and personal, the prices vary for the tour from $45.00 - $80.00 dollars. 
  • I've developed a keen interest in North Korea after this trip! However, tourists who do visit the country are under 24/7 supervision, the sights are cherry picked and it is forbidden to talk to local citizens. It would be amazing to see the unification of North and South Korea in the near future.

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