Our second spell in Seoul wasn’t nearly as action packed as the first time around, but it still had plenty of action.
And in fact the busiest, most action packed day was the one immediately after our arrival. During our first visit to Seoul we’d tried to organize a tour to the DMZ but discovered that we’d left it too late to get one that was both good (included most of the sights) and inexpensive (under about US$100.)
The DMZ is a legacy of the Korean War. The war in fact never really ended. South Korea wasn’t a party to the armistice agreement that ended the fighting, so the north and south have technically been at war with one another ever since. And the “border” isn’t actually a border at all. It’s just a line that everyone agreed to pull back to (and 2km behind) when they stopped fighting. This left a 4km wide swathe of land along the “border” that neither side was permitted to enter, except under specially controlled circumstances, lest misunderstandings ensue and the war start back up again.
The status of the DMZ means that the area on either side of it is one of the most militarized on earth (the South Korean “civilian control line” past which civilians are not generally permitted extends about 20km further south beyond the DMZ, and is filled with soldiers, mine fields, electrified fences and fortified guard posts. (This level of inhospitablity has also meant that the DMZ has remained free of poaching, logging and pretty much all other human interference for almost 60 years so that it has effectively turned into an unintentional nature preserve.)
About the only place it’s possible to get inside the DMZ and right up to the border is just north of Seoul at Panmunjeom, the area where the armistice talks, and all North-South negotiations since, have taken place. This is where we were headed.
Three ROK (Republic of Korea, i.e. South Korean) soldiers right near the North-South border at Panmunjeom