I spent the first day in Seoul just relaxing and getting familiar with the city. I was staying in Seoul for about 5 nights but I didn't really have any set plans. One thing I knew I really wanted to do was visit the JSA camp in the DMZ (the neutral zone running between North and South Korea). The USO runs tours of the JSA and I was really hoping to take one but the lack of planning on my part didn't allow it to happen. Instead I found a Korea tour company that ran tours. Now I'm not big on guided tours, in fact I hate guided tours, but the only way to visit the DMZ is through a tour, so i sucked it up!
We started heading north out of Seoul and the first stop was the Odusan Observatory, which overlooks the Han River. On the other side of the river is the North Korean town of Gaeseong City. The Odusan Observatory also houses an interesting and almost assuming measure that shows how everyday North Koreans live. They even had a mock classroom and living room.
After this we kept heading north along the river, where you could see lots and lots of barb wire and military watch towers. We hooked a left and headed into the DMZ, where the bus stops and a South Korea Soldier checks all passengers Passports.
When we reached the JSA (Joint Security Area) all the passengers switch to a JSA bus driven by a South Korean soldier. From here the tour visit is very brief but super interesting. We're allowed in one of the meeting halls where technically half the building is South Korea and the other half is North Korea. This is the highlight of the trip. The bus also takes us around the compound as the tour guide points out other important sights such as the Bridge of No Return.. one of the few bridges that still connects North and South Korea.
Like any typical tour…. it ends in a gift shop. Yup, a gift shop. The only gift shop in a DMZ! All in all i'm glad I did the tour. I think i would have enjoyed it better with the USO because the tour guide I had was okay, but not the best… but hey at least I can say I took a few footsteps into North Korea!
The view of North Korea from the Odusan Observatory.
1) A South Korean guard tower along the Han river. 2) A South Korean solider standing guard inside the North Korea / South Korea conference room (inside the JSA)
The JSA with the North Korea town of Kijong-dong in the background.
Bridge of No Return... one of the only bridges between North and South Korea.
1) Our South Korea bus driver. 2) The only giftshop in a DMZ.