When we stepped off the bus at Imjingak, one of the first sounds to greet us was the distinctive reporting of machine gun fire somewhere in the not too distant fields. I'm sure it was just a drill of some sort, but it was a reminder that in spite of the amusement park style atmosphere, we were at the most heavily fortified border in the world, between the world's only divided nation, the last remaining front of the Cold War.
At Imjingak we had the opportunity to walk across Freedom Bridge and look at the Peace Bell and altar where people come to pray for their ancestors buried in the North.
At our next stop we had the opportunity to tour the 3rd infiltration tunnel. We first watched a short documentary on the DMZ, covering its inception in the wake of WWII to the Korean War of 1950-53 (which the film states involved China and the US in addition to the two Koreas, strangely there is no mention of British, Canadian, or Australian involvement). We donned hard hats before descending 300m to the 2X2m tunnel. It almost felt like visiting the Glace Bay Miner's Museum back home. The tunnel was outfitted with rubber mats and charcoal to lend it the appearance of an abandoned mine, but since there are no known mineral resources in the bedrock from which the tunnel was carved, it could serve no purpose other than infiltration. That being the case, I couldn't resist asking why the South doesn't seal off the tunnel or destroy it altogether. Why make it a tourist attraction? I was told it is important to keep them intact in order to prove to the world that the North still has hostile intentions towards the South. "Besides," came a candid reply. "We can use those tunnels too."
We enjoyed a traditional Korean lunch in the village of Tongilchon, also known as Unification Village, a special place where residents do not have to pay taxes and are exempt from military service.
From there we went to Dora Observatory. We couldn't see much of North Korea through the curtain of fog. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Propoganda Village. I could hear the loudspeakers from that area belting out their messages, but none of the words were intelligible. The guards on duty couldn't decipher the speech either. The soldiers at Dora Observatory spoke perfect English, and they were very sensitive as to which direction cameras were pointed.
We also stopped by Dorasan Train Station, where the train would go on to Pyeongyang if it could.
In between these sites, the vacant stretches of land were identified as mine fields. Signage bearing the skull and crossbones insignia gave ample warning.
The one souvenir I picked up was a limited edition strand of barbed wire from the DMZ packaged in a nice frame for only \12,000.
I want to thank Seokjin and the Adventure Korea Club for a memorable excursion.