If someone told me a couple of years ago, or even six months ago, that I’d be casually standing on the North Korean soil, I’d laugh in their face. But fast forward to December, I ended up participating in a cultural exchange program between South Korea and my country, and as a part of our trip, we were taken to the ultimate tourist attraction in Korea for the edgy – the Demilitarized Zone, most heavily secured border on Earth.
Our bus picked us up in front of one of the hotels in central Seoul and the ride took about an hour. We were then asked to step out of the bus and go into a UN-administered one, driven by a South Korean soldier, which took us to the actual Panmunjeon/Joint Security Area. On the way there, we had to be told multiple times about rules of behavior while in the DMZ (no smiling, no pointing, no Fonzie-style double thumbs up, etc), as we would stand face-to-face (although at some distance) with a single North Korean soldier (and a couple of cleaners, it would turn out). It was in the little blue huts in the JSA where we had the opportunity to actually step into official North Korean territory (spoiler alert: it looks exactly the same as the South Korean side of the hut) and even snap some pictures. Even though the whole experience was surreal and kind of eerie, it felt a bit bizarre being a tourist in a place that was 100% safe for me, but only miles away people were actively living miserable lives. Anyway, our tour also included a visit to the DMZ shop, the Unification Village and a lunch in a traditional restaurant owned by a local family. To be honest, even though I am genuinely interested in the history of Korea, I am not 100% sure I would’ve personally chosen to go the DMZ, but it was a definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will be talking about years down the line.
The DMZ shop is probably the only place in the world where you can purchase North Korean wine.