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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Journey to Cambodia via the Korean DMZ

The primary purpose of my trip was to attend the annual CamTESOL conference in Phnom Penh and  head-out to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. On the way there, I was determined to make the most of my stop-over in Seoul so I gave myself about 2 days there.

For good reasons, February is not the most popular time to visit Seoul; the temperature hovered between 0 and -5 degrees. The upshot was that I'd (finally) be able to visit Panmunjeom.

I took this video on board the bus to Imjin-gak Park, which is the northernmost public park in South Korea. The Imjin River originates up in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and flows southward over the border. There have been past instances in which the river was used as an infiltration route by spies and commandos from the north, so you'll notice the barbed wire fences and camouflaged blockhouses in the foreground. Also, the mountains in the distance are in North Korean territory; they've been completely deforested.

Part of Imjin-gak Park abuts the southern edge of the Demilitarized Zone. It's still a few kilometers from the Military Demarcation Line (DML) which forms the division between the two countries. When the wind is blowing north, at least one South Korean organization uses the park to launch helium balloons loaded with propaganda leaflets and various humanitarian gifts.

The Joint Security Area at Panmunjeom is a compact complex of several buildings which is under UN jurisdiction (the administrators are Swedish, Swiss and Polish). Civilians must access the JSA as a guest of the UN.

To get in, you have to apply beforehand with a licensed tour operator. There is a dress code for the compound and you must wear a green 'GUEST' badge on your lapel to show you're a civilian. There are plenty of other rules: no pointing, no obscene gestures, etc. This is really not a good place to go if you have problems following directions.

The Military Demarcation Line passes straight through the JSA; the blue structures straddle it. In the next photo, the microphones on the table mark where the border cuts across. It is possible for you to stand with one foot in each of the two Koreas.

There was only one DPRK guard on duty that day.

Other landmarks inside the JSA include the marker of the 1976 axe murder incident and the bridge of no return.

Coming-up: Journey to Cambodia #1.


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