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Friday, May 01, 2009

Day 15: Seoul - JSA (South & North Korea) - Seoul

Since watching the JSA movie few years back, I really wanted to see that place. Never think of it again until I knew that I was going to Seoul. I was pretty excited and did a lot of research to make sure that we could go there.

From what I found on the internet, there was no way that we could do it ourselves, so the only way was to join a tour. The tour cost KRW 77,000 (SGD 90) per person on weekdays and KRW 78,000 on weekends. We went for the friday tour because he had a long weekend ahead. Yay!!

As usual, Indonesian passport holder always have visa problem. Thank God this time it wasn't that difficult, as long as we submitted 7 days in advance, it should be fine.

Next was the availability of the tour. Sometimes it was 3 days in a week, other week it was only 2 days and they could also cancel it anytime due to the situation at the border without any refund. Yeah, I just prayed harder that the situation didn't get worse since North Korea had launched the nuclear test recently.

Dress code is pretty important too, no sandals, tore jeans, sleeveless, etc. So to be on the safe side, wear conservatively.

By the way, this tour is only available for foreigners, South Korean people won't be able to visit this place unless they have a special pass like our tour guide. So, it is really quite a privilege to be part of this. :)

Let's start the tour!

Our tour departed from Lotte Hotel at 10.30 am, took approximately an hour to reach the border area. Our first stop was Mt. Odu Unification Observatory.

You know when you are near the border. :)

Many security posts along the river.

This river is connected to other river from North Korea, so the North Korean spy used it to sneak into South Korea. That's why now they have fences and security posts along the river bank, complete with motion detector sensor.

Mt. Odu Unification Observatory

Entrance of the observatory

Unification wishing drum

Statue of Man-shik Jo, member of Independent Movement. Not sure who's that guy.

During the Korean war, many people got separated from their family members or left their hometown. Since they couldn't go to the other side, every year they came here to pay respects to their ancestors.

Mass worship altar

Despite the FIFA World Cup was held in 2002, this is still here.

Next we had a tour on how's life in North Korea today. Our tour guide explained that if there's a fire in the house, they should save the pictures of their leader first.

What's the most precious thing in this house? It's that 2 portraits, not the TV.

That's our tour guide, we were sitting in a classroom.

Propaganda books with quality papers.

Science and math books in low quality papers, yeah not important. :P

How they dress

Their current makeup, gosh, these are like in 70s.

Kitchenware and cooking sauce


It is really hard to believe that they are so outdated. I just took everything I heard and saw with a pinch of salt. Not to forget, on the other side they also have the similar tour for tourists. It must be interesting to see how they portray on South Korea.

Now we knew why everyone have to dress up for this tour. It was to prevent North Korea to get hold of the photos of people dressing shabbily and claimed South Korean people are so poor. :)

Next we moved on to see the North Korean arts.

Paintings made from seashells

Impressive, right?

Gaesong Industrial

Gaesong Industrial Project, joint venture of South and North Korea

Gaesong is located at the North.

Goods manufactured in Gaesong

View of North Korea village from the observatory.

From Mt.Odu, we went to a restaurant for our lunch.

Do you realise that the side dish portion is very little?

I asked for more chili sauce, and they gave me another drop!


Yeah, we finished everything.

We were taught from young not to waste food. :D

The food wasn't very good, but we were hungry. Actually, that's the worst restaurant I ever visited during my stay.

After our lunch, this guy who was a North Korean defector gave a performance. It's just hard to believe that he's from there. I mean, wouldn't he worried that someone recognize him?

His singing was good though. :)

Flowers outside the restaurant

Two of our tour members forgot to bring their passports, so our tour guide dropped them at this park. For the rest of us, we were heading to JSA.

Imjingak Park

Joint Security Area (JSA)
When we reached the entrance gate, we saw many military soldiers on duty, but they were mostly American soldiers instead. From this gate onwards, we could only take photos when our tour guide said so.

JSA logo

Our guest pass

They brought us to Camp Bonifas where we received the briefing on JSA and also asked us to sign a declaration form. It had a very long terms and conditions but actually they just wanted to tell you "Enter at your own risk".

Later they returned this form to us as a souvenir. Great :)

After the paperwork was done, we were brought to the Freedom House where we had to stand in line of two and follow the soldiers to MAC Conference Room.

Side view of Freedom House

Military Armistice Commission (MAC) Conference Room
This is the only place that's open for tourists. The conference room is used for the meetings between North and South Korea.

When we came in, the guards on duty were the South Korean soldiers. But when the tourists are from the other side, the soldiers from North Korean will be on duty.

MAC Conference Room

North and South territory, separated by a microphone, I took this photo from North Korea hehehe...

The border line is extended to the outside.

That fist really looks strong, I mean the soldier's one hahaha...

He looked quite fierce and didn't move at all. I was quite scared to be near him.

I think they purposely asked the tall ones to guard here, doesn't it look better in photo? :)

Next they brought us to the Freedom House Pagoda so that we could see the North side better.

That white building is Panmungak, similar to South Korea Freedom House.

The North Korean soldier was watching us all the time through his binoculars .

This building is like the Freedom House Pagoda, where tourists from over there looking at the South Korea.

The short white poles indicate the border lines.

That's the MAC room in the middle, where we just came out.

Tourists came out from the MAC room.

A soldier at his post, by the way he wasn't facing the wall.

This is how it supposed to look like, could only took this photo from our tour bus.

Next, they brought us to one of the checkpoints. If I remember correctly, there were 5 checkpoints in total.

The highest flag pole in the world at 160 metres, belongs to North Korea.

View of other checkpoint from here.

Bridge of no return
This bridge was used for prisoner exchanges during the Korean War. The prisoner could choose to remain at his current country or choose to go to the other side. But once he crossed this bridge, he won't be allowed to return.

Bridge of no return

That was the end of our tour. The soldiers dropped us at the souvenir shop and then we returned to Seoul. Now we could claim that we have been to North Korea. Mission accomplished!

He is the cutest soldier I've ever seen. :D

It was already 5pm when we reached Lotte Hotel in Seoul. Had a teabreak at Lotteria, local fast food.

Fried calamari

Yongsan Electronic Market
We took a subway to Yongsan because he wanted to see the electronic gadgets here.

Yongsan electronic market

I left him at the market and went to I'Park mall nearby.

I'Park mall

Yongsan train station, with the I'Park mall on top.

Outdoor area of I'Park mall

The mall is very big, just like those expensive department stores. Actually it also has a lot of electronics, seven floors to be exact.

He bought a 2GB Samsung thumbdrive at KRW 15,000 (SGD 18) without bargaining. Oh no, it wasn't cheap and also had a bit of problem. He is regretting it now.

We had chicken galbi for dinner.

Chicken galbi

Apron suits him very well. :)

On our way back home, he bought me white roses. He must be worried I was smitten by that cute soldier hahaha...

Yay, I got flowers. :)


Heather said...

Irene, your blog is terrific. Thank you for the pictures of the DMZ. With tensions mounting in the region I don't believe that they will continue running tours so we won't be able to see it for ourselves. We leave in 4 weeks and your blog is just adding to our anticipation. Thank you!

Irene said...

Thanks Heather :)

theresa said...

Irene,your blog is very interesting!I got to know more of North Korea..wait..ahm is gu jung pyo of boys over flower from there?hehe..tnx.

yuwei said...

How do I join the tour to JSA? can i sign up for the tour in sg or do I have to do it in korea?

Irene said...

There are many JSA tour brochures in the Seoul hotel. You could ask the receptionist to help you book one.