Day trip to the DMZ and Kaesong, North Korea (09/2019)

view across the border towards South Korea

view across the border towards South Korea

On my last day in North Korea, I traveled to Kaesong at the border to South Korea.

We began sightseeing at the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Panmunjom. Together with hundreds of Chinese tourists, I was brought through a narrow road with large cement blocks on either side which could be used to barricade the area in an instant (photography not allowed). The first stop included two buildings in which the Korean War Armistice Agreement was negotiated and signed. After another kilometre the tour reached the Phanmun Pavilion from where we could look at the House of Freedom on the other side of the border. This place is probably the most famous site symbolizing the separation of North and South Korea.

Following the tour to the DMZ, my guides took me to the nearby town of Kaesong. The city is famous for the Kaesong Industrial Region located nearby, in which South Korean companies employed North Korean workers in an effort to ease tension between the two countries and promote stronger economic ties. However, the complex was closed in 2016 and I saw it only from a distance. One visible result of the establishment of the Kaesong Industrial Region is a surprising abundance of solar panels installed on many houses in the city. My guides took me to the Koryo Museum, which was the place of an ancient university teaching Confucianism and established during the Koryo Dynasty at the end of the 10th century CE. After lunch we visited the Tombs of King Kongmin (14th century CE) and King Wanggon (10th century CE) located in a beautiful setting among wooded hills.

I finally left North Korea with the overnight train from Pyongyang to Beijing via the border town of Dandong. The train ride passed through landscapes which were similar to those I had seen in the last days: wide valleys with small villages and rice fields. At the North Korean border, soldiers entered the train and checked passports as well as the luggage. I shared the cabin with a Chinese couple who brought their laptop, which received a lot of scrutiny by the North Korean officials. This meant that I was not checked very thoroughly and only asked whether I have a bible on me. Nevertheless, I felt a lot of relief when I crossed the Yalu River and was back in China.

For most nationalities, it is very easy to visit North Korea within the framework of an organized tour – it is not an accomplishment, requires no bravery, and does not resemble a James Bond movie. I think that seeing parts of this country myself was an interesting experience, but at the same time I cannot really recommend it. I did not feel comfortable during my tour – possibly because I was unlucky with my main guide or because I had too many preconceptions running wild in my head.

2 responses to “Day trip to the DMZ and Kaesong, North Korea (09/2019)

    • Thank you! I think the main problem is that most governments will have no way to help you, if you get into trouble in North Korea. Therefore they advise against traveling there to be free of responsibility. I would also not travel into really dangerous areas such as war zones… by chance I met the ambassador of Germany in Pyongyang and was worried that he would scold me about coming to North Korea, but he was really friendly and happy to see me! 😀

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