Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Demilitarized Zone

Programm for today:
- drive to Panmunjom at the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)
- lunch at Kaesong
- Koryo-museum at Keasong
- drive back to Pyongyang
- metro museum
- Kim Il Sung's birthplace at Mangyongdae (near Pyongyang)
- dinner at a restaurant in Pyongyang

View from our hotel room in the 21st floor:

On the island you can see the cinema, where the 11th Pyongyang International Film Festival was taking place during our stay in Pyongyang. Yes, there is indeed an international film festival in Pyongyang:

Due to that our hotel was quite busy at that time; at least I cannot say – unlike I read in other NK-travelogues – , that I had the impression, that the hotel was totally empty and only maybe 3 of 40 floors were open…
Especially in the morning there were lot's of people in the hotel lobby and also relatively long waiting times at the elevantors were not rare. And I had the impression, that also many North Koreans (high officials, of course) stayed at the hotel (alltough on other floors)… or were all of them guides for the foreigners? (our guides stayed at the hotel too during our trip).
Once while waiting for the guides in the lobby I also small-talked with two Germans, who were presenting a film at the festival.

We left for Panmunjom 30 minutes later than planned. The reason was, that our German speaking guide for the 1st two days got ill, and the "new" one who replaced him for the remaining two days had to accompany some tourists to the airport in the morning before meeting us.

During the waiting time Oliver and I did an "on-the-spot-guidance" at the car park in fron the hotel. Several KITC tour-busses were waiting for the tourist groups.

Also one "Kässbohrer Setra" bus was amongst the buses…

The drive to the DMZ took about 2 hours. The highway was similar to that to Myohangsan but with more tunnels, as the area was quite hilly.
It was noticeable that we got closer to the border, there were four checkpoints on the way there. But we only had to stop for a few seconds if at all.
Also concrete columns next to the road were signs of the near border. In an emergency case they would fall down on the road to block the way for tanks from the South...

I have no photos of them, but I found some here:


After the highway passes Kaesong it continues for a few more kilometers before it ends abruptly at the beginning of the DMZ. There is a even signpost saying "Seoul, 70 km"...

The DMZ divides North and South Korea. It is 248 km long and about 4 km wide. It is usually impossible to cross the DMZ, but in the previous years tourists coming from South Korea could visit some areas in the North and then crossed the DMZ by bus over newly built roads. Tours were possible to the Kumgang mountain and to Kaesong. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumgang_mountain.
Currently these tours are suspended due to the worsened relationshuip between the North and the South.
Panmunjom was a village in the middle of the DMZ, where the ceasefire-agreement was signed in 1953. This place today is on the Norther side of the DMZ.
At the demarcation line there is the "Joint Security Area", where today negotiations between the North and the South are held. Tourists can visit the JSA from the North and from the South, but of course it is not possible to cross the border here.

More information:

We had a short break at a car park at the entry to the DMZ. In one of the buildings we got a brief introduction into the place.

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An overview map:

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The place where we were is on the bottom, in the middle you see the Joint Security Area (JSA) and between the house, where the cease-fire agreement was signed.

The JSA:

The two Kim's are overlooking everything...

The entry to the DMZ:

Of course it is not possible to drive into the DMZ without being accompanied by a soldier:

Also these concrete cubes are meant to fall down on the road in an emergency case...

Google Earth screenshot of the DMZ:

The white lines mark the center line of the DMZ (the actual border) and the northern boundary. The southern boundary is not marked.
To view this placemarks with Google Earth, download the kmz-file at http://www.nkeconwatch.com/north-korea-uncovered-google-earth/.

The entry to the DMZ:

After about 1,5 km we arrive at the house, where the cease-fire agreement was signed.

Inside the house:

Then we continued to the Joint Security Area.

The JSA actually is located in the southern side of the DMZ, but there is a narrow "Northern" corridor into it:

And here we are:

The buildings in the foreground stand exactly on the border. The big building in the background is already in the South.

Inside the buildings it is possible to cross the border line. The door to the south is closed and guarded by North Korean soldiers.

The typical tourist-photo…

It was a quite strange feeling to be at one moment so close and so far to the "outside" world. Just running between to houses to the south would be no good idea…

After some days as a tourist in North Korea one feels already a little bit caged. You don't have your passport with you and you know that you totally depend on your host country. You can't just go to the station or airport and buy a ticket and leave the country whenever you want.
Of course there are usually no problems for tourists in North Korea and of course I know, that also other every country can prevent you from leaving the country. But here at the DMZ you get remembered, that you are in a closed country.
And also it's hard to believe that basically it is one country on both sides of the DMZ. The seperation already lasts for more than 60 years and the two systems are now totally different. Standing here at the DMZ it's very difficult to imagine how a re-unification of the two Koreas can happen…

However, the genarl atmosphere here was more relaxed then expected. There were no strict security checks (I read that this is different if youz visit the DMZ from the south) and also the fact, that no soldiers on the southern side were visible contribute to the relatively relaxed impression.

We were also not the only tourists there. We also met some tourists from Russia, one of them also published his photos on the web. See http://sergeydolya.livejournal.com/20101.html for his version of the visit to the DMZ (with some excellent photos).
There were however no tourists on the Southern side. We asked the soldier about this (the guide translated), he said, that usually in tourists from the north visit in the morning and tourists from the south in the afternoon.

Overview from the roof of the administration building:

At the Northern end of the DMZ the highway to Pyongyang starts:

The newly built but still "under-used" highway which crosses the DMZ is located some kilometers in the south.
Also the railway line crossing the border was reconstructed. The first train crossed the border in may 2007. See http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk03100&num=2086
As far as I know the line has since then been used for freight trains to the Kaesong Instrual Park (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaesong_Industrial_Park), but recently this trains stopped due to the worsened relationship between the North and the South. There were however no regular passenger trains.

We then drove to Kaesong and had lunch at a restaurant.

A group of South Korean nuns on their visit to Kaesong:

I wonder that they were allowed to make a tour to North Korea, as the North Korean regime does all to prevent any Christian influence to their citizen (owining a bible is strictly forbidden).

After lunch we visited the Koryo museum (http://www.northkorea1on1.com/attractions.cfm?aid=kaekoryomus), where ancient relics from the Koryo period (918 AD – 1392 AD) are shown.

As we had some delay in our today's schedule, we had to rush through the interestung museum.

On the way back to Pyongyang we made a break at a highway rest stop, where we bought some mineral water and also the North Korean version of Coca Cola.

North Korean "AutoGrill":

At around 16:15 we were back in Pyongyang – "rush hour" on the roads:

Visit to the metro museum:

The museum is quite interesting, alltough it's mostly about the "on-the-spot-guidances" by Kim Il Sung during the construction period.

The stars on this map show, how many times Kim Il Sung gave "on-the-spot-guidance" to the constrcution of the station concerned:


Kim Il Sung's special vehicle to go down to the construction site (using the tunnels which were after completion used for the escalators):


An impressive diorama:

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Railbus for the "on-the-spot-guidance":
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Another dioarama:


Model of the "mission controll center":

Model of a metro train (on of the Chinese built original trains, nowadays trains bought 2nd hand from Berlin are in use):

Map of the metro network:

The green lines show the planned routes.

See http://www.pyongyang-metro.com/ for more information about the Pyongyang metro.

Monument outside the museum:


The next agenda highlight was Mangyongdae, the birth place of Kim Il Sung, just outside of Pyongyang.

As already told, a significant part of the Pyongyang tramway network was closed for reconstruction during our visit:

The construction method using concrete cubes reminded me of something....
(tramway reconstruction in my hometown Graz, august 2004)


Finally we arrived at the house, where Kim Il Sung was born and spent his first years:

Amongst the visitors were this two North Korean families:

Of course they don't represent the average North Korean family, I'm sure they belong to the upper class. But what was interesting, was the fact, that the children had caps with "Mickey"-mouse on it…

…and I thought everything American was forbidden… ok, but on the other hand, the Hollywood-movie "Titanic" was also shown in North Korea...

From a hill nearby we had a great view to Pyongyang:

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After that we had dinner in a restaurant (including a 20 second power blackout ;-) and then drove back to the hotel.
At the "Arch of Triumph" I asked for a short photo stop:

We then had a beer together with our guides at the hotel bar before going to sleep.



Eurasia 2005: ~35.000 km by train from Europe via Ukraine, Russia and Mongolia to China and back to Europe via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan:

Total solar eclipse 2008: Trip to the total solar eclipse in the Altay mountains (1st august 2008), including a 6-day trekking trip:




alpha said...

Any more photos? :) This is fascinating.

pearce said...

Wow! Very cool stuff! Thanks for taking time to document and share your trip!!!

Ranquet said...

Very interesting thank you for taking the time to post this!

Paul Weiss said...

I now want to visit Pyongyang. Thanks for the great pictures...

Yuri said...

Thank you. This was an excellent travelogue. Surely one of the best I've seen on the net. Congratulations on an incredible adventure!

Jasmeen said...

Thanks very much for posting this! I had a lot of fun reading it and there are some VERY beautiful photos in here too :)

Andy said...

Fascinating. I'd been to the Russian Far East several times, and always wondered what lay across the border.

Great job with the photos and comments.

adventures in sitting said...

Fascinating. Thanks for putting all of this up.

Truand said...

this is a very impressive post, you guys just boosted north korea's tourism possibilities! =D

I'll be there sometime in a far away future ;)

thanks for the photos they are really amazing.

asdf said...
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asdf said...

Fascinating. I loved it. Thanks for sharing your trip with us in such remarkable detail.

It made me think we should strive to foster peace and prosperity here on our little blue planet. The alternatives, of course, are war and poverty.

My favorite part, believe it or not, was learning about the Shared Space concept http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shared_space

asdsadsa said...

Amazing. Thanks very much!

Geoffrey said...

Thank you very much for recording this adventure.

scottwelliver said...

keep it coming, this is amazing.

Adam said...

Fantastic, thanks.

jakeman said...

Thank you!! This was an excellent read, reminded me of my trip behind the “IRON CURTEN” before the wall came down. This would be my dream trip, update soon !!. cant what to hear about china.

Jeremy Smith said...

Well done. Thanks so much for sharing.

Peggy said...

Fascinating...Loved it. Loved the YouTube bits and reference links. I can't wait until you finish!

Susanna said...

This is really amazing. Thanks for posting such a detailed account of your trip. North Korea is a sad place, it is good to get a glimpse of it from the inside...

Thomas Stromberg said...

One of the most interesting travelogues I have ever read. Thanks!

diodon said...

Very interesting travel log, Hope you can writing the end soon!

Train Geek said...

Great photos - thanks for sharing.

I see you are from Graz. I visited there for a day in early 1991 - nice city.

Nate Jones said...

Thanks for sharing. I love how North Korea has a subway system, yet Los Angeles still can't figure it out.

Cataline said...

Publishing this travelogue was really an amazing thing. Thank you so much.

pb said...

Tnx for this very good "document". I have read all pages in one session. You maybe even do not realize yourselves how very, very rare some of your photos are. I think you are very lucky to be able to get these pics out of the country. Fascinating. Looking forward to more publications.

Drew said...

I find it fairly interesting of your trip to the JSA; as I was only there 3 weeks before your visit; however I was on the southern side. I'm assuming you went into the middle UN building; looks like all the furniture was rearranged.

Rock said...

Absolutely awesome blog! Thanks for shearing.

Aslak said...

Very fascinating. Thank you for sharing! :)
I'm planning a trip to North Korea myself sometime in the future, but I think I'll choose the more traditional guided tour :P

Frank. said...

This is really cool, weird though that in North-Korea there are stamps with the train from my homecountry on it (Netherlands).

Loved all the picture's and you wrote the story in a great way, easy to read, hard to stop ;-)

- Frank

Zhou Like said...

Great trip report! I went to DPRK exactly one year before you. I would have loved to see the metro museum -- didn't even know that existed!

Anonymous said...

This is brilliant stuff. I would like to go there!

Anonymous said...

Interesting about the Mickey Mouse hats. But I'll bet they are told that Mickey Mouse is a North Korean creation!

Puzanow Pavel said...

Hello! Have you any information about black-white foto metrotrain on the wall near big copy china car #016. Have you copy this foto? Thanks.

Richard Langford said...

I have visited the DMZ from both the South & North Side.

In March 2008 the South Side were very strict about dress and behaviour. Also there is a whole list of mostly muslim & communist Nationalities not allowed to visit. my Indonesian wife had to stay behind in Seoul.

5 months later I visited again from the north side of the DMZ, and again visited one of the huts where the 2 Koreas are supposed to negotiate. I realised that it was exactly the same hut as the one I was in last March when I visited from the south side! The North Korean Officer was most interested to hear through the guide/interpreter that I had gone there from the south as well and asked about the experience. He looked very happy to hear that 5 months earlier my wife had been prohibted from going there because of her Indonesian (muslim country?) passport. He stressed that they welcomed everyone and I should have taken her this time! It looked like they may try and use this for their future propoganda!

lillyashiqin said...

thanks... I learn something from your travelogue. oh ya... how long you made research (culture, language etc.) before you went through the long journey from vienna to pyongyang? thanks again. :)

Anonymous said...

In one of the pictures at the DMZ, there are 2 soldiers facing each other and the 3rd soldier has his back towards them. Do you know why this is?

The two soldiers face each other, to make sure that neither of them defects/escapes. The 3rd soldier faces the NK side to ensure no one from the NK side defects. Very interesting!

-Greetings from USA

Lazza said...

Are you sure about Titanic being displayed in North Korea? A defector told that she started thinking about the outside world by stealthily watching that movie "even if it was illegal".