8 June 2018: Unfortunately due to “preparation about Inter-Koreans high level meetings“, the United Nations revoked our permission to visit Panmunjeom in the centre of the Demilitarised Zone (“DMZ”), the place where the armistice agreement was signed in 1953. This was notwithstanding the fact that the Donald Trump/Kim Jong-Un summit was due to take place in Singapore on 12 June rather than in the Joint Security Area (“JSA”), but presumably there was a lot going on behind the scenes and given its potential importance, it would have seemed a little churlish for us to get upset. After all, we all have to do our bit for World Peace don’t we! In any event, we subsequently learnt that high level military talks were held that day between North and South Korea to discuss reducing tensions across the border (the first such talks between the militaries since 2007).
R: A model of the Joint Security Area with the famous blue huts of Panmunjeom where the armistice agreement was signed in 1953
And on the subject of doing our bit, when we visited the Korean War Memorial (with its excellent and very interesting museum), we were stopped just outside by a bunch of enthusiastic students who asked us to join them in writing a letter to Moon Jae-in, the President of South Korea, to add our voice to the call for reunification and peace in the Korean peninsula. On the face of it, in Seoul there seems to be a lot of desire for a reunified Korea although it was a little hard to scratch below the surface in our very brief visit. Either way, our trip to the South Korean capital came at quite a pivotal moment.
So instead of the full tour to the JSA and Panmunjeom, we had to take the “DMZ” tour instead. In fact, this tour is rather misleadingly named as you don’t actually get into the DMZ itself but just get to peer into it and beyond into North Korea from the heavily fortified boundary at Dora Observatory. Or if you want to be really pedantic, we can claim that we did in fact set foot inside the DMZ (or more precisely under it) when we were walking in the 3rd infiltration tunnel. This is one of infiltration tunnels that the North Koreans built (albeit they deny this); this particular one was discovered in October 1978 and it’s been estimated that up to 10,000 soldiers can move through it in an hour. Now of course it makes a rather surreal stop on the tourist track! The South Koreans have also discovered three other infiltration tunnels to date and it is assumed that there are more.
We also visited Dorasan station which was built in 2002 ready to run trains directly to Pyeongyang when Korea is reunified.
Dorasan station on the South Korean edge of the DMZ