My first full day in Korea and I took an excursion from the port of Incheon to near Seoul (about an hour and a half) to spend the morning in the Dimilaritised Zone (DMZ for short).
This is the area around the 38th parallel where North and South Korea meet. It’s a poignant place where people tie prayers for unification to the barbed wire fence. Those who are separated from loved-ones in the North even come here with special food on the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving to get as close as possible to their loved-ones.
The zone does have a more upbeat side. There are the beginnings of a railway line intended to one day link the two halves of Korea, with an optimistic sign for trains to North Korea’s capital displayed at the empty station. At a look-out point, a row of coin-operated telescopes lets tourists peek across the no-man’s-land between South and North. You can even buy DMZ souvenir chocolate.
The highlight for me was a trip into the third tunnel. This is the longest of four incomplete tunnels from the North which have been found to have breached the DMZ.
A path from the surface has been dug to let tourists access the tunnel (now closed in the middle, of course). You can either walk down a steep slope into the depths or, like I did, take a simple open-sided monorial. I donned my hard hat and took a look around, stooping most of the way. The tunnel is narrow and damp and I got the odd cold drop of water down my neck (glad of that hard hat when the shock made me bang my head!) but it was intriguing all the same and certainly the strangest place I’ve ever drank natural spring water.
This afternoon it was time for me to step deeper back in history in Korea’s national museum. It’s the sixth largest museum in the world and I only had time to hit the highlights but I particularly recommend the Silla dynasty section which displays stunning gold crowns and jewellery over a thousand years old.