There was nothing more important, revealing, and impactful than visiting the DMZ (dematerialized zone) in Korea. One of the things highly recommended to us by one of the locals was to get on a tour of the DMZ, and of course this wasn’t something we weren’t going to miss. And then somewhere along the tour, it became much more than that.
So apparently (according to my tour guide), people used to be able to make the trek up themselves but you can now only get to the DMZ via an authorized tour organization. There were two options; JSA full day tour and a DMZ ½ day tour.
We ended up doing the ½ day tour only. If you have time, I would say do the full day tour because you actually get to visit the DMZ instead of seeing it from a far away observation tower like we did. The ½ day DMZ tour gets you into the infiltration tunnel and to the observatory, but the JSA (Joint Security Area) is where you actually see the North and South Korean military stand face to face. You’d also get to visit the Panmunjeom that is actually located at the DMZ. Just be careful to choose your options according to what you want to see. Some people may be disappointed with a half day tour because they were only taken to the tunnel and observatory. I also know that they have limited availability for the full day tour.
What made a difference for me on this tour was our guide, Sunny (forgive me I can’t remember her Korean name). Being present at the DMZ was really stirring, but hearing a real life story filled with emotion and sadness from someone standing directly in front of you made the situation more intimate and real. She told us of how Koreans would come to Paju (last area before entering into the military zone) just to be closer to the north at times when they miss their families. She told us a story of how her mother and grandmother have siblings they left behind, and to this day still not knowing if they were alive or not. And finally she told us of her and many other peoples hope of reunification for their country. These were the real life stories I heard that I will never forget. The raw emotion inflicted in her voice was sad and heartfelt, and this is truly made my journey into something more than just a tour.
We all see what’s going on and we all hear it through the news, but what we seldom see are the people of Korea telling their stories. Their stories are what’s important; we get to see it through their eyes.
As our tour guide Sunny, had said; as much as the DMZ has become more of a tourist atmosphere (and there were a lot of tourists that day), we can only hope that the more people visit, the more it brings awareness to the plight going on within that country. Hopefully one visit, one story, or one blog post can bring enlightenment or encouragement to help Korea become one free nation.