Unless you live under a highly uneducated rock, you're very much aware that Korea is currently split between the North and the South. You should also be aware than I am in the South, and the North is the place that instills the most fear among those who only know of it as that communist country with the crazy, kooky looking dictator (otherwise known as Kim Jung Un). The country is split along the 38th parallel and along that parallel is what is know as the DMZ, or the demilitarized zone. It is considered one of the tensest places in the world. (I wrote a little about the basics here)

Well, this past Saturday a group of us waygooks decided to visit it. Before you think we just caught a taxi and strolled around the border, that is probably the farthest from the truth. In order to even get close to the border, you must book a tour through one of the many DMZ tour agencies. It's not cheap, and I didn't do the tour when I was here my first time, but I decided visiting the border is one of those things I have to do while I'm here. Is it commercialized? Of course, this is Korea. Everything was heavily regulated, we were given a sort of agreement to sign, and we were told things like, "Don't point" or "We may get to the southern border of the DMZ and be told to turn around if things are too tense." We used Tour DMZ, and were given a delightfully sassy tour guide.

Let me just say it was a long but incredibly interesting day. After my alarm didn't go off at 5:00 a.m., I woke-up at 5:44 a.m. to the sounds of someone coming down the stairs. Keep in mind, we had to be at the bus station at 6:00 a.m. I got ready in about 3 minutes. Luckily I thought to pack my purse the night before, but my phone was unfortunate collateral damage in the process (hence all of these pictures from friends). We got the station in time, and boarded the bus for Seoul. I pretty much passed out the whole three hour bus ride. After a quick breakfast at Starbucks because a) everything near Lotte World was closed until 10:30 a.m. (including Lotte World...) and b) other nearby coffee shops only had sweet food, we met our guide in Lotte Hotel.
Us actually in North Korea, it's fuzzy, but you can see
the border line behind us.
We then set off the hour ride to the DMZ, stopping first to have lunch at a very small, traditional Korean restaurant that I'm pretty sure only has business from these tours. It included rice grown within the DMZ, a pretty cool fact we learned later. After lunch we headed off to Camp Bonifas within the DMZ, a United Nations military camp named after an American captain, Arthur G. Bonifas, who was killed by North Koreans in one of the tenser moments of the border, At the camp, there was a visitor's center, including a gift shop (told you, commercialized), and we switched our tour bus with a DMZ regulated bus for the five minute drive to the actual 38th parallel.

There we were actually face to face with North Korea, and inside a JSA building, we were able to step over the border into the North. It's kind of insane to think about it--I've stepped a foot into North Korea. The experience of that moment was well worth the price, the commercialization, and the crazy four hour commute there and back. It sounds like a super tourist-y thing to do, but I highly recommend doing it just for the experience of seeing North Korea and this strange part of history that seems to persevere even into today.

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