More than 5,000 years of culture, numerous temples, advanced technology, national parks and the hospitality of the people were reasons to visit the country on the Korean Peninsula. Today, South Korea has the fourth-largest economy in Asia and is primarily known for its advanced innovation. Due to the organization of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea has also shown the world its sporting organisational skills.
I arrived in Chuncheon after a two-hour train ride from the capital city of Seoul. The city is the centre of Gangwon Province. Today, the city is known primarily for the best tasting chicken and shopping in South Korea. Numerous restaurants in the city invite you with their varied culinary offer. In 2002, the winter romantic drama Sonata was filmed in Chuncheon, and due to the popularity of the film, tourists from neighbouring Japan are also coming today. During the three years of the Korean War, the largest battles took place in this city, and these events are commemorated by numerous monuments, thus preserving the memory of fallen soldiers, including an American officer.
The fact that I was visiting one of the most dangerous areas in the world, separating the Korean Peninsula, gave me adrenaline with every kilometre travelled to the border. The nearest point between North Korea and South Korea is only 65 km from Seoul. Due to the strict rules that visitors must adhere to before entering the most guarded border in the world, there are quite a few procedures in order to visit some of the most interesting things in the area.
Many travel agencies around Seoul organise a one-day visit, under the general conditions it is stated that they can cancel your trip before departure and are not obliged to refund the money or explain the cancellations. Fortunately, this did not happen during my trip. My friend from Incheon and I took the car to the first station, where you have to fill out the forms and pay the entrance fee, and after a few minutes you are already on the passenger list.
The whole process must be strictly followed, otherwise you will be rejected. Before getting on the bus, they check your documents, and then we finally drive to the border, where more than two million infantry mines are laid between the two countries. Wherever you turn, you will see barbed wire, placed cameras follow you throughout your movement in the area. The guide on the bus told us some of the most interesting things, and after a few minutes we already had military control. A South Korean soldier came to check on us to see if we were all passengers on the list, and we went through the formal process without any major problems. Welcome to the Demilitarised Korean Zone (DMZ) were the first words of a local bus guide. On the viewing platform, visitors saw with their own eyes how the border between the two countries runs. The length of the border runs along the 38th parallel and is about 261 km long. While observing with binoculars on the northern neighbour, I had a nice view of the city of Kaesong, as well as people working on rice fields and the movements of North Korean soldiers.
The separation of one nation into two halves and the completely different development of two countries, societies and environments are stressful for individuals who, after the division in 1953, lost relatives and friends on that thousand-fold cursed 38th parallel. Emotions are very strong in this area, people cry and mourn for their relatives, who are not able to visit them. Most new generations don't even remember their ancestors, just from the stories of their grandparents. A few years ago, they organised a meeting on the border with both sides. Imagine, after more than 50 years, hugging your brother or sister again. A few people are only 10 km away and can not meet, they do not have the opportunity to send letters, nor can they send e-mails, the only thing left are black and white photos, if they have them, of course.
A few years ago, the North Korean military dug several tunnels to break into South Korea. Visitors were also able to see one of the many tunnels. Before entering the tunnel, we had to leave all things in the dressing room, since it is forbidden to bring anything. After a 15-minute walk through the tunnel, we reached the point that separates North and South Korea. In front of us stood a door with a small opening, so that visitors could see North Korea even from the tunnel.
An interesting thing about the demilitarised Korean area is that over the years, due to its impassability, many animals have found their home here. The Korean peninsula is one of the last areas where the consequences of the Cold War and the division of the world into two poles are still visible.