Visiting the world’s most heavily fortified border: The DMZ

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Further in the distance, the Imjingak Railroad Bridge ran across the river, connecting to its greenish mountains which flaunt its beauty.

“Is that really North Korea?”

I signed to my Deaf Korean friend. “Yes, if we go any further, we would see North Korea right up close,” he said.  We were standing on the observation pavilion in Imjingak. The greenish mountains that surround North Korea seems beautiful; However, what lies ahead, I could feel an eerily darkness – as if you walk further and further, disappear into darkness and would never be able to return. Mixed feelings ran through me – I was in awe how close we are to North Korea, yet so far.

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The DMZ is where the heavily fortified border separates the two countries of the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War in the 1950-1953. The border between North and South Korea is known as the most heavily militarized in the world. Technically, it said that both are still at war since 1950-1953, the war did not ended in a peace treaty but in an armed truce.  Both North and South Korean soldiers were patrolling everyday for any imminent conflicts.

Despite the dangerous zone and imminent risks, this place was intriguing. I missed visiting the DMZ when I first visited South Korea last summer, and fortunately, I had a chance to visit this time.

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A photo of JSA

However, to my disappointment, a tour to further places (such as the JSA) were all closed due to MERS, a recent outbreak in South Korea. Therefore, my friends and I were not able to see the border up close nor go other nearby attractions.

“Is it really closed? They said that?” I asked my friend. He nodded and jokingly asked, “why do you want to go much closer? “

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I wanted to see the North Korean, South Korean soldiers and the conference room. I wanted to see what is it like in North Korea – although I know I’ll never understand what it is like to be in their shoes. However, North Koreans live in the world where they assumed it’s normal, so I cannot judge, because that’s how they were raised. If they were raised like that and were living in a world where it shuts out the rest of the world, what do you expect?

Call me crazy, but I do want to visit North Korea one day.

It would be an eye-opening experience, to take a peak into their world – the world that lives in a shell. A world where many talks about. I want to see for myself and be more knowledgable about it and life in general, such as feeling appreicated for what I have. I thought it would be impossible to visit North Korea, until I recently came  across one travel blogger who went to North Korea  with a tour group for an entire week.

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I was lost in thoughts as my eyes wandered  at North Korea. Then my friend explained that tourists aren’t allowed to visit on their own to the border and must be guided – for obvious reasons.

“Have you ever been there with the guide then?” I asked him. He shook his head and explained

how Deaf people can’t join the guided tour.

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He explained that they do not provide interpreters for the Deafs. He and other Deaf Koreans were disappointed that they weren’t able to explore beyond this point, at Imjingak. He was hoping that in the future, all the Deaf Koreans will form into a large group and be provided an interpreter to explore their history, especially their history with North Korea.

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Eventually, it wasn’t until when I returned home to California. I was told by Korean-Americans friends that they have booked with a tour and informed them that they’re Deaf. Unfortunately, the tour company canceled on them. One of my Korean-American friend also mentioned that her Deaf Korean friend said it was possible, but it takes determination to find a tour company that would be willing to let Deaf people participate. Therefore, Deaf people have to try several different tour companies until they find one.

Can you imagine how frustrating  it can be when you aren’t allowed?

 

General tips:

  • Check what the weather would be like and wear apporiate clothing
  • It is recommended to book a tour, always plan ahead
  • Find out which attractions you’ll be most interested (JSA, tunnel, etc)
  • Bring your passport, just in case of any imminent tension or danger

Deaf tips:

  • Don’t give up, keep on trying finding one tour company that would accommodate with you
  • Try to request for interpreter ahead of time if possible
  • Otherwise, tag along with a Deaf Korean friend and let your friend explains the history

What do you think about my experience at DMZ? 

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. I think it would be really interesting to visit there someday as well. How unfortunate that they aren’t able to support people that are deaf, hopefully a tour company offers that soon.

  2. I don’t think you are crazy because you want to visit North Korea. It is definitely on my bucket list as well. I have always thought that you can visit the country only as a part of a tour group. However recently I have found out that one of my friends has been traveling around North Korea for about two months only with his friend. No idea how is that possible. His photos are breathtaking and show the country in a way I never imagined it to be.
    But on your point – it seriously sucks that you cant join the group only because you are deaf. But I believe this will change in the future as more and more deaf people will be eager to visit this “forbidden” country.
    Good luck!
    Danka recently posted…Život v Kalifornii – Rozhovor s Henrietou StepanovskyMy Profile

  3. Hi! Wow, you went into one of the least tourist friendly country. I would like to visit as well, but I don’t like all the restrictions for what you can and can not visit. I think better visit more open countries where you have freedom to move around. But thumbs up for your courrage!
    Veronika recently posted…Homestay review: Flora B&B, Taitung, TaiwanMy Profile

  4. We also had a DMZ in Vietnam. Things before 1975 was the same to the situation your were at Korea. However, we ‘ve done now. You can visit Vietnam DMZ for more stories.

  5. I would love to do the tour but I hear that things are really bad in that specific area. You’re so lucky to have had the chance to do that before things (possibly) change. I hope people can continue to do this tour because it’s pretty amazing!
    Mia recently posted…GRAND PALACE & WAT PO – BANGKOK, THAILANDMy Profile

  6. Hey Stacey!

    I was very interested reading this post. I’ve read very little about this part of the South Korea and I’m so intrigued by it just like you.

    I definitely don’t think you are crazy for wanting to see North Korea one day. I think as travellers we have a natural instinct to want to explore places to very few other get to.

    I hope you do get over the boarder someday!

  7. It’s crazy that you can actually feel the eeriness of the area. I can only imagine what it’s like to visit that area and see it – even just the border – in person.
    Laura Lynch recently posted…What To Do In Copenhagen, DenmarkMy Profile

  8. i’ve never been to Korea, but do see myself visiting South Korea at some point in the future. I have no desire to visit North Korea because of the restrictions put on visitors, but am sorry that you were unable to visit because of the lack of support for deaf travelers. I have found that communist countries often lack the infrastructure to support people with disabilities of any type.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…5 reasons you’ll love Las Alcobas in Mexico CityMy Profile

  9. I find North Korea fascinating too. The unknown always makes me curious and I would love to be a fly on the wall and see what it’s really like. Unfortunately most of the things you hear about North Korea and the way of life doesn’t sound very nice. Such a shame you had got all the way there to not be able to go on the full tour. Hopefully the more you travel and the more you inspire other deaf and hearing impaired people to travel the more tours will accommodate more varied needs.

  10. Love the photos. This seemed like a very interesting and amazing experience.
    Holly recently posted…Yolk in Chicago, ILMy Profile

  11. I can’t begin to imagine how frustrating that must be!

    Often it is hard enough finding a tour in your own language (although through dumb luck, English, the current international tongue is what I speak), let alone someone who can guide the hearing impaired.

    As much as I don’t support the regime, I too think North Korea would be a fascinating place to visit!

  12. Great post! It stinks you didn’t get to tour the JSA, but there is always next time right? Your pictures brought back lots of memories! I was stationed in Korea a few years ago and was a art of the ROK Army patrols of the DMZ. Crazy times!
    Joe Ankenbauer recently posted…Lost America: Exploring Slab City and East JesusMy Profile

  13. I also really want to visit North Korea! I think it would be a fascinating insight into a country that is largely unknown to the outside world. Of course visits are tightly controlled, but I still think it would be incredibly interesting. I’m sorry to hear that tours for deaf travellers are so few and far between, hopefully more companies will cater to deaf travellers soon.
    katja – globetotting recently posted…My Family Adventure: Trailing Grandparents in BangladeshMy Profile

  14. I would like to visit North Korea too. Try to understand what happens behind those borders. I really admire you, how you get over some “difficulties” and how you show us that the tourism world is not prepared to deal with Deaf people. Shame on those tourism companies. :-/
    All the best sweet, keep travelling!
    Nat
    Natalie Deduck recently posted…Powerful Lesson from 1 year travelling the worldMy Profile

  15. All of those flower pinwheels give the feeling that this is not such a formidable border…even though the reality is that it is. I too would be intrigued to go to North Korea just to see what things look like there
    Julie @ Girl on the Move recently posted…#SeptemberScopers ChallengeMy Profile

  16. Its interesting, I would like to visit north Korea one day as well, for the culture. But I am not quite sure how I feel about the border being a tourist attraction. War shouldnt be a tourist attraction I dont think.
    Kimberly Erin recently posted…El Chalten Argentina: Just Keep TrekkinMy Profile

  17. I can totally understand your desire to visit North Korea. It’s spoken about so much, we hear so much about it – it really would be an experience to take it in first hand. Such a shame that tour companies don’t cater for the deaf population…. and so rude that company cancelled on your friends!…. I really hope this changes soon! Great, interesting post as always, and love the video!

    Gabby
    Gabby | The Globe Wanderers recently posted…Why the Wild Ones are Richer than MostMy Profile

  18. Fascinating to read about such a secretive place! My students at school are bit obsessed with North Korea ‘the unknown’ really grips them. I have watched many documentaries on the country and if this is an consolation, I don’t think ‘tourists’ get to see the real North Korea either so you may not be missing out. However, it is obviously not fair that there is no access for Deaf Koreans or tourists.
    Gemma Two Scots Abroad recently posted…Deafying Stereotypes – Deaf TravelMy Profile

  19. We can only imagine how frustrating that must be! Hopefully more availability of tours for Deaf tourists will be available, worldwide. We are in South Korea now but were not able to head to the DMZ as it was closed the week we planned to go due to the recent tensions. It is a fascinating place though and the more we learn about Korea, the conflict and the history, the more we are intrigued! Thanks for showing us a bit of the DMZ!
    Carolann – One Modern Couple recently posted…Light the Torches! Two Things We Regret Eating!My Profile

  20. I was so surprised to find out this was the most heavily militarized border in the world. If somebody asked me I’d have guessed at the India-Pakistan border, given how many infiltration/militant skirmishes we seem to hear of on a weekly basis. Must have been quite an experience though.
    Sanket D. recently posted…North Shore’s Kahuku – A Hawaiian ParadiseMy Profile

  21. What a bold move! Now I know you can do that with a guided tour. It’s a shame that your friend can’t join the tour. Maybe you can tell him to start a tours for Deaf People. I believe all of us should have the chance to see this ‘intriguing’ part of the world. Thanks for sharing your experience!
    Trisha Velarmino recently posted…3 Reasons Why Iceland is the Perfect Travel DestinationMy Profile

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