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LATE 2001:WE VISIT THE WORLD'S MOST HEAVILY MILITARISED AREA, THE SOUTH KOREAN BORDER WITH NORTH KOREA, THE WORLD'S ONLY SURVIVING STALINIST COUNTRY.

OLD, COLD. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the world hasn't really offered much in the way of comparable 'across the great idealogical divide' sights. Except for here in Korea. 

Here's a recap of things historical. The country was split into North and South after its long-time Japanese colonial rulers were ejected in 1945, and the two halves fought a major war in 1949 which ended up involving the UN. The 1949-53 Korean War was sparked by the Communist-backed North Korean invasion of the South, and was the only modern war in which Western armies fought Chinese ones - because the Chinese supported North Korea against the UN-backed South. Anyway, this thing was almost as bad as Vietnam and the entire country was trashed before hostilities ceased but the thing to bear in mind is that the war was never formally ended. This means that North and South are still technically at war, and are divided by a Demilitarised Zone which makes the Berlin Wall look tame. In addition to guns and minefields, this place is also 'home' to the largest concentration of military forces in the world! All this only 45 minutes' drive from our front door. Anyhow - that's the end of the history lesson (but there's more HERE). 

UN TROOPS LAND AT INCHON 1950

UN TROOPS FIGHT HOUSE TO HOUSE IN SEOUL

JUST LOOKING. We weren't allowed to take lots of pictures, but still managed to get some without being court-martialled or shot at dawn. The public observation bunker we visited looks directly over the DMZ itself into North Korea, and the telescopes here provide a startling glimpse into Kae-Song, the 2nd-largest city in the world's last-surviving Communist country. The DMZ is a captivatingly beautiful area, completely free of urban encroachment (logically, it's sealed off by minefields) and is a remarkably peaceful juxtaposition against the backdrop of the bristling, Armageddon-at-the-ready atmosphere that surrounds it.   AT DMZ OBSERVATION POST OVERLOOKING NORTH KOREA
TUNNEL VISION. Most South Koreans can't get this close to North Korea. Only those with foreign passports or special permission can visit the DMZ for a peek at what must be once of the most eerie things you'll see in a long while: an old steam locomotive, rusted and riddled with bullet holes, sitting in the middle of a deceptively pastoral scene, all that remains of the original train that was chuffing through the area when the North invaded early one morning in 1949 and blew the thing to hell. And that was our visit to what must be one of the world's most interesting tourist destinations...

There are several interpretations of what happened back then. The Chinese view of the whole mess can be read here.

KYLE AT 3RD TUNNEL, NK BORDER
DIGGIN' OUR SCENE. The North Koreans have tried all kinds of things to get back into the game. In addition to posting nearly a million troops in the area, they've also tried to tunnel under the DMZ! Some of their top-secret tunnels were discovered hundreds of metres into the South and have been sealed and mined - and turned into tourist destinations! We visited the 3rd Tunnel, just a few minefields away from North Korea.

We have since been back to the actual 'Peace Village' of Panmunjom where you actually stare down the barrels of the North Korean soldiers a couple of metres away and stood on North Korean territory. Have a look at those pictures here... 

For another perspective (and a far more interesting one, I reckon) visit THIS guy's website for a look at a visit to the NORTH KOREAN side.

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