My Few Minutes in North Korea at the Korean Demilitarized Zone

As an announcement is expected pertaining to banning American citizens and nationals from traveling to North Korea, I thought I would post a few photographs from when I visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area back in October of 2014.

My Few Minutes in North Korea at the Korean Demilitarized Zone

Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

After the bus arrived and parked in the parking lot, the passengers entered the Joint Security Area Visitor Center for a briefing pertaining to information about our visit.

Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

The briefing included an introduction by a soldier of the United States Army, along with a slide show presentation.

Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

…which included such information as the political history which led to the existence of the Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area.

Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

After the presentation, we were escorted outside to the other side of the visitor center, which faces northeast towards North Korea. We were specifically instructed not to go beyond the top step of the visitor center which led down to the street.

Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

South Korean soldiers stand stiffly in very specific positions to simultaneously protect themselves while preparing to defend South Korea from the North Korean military should the current cease fire be violated. The border which separates South Korea from North Korea is that strip of raised concrete on the ground halfway down the length of the building.

Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

The group of visitors was told that North Koreans are spying our every move from the taller concrete building in the background known as Panmon Hall. Visitors on the South Korea side of the border are discouraged from waving to the North Koreans.

Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Visitors are allowed to take as many photographs as they like; but certain areas are not permitted to be photographed. I took a photograph similar to the one shown above; but slightly further to the right. The American soldier who was our guide spotted me and asked to look in the viewer of my camera. He then asked that I delete that particular photograph. I complied with his request.

Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Once inside the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission Staff Conference Building, we were shown the conference table where negotiations had occurred in the past. The table is located on the border between South Korea and North Korea; and I took this photograph from the North Korea side of the border…

Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

…and as confirmed by the aforementioned raised concrete strip outside of the building, this photograph shows that I was indeed in North Korea — although that window could really use a cleaning.

Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

We were repeatedly warned not to go too far into the other side of the building, as that would be venturing too far into North Korea. When one person did indeed wander too far, an American soldier promptly shouted “Sir! Step Back!!!” as a South Korean soldier suddenly and forcefully pushed the stunned visitor backwards. In addition to the soldiers from South Korea — no soldiers from North Korea were in the conference room — cameras watched our every move.

Summary

I intend to post more trip reports of my experience at the Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area — but I figured that now was a good time to post this trip report, as the Department of State of the United States is expected to impose a “geographical travel restriction” as authorized by Rex Tillerson — who is the current secretary of state of the United States — which will effectively ban Americans from traveling to North Korea towards the end of August of 2017.

The atmosphere at the border was tense at best, with the possibility of one wrong move potentially leading to the launch of another violent conflict. Even with the potential ban expected to be in effect, visitors from the United States should still be able to visit North Korea for a few minutes via the Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area, as a passport is not needed to cross the border…

…but if tensions continue to escalate between North Korea and the United States, tours of the Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area could possibly be suspended indefinitely.

As I wrote in this article pertaining to 13 of the most fascinating international borders in the world, the Korean Demilitarized Zone — which stretches for roughly 155 miles — serves as a buffer approximately 2.5 miles wide between North Korea and South Korea. After its establishment 64 years ago, this stretch of no man’s land has eventually transformed into an undeveloped nature reserve which reportedly contains gorals, wild boar, roe deer, endangered cranes and even rare Siberian tigers; and both countries have cooperated to protect the rare wildlife which has flourished here. I personally have not seen any of the aforementioned wildlife.

For the record, I do not particularly count those few minutes as being in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea despite technically being in it — but I hope that the day will come where North Korea will become a far safer place to visit Perhaps one day I could spend a few days there — even if it means being part of a unified Korea, which will not happen anytime soon…

…but one thought with which I took away with me as a result of my experience is just how ridiculous and dangerous human beings potentially can be — regardless of who initiated the conflict.

This one is for you, George

All photographs ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

8 thoughts on “My Few Minutes in North Korea at the Korean Demilitarized Zone”

  1. TB says:

    Brian – how did you feel about signing the release deed prior to boarding the tour bus? It made the clear and present danger very real to me.
    And what about the gift shop with, among others, North Korean vodka with a snake in the bottle?

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      To me, it was like signing any other release, TB — such as when I woke up one morning and spontaneously decided to go skydiving in western New Jersey. They all have verbiage pertaining to the unlikely possibility of injury or death, of which they all disclaim responsibility. I had no fear at all when signing that document.

      As for the gift shop, I did not purchase anything — and because I do not drink alcoholic beverages, I do not remember seeing the North Korean vodka with a snake in the bottle. Would that be similar to tequila with a worm in the bottle?

      1. TB says:

        I don’t sky dive nor bungee jump so I’ve never signed of release of the type – however in the case of DMZ it is not the laws of probabilities you are against.
        Yes, apart from an order of magnitude difference between a snake and a worm it could be mistaken for a bottle of tequila 🙂

  2. Steve says:

    You’ll still be able to go to the JSA even if travel to the DPRK is banned

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you, Steve; but I already mentioned that in the article:

      “Even with the potential ban expected to be in effect, visitors from the United States should still be able to visit North Korea for a few minutes via the Korean Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area, as a passport is not needed to cross the border.”

  3. Fester says:

    I went to the DMZ for my birthday! Incredible experience. It was very intense as the DMZ had been closed and only just reopened. Being on the other side of the concrete border is as far as I want go.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You are fortunate that the Korean Demilitarized Zone was open for your birthday, Fester — and I am glad that you had a great time.

      I intend to post more articles — such as the tunnel and the views as two examples. Did you do any of that?

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