Stepping into North Korea

Discussion in 'Scenic, Architecture, and Travel' started by Jesse_S, Apr 20, 2015.

  1. Jesse_S

    Jesse_S Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 7, 2013
    Seattle, WA
    Last month my wife and I took a short trip to Korea. I really wanted to visit the DMZ where you can go to the Joint Security Area and peek in on North Korea. I was a child in the 80's, so the idea of a genuine cold war era country that is still closed to the outside world is fascinating to me. You have to take a tour and are very controlled the entire time. It also goes fast. As a photographer you kind of have to take what you're given so I won't claim these are fabulous photos or anything, but interesting. All photos are taken with the E-M5 and either the Oly 40-150 or the original Panasonic 14-45.

    This is the Joint Security Area (JSA). Everything past the middle of the blue UN buildings is North Korea.

    A rare North Korean tour group watches us back. Our guide (A US soldier) said they hadn't seen a Northern group for at least six months.

    A lone NK Guard who has been at that post every morning for at least five years. They call him "Bob."

    Elite South Korea soldiers guard the Southern edge of the UN buildings. In a moment, we will be allowed to go inside one, the JSA Conference Building.

    We're now inside the JSA Conference Building where negotiations between the two nations occur. This guard and myself are straddling the SK/NK border, which runs down the middle of the conference table. That's right, inside the building, you can walk across the border and be technically in North Korea.

    And of course, it being's our selfie from North Korea! The soldier behind us is guarding the door to NK. Sadly, you don't get your passport stamped.

    Just around the corner from the conference buildings, is an overlook and guard tower where you can see into North Korea. This is the famous "propaganda village" where no one actually lives.

    "The Bridge of No Return" where POWS could choose which country to stay in at the end of the war. The border runs through the middle of the river (and bridge).

    Finally, here's a view into North Korea from Udosan observatory, which is not in the DMZ but we visited at the end of the day to get more views. You can just see some people working in the fields and some oxcarts. That's a NK guard tower in the foreground, probably more to keep people in, than out.
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  2. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Thanks for sharing; I found it quite interesting. Photos were nicely done.
  3. maritan

    maritan Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 30, 2014
    A look in to a fascinating part of our world that has been cloistered. Thanks for sharing.
  4. Crdome

    Crdome Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Sep 11, 2011
    West Central Indiana
    Real Name:
    Jesse - Very interesting with some great photos. Thank you for posting.

  5. dweller

    dweller Mu-43 Veteran

    Sep 14, 2012
    London, UK
    Thanks , an interesting insight well illustrated with photos
  6. Youngjun

    Youngjun Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 24, 2015
    Real Name:
    Wow, thanks for sharing the photos.
    I wonder what "Bob" has been seeing for the past 5 years. That is a long time.
  7. martin-jo

    martin-jo New to Mu-43

    Oct 26, 2013
    Thanks for sharing. Being from Germany I remember peeking into East Berlin and crossing former GDR by car. These checkpoints were dead-serious. Good for us that reunion was possible after all, hopefully at some day for Korea too.

    Out of interest - was talking pictures in the DMZ and especially also of NK People allowed or at least not "discourraged"? Do you know the reason for the Blueish color inside and outside? Is the DMZ e.g. run by UNO troups?

    In case you you want to see more of NK - few days ago i stumbled across a fascinating video from a motorbike-tour of a NZ guy. Here is the link....

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  8. tyrphoto

    tyrphoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    May 25, 2014
    Seoul | NYC
    Real Name:
    Great shots. I moved to Korea about 2 years ago and haven't had a chance to go up to the DMZ yet. One of the things on my shortlist of things to do.
  9. Jesse_S

    Jesse_S Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 7, 2013
    Seattle, WA
    I got the impression that they all feel a little sorry for him and they're not sure if his post is a punishment or a reward.
  10. Halaking

    Halaking Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Dec 17, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Real Name:
    Very interesting, thanks for shareing!
  11. Duncan

    Duncan Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 31, 2013
    Fascinating pictures. The NK side sure looks bleak.
  12. Jesse_S

    Jesse_S Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 7, 2013
    Seattle, WA
    Yes, vague memories of things like the Berlin Wall and the Cold War are why I wanted to see this last (but hopefully not forever) vestige of that world. It really is surreal.

    Photo rules on the tour were fairly strict, but not exactly spelled out ahead of time so I was going in a bit blind. I read a lot online that no lenses longer than 100mm were allowed. I was kind of winging it and risked the 40-150, but they didn't seem to care, other people had big old DSLRs. I wish I had taken a longer lens in retrospect. You also can't bring any bags into the JSA so you have to carry stuff like extra lenses in your pockets (camera straps are allowed.) M4/3rds was great for this!

    Remember that the DMZ is in both the North and the South (about 4 kilometers each?) so as soon as the bus enters the Southern border of the Zone, no photos. When you get to the JSA, they very explicitly tell you when and where you can take photos.

    Basically, you can photograph North Korea all you want as long as you don't "interact" with the North Koreans (point, laugh, make faces, try to talk to them, etc...), but we were never close to them, anyway. You can NOT photograph anything on the Southern side. Military secrets I suppose. So, I could take a photo of the NK tour group, but not turn around and take a photo of us in front of the similar SK building. The SK soldiers will stop you and force you to delete photos if you do. You are allowed to take photos of the SK and US soldiers, as long as you stay six inches away from them.

    To the best of my knowledge the buildings are blue because they are administered by the UN as a neutral meeting place.
  13. Jesse_S

    Jesse_S Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 7, 2013
    Seattle, WA
    To be fair, it was March and the tail end of winter in Korea, Spring was just barely starting...both the North and South looked bleak!
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2015
  14. Kalifornier

    Kalifornier Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 29, 2014
    Fantastic shots! I had no idea about the 'propaganda village'.
  15. Zee

    Zee Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Good effort - that shot of the NK tourists staring back is gold - simply for the fact it is so rare.

    I did not realise the thing about stepping into N. Korea if you are in the UN building. Now I *have* to take the tour next time I go back!

    Thanks for sharing your pics!
  16. Drdave944

    Drdave944 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 2, 2012
    Wow. I visited there in 1976. Little has changed except the nice new "Propaganda Village" In case you think this DMZ is a joke,I remember that shortly after we went home I read that some US soldiers went in there to cut some shrubbery which was blocking their view and some North Korean soldiers came in with axes and chopped them up.,d.eXY