Tank traps meet tourist traps at Korea's Demilitarized Zone

Fri Oct 25, 2013 1:09pm EDT
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By James Pearson and Paul Ingrassia

DEMILITARISED ZONE, South Korea (Reuters) - South Korean soldiers are everywhere on the south side of the misleadingly named Demilitarized Zone. They guard buildings and man roadblocks to keep the invading hordes at bay.

Today the hordes aren't North Korean soldiers. They're tourists.

With the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union gone, tourists now flock to both sides of the DMZ, the world's most heavily armed border, established 60 years ago. But what they see is more likely to be tacky than terrifying.

On the south side, souvenir shops sell DMZ T-shirts, DMZ-branded chocolates, DMZ baseball caps and pieces of "authentic" DMZ barbed wire mounted on ceramic tiles. Others sell dusty bottles of North Korean alcohol and miniature combat uniforms.

"The middle-aged tourists that come here like buying the clothes for their kids," Cho Hyang Hwa, an ethnic Korean Chinese citizen working at the shop, told Reuters.

Not far from barbed wire fences and rifle-wielding soldiers, children scream in delight while riding in a huge ship that swings back and forth on a giant pendulum.

The ride is named, with no apparent sense of place, the Super Viking. It serves as the flagship of Peace Land, a small and surreal theme park that looks onto rolling North Korean mountain ranges.

The loud pop music that accompanies the Super Viking is drowned out only by the occasional U.S. military helicopter that buzzes overhead before disappearing behind the tree tops.   Continued...

A tour guide poses for photographs with a stamp for tourists at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji