One of the interesting things about planning a visit to South Korea is the fact that it is technically still at war...with North Korea.
Although there was an armistice agreement signed in 1953 in order to provide for a formal ceasefire until a final peaceful settlement, there has never actually been a final peaceful settlement. Part of the armistice agreement called for a four kilometer (2.5 mile) wide buffer zone along the border in order to physically separate the two sides.
We're thinking of a visit to that zone!
It's the most heavily guarded border in the world. Land mines, razor sharp barbed wire fences and heavily armed guard posts run the 250 km (155 mile) length of the border.
And yet, it's marketed as a tourist destination.
I was talking yesterday with our contact at the Korean Tourism Organization. He says that a visit to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) is like nothing else you'll experience anywhere in the world. And reading about other's who have visited the area certainly makes you think that it's going to be an interesting experience.
More than 500 people have died in the DMZ since the armistice was signed (most of them in the 1960's), and South Korea maintains 600,000 battle ready troops close to the border. There are also almost 30,000 U.S. troops. On the northern side, it is estimated that there are 1.1 million armed and ready, with a massive 8.2 million troops in reserve.
CNN still calls it one of the most dangerous places on earth.
But the odds are still on your side. The most recent incident that involved gunfire was in 2010, and more than 100,000 people visit each year without a problem. It's probably more dangerous in Chicago.
And yet, we are told that you will feel the tension when you visit.
And so I think we've decided that it would be worthwhile to venture out to experience a live display of unfinished history.
Also if we don't ever get to visit North Korea, at least we can say that we looked at it.