Postcard of the Week: Mt Kumgang, North Korea

Poster of Dear Leader Kim Jung, after crossing the Demilitarized Zone from South Korea to Mt Geumgang and Kumgungsan in North Korea

With North Korea a hot topic, it’s time to post a photo from one of the strangest trips I’ve done. In 2003, I joined 20 Australian travel writers for a historic crossing to Kumgangsan on the east coast of the Korean peninsula. The border had only been open here for six months and was used mostly to reunite families torn apart by the Korean war. Others were fulfilling a lifelong dream of climbing Mt Kumgang (Diamond Mountain). Crossing the 4km deep DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) took four hours because of the security checks. We travelled in a slow-moving convoy of 17 buses, with military escort at the front and rear, past landmine warning signs. All 350 who crossed that day were assigned an individual number and a bus number that had to be worn with identification on a lanyard at all times.

The other side

We spent several days in what was effectively a Hyundai-run enclave, kept apart from the locals by wire fences and getting only glimpses of their miserable existence. We saw an amazing acrobatic show, enjoyed a Korean bath experience, viewed picturesque coastal scenery and watched elderly Koreans race up the mountain like 20yo’s. Wherever we went, we had to stay with our group in the order we had been assigned. I and a few other Aussies borrowed bikes and for a brief time broke away and rode like naughty children, taking this photo of a roadside poster of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, who has since passed on (no doubt in an orderly convoy).


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