Difference between revisions of "Panmunjeom"
Revision as of 22:54, 6 January 2011
When to visit http://www.professortravel-egypt.com
Travel Time to Egypt
Peak travel season in Egypt runs from mid October to May, and this is the best time to visit. As you will notice, the tourist season is during winter and spring, but this is also the high season, and prices go up at this time of year. Some hotels can be really expensive, and because of this, I would advise prior reservations for all hotels before you come, even the budget hotels.
From May until October, the temperatures are fairly high, especially in Luxor and the southern parts of the country, yet summer offers a time to see Egypt in relative peace and quite. It is a huge advantage being able to see the tourist sites without hassle from school children, or from the crowds of tourists. Imagine, piece and quiet to take photographs, without strangers obscuring the view!
Although certain Cairo hotels will fill up with many Arab visitors in the summer, who would rather be here than having to endure even hotter weather in their own countries, advanced bookings are rarely required, and a variety of discounts are even offered, as incentives to them who would brave the heat.
Another very good time to visit Egypt is during the springtime. During spring the weather is fairly moderate, but try and avoid the “The Khamsin wind” season that runs between March and April, though it only takes a few days and you can handle that so easily ....The Khamsin wind is a warm wind that blows in from the desert, carrying sand and dust!.... it is quite an adventure! !!
Some Egypt travellers may avoid travelling to Egypt during Ramadan. This is mainly due to the fact that alcohol is not allowed during this month, especially during the daytime! or maybe many of street restaurants are closed during Ramadan, and all tourist sites would usually close entry at least two hours earlier than usual, causing a shorter time for visiting. People are slow during day time but very active after they break their fast. But on the other hand Ramadan is a lovely month in Egypt, as it a month-long festival. At night all coffee shops are open and full of people who will stay up till the early morning hours. It is the time when Cairo (and the rest of Egypt) never sleeps, the time when all people go out to have fun.
When travelling through Egypt, you should avoid certain areas, particularly sites located in the centre of the Nile Valley! About 20 years ago there was rising tensions at these sites, Islamic fundamentalists had targeted tourists in order to destroy the tourist industry and the economy. This was part of a larger plan to bring down the government, seize power themselves, and install the political ideas of their own vision, a vision which no more resembles the rules of the Qur’an than the Inquisition resembled the Christianity of Christ.
Some certain incidents occurred during the '80s and the '90s, a handful of events took place again targeting the tourist industry. Without for a moment trying to deny the reality of these events, the situation has been blown out of all proportion by the world's press, while the situation in other countries with flourishing tourist industries is far worse, their incidents rarely make headlines. But in Egypt, if anything happens, it becomes front-page news! In the mid '90s, a widespread, and harsh, government crackdown campaign was implemented to try and stop any threats to tourism and visitors.
A trip to Egypt still entails far less danger than a trip to anywhere else in the world. During the realm of the violence in the mid '90s, there were certain areas appointed as not good for tourists. These areas are located in the centre of the Nile Valley, particularly Minia, Asyout and Sohag. Unfortunately these places happen to have some of the most beautiful monuments in Egypt, like the beautiful tombs at Bani Hassan in Minia, the marvellous monasteries of Asyout and the Temple of Abydos in Sohag. In time, all of these sites will be fully re-opened for tourists.
If you still think that you would like to visit these places as an individual traveller, you can! However, be prepared for a police escort with you, as the local police will not let you travel alone in these areas! I would suggest that the safest, cheapest and most informative way to visit these sites is through a reputable travel agent.
Traveling during Ramadan
Egyptians like rest of the Muslims all over the world fast at holy month of Ramadan, it is the time when they all come close to each other and respect each other, it is the time Egypt stay awake at night.
During this month, donations, almsgiving and charity would be at its highest rates, it is the time for forgiveness and love. It is a wonderful month.
First of all, to understand Ramadan, we need to have first a glimpse of the faith of Islam:
What is Islam:
Islam is one of the world’s major religions, and the world second largest religion and is the final link in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition of monotheism (belief in one God). Islam has two major religious celebrations. One of them, known as Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice), takes place during the time of the Hajj, or annual pilgrimage to the city of Makkah (in modern-day Saudi Arabia, also known as Mecca). The other celebration occurs after the completion of Ramadan, the Islamic month during which Muslims (believers in Islam) fast daily from dawn to sunset as part of an effort towards self-purification and betterment. This holiday is known as Eid al-Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast) http://www.professortravel-egypt.com/whentovisit.html Among the most important duties for a Muslim, is fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan, which is the ninth of the twelve months in the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims use a lunar calendar for many of their religious observances. A new month in the lunar calendar is determined by the appearance of a new crescent moon. Since this occurs every 29 or 30 days, the lunar month is generally 1 or 2 days shorter than a typical month in the Gregorian calendar. Similarly, a lunar year is about 11 days shorter than a typical Gregorian year. As a result, dates of events in the Islamic lunar year “move forward” about 11 days every year. For example, in 1995 Ramadan began on February 1, and in 1996, it began on January 22.
Access to the DMZ is occasionally curtailed at short notice when tensions rise, most recently in May 2010 in the aftermath of the Cheonan sinking. As of July 2010, tours are operating normally again.
From the South
Visits to Panmunjeom from the South Korean side must be arranged in advance as part of an organized tour, although for foreigners three days notice usually suffices. Many companies advertise "daily" tours, but generally tours to the DMZ run only certain days, so check in advance. On tour days, depending on the day, various combinations of tours to 3rd tunnel, tours to Panmunjeom, and joint tours are available.
The rules for who can enter are set by the UN and the US, not North Korea. At present, citizens of China and and South Korea will need to make arrangements well in advance (at least two months), while citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, the DPRK, Sudan, Syria and Libya cannot participate. Note that Hong Kong/Macau SAR passports are considered "Chinese", so use a British National (Overseas) or Portuguese passport instead if you can.
Some Seoul-based companies such as Cosmojin Travel and Grace Travel require only a minimum of 24 hours' notice, but their prices are much higher. Also, their itineraries vary, and may not include entry into the DMZ.
The 62-km journey towards Panmunjeom is a sight in itself. The 12-lane Freedom Road becomes eerily empty as you approach the border, as its primary purpose is to get tanks there as fast as possible if war breaks out. To repel an invasion, both sides of the highway, especially the side facing the Imjin River and open water to North Korea, are covered with barbed wire and dotted with observation posts every few hundred meters. Nearby hills house machine gun emplacements, the median strip has clusters of sandbags for defense, and some bridges above the highway have huge concrete blocks that can be dynamited to block the road. Large illuminated signs, proclaiming Freedom and Democracy in hangeul, face the North.
From the North
To visit from the DPRK side is relatively straightforward if it is previously specified as part of your tour (most tours include a day trip to the DMZ from Pyongyang). See North Korea for tour agent listings.
The JSA is 215 kilometers south of Pyongyang. The two are connected by the six-lane Reunification Highway, which much like its Southern counterpart is vast, immaculately maintained and practically empty. Signs along the road count down not the distance to the DMZ, but to Seoul.
From the South, travel within the DMZ is possible only in UN vehicles, and you'll be transferred to a UN bus at Camp Bonifas, accompanied by a member of the U.S. Army who will serve as a tour guide in the JSA.
From the North, you will reboard your tour bus at the entrance to the DMZ, accompanied by a member of the Korean People's Army (KPA).
When booking your tour, be sure to clarify what exactly will be offered. The primary points of interest for most visitors from the south are the Joint Security Area and the Third Tunnel, but not all tour companies have clearance to visit these and you'll have to pay a small premium for those that do.
From the North you will be able to visit the original site of the Panmunjeom village and the Peace Museum that was originally built for and houses original copies of the 1953 armistice. From there it is a short drive to the JSA.
DMZ and JSA
Outside the DMZ
On the South Korean side, sites outside the DMZ can be visited more cheaply and with less hassle. An hourly train runs between Seoul and Imjingak for about ￦ 1300 each way. Bus tours passing the Second & Third Tunnel cost ￦ 8000. This is an excellent alternative for the DMZ tours, though it is not possible to visit Panmunjeom this way.
All tourist facilities for foreigners in the DPRK include a gift shop, and the gateway to the DMZ is no exception. Just inside the concrete wall you can purchase Korean art and amongst other things, of course, endless amounts of literature on the Great Leader Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il. Prices are reasonable.
"The Monastery" in Camp Bonifas — actually a former officers' club, whose members used to wear brown robes for ceremonies and call themselves the "Merry Mad Monks of the DMZ" — has a gift shop retailing DMZ-related paraphernalia, including chunks of rusty barbed wire from the original demarcation line (W25,000) as well as blueberry wine from North Korea (brought in via a long detour through China).
The canteen in Camp Bonifas is no longer open to the civilian visitors, so most tours now head to eat elsewhere. There is no food available for purchase on the Northern side and the closest available facilities are in Kaesong.
Consumption of alcohol in the DMZ is prohibited and only allowed on special occasions.
There is no accommodation for the general public at Panmunjeom. Most visitors from the south day-trip from Seoul, while visitors from the north either do a long day-trip from Pyongyang or overnight in Kaesong.
Room and board at Camp Bonifas is restricted to active duty soldiers in the United States Armed Forces. However, retired servicemen who have received the Medal Of Honor might be able to stay on a "space available" basis. Contact the United Nations Command Security Battalion - Joint Security Area  for enquiries.
From the South, a strict dress code  applies for all visitors: "faddish, extreme, torn, tattered, frayed, overly provocative or otherwise inappropriate" clothing is not allowed. Sports clothes (incl. tracksuits), military clothing, oversized clothing, sheer clothing, sleeveless shirts/tops, tank tops, anything that bares the midriff or the buttocks, and flip flop-type sandals are specifically banned; clean jeans with a clean T-shirt, on the other hand, are fine. The proclaimed purpose is twofold: one to make sure scruffy hippies don't end up on North Korea's propaganda posters, and the other to make sure ladies in miniskirts and high heels don't trip over and fall if somebody starts shooting.
Within the DMZ, photography outside designated points is not permitted, even from the tour bus. Lenses of up to 90mm focal length are allowed, but tripods are not. You must stay together with the group and follow the tour leader's instructions at all times. In the JSA pointing, waving and gesturing are all off-limits. Your group will be asked to walk around in two lines when in sight of the North Korean side.
From the North, visits to the DMZ are more casual than from the South and restrictions are minimal, although it is wise to show a level of respect and etiquette that befits the highly sensitive location. Photography is permitted unrestricted at the JSA and the Peace Museum. Elsewhere you will have to ask permission.
From the South, entry into the JSA/DMZ requires signing a voucher where you agree to accept responsibility for "injury or death as a direct result of enemy action". Remember: it may be in a state of suspended animation, but both sides have itchy trigger fingers and it's still a war zone.
Tour companies can and do suspend tours at short notice if the situation escalates, and it's unlikely you'll be allowed into the DMZ if there's any real risk.
Unless you're planning to risk your life in an attempt to defect, this is not a good place to attempt to cross the border.