South Korea // Gyeonggi and Gangwon //

“Freedom Village” and “Propaganda Village”

The DMZ is actually home to two small settlements, one on each side of the Line of Control. With the southern village rich and tidy and its northern counterpart empty and sinister, both can be viewed as a microcosm of the countries they belong to.

The southern village – referred to as “Freedom Village” by the US military, but actually called Daeseongdong – is a small farming community, but one out of limits to all but those living or working here. These are among the richest farmers in Korea: they pay no rent or tax, and DMZ produce fetches big bucks at markets around the country. Technically, residents have to spend 240 days of the year at home, but most commute here from their condos in Seoul to “punch in”, and get hired hands to do the dirty work; if they’re staying, they must be back in town by nightfall, and have their doors and windows locked and bolted by midnight. Women are allowed to marry into this tight society, but men are not; those who choose to raise their children here also benefit from a school that at the last count had eleven teachers and only eight students.

North of the Line of Control lies an odd collection of empty buildings referred to by American soldiers as “Propaganda Village”. The purpose of its creation appears to have been to show citizens in the South the communist paradise that they’re missing – a few dozen “villagers” arrive every morning by bus, spend the day taking part in wholesome activities and letting their children play games, then leave again in the evening. With the aid of binoculars, you’ll be able to see that none of the buildings actually has any windows; lights turned on in the evening also seem to suggest that they’re devoid of floors. Above the village flies a huge North Korean flag, one so large that it required a fifty-man detail to hoist, until the recent installation of a motor. It sits atop a 160m-high pole, the eventual victor in a bizarre game played out over a number of years by the two Koreas, each hell-bent on having the loftier flag. for details of yet another flag-centred battle.

20% off ebooks

Subscribe to the Rough Guides newsletter and get 20% off any ebook.

Join over 50,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month.