North Korea is the most closed off nation on the planet. Often, what we learn about it is only because video is leaked out from brave journalists or citizen journalists. Over the years defectors have also provided an inside account of what living in the, "Hermit Kingdom" is like.
As much as I'd like to go back to my investigative journalistic roots and leak photos and videos from deep inside North Korea, I can't give you that here. My account of looking into North Korea was from the comforts of south of the Demarcation Line, better known as the Demilitarized Zone or the DMZ.
The Dora Observatory is located north of South Korea's capital and largest city, Seoul, in Paju-si. It is situated on top of Dorasan. This observatory built for curious tourists gives you an outstanding look deep into North Korea. At least on clear day.
Be aware that it is common to have your view obstructed by haze.
What is most noticeable looking across the DMZ into North Korea is the 160 meter tall North Korean flag. This flag is currently the fourth such tallest flag pole on the planet. This flag pole is located in the village of Kijong-dong.
The North Koreans refer to this village as the, "Peace Village." However, many in South Korea have noticed that the village lights come on at the same time everyday and go off at the same time every night.
Maybe there are required bed times or power deficiencies? Nope! Turns out the village is fake and has no inhabitants. It's all for show to make it seem like living situations in North Korea are nice. The apartments and buildings are empty on the inside.
Next your brain will likely start to notice that on the North Korean side of the DMZ there are a major lack of trees compared to the side of their South Korean counterparts. That's on purpose.
The North Korean's have cut down the trees along the border so the guards can shoot defectors!
On top of North Korea's tallest viewing point is a small North Korean guard post. It appears I managed to catch a guard in the photo if you zoom in on the right side of the main guard structure. He appears to be on the first level, "balcony."
Off to the right (east) is the infamous Joint Security Area where the South Koreans and North Koreans stand face-to-face every day. The South Korean structure and the North Korean structure were visible but the blue meeting houses were not visible among the trees.
In November 2017 there was a North Korean soldier who defected across the JSA by attempting to drive a North Korean military jeep across the border. For his actions he was shot five times by his former military mates. Despite ruptured organs and massive blood loss he defied the odds and survived inside a South Korean hospital.
Just across the border on the southern side is the almost-as-tall South Korean flag. Many years ago the two sides kept trying to one up each other by making their flag higher than the other. Eventually the childish antics got so fierce the South Koreans (as they tell it) stopped to be the more mature ones.
Another village off to the northwest of the Dora Observatory on the North Korean side is known to be a propaganda village. The South Koreans say this is where North Koreans are brought to be, what we would consider, "brainwashed," but what the North says is, "educated."
Having watched countless documentaries on North Korea and being fascinated by such a place, getting to see it in person with my own eyes and to document it with my long range lens was pretty surreal.
Albeit, just a seven kilometer view into the closed off nation, it is cool to say that I was able to see it with my own eyes. Now a story I can tell for the rest of my life.