Riding from North Korea to South Korea


Senior member
Jan 11, 2011
Chiang Mai, Thailand
2007 KTM 990 Adventure Suzuki DRZ 400
Five New Zealand motorcyclists made a rare crossing of the world's last Cold War frontier Thursday, riding their bikes over the heavily militarised border from North to South Korea.

The crossing was part of a 9,000 kilometre (5,500 mile) journey that began in the Russian city of Magadan and aimed to traverse the mountain "spine" of the Korean peninsula, from Mount Paektu in the North to Mount Halla in the South.

Permission is rarely granted by either of the Koreas -- let alone both of them -- for foreigners to pass through the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that has divided the peninsula for the 60 years since the 1950-53 Korean War.


The exception made for the biking group seemed largely based on good timing, as it coincided with an easing of North-South tensions and efforts by both sides to resume elements of cross-border cooperation.

The mood jibed with the group's stated intention of celebrating the "unifying" nature of the peninsula's mountain range.

Jo Morgan, the only woman in the group, said people had welcomed them wherever they went in the two weeks they spent riding through the North on their 650cc Suzuki trail bikes.

"They were great, they waved out," she told reporters after crossing the border into South Korea.

"Many people sent their love to their families in the South. They feel like one people," Morgan, 60, said.

Pyongyang and Seoul have just agreed to resume -- after a three-year hiatus -- reunions for families separated by the Korean War.

Her husband, Gareth Morgan, said the trip had been "wonderful" so far.

"I won't really feel it until I am on top of Mount Halla, then I will have the sense of achievement that we did what we came to do," he said.

The border crossing would have been inconceivable just a few months ago, when both Koreas were on a virtual war-footing and threats of nuclear strikes were being thrown around.

But a subsequent easing of tensions saw Pyongyang approve the trip, followed by the authorities in Seoul.

In a brief despatch on Wednesday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) had reported the group's visit to Mangyongdae -- the birthplace of North Korea's founder leader Kim Il-Sung.

"Being briefed on the revolutionary life of Kim Il Sung and his family members... the members of the group looked round historic relics preserved at the old home with good care," KCNA reported.
Foreigners wishing to travel between the two Koreas usually have no choice but to fly via Beijing.

For the past decade, New Zealanders Joanne and Gareth Morgan have been living the semiretired lifestyle of their dreams, traveling around the world on motorcycles alongside a few of their closest friends. They've traversed all seven continents on their bikes, with routes as varied as Venice to Beijing, Florida to northern Alaska, and South Africa to London, just to name a few. Gareth funds his own trips, many of which he uses to pursue philanthropic endeavors, particularly in the social-investment space. He is able to do so with money he's made as an economist and investment manager—one who has earned the reputation for criticizing unethical practices in New Zealand's financial-services industry.

In late August, the Morgans embarked on their most ambitious journey yet, at least physically. The real journey began years ago, when they decided they wanted to ride the Baekdudaegan, a mountain range that stretches the length of North and South Korea's shared peninsula. After countless hours of negotiation and coordination with both governments, they were granted permission. It was, the Morgans believe, the first time anyone's ever traveled through both countries like that since the partitioning of Korea in 1945. By making the trip they hoped to demonstrate how Koreans can come together over what they have in common. To symbolize this, the Morgans took some stones from Paektu, a holy mountain in the North, and brought them to Hallasan, a similarly sacred peak in the South.

Joanne and Gareth shot the entirety of their trip, the footage from which they have graciously allowed us to cut into a short film that will premiere on VICE.com this month. In some ways, the footage makes the Korean coast look alternately like California, China, and Cuba. It's a beautiful view few foreigners have seen, and even if planning the road trip straight through the Demilitarized Zone required working within parameters set by the highly choreographed and restricted confines of North-South Korean diplomacy, this was a journey worth documenting from start to finish.

Youtube movie web-link: North Korean Motorcycle Diaries - YouTube
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