Gyodong Island, South Korea – Soldiers toting assault rifles watch residents and visitors as they pass through a military checkpoint to get onto Gyodong Island.
North Korea is just a few kilometres away – separated only by a calm stretch of water – as they approach on a long bridge that connects Gyodong to mainland South Korea.
Despite the proximity to North Korea and the near-constant chatter about the possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula, once on the island visitors don’t find a community bracing for conflict. Instead, longtime residents are busy learning to deal with growing numbers of newcomers, while seeking ways to get by in what is still a low-income, rural place.
South Korean media sometimes refer to Gyodong as a “land where time stopped”. Since the first bridge connecting the island to the mainland was built in 2014, tourists have been