You may have heard about the recent heightened tension between North and South Korea due a mine explosion that injured two South Korean soldiers. Well we of course had a DMZ/JSA tour scheduled during that time and were hopeful that it would not be cancelled. We were happy to hear that the North and South Koreans had met multiple times and that North Korea had expressed regret over the land mine explosion and the tension had seemed to ease. However, the JSA portion of our tour was still cancelled to be on the safe side. I guess we should be happy we got to go at all.
We left bright and early at 7:30 AM to head to the DMZ, better known as the Demilitarized Zone. As we know North and South Korea are two separate countries. They are separated by the DMZ which runs along the 38th parallel north and was established in the hopes of preventing future military conflict between the two countries. The DMZ was established by the armistice that ended the Korean War.
Although the “D” in DMZ means Demilitarized, it is actually a highly militarized area. In spite of that, it has become quite the tourist destination for South Korea. They have busloads of tourists coming in daily to see the area.
Our first stop was at the DMZ welcome center where we watched a video regarding the conflict between North and South Korea and learned that even after the armistice that North Korea has instigated many conflicts and also attempted to build multiple tunnels under the DMZ to try and reach Seoul.
We then went into a museum area to get a better overview of the area.
We also visited Imjingak Park which has a lot of relics in remeberence of the Korean War. Imjingak was built to console people from both the North and the South who are unable to return to their hometowns, friends and families because of the division of Korea. We were told that once every 10 years, North Korea allows the separated families to reunite during the Chuseok holiday under heavy surveillance. Most of these people who were separated are now elderly, so there are not be many seperated Korean families anymore. (This does not include North Korean defectors).
Next stop was the 3rd Tunnel, which is 1 of 4 tunnels that have been discovered under the DMZ. The 3rd Tunnel was discovered in 1978 based on information revealed by a North Korean defector. The tunnel is about 1.7 kilometers long and only 2 meters high, it was quite low, but was large enough it is said to allow 30,000 men to pass through per hour. It is believed that this tunnel was created to plan a surprise attack on Seoul. North Korea denied this and stated that the tunnel was part of a coal mine. As you walk through the tunnel you can see coal smeared along it’s walls, but the walls are all made of granite and there is no coal in the area.
The tunnel is definitely very low (Scott had some trouble and even I banged my head once or twice) and it is dank and a little chilly. Additionally, the tunnel is pretty steep, so definitely take your time.
Once you reach the end of the tunnel you will see 1 of 3 blockades that keeps people out of the tunnel. There is a small window in which you can see the 2nd blockade. We were told there are land mines between the blockades to keep people out.
Next off we went to Dorasan Station. Did you know you can take a train from Seoul to the DMZ? Well you can! Dorasan Station is the northernmost railway station situated on the Gyeongui Line. This station was restored in the hopes of unification in the future. If that were to happen, Dorasan Station would allow travel to China, Russia, and even Europe via rail.
We were able to buy a ticket for 1,000 won that allowed us to enter the train station and take a look at the train that came in from Seoul as well as the platform area.
Our final stop of the day was the Dora observatory which is on the top of Mt. Dora (Dorasan) and provides a great vantage point of the DMZ. It is the area of South Korea that is the closest to the North. There are many binoculars there where you can take a look into the North for only 500 won.
We were able to see the 160 meter flag pole located in the North Korean propaganda village as well as freedom village that is on the South Korean side.
Overall the DMZ tour was interesting and we will be back again to see the JSA portion of the tour that we were unable to see. Definitely an interesting look into history.