The realm of North Korea is mysterious – the isolation makes people wondering what’s going on the other side of the world. Restricted internet access, limited travel permits, and a limited connection between the locals and the outside world make me want to know about the lifestyle and ideology of the North Koreans. I believe some might have watched the National Geographic documentary on YouTube about a US journalist, Lisa Ling, adventure in the country and was detained and released for illegal entry.
Technically, (or in fact?) the country is still at war. At the end of the Korea War, a 250kms long & 4 km wide strip of desolated land was established between the North and South Korea (and became the two countries border), based on the agreement between the two parties at war, and the strip is called the DMZ – Korea Demilitarized Zone. Both North and South Korea have ‘ceased fire’ yet the DMZ is the battlefield between the two countries. Both sides remained hostile 8km apart, and the only living things that could enter the DMZ are birds and wildlife. The only meeting point between the Koreas is the JSA (Joint Security Area).
I enjoyed very much an amazing culinary and shopping experience in the city of Seoul and I was also interested in having a sneak peek of North Korea. An easy way to do so is to join the DMZ day tour departing from Seoul, which covers a few places around the border of the North and South Koreas.
The tour bus picked us up at the hotel at around 7:30am in the morning and it’s about 2 and a half hour drive to reach the DMZ.
Imjingak Park is located on the banks of the Imjin River. The park has many statues and monuments displaying information about the lifestyle of North Korea and weapons used during the Korean War. Freedom Bridge and North Korea are in view. It’s a place that reminds people about the soldier who sacrificed at war, and the innocence who lost their home.
Freedom Bridge was built after the agreement of the Korean War. It is located 2km north of Munsan, and it’s the only path that connects the south and north of the Imjin River. The bridge is 83m in length and the bridge was where 12,000 captives returned to South Korea after the war – and so it’s named “Freedom” Bridge.
The 3rd Infiltration Tunnel
Nearby the lookout, there is a 52 km underground tunnel discovered in the year of 1978, and I was told that the tunnel allowed passage of 10,000 soldiers per hour! Upon the discovery of the tunnel, the North Korea officials claimed that the tunnel was dug by the South Koreans to attack the North Koreans. Interesting, there was evidence showing that the traces of explosives are pointing towards the South in the tunnel – suggesting that the tunnel was actually made by the North Koreans themselves.
Through the lens of the binoculars, visitors could view the North Korean propaganda village in the DMZ, the city of Gaeseong, Kim Jong-il’s bronze statues, and the mountain ranges in the mysterious country. It is a secured tourist area that connected to the JSA – it is possible to actually visit the JSA Panmunjom with permits. However, it depends on the stability of the relationship between the two countries. Tourists are requested to strictly follow the tour guide’s instructions and a certain dress code, and they are not allowed to take photos freely. Legend has it, one step wrongly across the North Korean border the visitor might be shot or captured by the North Korean soldier… and might never return.
At the JSA tourist could actually feel first-hand the tension between the two countries, witnessing the soldiers guarding on both sides, facing each other.
The northernmost station was built in South Korea about 60 years ago, in anticipation of the two countries would one day be reunited. It was planned to connect South Korea by the train line Gyongueisun all the way to North Korea’s capital and even to Europe through the Siberian Railway.