Demilitarized Zone in Korea
The realm of North Korea is mysterious to many – the isolation makes people wonder what’s going on 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, who adventure into the country and was detained and released for illegal entry.
In fact, this is the longest war in history and still counting, because it has not yet ended. Toward the later stage of the Korean War, a 250-kilometer long & 4-kilometer wide strip of desolated land was established between 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 8 km 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).
While grouped tours are available to visit North Korea, tourists are still at risk of entering the country with lots of security rules and measures in place; I have heard that you can have a peek at the “tourist side” of North Korea, and it would be difficult to travel freely in North Korea as a tourist and see the how life is like. One way to get closer to North Korea, while staying in the South, is to take part in a DMZ guided tour, and get a glimpse of the country from afar. The tour covers a few places around the border of North and South Korea.
You may have enjoyed the delicious food, art, and culture in Seoul, consider something special and steps through one of the weirdest relationships and borders in the world. We hopped on the tour bus, which picked us up at the hotel at around 7:30 am, and about two and half hours later, we were there at 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 innocents who lost their homes. The establishment of the park is to console those from both sides who are unable to return to their hometowns, friends, and families because of the division in Korea.
Freedom Bridge was built after the agreement of the Korean War. It is located 2 km north of Munsan, and it’s the only path that connects the south and north of the Imjin River. The bridge is 83 m 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 Third Infiltration Tunnel
Nearby the lookout, there is a 52 km underground tunnel discovered in the year 1978 – the Third Tunnel of Aggression. I was told that the tunnel allowed the passage of 10,000 soldiers per hour!
Upon the discovery of the tunnel, the North Korean officials claimed that the tunnel was dug by the South Koreans to attack the North Koreans. Interestingly, there was evidence showing that the traces of explosives are pointing toward the South in the tunnel – suggesting that the tunnel was actually made by the North Koreans themselves.
The incomplete tunnel, instead, is now for visitors to get a taste of what the was like. There were four tunnels discovered and the third and fourth ones are getting really close to Seoul, the capital of South Korea (only 44 kilometers away). During the war, it took four months to locate the tunnel precisely and dig an intercept tunnel. However, it is estimated that more than twenty tunnels like these are buried under the DMZ and left unfound.
The entire length of tunnel is about 1.6 kilometers long, with a width of 2.1 meters. It is believed that the tunnel could accommodate 30,000 men per hour, armed and all. When the tunnel was discovered, North Korea was accused of threatening the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement.
The observatory stands stop Dorasan (Mount Dora), on the South Korean side of the 38th parallel. This is the northernmost station that was built in South Korea about 60 years ago, in anticipation of the two countries would one day be reunited.
Through the lens of binoculars, visitors could view the North Korean propaganda village in the DMZ, the city of Kaesong, Kim Jong-il’s bronze statues, and the mountain ranges in mysterious North Korea.
It is a secured tourist area that is 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 both sides, facing each other.
The Dorasan Station is nearby as the first stop to connect railroads when North and South are finally connected in the future. South Korea’s train line Gyongueisun will then be able to reach all the way to North Korea’s capital and even to Europe through the Siberian Railway.
This is currently the northern terminus of Korail’s Gyeongui Line, providing commuter train services to the south – there are about four trains a day from Seoul, used mostly by tourists. There are irregular services to the North, too, leading to Korean State Railway’s P’yŏngbu Line. The station now served as a symbolic location for the hope of Korean reunification. The last opening of the border between North and South Korea of this station was in 2013.