This post will concentrate on the visit I made to the DMZ
When I initially booked the tour, it was for a visit to the DMZ and the Panmunjom peace village.
If you are unsure of what Panmunjom is and its significance, you can click here to read about it.
This was the tour I was most looking forward to on my visit to Seoul. I wanted to get as close as possible to North Korea and the border to see what it was really like. To see if it was really as it is shown on TV.
About 3(ish) weeks before I was due to leave, I got an email stating that the tour was cancelled owing to the current situation with the US and North Korea and the talks that were scheduled.
I was told that the tours would start again on June 12th. I though I was in luck – alas not. The next available tour was June 26th. I missed out. I was offered a DMZ and 3rd Tunnel tour instead and decided to take that.
The tour started early. I had to be at the meeting point for 7:45 ready for our departure. Of course, a McDonald’s breakfast was in order given how early I was up and out the door.
I got on the bus with a group of other tourists and away we went. The bus was split between English speaking and Chinese speaking tourists.
On our way, our guide gave us a brief overview of what the day would be like. He advised that once inside the checkpoint at Unification Bridge, we were unable to take photographs whilst the bus was in motion. We would be allowed to only take pictures once we were off the bus. I am still unsure of the reason for this.
As we were driving along the Freedom Highway, you could tell we were getting close to the border as the road was fenced off from the river and there were sentry boxes dotted all along the route. At one point, the guide pointed out that North Korea was just across the river and that you could see the Propaganda Village (Southern name) or Peace Village (Northern name).
It is a village that is built up but nobody lives there. It is made up of buildings that are concrete shells with no windows or interior rooms. It is meant to look like a prosperous village.
He also advised not to wander into areas off from the tour path as there were still millions of landmines dotted around the DMZ. He also – very sternly – said that we arrive as a group and we leave as a group otherwise it would cause problems at the checkpoint.
We got to Imjingak and we had to transfer to a bigger bus with a larger group of tourists. We then headed to Unification Bridge.
Our guide pointed out that there were still anti-tank bridges should the north decide to invade.
We got to the checkpoint and one of the guides – YEP, A GUIDE – forgot to bring her passport. We had to head back to Imjingak so we could pick it up and then head back to the checkpoint.
Our passports were checked and off we went across Unification Bridge towards the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel.
What can I say about the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel.
We got there and were told we had to leave our bags and phones and cameras in a locker as they were not allowed inside the tunnel. We were allowed to take pictures once back out though.
Well, be prepared for claustrophobia to kick in. I am 6ft tall and I had to bend down most of it. There were very few places where I could stand upright. They have a train that goes down to the tunnel. Be glad if you get to take this as the walk down is going to take a while – it is a 73m steep walk down (and of course, back up too) to the infiltration tunnel.
Once at the bottom, it is around 200-300 metres towards the end of the tunnel where all you get to see is the rest of the tunnel through a small hole. You then turn right back round to head back to get out of the tunnel. In my opinion – I would give the tunnel a miss and stay above ground.
Once out of the tunnel, we were taken to watch a video about the conflict and the aftermath. I was speaking with the guide and he said he had grandparents that were still in North Korea that he had never seen.
They built a ‘house’ in the peace village that was supposed to allow families to come together from both sides. This never happened and families are still separated. I thought I understood the separation, but it became real after speaking with the guide. I guess you just hope that it actually isn’t something that is real.
After getting pictures, we then headed to the Dora Observatory and then Dorasan Station.
Dora Observatory is a place that looks out over the countryside and it is a place you can see North Korea. It was so surreal to be here. I never though I would see this part of the world. Here I was, looking out in to North Korea. Very strange! I couldn’t help but just stand there and be in awe and sad for what I was seeing. Awe because I would never be this close to North Korea again and sad because of what has happened and what it has done to people of both Korea’s.
We didn’t get a lot of time here so it was a quick stop mostly for pictures and I picked up a souvenir and some much needed water.
After this, we then headed to Dorasan Station. This is the northern most station of South Korea and Korail’s Gyeongui Line.
It is now mostly a symbolic station and was restored in the hopes of reunification. We had about 20 minutes here to wander around and take some pictures. Very surreal here also. There is a sign that points to the platform for trains to Pyeongyang. I made sure I had some paper so I could grab a stamp of the station name.
We then headed back to Imjingak for lunch.
Once back in Imjngak, we had a traditional lunch of Bulgogi.
Bulgogi consists of beef tenderloin or sirloin, vegetables and noodles. I tried some of the beef and noodles, but the rest of it wasn’t for me. I had some of the rice and then headed out to have a look around as we had about 90 minutes here.
Imjingak, on the banks of the Imjan river in Paju, South Korea. It has a lot of monuments and statues regarding the Korean war. It also has an observation deck.
The Bridge of Freedom lies within Imjingak and was used as a railway bridge that carried repatriated soldiers and prisoners of war from the north.
Within Imjingak, lies a rusted train that is a national treasure. Also here are ribbons, flags, name badges I suspect with names of loved ones not seen for a long time.
It was very sad to see these.
It’s really hard to put in to words how awesome and sad this day was.
You can view all of my pictures from the DMZ here