The DMZ or the Demilitarized zone is one of the things Korea is most famous for. It lies between North and South Korea cutting the peninsula in half and is a riddled with land mines. The DMZ was created after the Korean War in 1953 which is technically still on-going. A truce was signed however a peace treaty was not which means the war never ended.
It runs from coast to coast, 250 km long and 4 km wide (each side had to move its border back 2 km away from the main middle border) and is one of the most militarized borders in the world. However it is also a major tourist attraction here in Korea and whilst you can’t go into the DMZ you can in fact go UNDER it due to tunnels the North Koreans built in an attempt to sneak up on the South Koreans. (They were attempting to dig the tunnels all the way to Seoul!)
During our trip to Seoul for the August holidays we decided that we had to do the tour as Korea has quite an impressive history! We booked up with W.I.N.K (When in Korea) who would take us on the tour with an English speaking guide, it is also essential (as far as I know) to do it as a tour as the tour must be booked in advance and your details handed over. If you are Korean you will have to check as Korean people are not allowed in certain areas of the DMZ!
Before you get to the DMZ you must enter the ‘restricted’ zone where the tour
guide needs to hand over a list of people authorized to enter (done in advance) a Korean soldier came onto our bus (with his gun!) to do a head count, we were told they check your passports or your Alien Card but he never. This is what I can only describe as a border before the border. There are check points on every road and also elevated road blocks. The elevated road blocks actually are on most roads, train lines or routes that the North Koreans might use should they invade. The front legs are packed with dynamite so should the North Koreans ever invade they can be blown and the road blocked by massive boulders.
Our tour guide was great and told us all about the lead up to the Korean War which resulted in the DMZ. He explained about the Japanese invasion which led to Korea being occupied by Japan between 1910 until the end of World War 2 in 1945. During these years the Koreans were banned from teaching Korean history and speaking Korean, they were told that they were now Japanese and many of their temples and castles were burnt down. (This I will get onto later, as all the castles are almost all replicas!!)
After the war Korea was released from Japan rule, the north to the Soviet Union and the South to the USA as trustees until a government was set up. However as always is doesn’t pan out. Long story short a Korean Freedom fighter decided Korea should be united and decided to try and take back the South. In a roundabout way this is how the Korean War started… obviously there is way more to it than this but it’s a really long story!! After the Korean War ended, 3 years after it started and the North Koreans had been defeated, each side had to move their troops 2 km back making a 4 km gap between both sides. From here the DMZ was born!
Our first stop on the tour was to the freedom bridge in Imjingak. This is a railroad bridge which crosses the Imjin River (a river that flows from North to South Korea); it was used by POW’s and soldiers returning from the north. Here you can see an old locomotive that was recovered from the DMZ with over 1000 bullet holes through it! The rail bridge is now used to go to Dorasan Station (ill get to that later), the last station before North Korea and if more of a tourist experience to ride over the bridge.
At the foot of the bridge are hundreds of ribbons all with messages scribbled on them in Korean. Our tour guide explained to us that the messages are from loved ones writing to their family who has not come back from the North. There are literally thousands of these bright ribbons decorating the fence.
We got back in the bus and headed to stop two which is the 3rd tunnel. As I mentioned before the North Koreans started to build tunnels. They believe the tunnels were going to be used for a military invasion route by North Korea. Each shaft is large enough to allow the passage of an entire infantry division in one hour, though the tunnels are not wide enough for tanks or vehicles. It is believed that the tunnels were going to be dug all the way to Seoul!
The third tunnel you get to by walking down quite a sleep 350 m long slope. You can then walk along some of the 1,600 m tunnel obviously stopping before you come to the main border. From the tunnel you can see the explosion marks where dynamite however if you are tall like Andy this will not be a comfortable journey as the tunnels are not very high! If I’m honest you could skip this tunnel and go to one of the other ones… really there was nothing down there except masses of tourists!!
From the 3rd tunnel we went for lunch before heading off to the peace observatory. This gives you panoramic views of the DMZ which is now full of exotic animals due to the absence of people.
Although no one is allowed in the DMZ there is one small village of around 50 people who live INSIDE the DMZ with all the land mines, as they were they before they are allowed to stay however they are the only people allowed in! I would love to tell you about the amazing view however the day we were there the fog was unbelievable making even the biggest buildings invisible!
From here you should be able to see both sides, the guard towers on each side,
the north Korean propaganda village and the industrial site which until recently allowed South Korean workers into the North to work at a huge industrial plant. (However I did see they are in talks to open it up again) We should have also been able to see the towers on each side which holds the flags of the north and south. When the South put up a bigger flag pole from the north, the north took theirs down and made it bigger… tit for tat and all that!
We then moved on to tunnel 2 which was more impressive than the last. Again going through all the check points, passing of the threats of mines in the fields as we passed and the Korean soldiers stationed everywhere. This tunnel like the other is underground and built by the North.
Here it tells you when you are above land mines, where dynamite was and very important where there is a stone wall (I would never have known otherwise!) Pictures are not allowed however I did manage a few… Not near the end however as there are CCTV and people watching!! They also had some of the items found in the tunnels on display like guns and digging tools.
We then moved onto Dorasan Station which was built to connect the North and
South with the slogan ‘not the last train from the South but the first train to the North’ The train station is finished however there is one major thing missing… the trains! The only train that runs is between Dorasan and the stop we were at when we went to the freedom bridge and is really only for tourist so they can go across the freedom bridge. However even if you want to do this you must get permission before hand! The train station was built in the view to connect not only north and south but Korea with Russia and China and Europe! The trains stopped working in 2008, if they were to re-open it you would technically be able to ride it all the way to Europe! Here there again were guards however they were quite smiley and loved to get their picture taken!!
Our last stop was to ‘White Horse Hill’ during ten days of battle, the hill changed
hands 24 times!! The fighting was so intense than almost a meter was shaved off the hill littered with bullets which resembled a white horse from above. (Not that you could see as the DMZ is a no fly zone!) The hill is one of the tallest around which was a huge vantage point for keeping an eye on the enemy which is why the fighting was so intense. Now it has been transformed into a war memorial to commemorate the soldiers who lost their life here.
We even had a tour by a very nice South Korean solider! He also showed us two memorials made up from the bullets they found which was quite impressive!! Again we couldn’t see much thanks to the lovely fog! Dam!
And with that our Korean DMZ tour was over. Quite interesting places to visit… although don’t expect to take lots of pictures or venture into the North Korean side!