Sunday we went on a DMZ tour with Adventure Korea. We chose their tour because it was about half the price of the USO’s. Now I understand why the USO tour is so expensive: they actually go inside the DMZ, to Panmunjom. The DMZ is four kilometers wide, and Panmunjom is two kilometers in, on the Military Demarcation Line, so you can actually see North Korean soldiers up close. On our tour we stayed outside the DMZ. It was still very interesting and I’m glad I went, although we may decide to also do the Panmunjom tour sometime in the future.
For those who don’t know, the DMZ serves as a “buffer zone” between North and South Korea and is the most heavily militarized border in the world. It was the original boundary between the US-occupied and Soviet-occupied areas of Korea at the end of World War II. When the Korean War “ended” in a ceasefire in 1953, the DMZ was created along that 38th parallel boundary line. (Since the armistice agreement was never followed by a peace treaty, the two Koreas are still technically at war. And no, I don’t know all this info off the top of my head, Wikipedia helped!)
Our first stop on the tour was Imjingak, which is as far as civilians can go to the north by themselves without permission. Imjingak was built to console those who had to leave their homes in the north. There we saw the Freedom Bridge, which was used to exchange prisoners after the Korean War.
Next up was the unification village of Tongilchon. The people who live there don’t have to pay taxes and are exempt from mandatory military service. The village is also famous for soybeans, and our lunch had many dishes made from the soybeans. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of them! Good thing I brought some sandwiches…
The highlight of the tour was the third tunnel. We couldn’t take photos inside, and had to don helmets which was a good thing because the tunnel was very narrow! In fact, Daniel banged his head twice on the ceiling! It was quite a steep climb down and back up (15 degree angle apparently). The tunnel was the third one discovered by South Korea (hence the name). It was dug by North Korea to infiltrate South Korea and would allow about 30,000 soldiers to invade Seoul within one hour.
The Dora Observatory was pretty cool as well, but again our photography opportunities were limited… we had to stand behind a “photo line” so we couldn’t get any pictures of North Korea. The reasoning is that we would post the photos on the internet and North Korean spies could find them and use them in some way. Anyway… we could look through binoculars and see the propaganda village of Kijong-dong in North Korea. It was built to give the impression that their citizens are living a life of luxury. There are many brightly painted buildings and apartments. However, it was discovered that the buildings are just concrete shells without window glass or even interior rooms. When the village was built, the building lights were turned on and off at set times and the empty sidewalks were swept by a skeleton crew of caretakers in an effort to preserve the illusion of activity. We were told that now families of soldiers do actually live in the town. Kijong-dong also has the tallest flagpole in the world at 525 feet.
Our last stop was Dorasan Station, which is the last train station to the north in South Korea. We had the opportunity to get a special stamp on our passport, but were then told that we would not be allowed to visit Japan with that stamp on it, so we decided against it. Trains now go to the north from this station only once a week, and that is to deliver supplies.
All in all, an informative trip!
Also got a pedicure this weekend. Not happy with the quality:price ratio, but they look pretty. 🙂 Saturday night there was a going away dinner for Daniel’s coworker Megan. Yummy Thai food!