The Demilitarized Zone

{Written by Amber}

My friend Amanda invited me on a last minute trip to tour the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with her friend Alisha. Of course, I couldn’t refuse an adventure! We set out for Seoul (Korea’s capital) Friday evening. The four hour bus ride went smoothly, and Amanda successfully guided us from subway line to subway line until we made it to our hotel.

We were picked up at 7am and taken to Hotel Latte, where we boarded our tour bus. Our tour included visiting the Dora Observatory, The Third Tunnel, Dorasan Station, a traditional Korean lunch, the Freedom Bridge, the Joint Security Area (JSA), the MAC Conference Room, and the Bridge of no Return.

If you are like me and none of those places sound familiar, than go ahead and read along. I’ll do my best to explain everything I learned. I was excited about visiting the DMZ, but I had no idea how much I would end up enjoying it!

I’ll start with a brief history of Korea and the DMZ. I’ve never really thought of Korea as being one country; I’ve always thought of North and South Korea as two separate countries. This isn’t exactly the case. Korea is one country, but they are a divided country. The DMZ is the line that divides North and South Korea. It is 2.5 miles wide, and it runs from coast to coast across the Korean Peninsula (approximately 160 miles). Due to the tension and on going war, it is the most militarized boarded in the world. This also makes it a delicate place for tourists to visit, and photography was strictly limited. Below are some of the regulations and rules for visiting the DMS:

-Dress Code: Jeans with holes may not be worn. Leather pants, shorts, sleeveless shirts, training pants, and military-style clothing are also prohibited.

-“Do not speak with, make any gesture toward, or in any way approach or respond to personnel from the other side.”

-“You can bring your camera. However, you will be strictly asked to follow the instructions of your tour guide as to when and where to take a photo.”

Our first stop was the Dora Observatory (an observatory located on Mt. Dora). From this observatory you are able to look over the DMZ and North Korea. Photos were allowed behind a yellow line about 15 feet from the wall. Here is the best I could do at this location!

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Standing on the yellow line to get a picture.

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That’s North Korea back there!

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An outpost on the South side.

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A jeep in the parking lot area.

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A little religious courtyard.

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The Third Tunnel was the next place we visited. Why is it called that? Well, there have been four tunnels discovered under the DMZ so far, and this was the third one to be discovered. These tunnels were built by North Koreans, and they are believed to be made for a military invasion attack on South Korea. All of the tunnels that have been discovered have been dug in the direction of Seoul. The first tunnel was discovered in 1974, the second in 1975, the 3rd in 1978, and the fourth one in 1990. As we were on our way to the tunnel, the tour guide asked us to keep an eye out for any signs of more tunnels. Yes, four have been discovered, but they believe that there are many more that have not been discovered yet. Petty scary, right?

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We visited the third tunnel because it is closest to Seoul, and it is also the more “commercialized,” meaning there is a small motor cart that hauls tourists down and back out of the tunnel. The other tunnels are only accessible by foot. The Third Tunnel is about 240 feet below the ground. It is about 4 feet high, and 3 feet wide (large enough to move 2,000 soldiers per hour). The tunnel is 1,635 meters long and it extends 435 meters past the DMZ line (into South Korea). No photos were allowed in the tunnel.

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Photos of the monuments in the courtyard area.

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The Dorasan Station is a train station that was originally built in 2007 to transfer goods to and from a North Korea. However, due to conflict in 2008, the station was shut down and it has remained inactive since then. It was definitely eerie being in a new train station that has been vacant for nearly half a decade.

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For lunch we had two options, either bulgogi or bibmbap. I chose bulgogi. It is a grilled marinated beef that was served in a semi-sweet broth. To eat it you take a piece of meat out, place it on a piece of lettuce, add some sauce or other vegetables, wrap the lettuce up like a tortilla and enjoy! It’s quite delicious. Bibmbap is another traditional dish. Is comes in a bowl and contains rice, sautéed vegetables, and either a raw or fried egg on top.

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The Freedom Bridge of Freedom is an old railway bridge that was used to return POWs to the South after the war. A park (Imjingak) was built on the South side of the bridge was built as a way to comfort those who had family members who did not return. The park has many statues and monuments dedicated to the war. It also has a small theme park, an observation deck, and several shops and restaurants.

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Banners and flags of remembrance.

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An old locomotive serves as a reminder of the hardship that went with the division.

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Ribbons attached to the fence…

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A view from the observation deck.

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Monuments.

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The JSA (Joint Security Area) was my favorite part of the tour. Due to the close distance to North Korean soldiers and actually being able to step over into North Korea, this was also the more delicate part of the trip. We were escorted by a U.S. solider for the duration of this part. I didn’t think to video tape the briefing we had while we were getting ready to go on the North Korea side, but thankfully someone one did at one time and posted it to YouTube. It’s only 5 minutes and it is very interesting. The solider in the video can explain the situation much better than I could write it. Click here to watch.

There are two North Korean soldiers in this picture. You can see one standing in front of the door at the top of the stairs (he was peering at us through binoculars the entire time), and the second one is sitting behind the far left window on the second floor (where the curtains are blearily parted); he was taking pictures of us the entire time.

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The MAC Conference Room is in the blue building on the left. This is where important meetings between North and South issues are debated and discussed. Half of the room is in the South, and half of it is in the North. We were able to walk to the North side in this building and officially be “in” North Korea. However,mew were not allowed to touch anything on the North side.

Our guide stands next a ROK solider.

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On the way back from the JSA we stopped and saw the Bridge of No Return. After the war, POWs from both sides were brought to the bridge. They were given the option to cross it if they choose, but if they did they would never be allowed to return.

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As a souvenir, I purchased this North Korean bill.

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Well, that concluded the tour. The only thing missing was my husband. I’m very excited about returning to the DMZ with Jared sometime. It was an amazing and somber experience, and I definitely recommend it if you are going to be traveling to Korea.

15 thoughts on “The Demilitarized Zone

  1. Interesting. I saw some of that when I was in Seoul for a conference a few years ago, but you dug out a lot more information than I did (and got better photographs!). Perhaps the most vivid impression I carried away was the realization of just how real and ongoing the conflict is to people in the South.

    • I completely agree with you David. I didn’t realize how serious and real the tension was until experiencing it first hand. It definitely gave me a new perspective on the country of Korea as a whole.

  2. Sounds like a great trip!

    I appreciate your following my blog (altho I kinda feel out of place considering my content). I hope you find stuff that helps you.

    I will subscribe to yours to keep up with your wonderful life! Your story is inspiring, even for an old guy like me.

    More than anything else- Have fun!

  3. I visited Seoul once, just after the Seoul Olympics. I was still a student then, was with my family. Experienced an air raid drill. Our host quickly brought us to a safe place, and explained why they maintained those practices. I enjoyed the food on that trip very much, too.

    Thanks for the follow! Looking forward to your other entries.

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