Last weekend, I went on a tour of the DMZ with the travel group When in Korea (WinK). First, let me just say that I’d highly recommend the WinK tour. They really had their stuff together. But anyway…
The DMZ is the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a protected area along the length of the North Korea- South Korea border. North Korea and South Korea are technically still at war, since no peace treaty was signed after the Korean War. Efforts towards reconciliation were going fairly well until 2002 when George Bush grouped North Korea into his “Axis of Evil,” and they got a little offended. Now, North Korea strategically launches a small attack every few years to provoke the South, but the South continues to hold their ground. I think these days, most people just want the two regions to be united again, since a lot of families have been tragically separated across the border, and those who aren’t in the economically stable 10% of North Korea are starving. It’s sad. Ironically, the DMZ has become a huge tourist attraction for visitors to South Korea and a source of profit for both the North and South.
I like history, but before the tour I didn’t really know anything about the DMZ, so like many other expats, I decided to check it out.
We boarded the bus in Seoul around 8:00am and drove north towards the boarder. The area was pretty heavily guarded. Before we could enter different sites, armed soldiers boarded our bus and checked for passports. By 9:00am, we were at our first location, Imjingak, where we stopped at a memorial and observation deck.
We continued on to the “Third Tunnel of Aggression,” one of the four known tunnels North Korea began to dig under the DMZ in attempts to attack Seoul. It’s believed that there are more tunnels out there, but they haven’t been found yet. We watched a video about the tunnel, walked around a museum, and then I was surprised because we actually got to go down into the tunnel. It was crazy. We threw on some hard hats — which proved to be necessary as I absentmindedly slammed into a rock while walking (not the greatest depth perception)– and walked for a good quarter mile through these dark, damp underground, rock passageways. For about a second, I thought about being claustrophobic, like entertaining the possibility of the lights going out or the cave collapsing, but I shook that pretty quick. It was crazy. No pictures allowed though…
After the tunnel, we stopped at the Dorasan train station, which was supposed to connect to the Trans-Siberian Railway so that you can get to Europe from Korea, but that project’s been put on hold indefinitely because of the war.
We also visited another observation deck, then headed to a bulgogi place for lunch.
After lunch, we got back on the bus and headed to another observation deck where we took a monorail to the top of a hill and watched a short film. Then we ventured into a second North Korean tunnel.
We finished off the trip at White Horse Hill, the site of one of the worst battles of the Korean War. Whoever won the hill gained access to the fertile rice fields all around it. Guess I don’t have to tell you who was the victor… The hill got its name because after all the bombings, it came to look like horse lying down from an aerial view. A soldier gave us a tour of the area, a small museum, memorial, and outlook point.
The tour was really interesting. It’s kind of weird to think that something so grave has become such a big attraction, but, if you like history, I’d recommend checking it out.