DMZ & 3rd Infiltration Tunnel

Paju Travel Blog

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Good Morning Seoul! Another hazy day as we set off on our tour!

One of my main goals on this trip was to see North Korea!  Since we came all this way, I figured we needed to at least try to get up to the border, even though tensions are on the rise again.  We booked a tour through the hotel which unfortunately picked us up prior to 8am and after a late night at Toto, I was not looking forward to getting up at 6am!!! Uuuugh. 

We met our tour guide, Jenny, in the lobby who we loved right off the bat. She was super energetic and a bubbly personality.  We then headed off to make a couple more stops at various hotels.  Final count was 11 people - a couple even from the US!  One woman from WA, one guy from Michigan, another from DC and the remainder were from Europe - UK, Denmark, and Sweden.

Protected Imjin River border with military post
  It appeared we might have been the only ones there for pleasure, everyone else was in
Korea on business.  

 

As we were driving, the first thing I noticed was the intense barbed wire and military type posts along the river….literally, right out of Seoul.  I didn’t realize (until I looked at a map later) how close Seoul actually is to the North Korea border.  It became apparent as soon as another guest asked about the barbed wire that it was to secure the border from North Korean invasion. 

 

A few more minutes on the road, we could actually see North Korea!  One of the easiest ways to spot North Korea territory is to compare the terrain.

Another military post along Imjin River
 
South Korea has much more vegetation and trees line most of the hillsides.  North Korea is primarily farm land and almost barren in comparison.  I was so excited we could already see into North Korea and we had not even been on the tour an hour yet! 

 

Imjingak

 

Imjingak was our first stop on the tour and is actually called a tourist resort.  It had a small amusement / carnival type area, an observatory, a small food and vendor mart.

Korean Peace Bell
  We were stopping here to see the
Unification Bridge, Korean Peace Bell, and to change buses to head up to the DMZ. 

 

Imjingak was developed after the South-North Koreas’ Joint Comminique was declared in 1971.  The area is an important and painful reminder of the war that commenced on June 25, 1950.  It is an old battlefield reminds everyone of the antagonism between North and South Korea and you can see those coming to pray for the unification of the Koreas and to finally be reunited with their families and friends.

Freedom Bridge into North Korea
  Imjingak is only 7km south of the Military Demarcation Line.

 

The first stop we made was to the Korean Peace Bell which contains is representative of the peace and unification desire by the South Korean people. 

 

There is a pond which was drained (seemed to be our luck of the trip) which was in the shape of North and South Korea.  It is a hopeful reminder of what the two nations could look like again. 

 

The main attraction in this area is the Freedom Bridge.

Close up of gate leading to Freedom Bridge
  This bridge takes it name from the exchange of 12,773 prisoners of war returned from North Korea in 1953.  You cannot actually get close to the bridge as there is a large gate and thick barbed wire keeping you out.  It is eerily quiet with obviously no activity, except for the gentle breeze that clanked the locks on the gate. 

 

It was that moment that the reality of the situation finally hit me.  I am not standing here on a typical ancient history tour….this is history in the making.  Standing there looking at the messages written on the gate, the flowers and trinkets left behind, a cold chill came over me.  You could almost hear the cries in the breeze, and feel the pain of those who stood around me.  For me, this was just a place to tour, no different than a trip to a museum.  For them, this is real and a painful reminder of their lives, while still clinging to hope and faith they will be reunited with loves ones soon. 

 

Annually, Imjingak receives 2-3 million visitors, many of which are from South Korea who come to pay their respects and pray for unification.

Jenny explaining the tunnel as we prepare to go down
 

 

 

3rd Infiltration Tunnel

 

We board a bigger bus in Imjingak to head to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and see the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel which was discovered at the point of just 52km from Seoul (less than an hour's drive) in the administrative section of Paju in 1978.  First, we went into a visitors center and watched a short film on the Korean war which brought most of us to tears.  Next we went down to tour the tunnel itself. 

 

The tunnel is 1,635m in length, 2m in width, and only 2m in height.

DMZ - Entrance to 3rd Tunnel
  This tunnel was certainly not designed for anyone over 5 feet tall!  You have to wear hard hats on the tour and it's very cramped and crowded with the various tour groups.  This was one of the stops where no photos were allowed.  The tunnel has capacity to get 30,000 North Korean soldiers and their gear through in an hour's time!  This tunnel was definitely dug for a surprise attack on Seoul. 

 

The North Koreans claim the tunnel was trying to mine for coal but the walls are granite, so they claimed they could not find any coal. They needed to dig under the DMZ and straight towards Seoul to figure that one out?!?!  YEAH RIGHT! Also, we saw parts of the tunnel they painted black to give the appearance of coal.  Rumor has it the tunnel was discovered by a tip from a North Korean defector.  It was eerie to stand in the tunnel, knowing the history and its purpose.  Our guide advised they believe to be many more tunnels, they have just not discovered them yet.  The 4th tunnel was just discovered in 1990. 

 

Observatory

 

The next stop was to actually see North Korea villages and another place you can't really take photos.

Dora Observatory
  There are South Korean soldiers stationed all over and North Korean soldiers watch your every move through binoculars.  One guy in our group tried to get a couple photos and the soldiers stopped us on the way out, questioned him about the photos he took and proceeded to delete everything on camera from that location.  They do not play around and any wrong gesture or movement will result in being detained.  Especially with tensions on the rise again, they were not taking any chances. 

 

Dorasan Station

 

The Dorasan train station is the northernmost international station from the southern boundary line of the DMZ.  The station drew world attention when President Bush visited here in February 2002.  In the future, this station will play an important role in realizing the Iron Silk Road that will connect through to the rest of Asia and even Europe throgh Gaeseong, Pyeongyang, and Sinuijiu. It took 52 years for the Gyeonguiseon railroad to be built to Dorasan Station in the controlled district for civilian use.   

 

On December 11, 2007, freight trains began traveling north past Dorasan Station into North Korea, taking materials to the new industrial region and bringing back finished goods.

Tourist viewing the planned Trans Eurasian Railway Network while the So Korea soldier protects the entrance gate
  The current schedule is for the trains to make one 10 mile trip every weekday. 

 

This was an incredible stop because it really shows South Korea's commitment to the unification of the country again.  The station is heavily guarded and signs are up showing future the future destination of Pyeongyang in North Korea, they are just waiting for the green light to go.  The station is brand new and definitely state of the art.  It was eerily empty except for the few tourists wandering around.  The South Korean soldiers 

 

Tongilchon (Unification Village)

 

Tongilchon is in the northern area of the Civilian Control Line and has 133 families and a total of 493 residents.  There is an agricultural marketing center here sells local farm produce.  The market sells some interesting products and is a very popular stop on the tours, especially because you can purchase Ginseng at much more reasonable prices.  Some of the local products sold in the market are uncurdled Jangdan bean curd (sundubu), seasoned mountain herbs, traditional liquors, and maeuntang (hot soup). 

 

We got to tour the area briefly and checked out the market, some of the products were very interesting.

Market at Tongilchon Unification Village
  One thing was basically packaged tree branches.  I didn't quite understand the explanation of what it was used for. I did see all the Ginseng roots - I had no idea how expensive it was elsewhere...I saw it for $600 in one of the duty free stores! YIKES!  It's no wonder some of the South Koreans travel there just to get the Ginseng as it's much cheaper there. 

 

betaori says:
great stuff, was wondering what i should see there, JAS being 1.
Posted on: Jan 01, 2010
lizardflix says:
good stuff. One thing that future visitors might want to note is that if you take the USO tour, they go to the Joint Security Area, which is where the delegations meet in the building that is divided by the north/south border. You actually walk into North Korea when you step to the other side of the room.

Posted on: Aug 15, 2009
geewon says:
hi, this is jee won from ewha womans university in Korea. I was reading your blog and I really wanted to use your quote in our newspaper. Will that be ok with you?
if it's ok please contact me at
yamasitab@hotmail.com
Posted on: Oct 25, 2008
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Good Morning Seoul! Another hazy d…
Good Morning Seoul! Another hazy …
Protected Imjin River border with …
Protected Imjin River border with…
Another military post along Imjin …
Another military post along Imjin…
Korean Peace Bell
Korean Peace Bell
Freedom Bridge into North Korea
Freedom Bridge into North Korea
Close up of gate leading to Freedo…
Close up of gate leading to Freed…
Jenny explaining the tunnel as we …
Jenny explaining the tunnel as we…
DMZ - Entrance to 3rd Tunnel
DMZ - Entrance to 3rd Tunnel
Dora Observatory
Dora Observatory
Tourist viewing the planned Trans …
Tourist viewing the planned Trans…
Market at Tongilchon Unification V…
Market at Tongilchon Unification …
Imjin River border
Imjin River border
Imjin River border - faint view of…
Imjin River border - faint view o…
Another military post along Imjin …
Another military post along Imjin…
Faint view of North Korea
Faint view of North Korea
North Korea and Imjin River border
North Korea and Imjin River border
Far away view of Freedom Bridge
Far away view of Freedom Bridge
Amusement park at Imjingak
Amusement park at Imjingak
Park at Imjingak Tourist Resort
Park at Imjingak Tourist Resort
One of two rock walls - symbolizin…
One of two rock walls - symbolizi…
Second rock wall - symbolizing a p…
Second rock wall - symbolizing a …
The drained pond representing all …
The drained pond representing all…
Freedom Bridge into North Korea
Freedom Bridge into North Korea
Old bridge
Old bridge
View of both bridges
View of both bridges
Korean Peace Bell
Korean Peace Bell
Korean Peace Bell
Korean Peace Bell
Gate to Freedom Bridge
Gate to Freedom Bridge
Another close up of gate leading t…
Another close up of gate leading …
Close up of barbed wire at Freedom…
Close up of barbed wire at Freedo…
In front of the Freedom Bridge
In front of the Freedom Bridge
Entrance into the DMZ - end of the…
Entrance into the DMZ - end of th…
DMZ visitor area
DMZ visitor area
DMZ - Exhibit hall and Korean War …
DMZ - Exhibit hall and Korean War…
close up of statue at DMZ represen…
close up of statue at DMZ represe…
In front of the DMZ statue
In front of the DMZ statue
Another Korean Peace Bell at the D…
Another Korean Peace Bell at the …
Observatory deck - closest you can…
Observatory deck - closest you ca…
Hazy view into North Korea
Hazy view into North Korea
Telescopes at Dora to see the far …
Telescopes at Dora to see the far…
Street in unification village
Street in unification village
Me in front of the Dora Observatory
Me in front of the Dora Observatory
Only place you can take photos
Only place you can take photos
Me on the observatory deck with th…
Me on the observatory deck with t…
Dora Observatory
Dora Observatory
Sign for Pyeongyang North Korea
Sign for Pyeongyang North Korea
Guards protecting train entrance
Guards protecting train entrance
Welcome to Dorasan Station!
Welcome to Dorasan Station!
Message that Dorasan is not the la…
Message that Dorasan is not the l…
Message explaining the formation o…
Message explaining the formation …
Message about the Kim Dae Jung and…
Message about the Kim Dae Jung an…
Pictures of President Bushs visit
Pictures of President Bush's visit
Signatures from Bushs visit
Signatures from Bush's visit
Display documenting the 2002 visit
Display documenting the 2002 visit
Advertisement of Gyeongui railroad…
Advertisement of Gyeongui railroa…
Dorasan Station Sign
Dorasan Station Sign
Map of planned route of train
Map of planned route of train
Exhibit sign explaining Dorasan St…
Exhibit sign explaining Dorasan S…
Dorasan Station Building
Dorasan Station Building
Board listing the names of the ben…
Board listing the names of the be…
View from Dorasan Station - North …
View from Dorasan Station - North…
Sign about the DMZ at the Unificat…
Sign about the DMZ at the Unifica…
Tongilchon Unification Village
Tongilchon Unification Village
Street in Tongilchon Unification V…
Street in Tongilchon Unification …
Tongilchon Unification Village
Tongilchon Unification Village
Tongilchon Unification Village
Tongilchon Unification Village
Paju
photo by: saltycoco