Mom, I Survived My Trip to the DMZ
(No drama was had during the trip or in the writing of this blog)
To See or Not to See the DMZ
Back home, most of the news from Korea focused heavily on the actions of North Korea; along with the tense relations between the U.S., South, and North Korea. News reports in general tend to induce fear amongst the public. So when I told people that I had planned on moving to South Korea, a lot of them brought up the subject. You’re not going to North Korea right? Is it safe in South Korea? I would never want to go to the DMZ. Of course, all of these comments are valid.
Though I only had a basic understanding of Korea’s complicated history, I knew the DMZ was something I wanted to see in person. JD and I had actually planned on going to the DMZ back in October, but due to the ongoing summit talks between the countries, parts of the DMZ had closed off. One of the main areas we were looking forward to seeing was the JSA, or Joint Security Area. We tried to wait it out and wait for the JSA to open again. Unfortunately, it is closed off to the public until further notice. The fact that it is closed however is hopefully a sign of mending relationships.
Early Morning Start
The alarm went off at 6:00am; we had to take the train and were supposed to arrive in the Jongno area around 7:50am. It would take us about an hour to get there. As we were talking about the meeting time, I remember that Kate had said we didn’t have to meet up until around 8:20 or so at Hongdae. Turns out we had be given a different meeting location. A quick call to the office and we were easily able to switch our pick-up point to Hongdae. This is perfect because now we actually had time for breakfast.
Kate and Richie met up with us shortly after we arrived. We got on the coach bus and were seated together in the back. After 4 months of planning we finally were headed to the DMZ!
Our first stop of the tour was at Imjingak, a small village before the DMZ. Here, we could walk across the Freedom Bridge, which was built after the war. After the armistice had been signed between North and South Korea, the countries participated in a prisoner exchange. Over 12,000 prisoners crossed this bridge to their freedom.
It hadn’t rained in months, but the day of tour it had rained all day. The weather added a somber element to the trip. At the other end of the bridge, there were tapestries hung with words of hope.
Train and Wall of Hope
Adjacent to the bridge laid old train tracks. On the tracks, a rusty train whose exterior was comprised of bullet holes, stood. The train had been destroyed in an explosion during the war and had been preserved for it’s cultural significance. To the right of the train, there was a wall completely covered in rainbow colored ribbons. Each ribbon was inscribed with hopes for peace and unity between the two countries.
Dorasan Train Station
This was one of my favorite stops on the tour. The station lies about 700 yards south of the DMZ. The northern and southern tracks of Dorasan Train Station were completed in 2007, connecting the two countries. There is currently no longer access to North Korea from the train. Now, mainly tourist trains run on the southern tracks. The station is completely empty, and mainly serves as symbol of hope and reunification.
Inside the station there was a kiosk to get a stamp of the station's name. There was a small model of the JSA on display along with photos of the North and South Korean president shaking hands. One of the coolest things in the station was the map of the Trans Eurasian Railway Network. The map indicated the possibility of travel from Korea all the way to Europe if reunification occurred.
Should reunification happen, the station is all ready to go with signage already up. Next stop, Pyeongyang.
We walked up a short hill to the Dora Observatory, where we were eager to get a peek into North Korea!
Inside the nice facility there was a cafe and an auditoroum room. We watched an informational video on the geography of the country. Massive windows offered a small view into North Korea. There was also a small scale model to help us get a sense of what we were viewing out the window. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't fully cooperating that day.
We ventured out onto the rooftop to see if we could get a better glimpse through binoculars. The clouds eventually started to part ways, but not enough for a clear view.
Entering The 3rd Tunnel
Our group watched a brief video on the history of the tunnels. Essentially, 4 tunnels had been found along the border of the DMZ. Dynamite had been found in some of the tunnels. The purpose of the tunnels was to swiftly strike the city of Seoul, and deploy hundreds of troops through the tunnel within an hour in the event of another war or attack. The tunnels of course had been discovered; thick concrete walls now barricade parts of the 3rd tunnel. We were told that we were not allowed to take photos in the tunnel so we put all of our belongings in a locker they provided. We were given yellow hard hats to wear. We descended into the leaky tunnel; there were sections of the tunnel where I was grateful I was short. The path was steep at first before leveling out. It took around 10 minutes to reach one of the cement barricades in the tunnel. Due to the long line, we didn't stay long before circling back and going back up the steep path that led to outside the tunnel.
We booked our tour through get your guide. Our group had a great time visiting the DMZ. The tour guides were friendly, knowledgeable, and most of the major sights were included.
If you get the chance, I highly recommend visiting this historically significant place. The next summit talks between President Trump and President Kim Jong-Un is scheduled for the end of this month in Vietnam, so it will be interesting to see what happens next.
Thank you for reading!
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