Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Upon the arrival at Incheon International Airport and turned ourselves into the marshmallow, we took about an hour or more to the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) by bus, a buffer zone with 2km each retreat away from the military demarcation line between North and South Korea. 

Itinerary can be found under Travelogue.

The tour guide briefly told us the history of Korean Peninsula and the wars that ended up splitting their world into two.

Imjingak is located 7km from the military demarcation line built in 1972 with the hope that someday unification would be possible. This is the entrance to register with the Korean government for permission to enter the demilitarised zone.

We took a 15-min stroll around Imjingak while waiting for the next shuttle bus to the Dora Observatory, the Third Tunnel and subsequently the Dorasan Station as private cars are not permitted to enter the demilitarised zone. It was very cold on the day, probably marked around 0 degree Celsius and I could feel my jaw was nearly frozen, it was hard when I smiled.

Here is the snapshot from the google map showing Imjingak and the spots we've visited.

1. Imjingak sign

2. Imjingak Monument

3. The Peace Bell - as a wish for peace and unification between the two Koreas.

4. The soldiers guarding the entrance of the Bridge of Freedom.

5. The locomotive - a symbol of the tragic history of the division into North and South Korea, having been left in the DMZ since it was derailed by bombs during the Korean War. There were thousands of bullet holes on the locomotive. 

Prayer ribbons with messages of hope, dreams and wishes for unification between North and South Korea are tied on the fence.

6. Bridge of Freedom stands behind Mangbaedan and is named by their former president as 12,773 Korean War prisoners returned home to freedom over this bridge. It is said that the prisoners were transported by car up to the Gyeongui-seon Line Iron Bridge and crossed over the Bridge of Freedom by foot. The bridge is the only remaining legacy of peace in the Korean War as it holds the symbolic significance of the "Return to Freedom.

That is the freedom bridge (iron bridge) across the Imjin river that eventually leads you to North Korea.

7. Mangbaedan Altar - People whose families and relatives are still in North Korea worship at this altar for New Years and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). 

It is indeed a sad place and a very poignant reminder of how many people are still affected by the war.

Moving on to Dora Observatory, located on the South Korean side of the 38th parallel, the closest part of South Korea to the North. From the observatory, we can overlook North Korea but the fog made us hard to see clearly what’s over there in North Korea. 

From the signboard, we could see Gaesong Industrial Complex with the telescope. The only thing I could see without the telescope was there were hardly any trees around the area; probably that’s the easy way to eye on anyone crossing over the border. No photos are allowed beyond the yellow line so I can't take any to share. 

Then, it came to the most terrifying spot, the Third Tunnel of Aggression. It is one of the four known tunnels under the border between North and South Korea. The tunnel was discovered in October 1978 and located 52km from Seoul. It is believed the tunnel was dug by the North Korean to possibly attack South Korea, likely Seoul. 

On the way to the DMZ theatre, exhibition hall and the third tunnel.

There are 4 tunnels discovered under the border between North and South Korea, and we only visited the third tunnel. Picture from wikipedia.

We were requested to wear safety helmet to walk into the steep and long tunnel. Since we are required to store our belongings in the lockers and no cameras are allowed beyond the locker area, I couldn’t take any photos to share it with you, even if I had a camera, it would be difficult for me to do so as there are many CCTV along the tunnel. So, I decided to be a good girl, just walk and observe without photographs. *grin* The South Korean continued to build the tunnel from the Third Tunnel that they have discovered to the entrance that we came in for easy access, I guess the distance is about 500-600m before I actually stepped foot on the Third Tunnel built by the North Korean. As the South Korean turns the tunnel to be an underground that can be visited, I believe they made the ventilation good as I don’t feel stuffy and hot in the tunnel. I was told the tunnel that extended into the North Korea was destroyed by the North Korean for security, and so we got to walk about 200+ metres of the damp, craggy tunnel with faint flickering lights installed along the way before hitting the dead end. Since the tunnel is quite roomy, it is not surprising they were capable to move 30,000 troops and weapons in an hour.  It is also surprising they could dig a tunnel under the granite a few decades ago. I could not imagine the technology once they had in 1970 to enable them for that where the tunnel was only be discovered 8 years later! 

We took the same way out, but walking up the slope was so tiring and we sweated. 

Next stop, Dorasan station! It is the northernmost stop on South Korea’s railway line (about 700+metres from the 38th parallel), also the railway station that once connected North and South Korea and has now been restored. South Koreans cannot visit to North Korea since the tragedy of partition and vice versa. Hence, the Dorasan station is built with the hope to run and reunite the two halves of the country one day as it is prepared to run from here to PyeongYang, North Korea. For the South Korean, this is not the last station from the South, but the first station towards the North. The hope of reunification is clearly seen.

I didn’t get a chance to explore the Dorasan train station mainly because I wasn’t aware of the reasons behind building the station. I heard once North Korea has open up the access, this line will connect with the Trans Eurasian Railway Network, which means you could take a train all the way from Busan in South Korea to London via North Korea, China, Russia and Europe. So, once North Korea opens up to the world, we will be more connected.

There’s another interesting place that we didn’t step foot on, it’s the Joint Security Area (JSA). Perhaps for you to explore and share with me when you get a chance?

Dorasan Station marks the end of our DMZ tour; I feel heavy-hearted knowing the families are separated ever since then and I sincerely hope one day the two Koreas will share a united history once again somewhere in the future. Peace.

You may find more information about DMZ here.

We had to catch the plane at 2pm to Jeju Island. Check out Dynamic Korea in Winter Day 2 Part 2 for the second half of the tour.

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