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Korean Demilitarized Zone
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is one of the popular tourist attractions in South Korea. Paju is a city near Seoul where tourists can visit certain landmarks closest to the DMZ which are open to the public.
Brief HistoryThe Korean War started on June 25, 1950 when North Korean troops with the support of its allies, Soviet Union and China, marched into South Korea thus crossing the 38th parallel which then served as the boundary between the divided Korea. It resulted to an almost three-year long war fought between the North Korea forces and South Korea that was supported by United Nations' troops under the leadership of the United States.
Armistice negotiations were pursued for a period of two years while the war was raging until finally a breakthrough was reached when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953. The main purpose of the agreement was to put an end to the fighting “until a final peaceful settlement is achieved." The armed hostilities may have signaled the end of the Korean War, but a permanent or lasting peace treaty is yet to be achieved between the two divided nations.
The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was created after the signing of the armistice agreement. It has since served as neutral ground tucked between the boundary lines of the two countries. It covers 248 kilometers of land and 200 kilometers across the west sea that serves as a ceasefire region. The Military Demarcation Line (MDL) intersects along the 4 kilometers-wide area. This bisecting line separates the width of the land with 2 kilometers stretching on both sides deemed as buffer zone.
As a ceasefire zone, no armed forces or weapons are allowed beyond the MDL. Contrary to what the name suggests, however, DMZ is a one of the most guarded and fortified places in the world with North Korea and South Korea alongside US troops maintaining significant military presence within their respective boundaries.
DMZ has remained largely undisturbed since it was established in the 1950s. What once was a region that has seen thousands of casualties and heavy damages of war has become a vibrant ecosystem. A rich biodiversity thrives within the area and it is now known as a refuge for some endangered species and several migratory birds.
Activities and Attractions: Visiting DMZ from Paju CityThe breadth and length of the Korean DMZ alone makes it impossible to see every accessible tourist areas at one go. But to those coming from Seoul or nearby cities, Paju City is home to the more widely-popular DMZ tours.
Visitors can either sign-up for tour packages or travel on their own up to certain points then join guided tours from there. There are areas where private vehicles are not allowed. It is important to do some research first before doing the DMZ tour to know the do’s and don’ts like what to wear and bring during the visit.
ImjingakImjingak Park is the first stop of tourists who either travel by tour buses or private vehicles. It was established in 1972 to provide solace for people who escaped from North Korea during the war in 1950 to 1953. It is about 500 meters away from Imjingang Station where tourists taking the Gyeongui Line from Seoul get off to comply with the Civilian Restriction Line Entrance Procedures before proceeding to Dorasan Station.
The park is located approximately 7 kilometers from the MDL. It features various monuments and a huge Peace Bell that symbolizes hope for the unification of Korea. The Bridge of Freedom is also one of its best known landmarks. The said bridge is where thousands of war captives crossed on their way to freedom from both side following the signing of the armistice agreement. There is also an old train riddled with bullet holes and other damages that serve as a grim relic of the war. Colorful ribbons bearing messages from locals and visitors are tied to barbed wires that lined certain areas in the park.
The Mangbaedan situated across Imjingak is where those who fled from their homes in North Korea offer prayers to their loved ones left behind, especially during special days like Chuseok or on New Year’s Day. There is a palpable feeling of deep sorrow in Imjingak despite the crowds of tourists milling around the amusement park, souvenir shops, food kiosks, and other attractions in the area.
Dorasan Station“Not the last station from the South,
But the first station toward the North.” (Text from a billboard at Dorasan Station)
About 700 meters away from the DMZ boundary line to the south sits Dorasan Station, a railway station for South Korea's Gyeongui Line. It is within the Civilian Control Zone (CCZ). People traveling through the said railway line have to first disembark at Imjingang Station with their passports or other valid identifications ready (for local tourists) to complete the required entry procedures before heading to Dorasan Station.
Dorasan Station is located 56 kilometers away from Seoul and 205 kilometers from Pyongyang (Pyeongyang). It is the farthest to the north the railway line reaches without crossing the southern boundary line. It is envisioned to serve as entry point when traveling between the currently divided nations becomes possible.
The station is manned by a few workers and guarded by soldiers. The facility is fairly new and appears to be in pristine condition. It looks deserted and quiet with the silence broken only by visitors walking around the area.
Dora ObservatoryThe Dora Observatory sits on top of Mount Dora. It is located within the civilian controlled area. It is one of the spots nearest to the DMZ which affords visitors a great view towards North Korea.
The building which houses the observatory is distinctive with its camouflage paint. Visitors head into an auditorium with seats facing a big window that looks toward the north then exit to an open space lined with binoculars. From there, Kijong-dong (Propaganda Village) and the 160 meter flag pole North Korea constructed to surpass the 98 meter flag pole South Korea built during the 1980s can be seen. And on clear days, it is even possible to get a glimpse of Kaesong .
On the floor of the observatory is a clearly marked photo line indicating that taking pictures beyond the line is no longer allowed.
3rd Infiltration Tunnel (Third Tunnel of Aggression)Close to the Dora Observatory lies the Third Infiltration Tunnel. South Korean forces discovered it in 1978 with the help of the information given by a defector from North Korea. It goes as deep as 73 meter underground and stretches 1.7 kilometers long and 2.0 meter wide. The tunnel is 2.0 meter high and it is said that it can hold approximately 30,000 lightly armed North Korean troops if used to launch an attack in Seoul.
Before heading inside the tunnel, visitors proceed to the DMZ Exhibit Hall and Theater. The Exhibit Hall provides information about the tunnel and the DMZ itself while the theater features a documentary film about the war.
Taking photos is not allowed inside the tunnel. There are lockers in the lobby of the building that houses the walkway to the 3rd Tunnel which can be used to store visitors' personal belongings. The trek into the tunnel begins after donning the hard hats provided at the entrance. The path inclines downward and there are support rails on each side for those who may need it during the descent or going back. The tunnel narrows down as it goes deeper.
The tunnel walls look dark despite the lighting provided along the way. North Korea claimed that the tunnel was a segment of a coal mine. It was said that while retreating soon after the tunnel was discovered, North Korean troops painted the walls black to support the claim. This was after North Korea initially denied digging it.
South Korea constructed three barricades serving as barriers from the MDL. Third Tunnel tours ends at the third blockade. At this point, there is a small window that offers a view of the second barrier. The closest a tourist can look towards the MDL that deep underground. Upon reaching this point, visitors turn back and begin the steep ascent going back to the lobby.
There is a gift shop at the lobby where visitors can buy food and drinks as well as souvenirs like DMZ merchandises, chocolates made in Paju province, and alcoholic drinks from North Korea among others.
Panmunjom (Joint Security Area)Panmunjom is where the Join Security Area (JSA) can be found. It has the distinction of being the only area manned by both the UN and North Korean troops. Before the Axe murder incident on 18 August 1976, the JSA - as the name suggests - is jointly guarded by 35 troopers each from both sides. But this was changed following the said incident to prevent similar conflicts from happening again. Instead, the troops guard their respective areas separately using the MDL as boundary.
Supervision of the Joint Security Area including the buildings and the surroundings falls under the United Nations Command (UNC). DMZ tours in JSA are restricted to specific areas only. A documentary video about the area is shown before the beginning of each tour followed by a brief explanation of safety-related protocols.
The JSA has a row of low-lying buildings often used as conference rooms that sit astride the border. The MDL bisects through these series of buildings. Inside a conference room accessible to tourists, two South Korean guards facing each other stand at attention. If allowed, visitors inside can briefly cross the MDL and experience stepping into North Korea.
Visitors are also escorted to an area that provides a view of the Propaganda Village and the Bridge of No Return.
Unification ObservatoryThe Unification Observatory in Odu Mountain (Odusan) sits closely to the DMZ. Sitting 140 meters above sea level, the observatory provides visitors occasional glimpses of people toiling in their farms in North Korea. There are also educational exhibits that offer historical perspectives, information, and insights on the goal of achieving unification.
Visitor InformationThere are several tour operators that offer DMZ tours. Those who wish to do it on their own can do so up to a certain point and join the guided tours from there. Those who want to visit must bring their passports (foreign tourists) and any valid documents (domestic tourists) and observe a dress code. Wearing jeans, especially skinny, faded, frayed, or worn out ones, is not allowed. Camouflage or military-type clothing, leather pants, leggings, tank or sleeveless tops, and short skirts or pants are also not allowed. For footwear, visitors are advised to wear close shoes instead of sandals or slippers.
Getting ThereFrom Seoul, take a train from Seoul Station to Munsan Station. From there, transfer to the train traveling to Imjingang Station. Get off at Imjingang and complete the entry procedures before boarding the train heading to Dorasan Station. From Dorasan Station, take the transit tour shuttle bus. Those traveling to Imjingak by private vehicles have to follow the same procedures.
Visitors who avail of tour packages are usually picked up from their hotels or designated points in Seoul before traveling to Imjingak. Tour buses then follow their tour itinerary after entrance procedures of participants are completed.
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Author: jyashiru. Last updated: Apr 04, 2015