North Korea has been on my bucket list for quite some time now, since I watched some interesting documentaries on this surreal country. Going there is not that easy, you have to travel with an approved tour operator and during the whole trip you are being watched by your tour guides. And there’s that feeling to support a government which might not align with your own beliefs… Well, maybe I’ll never make it to North Korea anyway. But still – now I got at least to the border to North Korea, the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Yay.
I’ve been to Seoul again, and from there a few tour operators offer trips to the demilitarized zone (DMZ). The DMZ is basically the last zone before the actual border and as it’s a military area, it’s heavily guarded and except for some old farmer villages not inhabited. We chose the half-day tour, which was totally okay except for some unnecessary stops – but I definitely would recommend the tour, it’s a interesting way to learn more about the Korean separation.
The Stops of the Half-Day-Tour to the DMZ from Seoul:
1. Imjingak Park
This is the place close to the entrance to the DMZ, where families traditionally would gather to remember their relatives living on the other side of the border. With time, it became so popular, that monuments and a temple were built – even a small theme park for the children. Most impressive were the fences to the DMZ, which were covered by the people with colourful laces.
2. Dora Observatory: War with music
Loud music on the observatory platform. I hear Frank Sinatra and something about freedom. Apparently, music is also a part of the military strategy, because as we hear from our tour guide, North Korea also plays propanda music along the border.
From the observatory, you can see two small villages – one on the North Korean, the other on the South Korean side. According to our tour guide, nobody lives in the North Korean village and the government just painted the houses colorfully to show off. Everything looks like a ghost town. Spooky.
3. Dorasan – the ghost station
More spookiness at the next stop, the Dorasan train station. From this station in the middle of the DMZ, but still on South Korean grounds, you could take a train straight to the North Korean capital Pjöngjang. Could, because the station is not in use. It was a first sign of reconciliation – but the political situation between the two countries became worse again and so this brand new train station was never used. We buy tickets to get on the platform, two minutes, our bus is waiting – and it’s really strange to see such an abandoned new building in the middle of nowhere.
4. Secret tunnels between North and South Korea
During the years of separation, South Korea discovered four hidden tunnels in direction to North Korea. They were probably built to send over troops in case of an invasion or to send agents into South Korea. The North Korean government denies until today to have built those tunnels.
The tunnels themselves are a real masterpiece, kilometers long, deep in the earth and so small, that a tall European can’t go through straight. So crazy! Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed inside as you get very close to the border and everything is a supersecret military zone.
The DMZ tour: Is it worth it?
Although it’s full of political propaganda (which can get quite annoying) and we were obliged to visit a fabric sale with gemstones after the whole tour even if nobody wanted, I’d still recommend a DMZ tour. As I mentioned before, it’s just a good way to understand better Korean history – and it’s really close to Seoul.
More things to do in Seoul: