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Glimpse of North Korea from the 38th Parallel Along DMZ

Writer신철희Date11/15/2019

Most people know about North Korea through books, online resources, and videos.

Glimpse of North Korea from the 38th Parallel Along DMZ


Most people know about North Korea through books, online resources, and videos. I first learned about North Korea from a book titled In Order to Live, written by North Korean defector Park Yeon-mi. She described North Korea, where she grew up in 20 years ago, like a living hell. What is North Korea like today? I signed up for a DMZ day tour to satisfy my curiosity about the past and present of the two Koreas.


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DMZ, JSA, Dorasan Mountain, Imjingak and More at Panmunjeom

DMZ, short for Demilitarized Zone, was created by the Korean Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953. The buffer zone is four kilometers wide, with two kilometers on each side of the Military Demarcation Line. There are many spots worth visiting in the DMZ, but they are not as well known to the public. The attractions are briefly introduced below.


•    Imjingak Pyeonghwa Nuri Park
The park was created for people unable to return to their hometowns in North Korea. In 1983, the live broadcast Finding Dispersed Families by KBS helped 10,189 persons to re-connect with their family members whom they had lost contact with due to war. This program inspired the song 30 Lost Years. The park features Mangbaedan Altar, Bell of Peace, and a monument dedicated to U.S. forces. The observatory provides a panoramic view of North Korea and the Bridge of Peace, and other facilities include a restaurant, café and playground. The atmosphere at the park is quiet and peaceful unlike other areas near the border. Similar to other parks, Imjingak Pyeonghwa Nuri Park is easily accessible and does not involve complicated administrative procedures.


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DMZ img DMZ img
DMZ img DMZ img

•    Third Tunnel of Aggression
Dug by North Korea for a surprise attack on Seoul, the Third Tunnel of Aggression can accommodate up to 30,000 soldiers. It was discovered in an underground explosion in 1987, after which South Korea dug an intercept tunnel. The incline at the entrance leads to the tunnel after about 20 minutes. Out of the total length of 1,635 meters, 265 meters are open to the public. Further access is prevented by the barbed-wire fence and gate at 170 meters from the Military Demarcation Line. Photos are prohibited in the tunnel, and cameras are not allowed. Walking through the narrow tunnel is quite a challenge as it is only 2-meters high, with some areas requiring you to lower your head. This shows how tough it must have been for the soldiers back then.


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•    Dora Observatory
Dora Observatory, which stands at 156 meters above sea level next to the Third Tunnel of Aggression, offers a glimpse of Gaeseong and the lives of North Koreans. The houses, with the same white walls and brick-colored roofs, seemed to satiate my curiosity about North Korea. A small village had been formed on each side of the Military Demarcation Line to reflect the two Koreas' desire for peace, and through the telescope, I could see the national flag pole of an elementary school in the North Korean village. It was an unreal experience.


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DMZ img DMZ img

•    Dorasan Station
Dorasan Station, the northernmost stop on the railway line in South Korea, is 205 kilometers away from Pyeongyang. It is the last stop on the Gyeongui Line, where “gyeong” means Seoul and “ui” refers to Uiju in North Korea. In line with the dream of peace, Dorasan Station is known as the first station heading to the North instead of the last station in the South. The exhibits in the station show the past exchange between the two Koreas. On the left side of the waiting room, I was especially moved by two paintings of the southernmost Hallasan Mountain on Jeju Island and northernmost Baekdusan Mountain in North Korea. They symbolize the Koreans' desire for peaceful unification.


 Dorasan Station img  Dorasan Station img
 Dorasan Station img  Dorasan Station img

•    Joint Security Area (JSA)
The JSA, which stands for Joint Security Area, is the only area of the DMZ where North and South Korean soldiers stand face to face. Here, you can see the sky blue building where multilateral talks were held, the tree for peace planted by the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Moon Jae-in, the Peace House on the South Korean side, and Panmungak Hall on the North Korean side. JSA is the most highly guarded area as North Korea lies directly on the other side, and the sturdy concrete barrier prevents visitors from crossing over. During my tour, I saw some North Koreans on a security tour in the Panmungak Hall. A tour of the DMZ will not be complete without visiting the JSA.


Joint Security Area (JSA) img Joint Security Area (JSA) img
Joint Security Area (JSA) img Joint Security Area (JSA) img
Joint Security Area (JSA) img Joint Security Area (JSA) img

Convenient Online Booking of DMZ Day Tours

For security reasons, DMZ cannot be explored on your own. Joining a day tour lessens the burden of administrative procedures, and a Chinese-speaking guide will provide thorough information to enhance your understanding. The DMZ day tours offered by four travel agencies in Korea accept reservations by phone only, and this is inconvenient for foreign tourists. I recommend booking online at KK Day, which offers day tours at affordable prices! (Book online at https://www.kkday.com/zh-tw/product/4776)


Panmunjeom tours have limited spots, and only 27 visitors are allocated per travel agency. Advance booking is recommended as the opening hours are limited as well. You must present your passport on the day of the tour, and observe all the given guidelines. According to the dress code, the following items are not allowed: ripped jeans, shorts or skirts, sleeveless tops, military clothing, sandals, clothing or hats with noticeable brand names or sport team names. Talking to the North Korean soldiers is prohibited, and photos are permitted at designated s. Tours may be canceled in the event of an emergency meeting or military training. If canceled before departure, you can re-schedule your tour with KK Day.


Panmunjeom, Living Legacy in the World's Only Divided Country

Similar to the Berlin Wall in Germany, Panmunjeom is the product of decades of war. The Berlin Wall became a historical monument after it fell, but the concrete border of Panmunjeom is still in place. While tension between the two Koreas can be felt at the site, Panmunjeom is also an attraction where you can take photos and buy souvenirs. It may not be a trendy spot like Hongdae, Myeong-dong and Itaewon, but it is a place of great significance in history. A DMZ tour in the world's only divided country will give you an insider's perspective on the shared desire for peaceful unification.