Yesterday, I finally visited the Demilitarized Zone, a heavily fortified border dividing North Korea and South Korea after the conclusion of the Korean War in the 1950s. For years I’ve always wanted to visit this part of South Korea, promising myself that I would not leave Seoul without going to it. Yesterday, I finally had the opportunity to visit the border zone and it was a mix of excitement and disappointed.
Located an hour away from Seoul, we started our tour in Imjingak Park to see the Unification Bridge, a structure built in the hope that one day the two Koreas would be united. From this point, I was 4 kilometers away from North Korea but it wasn’t really that exciting, there were mountains and lush forests that surrounded the park. Everywhere, there were messages hanging on the fences, I can only surmise these were letters of hope from survivors of the war who still have relatives in North Korea.
After Imjingak Park, we moved on to Dorasan Station and Dora Observatory, at this point I was slowly feeling a bit disappointed with the tour. Sure I was in a place that was quite intriguing to me, but in terms of learning all about the history of the Demilitarized Zone, it was a bit lacking. What I saw in front of me was a nature reserve and just a few pockets of North Korean communities from the observatory.
Even when the DMZ tour did get exciting, it was only for a few seconds, and that was the 3rd infiltration tunnel. The tunnel was built in the 1970s and was designed to transport North Korean troops to South Korea, however, the tunnel was discovered and is now a tourist spot where visitors have another chance to see North Korea from below ground. Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed in this part of the DMZ, but the experience was terrifying, knowing that at anytime Kim Jong-Eun could change his mind and decide to send his troops to this tunnel.
To wrap up our tour, we visited a museum about the entire history of the zone, the border, and the security area. This museum was actually more interesting than the other parts that I visited, the history of North Korean aggression since the end of the war was highlighted and once again there were a lot of artifacts still on display.
In the end, skip the Demilitarized Zone, I don’t think visiting this part of South Korea is worth it. I had always understood that the Demilitarized Zone also included the Joint Security Area where you can actually stand on the border of the two Koreas. Instead of going to the DMZ just visit Panmunjeom and the JSA to have a better and concrete understanding of the fragile relationship between the North and South. On the other hand, it was fun to know that I was literally a few kilometers away from one of the world’s most secluded and reclusive nation and my fascination for the country increased by ten fold. In the end, I promise to make the trip to the JSA next time and hopefully learn more about this part of world history.
* This part of my tour was sponsored