north korea, travel/landmarks

Taking a Peek at North Korea from Korea’s DMZ

Since I came to Korea, I have always urged my husband for us to go check South Korea’s Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). But he was just not interested.

When the DMZ train came into operation in 2014, my hopes were high again. I planned on going there with friends… whoever was willing. But the DMZ train schedule didn’t jive with my children’s school schedule. I can only do my ME time with friends when kids are in school and I have to be back home when my boys are back at home.

DMZ-bound on Spring Break

Luck has it that on the last day of Spring Break, hubby took the day off and got us tickets to ride on the Korail DMZ train. It was pretty easy and could be done by anyone. You can check this out if you want to do your own booking like we did: http://www.letskorail.com/ebizbf/EbizBfAboutDmz_Train.do. Our roundtrip tickets from Seoul Station-Dorasan-Seoul Station cost 17,800-won/adult and 12,400-won/child. But keep in mind that the Korail DMZ train will not bring you to the Panmunjeon Tour. The Panmunjeon Tour can only be done by an accredited Panmunjeon-bound tour company since this is already in the Joint Security Area.

We boarded the 3-cabin train. These 3 cabins represent 3 different themes: Peace, Love, and Harmony. It has round-trip schedule, as follows:

Train Yongsan Seoul Neunggok Munsan Uncheon Imjingang Dorasan
Gyeongui Line For Dorasan 10:08 10:13 10:38 11:14 11:20 11:38 11:42
For Yongsan 17:26 17:21 16:58 16:22 16:17 16:13 16:00
DMZ-train for the Gyeongui Line does not operate on Mondays and national holidays falling on weekdays
All passengers must purchase a TRAVEL PACKAGE to enjoy security tourism (the 3rd Tunnel) at Dorasan (Source: http://www.letskorail.com/ebizbf/EbizBfAboutDmz_Train.do)

 

We took the 10:13am bus bound to Dorasan at the Seoul Station. It was a good 1hr and a half ride. Uneventful except for my children freely going around the train, taking videos for their youtube channel. With just a few of us occupying the train, I also went to the other car to try on the military suits available for photo op. These are hanged at the snack bar area and there is also a display of notes of encouragement written by tourists for the unity of the 2 Koreas.

Korail DMZ Train – My son and I on board the Korail Train to DMZ. My son taking his salute seriously:-)

Our train stopped at the Imjingang Station. This is where all the visitors go down from the train and brought inside the small station. We lined up in Immigration fashion to have our identification cards checked. We had our passports with us and it was scrutinized by the soldier.

Heads were counted inside the train, counted again when we went down the Imjingang Station, and another count after we passed the counter where our identification cards were checked and counted again when we boarded the train.

Imjingang Station

And yes, heads were counted again when we got down Dorasan Station. Needless to say, our numbers were checked again when we boarded the train from Dorasan to Seoul. Whew! It must be pretty hard on weekends when trains are fully occupied.

At last, we arrived at the Dorasan Station!

The railway is quite a dramatic sight. You can see the extension of the railway going northward but movement is blocked from this end. It represents the great divide. On the other hand, it also represents hope. Hope that it will finally be used to reconnect two Koreas.

We got inside Dorasan Station and from there, visitors need to choose their own tour package. There are only 2 options and the difference is only:

  1. Third Tunnel with monorail
  2. Third Tunnel without monorail

Hubby paid 30,000-won for the 4 of us without monorail. Going down the tunnel is pretty steep so, get the monorail if you think you can’t handle it. It was a good walk up and down if you think you’re fit enough to do it. But hey, I saw several groups of seniors doing just that.

Our first stop was the Dorasan Peace Park. There isn’t much to see and do. You may venture on your own or listen to the tour guide. There are photos lined up going to the Exhibition Hall with brief description. My boys only got excited when we got into the Exhibition Hall with 3d presentation.

DMZ Peace Park

 

There’s an art installation you can’t miss at the park! It has a small hanging bridge in the middle aptly titled “Bridging Peace”. My husband took a closer look and found that this was done by a Filipino artist named Roger Tibon. The art description says “It expresses mutual effort and sincere communication that put a bridge of peace and love between brothers.”

#BridgeofPeace by Filipino artist Roger Tibon @ #DorasanPeacePark #DemilitarizedZone

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It was almost 1pm when we were done at the Peace Park. We were brought for lunch at a Korean buffet restaurant that costs 7,000-won for adults and 5,000-won for children. My older son loves spicy Korean food so it wasn’t a problem for us. My younger son got himself a lot of kim and rice and apple.

Our next stop was at the Third Tunnel. We deposited our things in the lockers provided. No cameras are allowed but you can bring your cellphone. The brief orientation and instructions was conducted by a Filipina staff. She had been working there for 7 years already. Interesting, eh?

There are helmets for visitors’ use before going down the tunnel. It is important that you wear one!

Helmets at the #3rdTunnel #DMZ Korea

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We had around 20 minutes left after coming out of the tunnel so we went around and took the usual tourist photos around the Third Tunnel grounds. We watched a brief video about the secret tunnels dug up by the North Koreans through the years. So far, there are only 4 tunnels discovered. Who knows if there are more? Or if they are secretly digging more. Amazing how South Korea has turned the Third Tunnel location into a tourist attraction, considering the danger it represents.

The 3rd Tunnel

Our last stop was the Dora Observatory. It was here where my sons got really excited. LeRuof kept on saying, “I see North Korea!” and DeFourth “Why is the North Korean flag bigger than the South Korean flag?” Indeed, from where we stood the North Korean flag stands on a taller and bigger pole. An important symbolism for the North Korean government to show its people that it is bigger and mightier?

This is the view of North Korea from the Dora Observatory. What lies behind those mountains? I shudder at the thought. I remember the details written by Kang Chol-Hwan in his book “The Aquariums of Pyongyang”.

What’s in there? #NorthKorea from the #doraobservatory

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It was time for us to go home.

Before we boarded the train to Seoul, we looked around the small Unification Platform, a sad but hopeful little structure that will forever remind local and foreign tourists of the painful past.

Dorasan Unification Platform

There are a few remaining families whose pain is real with this division but that generation is coming to an end. Yet, the counter that monitors the division continues at the Unification Platform:

Indeed, when will the counter end? Will it ever end?

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11 thoughts on “Taking a Peek at North Korea from Korea’s DMZ

  1. I’ve always wanted to go to Korea both North and South! Thank you for sharing this, I learned a lot. Just want to ask, what travel insurance do you usually get when to fly abroad?

    1. Hi Kath, thanks for your reply. I don’t know about travel insurance. If any, my husband handles this kind of thing. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  2. I’m so glad you had the chance to go see the DMZ. It’s definitely eye-opening and sad. We went as part of a group tour to a different part of the DMZ – Eulji Observatory and the 1st infiltration tunnel. Super interesting. The train sounds like an awesome alternative option though.

    1. There’s also a 1st tunnel tour? Interesting! The train option is ideal for those who don’t like to be with group tours. We only did the necessary tour options when we arrived at Dorasan Station.

  3. I really want to go here! Thanks for this very detailed story. I will literally follow yours steps. Most of the tours I’ve seen are not available on Mondays (which is my only day off). Is Korail DMZ train available the whole week?
    Karla recently posted..Letters from North KoreaMy Profile

    1. It doesn’t seem to operate on Mondays and National Holidays. I hope you’ll get to do it before you leave Korea, Karla:-).

  4. It is interesting how they’ve turned parts of the DMZ area into tourist attractions. So much of the stuff there is so cute…like the soldier statues. Really not very intimidating are they? Good thing the soldiers from the North can’t see them. The whole situation is so sad and so terrible, and I feel awful for the North Koreans who are suffering under that regime. Some of the stories I’ve read about what happens up there are too painful to contemplate. 🙁
    Shelley recently posted..Venice Carnevale: A Winter Day Trip from PadovaMy Profile

    1. I agree. Korea has done a good job in making this place touristy. I have read 2 books by 2 North Korean defectors and their experiences are just too sad.

  5. It’s been ages since I’ve been to the DMZ. I wish I’d known about the Korail option. I went with a tour company. So we were on their schedule. Your pics are great! It’s really worth it to go see at least once. Who knows how long the DMZ will last? I’m glad you had so much fun!
    kissmykimchi recently posted..KMK: Ultimate Frisbee KoreaMy Profile

    1. You can always go back using the Korail option:-) it’s been 71 years, 8 months and 16 days on the day we were there. Unbelievable for families separated by this division!

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