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:
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.
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.
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:
- Third Tunnel with monorail
- 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.
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.”
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!
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.
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”.
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.
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?