The DMZ (demilitarised zone) in Korea marks the territory between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). I’m not a big fan of organised tours. However, sometimes, they are a necessity. This was certainly the case when we wanted to visit the DMZ. You can’t just rock up and take a few photos. You have to go with a tour group and have your passport checked before entering.
The day itself was interesting and some parts have actually become quite “touristy”. Upon arriving, all visitors are made to watch an eight-minute video showing images of the war and the brutality between North and South Korea. Weirdly, though, it’s accompanied by some music which belongs in a computer game like Commandos. The latter part of the video talks about the beauty and peace of the DMZ, with animals living in natural habitats and it being a place of peace for visitors.
After the video, you are able to go underground to the tunnels. The tunnels were dug by North Korea after the DMZ was set up. The plan was to dig their way back into South Korea. They were discovered and have since been blocked. Now you can go into the tunnels and see the wall blocking the tunnel as well as the marks made by the North Koreans which were presumably there to put bombs in.
The next part was, in my opinion, the most interesting. We went to an observatory from where you can see North Korea and their huge flag from the infamous “flag war“. The countryside is beautiful, and you can see towns and even a city in the distance. You can rent binoculars to look closer. There is one small town on the horizon where all the houses are painted turquoise. It’s so close, and you look at the cities across, realising that people are living their daily lives there. Do they know we look over with intrigue? That 100s of people a day, from all over the world, come to gaze from a distance at their livelihood?
Our last stop of the day was at the Dorasan train station. A new train station which, so South Koreans hope, will one day connect North and South Korea. From there, they train could go forth to China and to the rest of the world. The station was used once in recent times, for about a year, when some workers from the South worked in a factory which was built in the North. The factory closed down because South Korea wanted to pay the North Korean workers, but the North Korean government said they’d take the money and pay the workers themselves. The South Korean factory owners didn’t quite like the sound of that.
It was a strange kind of day. An odd blend of tourism mixed with history and the reality of a very serious matter. War lives on in this country, and they are waiting for the day when the North tries to claim the South. It was just one week before we visited when North Korea carried out its fifth nuclear test. “Tensions are high” our tour guide explained. I learnt a lot about the history of Korea and how the divide between the North and South came about. Our tour guide said she hopes for a united and peaceful Korea one day.