What we didn’t know about the DMZ

I’ve heard stories about North Koreans trying to escape their country – crawling on minefields, lurking on muddy rivers, and risking their lives in hopes for re-acquaintance and freedom; however, I couldn’t exactly stitch the details and visualize it as it is told. My imagination was boxed by the images broadcast by several media. Luckily, last year, the Local Immigration Office organized a DMZ tour for foreigners residing in Chuncheon and that trip broadened my knowledge and understanding towards the North-South Korea relations. As this was a guided tour with permit to enter the following areas: 2nd tunnel and Cheorwon Peace Observatory – I may not be able to share information on how to get there. From what I have observed, it seemed impossible to go there alone as you may need to obtain permit. Please refer to other blogs for such query.

Cheorwon

Cheorwon - Dream for Unity

Cheorwon – Dream for Unity

It took as more than an hour by bus from Chuncheon to Cheorwon. Cheorwon is one of the cities you can go to be as closest to the North. Surprisingly, despite the threats we hear from the media, the city is attempting to bloom as a tourist destination offering activities such as hiking and water rafting. Just a few meters walk away from the parking lot, we were taken into a hidden paradise – Goseokjung! The scenery was breathtaking. It was a perfect spot for meditation and/or relaxation.

We were allowed to play on the sand bar down below; however, since it was a breezy winter morning, we just took a few photos and rushed back to our bus. The plane you’ll see on the photo below is one of the many military vehicles being displayed at the parking area. Truth be told, it gives you chills and excitement at the same time!

We ate lunch on a restaurant along the highway. After that, we started traversing the road leading to the DMZ. There were a few stopovers where a fully armed military man enters our bus to check our permit and count how many of us were entering the vicinity. As our bus were full of foreigners, the military guys often feel stressed. Fortunately, our guide tried to make the atmosphere light by asking girls from our crowd to serve our snacks to them and telling them that they’re doing a great job! 🙂 Apart from that, every now and then, we see a convoy of more than 20 military tanks passing right beside us.

We passed by several empty farming plots on our way to our second destination: 2nd infiltration tunnel. We were told that this tunnel was built by the North Korean soldiers to provide passage for perhaps an ambush to the South Korean military. The interior of the tunnel is distinctly spacious. Like most Korean cultural relic, this tunnel is well maintained. After an approximately 3 kilometers walk was the dead-end. The dead-end looked like a lobby. It was a spacious area with a wishing pond (yes, the ones where you throw coins at from a certain point), a huge television, row of chairs, and a gate with a sign that says ‘No Entry’. Our guide were scaring us that this dead-end is only 1 kilometer away from North Korea and that a gun is facing right at us at the other side. She also told us that a gun shot when fired can reach as far as 800 meters. Thus, we should be careful not to act suspicious on location.

Our next stop was the Cheorwon Peace Observatory. It was the most awaited destination as this is the place where you are able to see a part of North Korea with your naked eyes or through telescopic lenses, if you want. Using the binoculars will allow you to see NK’s military posts. I tried it. I also tried taking a photo towards that area; however, it felt like someone was aiming a shotgun at me! Too much chills for the day! First, we entered the building and watched a video showing a brief history of the Korean War and the latter parts introducing the places that we are able to see in the panoramic landscape outside.

Right outside the observatory you’ll see a Catholic church, a Protestant church, and a place for Buddhist for the military.

Everyone got tired after all the hiking made at the tunnel and on our way to the observatory. We thought that the observatory was the last place we’d visit but we were wrong. We went to two more historic places around the area – Former Cheorwon Office of the Workers’ Party of Korea…

and the Old Woljeong-ni Station. Right beside the station is a wax museum of animals thriving on the vast area of DMZ. Majority of which are cranes and they are the most photographed subject there. Cranes were believed to be a symbol of serenity and peace. Hopefully, the growing number of cranes will signify a growing peace and unification process between North and South Korea.

 

 

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