Anyeong hasyeo, Readers!
First thing first, let me wish you a happy new year! (although it was kind of very very late).
Forgive my another procrastination phase which takes me some time to update the itinerary of my last trip to South Korea.
So, here is the third post, and mostly about Demilitarized Zone in Imjingak and Dorasan.
Day 3: Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
What is DMZ?
DMZ is a border to divide the Korean Peninsula into South and North Korea. In accordance with the ceasefire (Korean Armistice Agreement) which has been signed in 1953, the DMZ serves as a buffer zone between South and North Korea to prevent direct military collisions. It spans between the Southern and Northern limit lines. The Southern Limit Line extends from Imjingang River in the west to Dongho-ri in the east. From the Military Demarcation Line, the South and the North created a buffer zone of two kilometers on each side. Because of the high risk of military conflicts in the area, a phase line was established to control civilian access.
As the consequence (due to above mentioned restrictions), which have been in place for the last fifty years, have helped the ecological resources in the area to remain in an untouched state. As a result, the DMZ is also a unique natural ecosystem, one that is globally acknowledged for its ecological value.
How to get there?
Actually, it depends on which part of DMZ you want to visit. There are Imjingak and Dorasan (which is the ‘closest’ area to Seoul), and Joint Security Area/Panmunjeom of which you are really really really on the de facto border between South Korea and North Korea. There, in Panmunjeom, you will see the South and North Korean soldiers literally stand face-to-face with one another. While in the Dorasan and Imjingak, you will see some commemorate monuments of Korean War and the 3rd tunnel – a 1,632m tunnel dug by the North Koreans, from which they could pass through into Seoul within an hour and invade.
At first, I was in such dilemma whether I would buy a package tour that visits both for the 3rd tunnel and JSA, or only go to Imjingak and Dorasan. But then, after I look thoroughly about my time and plans, then I decided to visit Imjingak and Dorasan only. (Who knows that I will have another time in the future to visit JSA, right?)
There will be 2 (two) ways of reaching Imjingak and Dorasan: 1) buy a package tour from the travel agency which may cost you around KRW 40,000 – 50,000, or 2) do it by yourself (or probably not literally by yourself as you will be guarded strictly by the South Korean soldiers and only one DMZ train passes during a day). But, this surely will cost you way more cheaper! As I quite concern about the money I spend, therefore I decided to arrange it by myself. And I was more confident after I read so many reviews on the websites which explain that it is still possible to do the visit without the tour travel agency.
So, to visit Imjingak and Dorasan, what you need to do is getting on a DMZ train. You can buy the DMZ train ticket directly in Seoul Station (KORAIL locket), or you can just take a train to Munsan Station, then buy the DMZ train ticket there.
If you decide the later, which is going to Munsan Station, then you need to take ‘Gyeongui line‘ (경의 라인) in Seoul station. Seoul Station is connected with 3 sub stations; Airport railroad, Metro No.1 and Gyeongui line. It may be hard to find Gyeongui line for the first time, as it is located ‘outside’ the Seoul Station line. But, thanks to the direction board which is very clear and also written in both Alphabet and Hangul. If you follow them carefully, then you won’t get lost!
If you have the T-money card, what you need to do is just tap-in and tap-out. But in case you don’t have one, then you need to buy a regular ticket. The cost from Seoul Station to Munsan Station is 3,000KRW with the length of journey is around 1.30 hours. Get off at the Munsan Station and purchase a DMZ train ticket for Munsan – Dorasan (DMZ) – Munsan, which costs 10,000KRW. Please be aware that the DMZ train only passes one time a day, of which from Munsan Station will depart at 10.31AM. Also, don’t forget to bring your passport with you!
Along with your Munsan – Dorasan bound route tickets, you also need to fill in a form, states that you agree to follow all the instructions while you are in DMZ area, and you also understand that South Korea and North Korea is technically still at war, thus if there would be a sudden attack, you must be prepared with all the consequences. Once you step in the DMZ train, then the train crews will check your tickets, your form and your passport. Then you can relax for ~15 minutes before the train reaches Imjingak Station.
At the Imjingak Station, you need to get off and follow the checking procedure which is directly led by the South Korean military soldiers. Here, they count the passengers and check your passport again. Once the checking procedure is finished, your journey will be continued to Dorasan Station. At the Dorasan Station, you will purchase a DMZ tour ticket which costs 8,900KRW. Later, you will be divided into several groups which belong to different bus tour. At this point, you will be directly guided by South Korean soldier! As the start of your tour, then your first stop would be Dorasan Peace Park. The park was built to pass a strong message to the young generations in South Korea to respect their history and to always make a peaceful environment.
Here, you can see a peace monument, some artistic work that symbolizes of two brothers whom hand in hand building a bridge, some photographs during the Korean War (which I also spotted Marylin Monroe’s photograph who entertained the US and South Korean troops in 1954), and a wall of which you can leave your message.
Afterwards, you will be taken to visit the Dorasan Observatory Deck to hear some explanations about the Korean War and the DMZ area. Be prepared, that your guide will be a South Korean soldier whom speaks only Korean language. I was lucky that at least I ever heard some Korean languages from Kdramas, plus I also met two Korean girls in the same bus as mine whom can speak English fluently, thus they helped me to explain further. From here, you can load 500KRW coin to an observatory and see the North Korea’s border closer. On the following photo, if you could see the tower, it is the Joint Security Area, which is nearby the abandoned village called Panmunjeom. Also, if you could see the mountains and some white buildings over there, they are already the region of North Korea. Nearby the South Korea border, there is a shoes factory owned by the North Korea. I have no idea, why they have such a business runs nearby the DMZ area.
After the Dorasan Observatory Deck, then your journey will be continued to see the 3rd tunnel. Inside the 3rd tunnel, you are prohibited to take any photograph. Please be aware that you might be walking in small tunnel with low light, low ceiling and up-and-down walking path. I thought this might be hard for someone who has claustrophobia. Thank God that I don’t have one, also I have my new Korean friends to talk with during the trip, thus I quite enjoyed it.
After seeing the Dorasan Peace Park, Dorasan Observatory Deck and 3rd Tunnel, all the tourists will be taken to the Dorasan Station. Here, your DMZ train will bring you back to Imjingak Station. You will be given ~2 hours to explore Imjingak. In Imjingak, you can spot some monuments to commemorate the soldiers and ministers who died during the Korean War, some planes, trains, tanks left from the Korean war, and Nuri Peace Park. I must say that 2 hours is not enough to enjoy everything there, as the place is filled by a lot of histories. Nuri Peace Park, decorated by hundreds of wind mill papers which creates a shape of South Korea land.
Me, posed in front of the hanging ribbons which contains beautiful wishes, either for those who have passed or those who lives. May your sorrow be eased and may your bright happiness ever be increased!
Around 16.40, my DMZ train departed back to Munsan Station. A visit to DMZ is a no doubt an eye-opener to those who are interested to history and current affairs. Although I only visited Imjingak and Dorasan, I could still feel the tense of history between South Korea and North Korea, and later how South Korea managed to stand up after such a catastrophic era in Korean War. Really, it was only 50 years away from the Korean War, but seeing how South Korea developed themselves, I am so impressed. I imagined that it must be interesting to visit JSA/Panmunjeom from North Korea as well, thus you might have two perspectives. By then, my DMZ trip is wrapped beautifully with a pose that I made together with new Korean friends. Hope that someday we could meet each other again.
Note: Travel expense for DMZ (Total 22,800KRW):
- Itaewon Station – Seoul Station: 900KRW
- Seoul Station – Munsan Station: 3,000KRW
- DMZ Train Ticket (Munsan-Dorasan-Munsan): 10,000KRW
- DMZ Tour Ticket: 8,900KRW