DMZ

Last Saturday we went on a tour of the DMZ with the USO. Our tickets cost 92,400 won per person, but it was worth it. Our itinerary for the day was:

  • 5:30am – Left for the Dangjin bus terminal
  • 6:00am – Left for Seoul
  • 7:30am – Arrived at the Express Bus Terminal
  • 8:00am – Found the USO and then went to find breakfast
  • 8:30am – Checked in at the USO
  • 9:00 – 10:00am – Rode a bus to the 3rd Tunnel
Before touring the 3rd Tunnel our tour guide took us through a small museum about the area. Tourists cannot take bags into the 3rd tunnel or cameras, but they provide free lockers. We were given yellow hard hats to wear on our 450 meter descent. The tunnel was smaller than I was expecting. Two people could walk side by side through most of the tunnel. The ceiling was low, even I had to duck (with the helmet on I was probably 5’7″).   We walked single file to the 3rd barricade where we could look through a window to see the 2nd barricade, and then we turned around and exited the same way we came.
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  •  11:00am – Left for the Dora Observatory
At the Dora Observatory our tour guide pointed out the only two villages in the DMZ and their flag poles. She told us that when the South Korean village built a new taller flag pole, the North Koreans built an even bigger pole. The tallest building in the North Korean village is mostly empty. It serves to entice South Koreans to defect to the north.
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You can take pictures, but you have to stand behind the yellow line painted on the ground. I learned the reason for this is that there is a military base nearby and they don’t want anyone taking pictures of it.
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  • 11:53am – Arrived at Dorasan Station
Dorasan Station is the last station before the DMZ. It was built as an international train station in hopes that one day the north will allow trains to pass through North Korea. If South Korea could do this, then it would only take 10 days to ship products to/from Europe instead of 30 days by sea. We bought post cards and had them stamped at the station.
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  • 12:30pm – Ate lunch at a Korean restaurant
The restaurant was more like a cafeteria for South Korean workers who work in the DMZ. Hyundai has a factory in the DMZ and employs many North Koreans and about 800 South Koreans.
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  • 1:10 – Left for Camp Bonifas
We were briefed at Camp Bonifas, and we signed a waiver so we could tour the Joint Security Area (JSA). We then boarded a different bus to go to the JSA, and we had a new tour guide who was an Army Private. He did a great job and told us many interesting facts and stories about the JSA. When we arrived we all exited the bus and then went in a building and lined up in two lines. There were about 50 people in our tour group. I imagine the tour guide’s feelings are similar to the feelings that I have when trying to line up my kindergarteners. It’s amazing how some people don’t/can’t listen to simple instructions! Our group was pretty good for the most part thankfully.
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While we waited for our turn in one of the buildings where they conduct meetings, our tour guide told us about the area and the two North Koreans who were taking our pictures and looking at us through binoculars. We were allowed to take as many pictures as we wanted of the North Korean side. I learned that North Koreans go on a similar tour on their side of the line, and foreigners (except for South Koreans for obvious reasons) can go on tours in North Korea too.
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    After awhile we entered the blue building and crossed over the DMZ line into North Korea. There were two South Korean soldiers in the building for our protection. On the table in the middle of the room there were microphones that record 24/7. Our tour guide told us that North Korean tourists stand barefoot on one of the tables and moon South Korea. There was a footprint on the table from someone who had done that earlier that day!
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  • 2:15pm – Left JSA
We stopped at one point where we got off the bus and were surrounded by North Korea on three sides. From that point we could see the building were the armistice was signed, a North Korean museum, and the Bridge of No Return. We got back on the bus and then drove by the spot where North Koreans attacked soldiers who were cutting down a large tree that obstructed South Korea’s view. We also stopped and looked from the bus at the Bridge of No Return. I learned that 4 Americans have defected to North Korea, and one (Joe Dresnok) is still living there.
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  • 3:30pm – Left to go back to the USO in Seoul
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