My visit to South Korea paved the way for me to tick off another item off my bucket list. I have secretly longed to visit North Korea. However, that is utterly impossible given the country’s current state. Joining a DMZ tour courtesy of VVIP Tours gave me a taste of Korean history. Tumultuous as it was, it was definitely worth doing as it provided a better understanding how the South Korea and North Korea came to be.
My pick-up time was scheduled at 7:30 AM outside City Hall Subway Station. I arrived thirty minutes early because I didn’t want to miss the tour bus. As soon as I stepped out from the station though, I had to get back underground quickly as I was unable to stand the cold.
Five minutes before 7:30 AM, I was back up and saw the big pretty bus parked along the curb. A nice lady stepped out and approached a guy who I guessed was also joining the tour. I approached to confirm if it was for the tour. She herded me to the bus as soon as confirming that it was the DMZ tour and that my name was on the guest list. After picking up all the guests, we headed north as our tour guide by the name of Michelle began her tale.
Imjingak Park was the first stop of our tour. As soon as I stepped off the bus, the cool wind hit me. Though it was mid-morning, it more felt like dawn as the weather was more biting. I was unable to explore the whole area as we were only given under 20 minutes. However, that was a welcome change after sitting in the bus for more than an hour.
In English, Imjingak means ‘resort’ which was appropriate since the place had a wide free space, monuments and statues pertaining to the Korean War. Though for me that is something uncelebratory, the park serves as a reminder that peace can still be attained if we would work on it. The park was said to be built for those people who were unable to go back to their families after the war.
I tried to cover as much area as I can and I saw that there was a restaurant, an observation deck, a pool in the shape of the Korean peninsula, and a small amusement park. I wanted to do some people-watching but it was time to return to the bus.
After getting to know a little about Korean War, we headed next to the DMZ Museum. The museum not just showcases war memorabilia but it also had an exhibition hall, multi-purpose center, ecological pond, rest area and broadcast facilities. There’s also a museum shop and a theater where short films about the war are shown to the guests.
DMZ Underground Tunnel
This was the highlight of the tour, or so our guide said. And it turns out she was right. While we were on the bus enroute to the tunnels, we were informed that while Imjingak Park is in the outskirts of the DMZ, the Tunnels of Aggression lies exactly within the Demilitarized Zone. That thought alone made me excited to actually see how the underground tunnel looked like.
I guess due to security concerns, we were not allowed to bring cameras of any kind. As I am a follower of rules, I didn’t capture any photos no matter how much I wanted to preserve the experience in my memory. We were warned that those who have heart conditions, limited walking capacity or were claustrophobic should take precaution in participating in the underground walking tour.
Here in Dorasan Observatory was where I was able to get a glimpse of North Korea. During the tour we were briefed that what we were seeing was just a propaganda village – meaning there was not an actual village where townsfolk actually reside and make a living. On the South Korean side of the border, there is an actual farming village where locals truly thrive.
Dorasan Train Station
Our knowledgeable tour guide Michelle’s closing remarks were about the hope of a reunification between the two Koreas. It is in this regard that the Dorasan Station was established though there really used to be a railway connecting the North and South. Eventually, South Korea is foreseeing connecting Asia to Europe via this station.
This was our last stop. We were allowed to go inside the train station. Guests can also go inside the internal platform for KRW 1000 to take photos of the other side of the platform. The station appeared like an actual functioning customs border. There were ticket booths, bag scanners and pasesnger terminals. It looked more like an airport than a train station actually. I chose to stay just inside and explore the station and wondered then that if the two Koreas will be one again, it will definitely be historically moving. I hope I can witness that in my lifetime. Who doesn’t want a peaceful world right?