North Korea is swiftly gaining attention from the world with U.S. President Trump agreeing to hold a summit with Kim Jong-un.
Congruently, more foreign tourists are visiting the Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ, to get a glimpse of the scars and wounds of the Korean War. Let’s visit the site to learn more about Korean history.
The DMZ tour begins in central Seoul every morning. What compelled these non-Koreans to join this tour?
"My expections for this tour arehopefully to see..to have a good view of North Korea and to learn a little bit more about what life is like for them, and also to learn a little bit more about history of North and South Korea."
The DMZ is a buffer zone established in 1953 when the Armistice Agreement was signed, along the north and south of the Military Demarcation Line, 2km into North Korea and 2km into South Korea.
The first destination is Imjingak Pavilion in Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do ( , ) Province, about an hour drive from Seoul. Only 7km from the ceasefire line, it is the railroad disconnection point between South and North Korea.
This place is also dubbed the “hometown for displaced people” due to the close proximity to the North. Here, they perform ancestral rites by bowing toward their hometowns every New Year's Day and Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving.
Behind the Mangbaedan Memorial Alter is the Bridge of Freedom, which 13,000 South Korean prisoners crossed to return home during the war.
"Keeping the bridge here is unbelievable, so that we can hear the story and know what occured here and that we can learn from it, and not resort back to the past of what happened."
North Korea conducted numerous provocations even after the ceasefire in 1953. The four underground tunnels they built for secret forays into the South are prime examples.
The Third Tunnel, in particular, was deemed to be the most threatening as an invasion tool due to its proximity to the capital; only 52km north of Seoul or a 45-minute drive by car.
Spanning over 1,635m in length, 2m in width, and 2m in height, it is estimated that approximately 30,000 soldiers could move through the tunnel per hour.
"It's really nice to experience for this first hand to see exactly what it looks like and to actually see how many times the North try infiltrate into the South, to see the history how close they are to one another."
The next stop is the Dora Observatory at the northernmost point of the Military Demarcation Line where visitors can catch a rare glimpse of North Korea through binoculars. How do foreign visitors feel, seeing North Korea in person? The North Korean flag catches the eye. South Korea also has its giant flag on its side, and they are known to be the tallest flagpoles in the respective countries.
Although the Korean War was suspended 65 years ago, tension and peace still coexist in the area.
"Its history is still going on, as a history major it's interesting and fascinating to see. There's no movement you don't see this where we come from."
The last destination is Dorasan Station, the only international station across the nation. It was once a route for freight trains with industrial supplies traveling into the North but now a tourist train running once a day. The station is one of many symbols of Korea's separation, but it also reflects the hopes for a successful reunification. It’s currently the last station toward the north, but it will eventually be the first one on the northern side when the railways are connected.
How did the foreign visitors enjoy the DMZ tour?
"It's a very interesting tour, very sad to see separation between two the Koreas when obviously they should be together, wish them the best of luck but I'm not very sure if it's gonna be done in our life time."
The DMZ vividly captures the scars and wounds of the Korean War as well as the wishes and hopes for the future. Hopefully, it will turn into a symbol of peace for the Korean people sooner than we think.