Photo: Pinwheel garden at DMZ Museum
Korea is famous for being the only divided country in the world. A once united people, the Korean War, which started on June 25, 1950, and lasted for three years, ended in a ceasefire and a nation divided into North and South Korea.
It may seem the two countries have become so far apart as to be irreparable, but the Korean people long for peace and unification more than anyone else. While the fighting was due to a difference in political ideology, you can see the desire of the Korean people to overcome their sad past at the DMZ, where their hands are stretching out with all their hopes on display.
* What is the DMZ?
DMZ is the abbreviation for the Demilitarized Zone, an area where weapons and fighting, along with military forces are prohibited. The Korean DMZ starts from the ceasefire line and stretches to include the area up to 2km south of that line. For forty years, this area has been strictly off-limits, leading to the formation of an unplanned nature reserve with great value.
Tip) Notes for DMZ tourism
- Most DMZ tourist attractions require proper identification for admission. The type of identification required at each location may vary so it is recommended to carry your passport with you throughout the tour.
- The DMZ is in a civilian restricted area, so the use of public transit is difficult. It is recommended to join a group tour, rent a personal car, or travel by taxi.
* Related page
Photo: Security tourism site near North Korea, Imjingak
Approximately 54km north of Seoul City Hall is Imjingak Resort, a place filled with the unspeakable sorrow of the Korean War. Originally built for the North Korean refugees who fled from the war and later were unable to return to their hometowns, the area is now known as a tourist attraction.
Imjingak Resort aims to stress the importance of peace and the environment through the Gyeonggi Peace Center, the Bridge of Freedom, a relic of the war, the remains of a steam locomotive at Gyeongui Line’s last station, Changdan Station, and more for a comprehensive tourist attraction focused on reunification and national security. From the rooftop of Imjingak, you can see in all directions, with Freedom Bridge and Imjingang River in the foreground and mountains and fields in the far distance. In addition, DMZ NOW Marketing Hall offers information related to the DMZ in not only Korean but also in English, Japanese, and Chinese; walking through the hall is a great way to learn more about this amazing area.
Photo: Mangbaedan Alter (left) / Rusted steam locomotive from the Gyeongui Line (right)
In the main yard of Imjingak is Mangbaedan Alter, a place for displaced North Koreans to mourn the loss of their families, friends, and loved ones due to the war and the separation thereafter. Passing Mangbaedan Alter in the direction of the Bridge of Freedom, you will come upon an old, rusted steam locomotive that previously ran on the Gyeongui Line into what is now North Korea. The train was bombed and derailed during the Korean War, and has remained as it was at the DMZ for half a century. This relic is a reminder of the sad war, but also carries with it a wish for peace.
Photo: Nuri Peace Park
Nuri Peace Park, a vast grassy field, is also located at Imjingak Resort. The park was created to serve as a symbol of the peace and efforts of reunification at Imjingak. Great works of art from famous Korean artists are installed throughout the park. Various events such as performances, exhibitions, movie showings, and more are held at the park as well.
Visitors who wish to learn more about the history of the DMZ and the division with North Korea can sign up for a DMZ Security Tour at the Imjingak Tourist Information Center. Signing up for this bus tour provides an easy and comfortable way to visit some of the difficult-to-reach DMZ tourist attractions, such as Dorasan Station, Dora Observatory and The 3rd Tunnel.
Photo: Dorasan Station
After the 2000 Inter-Korea Summit, restoration construction began on the Gyeongui Line inside the Civilian Controlled Line, leading to the opening of Dorasan Station. In 2002, former United States president Bush gave a speech on the DMZ and signed a crosstie at the station. If the Gyeongui Line is reconnected with the section in North Korea in the future, Dorasan Station would be in charge of customs checks.
Photo: Dora Observatory
Dora Observatory is the northern-most point of the western front, and offers the chance to see Gaeseong Industrial Complex and Songhaksan Mountain in a single view. The observatory is historically important for the fact that the South Korean forces were able to defend this point during the Korean War which led to the cease-fire line being drawn further to the north. The free binoculars present detailed views of North Korea.
Photo: Plaza before The 3rd Tunnel (left) / Weapons used during the Korean War (right)
Created by the Northern forces to invade the south, this man-made tunnel was the third of its kind discovered, and is located 44km from Seoul. A 2m-by-2m tunnel with a length of 1,635m, it is estimated that 3,000 soldiers armed to the teeth and heavy weapons could pass through in the span of one hour. Visitors can either take a bus or walk to The 3rd Tunnel entrance, and then tour the inside of the tunnel until the DMZ; it takes approximately 30 minutes round-trip. All visitors must wear a safety helmet inside the tunnel, and photography is strictly prohibited. Free lockers are provided for the storage of cameras, phones, and other items not needed for the tour.
Located at the entrance of the tunnel is the DMZ Video Hall, showing videos on the history of the division and the natural ecosystem of the area. Also here are exhibits of materials and relics of the DMZ, representative sculptures and souvenir shops.
Photo: Odusan Unification Observatory
Odusan Unification Observatory offers views of both the Hangang River and Imjingang River, which starts in North Korea before flowing down and into the Yellow Sea. Opened in 1992, the observatory has seen countless numbers of visitors every year, all hoping for a glimpse of the daily lives of the North Korean citizenry.
The observatory’s first floor houses a planned exhibition hall, while the second floor is devoted to a video room on North Korea. The third and fourth floors are observation decks where you can see the land of North Korea without the use any far-seeing devices. In addition, you can see a variety of migratory birds, including some designated natural monument wildlife. Odusan Unification Observatory takes pride in the beautiful view of the setting sun, where the rays paint the sky in majestic colors.
Sadly, the exhibition hall and video room are under reconstruction until August and therefore closed to visitors. However, the observatory on 3-4F is still open for visitors to enjoy.
Being located beyond the Civilian Controlled Line, Goseong Unification Observatory and the DMZ Museum located in Goseong, Gangwon-do are inaccessible via public transit following regulations and likewise, the Castle at Hwajinpo (Villa of Kim Ilsung) is difficult to reach by bus. Therefore it is recommended for independent tourists to travel via rental car or taxi. Traveling to the Unification Observatory, DMZ Museum and the Castle at Hwajinpo would take approximately four hours so if you travel by taxi, conferring with the taxi driver and agreeing on a price in advance is necessary.
Photo: North Korean territory seen by the unaided eye
Photo: A tank and combat plane used during the Korean War
Goseong Unification Observatory is the northern-most observatory in the nation, and offers stunning views of Geumgangsan Mountain in North Korea and the beautiful East Sea. Opened in 1983, this tourist attraction draws in around 1.5 million visitors each year.
The first floor exhibits various weapons and equipment used in Korea, ranging from during the Korean War until modern times, as well as large-scale photographs and models of Geumgangsan Mountain, one of Korea’s top three mountains. The northern side of the second floor is entirely comprised of windows, with 120 seats for visitors to comfortably take in the scenic vista of Geumgangsan Mountain and Haegeumgang River. Visitors can also hear the loud broadcasting from North Korea, a tool used in a war of nerves.
Photo: Statue of Buddha wishing for reunification
The observatory also features a multitude of religious sculptures, from a statue of Buddha, to the Virgin Mary and the cross of Christ. Koreans who were separated from family and home come here and fervently pray together for reunification, regardless of their varying beliefs. In addition to these religious figures, the site also displays an armored car, tank, combat plane and other large arms for security education purposes.
Photo: The Korean War Exhibition Hall
Visitors to Goseong Unification Observatory can take part in experiences relating to the Korean War for free at The Korean War Exhibition Hall. The hall is divided into themed rooms, including a video experience room, war experience room, a display room for remains, and a special exhibition room covering the major battles on the eastern coast during the Korean War. Visitors can experience a very real sense of the miserable living people endured in the Korean War through the photos, videos, materials, and remains.
Photo: DMZ Museum exterior
Photo: Exhibit inside DMZ Museum (left) / Propaganda used in North Korea’s psychological warfare (right)
The DMZ Museum displays reconstructed materials and videos on a wide range of topics, from the image of Korea before and after the war, the historical meaning of the cease-fire line and the pain of a single people being divided, to the ecosystem of the DMZ. The exhibitions are divided into four zones: “The Unblessed Birth,” “The Inheritance of Cold War Continues,” “But DMZ is Still Alive” and “DMZ, the Land that Dreams Again.” The major display items are leaflets used during the Korean War, letters from soldiers, weapons and empty cartridges. The video theater also showcases short clips on the history of the DMZ, the captured natural landscape and more.
Tip) Need-to-know Info for Unification Observatory and DMZ Museum
Photo: Admission registration for Unification Observatory (left) / sample admission form (center) / Vehicle admission pass (right)
Photo: Exterior of the Castle at Hwajinpo
Photo: Interior realistically decorated as used by Kim Il-sung (left) / View of the East Sea from the window of Kim Il-sung’s villa (right)
The villa of Kim Il-sung, the former leader of North Korea and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un, is perhaps better known as the Castle of Hwajinpo. The villa was used as a summer retreat home by high officials in the communist party from 1948 to 1950. There is a prolific photograph taken in 1948 of Kim Jong-il, father of Kim Jong-un, at the age of six years standing on the stairs leading up to the castle.
The interior of the castle has been decorated in items from the time it was used by the leaders of North Korea. Historical photographs of the villa and the Kim family give a sense of home to this place. Other items on display include the receiving set used by the Kim family, and other various relics of their lives.
* Related pages
Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) Tours
* This column was last updated in June 2016, and therefore some information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check the websites before visiting.
<Last updated on June 8, 2016>