Peace & Pastoral Monuments:
Legacies of the
Korean War in Panmunjeom, Imjingak & Cheorwon
The USO Tours by Koridoor runs popular and cheap
tours to Panmunjeom/DMZ. The tour is open to both servicemen
and civilians alike. The tour costs US$80 or 96,000
won for civilians and US$40 or 48,000 won for servicemen.
Be sure to make your reservations in advance. For more
information, call (02) 6383-2570.
Travel Bureau Panmunjom Travel Center also run tours
to Panmunjeom. Both cost 77,000 won, and both leave
from the downtown Lotte Hotel. For more information,
call Korean Travel Bureau at (02) 778-0150 or Panmunjom
Travel Center at (02) 771-5593.
Chung Ang Express's
tour to Panmunjom costs 77,000 won and leaves from the downtown Lotte Hotel. For more information, call
Finally, the International
Cultural Service Club's Panmunjeom leaves from downtown
Lotte Hotel and costs 78,000 won. For more information,
call (02) 755-0073.
Cosmojin Tour is providing diverse tour services for VIPs from all of the world who visit Korea such as prime ministers, politicians, CEOs from global companies, and celebrities from various fields. Cosmojin Tour offer DMZ Tour for 38,000 won as special price only on website.(www.cosmojin.com/eng) and Panmunjeom(JSA) for 77,000 won, especially on Thursday 70,000 won! For more information, call (02) 318-0345.
For more information on the travel agencies offering
DMZ tours, click!
|It’s often said that the Korean Demilitarized
Zone, or DMZ, is the most dangerous place on Earth. This distinction
is probably technically true - the mountains and hillsides on both
sides of the 4km strip of land separating the two Koreas bristles
with troops, guard posts, tanks, missile, bunkers, gun emplacements,
land mines and other tools of death and destruction. A one-hole
golf course at a military base in Panmunjeom, the truce village
that has come to symbolize the world’s last Cold War frontier,
warns not to retrieve balls from a fairway lined by land mines -
once designated as the “world’s most dangerous golf course.”
the DMZ is perhaps the supreme irony in a land of ironies. As you
gaze out upon the DMZ from Checkpoint 3 of Panmunjeom’s Joint Security
Area, your attention is drawn not to the rare opportunity to peek
into mysterious North Korea, the North Korean soldiers perched on
the watchtower nearby, or your chances of survival in a sudden (and
highly unlikely) re-opening of hostilities. Instead, you’re captivated
by the supreme tranquility - the quiet, the lush green hillsides,
the rare birds swooping into untouched marshlands. Here, at the
most militarized border on the planet, you feel completely at peace.
The DMZ stretches some 248 kilometers across the Korean
Peninsula from the mouth of the Imjin River in the west to the town
of Goseong in the east. The demilitarized zone itself, where human
activity has been greatly limited for the last half-century, has
become one of Asia’s greatest nature preserves. In the sparsely
populated hinterlands just outside the zone, where it seems soldiers
outnumber civilians, you can find both towering monuments to battles
won and derelict ruins that stand witness to the tragedy of war.
No one can properly take in the entire DMZ area over the course
of a single weekend, but if you’re in Seoul, the peace village
of Panmunjeom, the touching Imjingak park and the beautiful mountains
and rivers of Cheorwon offer the traveler a real glimpse of the
history and culture of this most uniquely Korean tourist destination.
→ Find out more!
Last Cold War Frontier
|With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Panmunjeom
became the world’s last remaining outpost where democracy and communism
stare at each other in the face in a tense standoff, pregnant with
political and historic meaning. Improved inter-Korean relations
as of late have reduced the atmosphere of tension in Panmunjeom
considerably, but the men standing guard on Freedom’s Frontier,
as the DMZ is called, aren’t taking it easy. Civilians cannot enter
the DMZ without prior permission, and tourists can visit Panmunjeom
only as part of organized group tours. Even then, visitors must
follow strict dress codes and, above all, follow closely the instructions
of official guides, who are usually US soldiers.
from Seoul first take you along Freedom Road, the flat and straight
highway connecting the capital with the DMZ. The buses eventually
reach the Imjingang River, crossed by the Unification Bridge. This
is the end of the line for most civilians. If you’re with a tour
group, however, you’ll pass through an army checkpoint at the southern
end of the bridge and cross into the Civilian Limit Zone and, a
bit beyond that, the Joint Security Area, or JSA.
first stop on the tour is Camp Bonifas (named after a US soldier
who was axed to death in the JSA in 1974), a large South Korean
military installation that serves as the base camp of the United
Nations Command Security Force-Joint Security Area. For most of
post-Korean War history, the southern side of the JSA was jointly
patrolled, but since 2004, it has been entrusted exclusively to
the South Koreans (although a small contingent of Western, mostly
American, troops remain). At the camp, you’ll be briefed (usually
by a US officer) on the history and regulations of the JSA. There,
you can also check out the short par-3, one-hole golf course on
the base premises - just don’t expect to retrieve your golf balls.
It’s another short bus ride to the JSA. About 400 meters
past Camp Bonifas, you come to a double-barbed wire fence manned
by South Korean soldiers. This fence, which continues almost unbroken
for the entire breadth of the Korean Peninsula, marks the start
of the DMZ. Pass the fence, and it’s like entering a completely
different planet. Vegetation grows lush and, outside the bus, the
scenery is eerily peaceful and, frankly, spooky. Some of the land
is cultivated by the villagers of Daeseong-dong, the only civilian
habitation in the southern half of the DMZ (villagers are given
more than $80,000 USD per year and are exempt from taxation and
military service). But by and large, the only things that move are
the birds - protected from human activity for a half century, the
DMZ has become a habitat for many species of wild birds.
The Joint Security Area itself is iconic, especially if you’ve
seen Park Chan-wook’s 2000 film, “JSA.” This small cluster of
buildings - some impressive, some humble - was born in 1953 following
the signing of the Armistice Agreement (“ending” the Korean War)
in the actual village of Panmunjeom, which was located about 800
meters to the north but has since disappeared. The JSA - widely
referred to as “Truce Village” - was used for regular meetings
between North Korean and UN military officials (the Military Armistice
Committee, or MAC) to supervise the implementation of the armistice.
It is now used primarily for inter-Korean meetings.
JSA is split down the middle by the Military Demarcation Line (MDL),
the actual “border” between North and South Korea. On the southern
side are the impressive Freedom House and Peace House, which aside
from being splendid pieces of modern Korean architecture, are also
used for inter-Korean meetings. On the northern side of the MDL
is the Panmungak, a gray Stalinist structure which, our guides will
point out, is probably smaller than it actually appears. Soldiers
from both sides stare down visitors and each other. Between the
two borders is the sky-blue MAC building built in the 60s, where
with a guide, you may briefly cross over into North Korean territory
(permissible ONLY within the building).
Near the buildings
is a highpoint called Checkpoint 3. From here, you get a sweeping
vista of the DMZ. The tranquility of it all is unnerving. Who’d
imagine that surrounding this beautiful stretch of untouched nature
is one of the largest concentrations of military force in the history
of man? In the near distance, in the North Korean Potemkin village
of Kijong-dong, is home to the world’s tallest flag post (160 meters),
flying the world’s largest flag.
Find out more! Panmunjeom
Shrine to the Displaced
you’re into traveling alone, or want to forego the Panmunjeom tour,
Imjingak is worth a visit. The closest thing most South Koreans
can get to the DMZ without special permission from the government,
the Imjingak is a park overlooking the Imjingang River - literally
a shrine to national division. Major landmarks include an altar
where families originally from the North come to perform ancestral
rites (usually performed in one’s ancestral hometown) on the Korean
holidays, an observatory and Freedom Bridge, the hastily constructed
bridge where some 130,000 South Korean and Allied POWs crossed to
return home at the end of the Korean War. You may also purchase
North Korean goods or eat North Korean food at some of the park’s
shops and restaurants.
Getting to Imjingak couldn’t be
easier - hourly commuter trains now go directly to Imjingak from
Find out more! Imjingak
Amidst the Ruins of War
|More adventurous souls can also visit the small
town of Cheorwon, some two hours northeast of Seoul. Once a sizable
town and major railway stop commanding the Geumhwa Valley, Cheorwon
was literally obliterated during the Korean War - brutal frontline
warfare that earned its name, “The Iron Triangle.” Today, Old
Cheorwon is now either overgrown or has been developed into rice
paddies - it’s never quite recovered although there’s a small
downtown built nearby - but there are a number of inspiring war
memorials in the area (especially the obelisk commemorating the
particularly bloody fighting for White Horse Hill) and a few ruins
that testify to the horrors of war and tragedy of national division.
The most notable of these are the ruins of the old Korean
Workers Party office. An impressive three-story Soviet-style building
made entirely of concrete, the building was built in 1946 - when
Cheorwon was under North Korean control - as the regional headquarters
of the North Korean ruling party, the Korean Workers Party. Now,
only its bullet and shell-scarred exterior remains. Like the burnt-out
shells of churches left standing in post-war Germany, these bombed-out
ruins are a moving reminder of its shattered past.
interesting site is Seungil-gyo Bridge, which crosses the Hantangang
River several kilometers from the ruins (a short bus ride from the
small town of Dongsong-eup). Look carefully, and you’ll notice
the two halves of the bridge are different: either North Koreans
started building the bridge before the war and South Koreans finished
it; or the Japanese started it before Liberation in 1945 and the
US Army finished it to transport men and supplies to the front during
the war. Even the name is curious: seemingly combining the names
of the first presidents of South and North Korea (Rhee Syngman
and Kim Il-sung), the bridge was likely named for a South Korean
officer, Colonel Park Seung-il, who was killed during the war. Now,
somewhat incongruously, the river around the bridge is often used
for rafting and other water activities.
The easiest way
to get to Cheorwon is by subway line 1 to the northern suburb of
Dongducheon, where a commuter train takes you to Sintan-ni. From
there, it’s another short ride to Cheorwon.
Find out more! Cheorwon
|Written and photographed by Robert
The article courtesy of Seoul magazine