May 22, 2013

Taking a Peek at North Korea

As part of our DMZ tour we went to Dora Observatory where it is supposed to be the best place to be the best place to see North Korea. First we had to go through a security check point that had Korean soldiers on one side of the entrance and American soldiers on the other.  We were told to bring our passports but no one checked them probably because the only non-military vehicles allowed are the designated buses which transport tourists from the nearby Imjingak Park into the secured area. The bus follows the curved road lined with signs warning about landmines to the top of Mount Dora.

 Inside the building there is a glass wall that looks out to North Korea.  A guide explains where the demarcation line is and what there is to see. And, we are told we can only take pictures from behind the yellow line. I didn’t see any yellow line so took a picture and was promptly told not to.  The yellow line was outside and away from the viewing area. Outside there are binoculars for looking into North Korea where one can see a statue of the former ruler, Kim Il-Sun; the Propaganda Village; and sometimes as far as the city of Kaesong. The Propaganda Village is called The Peace Village in the North. It is one of two villages permitted in the DMZ in accordance with the 1955 armistice that ended the Korean War. According to those in South Korea the village is a sham with brightly painted buildings but no residents. There is not a lot to see from the observatory, mainly fields and a tall flag pole. In the 1980s South Korea built a 323-foot flagpole after which North Korea responded with one 525 feet high, which was the second tallest in the world at that time. It was called the “Flagpole War.”

From the Observatory we went to tour the Third Tunnel, a massive North Korean-dug tunnel which was planned as a pathway for invasion to the South.  It was discovered in 1978 based South Korea.  The United Nations declared it an act of aggression by North Korea.  A total of four tunnels have been discovered but it is thought that there may be as many as twenty.  A gallery of images explains the events surrounding the building of the tunnels.  The DMZ has become a nature preserve with all sorts of birds and other animals free to roam.
 on information from a defector. The tunnel is just over one mile long and about 240 feet below ground. Visitors put on hard hats before walking down into the tunnel. Supposedly it would have been possible for 30,000 armed men per hour to invade

The tour also included a stop at Dorason Station, a pristine train station built in 2001 in the hopes that trade with North Korea would resume.  A sign in the lobby reads, “Not the last station from the South but the first station toward the North.” However, given the current rhetoric from North Korea it doesn’t seem to be likely in the near future. Like all tours we made the obligatory stop at a gift shop and a specialty shop.  We visited a ginseng store where the cultivation of ginseng was explained. It was mildly interesting but what caught my attention was the price. Most of their packages were $100 or more!