During my travels in South Korea as part of the itinerary of the 2019 KF-ASEAN Next Generation Leaders Visit Korea programme, one of the places that we visited was the Korean Demilitarized Zone, also known as the DMZ.
The DMZ tour was held on the third day of our visit. We were told to bring our passports and wear appropriate attire.
The DMZ was created in 1953 at the end of the Korean War as a result of the armistice agreement between the United Nations (UN), North Korea, China and the Soviet Union. South Korea and North Korea established a border that divided the Korean peninsula roughly in half, stretching for 2km on either side.
The zone has attracted a great deal of public interest and visits with historic relics pertaining to the Korean War and monuments and memorials for peace. Tourists get to learn about the war between the North and South and how the demilitarised strip of land came about, and get the opportunity to see a rare glimpse of North Korea from the Dora Observatory.
Our trip to the DMZ began by visiting the Imjingak Park which is located on the banks of the Imjin River in the city of Paju, South Korea. The park is dedicated to the 10 million South Koreans separated from their families when the peninsula was divided.
The park has many statues and monuments regarding the Korean War. They were built to console those from both sides who are unable to return to their hometowns due to the division of Korea.
Adjacent to the park is the so called Freedom Bridge, a former railroad bridge once used by repatriated prisoner of war (POW) returning from the North.
Today a section of the bridge has been transformed into a moving and unique memorial, a place where families often come to tie coloured ribbons to remember loved ones.
There is also a steam locomotive which depicts the tragic history of the division into North and South Korea, having been left in the DMZ after it got derailed by bombs during the Korean War. There are more than 1,020 bullet holes on the locomotive. Later we visited the Dorasan Station, a railway station on the Gyeongui Line which used to connect North Korea and South Korea. It has been restored now. Located 56 kilometres from Seoul and 205 kilometres from Pyeongyang, the station was opened as a tourist attraction in 2002.
Our next stop was the Third Tunnel. Discovered in 1978, it is one of the four tunnels found underneath the DMZ connecting North and South Korea, and it could move 30,000 soldiers through the tunnel in one hour.
Tourists are allowed to go into the tunnel, though no mobile phones and photos are allowed, and a safety hat is a must.
For the first half a kilometre, it is a steep slope. The tunnel gets narrower both in height and width.
I was lucky that I didn’t have to bend while walking. I saw some tourists bending to avoid hitting their heads against the top of the tunnel. The climb back was the hardest – I had to stop several times to catch my breathe.
After the DMZ Tour, we headed to Gimpo International Airport for Jeju Island, which is prominent with the dormant Hallasan volcano, the highest mountain in South Korea with a height of 1,950m. The flight from Seoul to Jeju only takes about 50 minutes.
Our Jeju journey began on the fourth day. We were taken to Jeju Osulloc Tea Museum & Premium Tea Class where we learnt about Korea’s traditional tea culture, tea history, how to make and use tea.
It is unique and I recommend it to those who love tea.
Visit Jeju as they have a vast green tea plantation, and learn about different types of tea.
Over 60 different types of tea can be found at the exhibition hall including those from Korea, China and Japan. After the visit, we attended Jeju Forum to attend several talks, including one by Korea Foundation on the ‘Vision for the Peace and Prosperity of Korean Peninsula: the Role of International Media’.
The Jeju Forum is a regional multilateral dialogue promoting peace and prosperity in Asia, and the forum serves as a platform for discussing and sharing future visions on sustainable peace and prosperity. On the final day in Jeju, we went to Mount Olle Hiking Trail to see Yongduam Rock, which is also known as Dragon Head Rock. The view is amazing and is a natural attraction.
As we walked along the rocky coast, we saw beautiful formations of rocks, and a huge rock that looked like a dragon’s head, often depicted in folklore stories.
Following this, we attended a farewell luncheon hosted by Executive Vice-President of the Korea Foundation Kang Young-pil, before heading back to Seoul, where we prepared to return to our home countries the next day.