Visiting the DMZ: Imjingak and Cheol Won

On Sunday, I went with some friends to the DMZ. We went with a tour company called “WinK” (When in Korea), which I’d heard great things about. The thing that was so attractive about this tour was that it covered double the sites that most DMZ tours cover – we went to the Imjingak and Cheolwon areas of the DMZ, while most other companies just visit one or the other. The price was 47,000w (about $43 CAD), which was a very good deal.

At the crack of dawn Sunday morning, I headed over to the the subway. First off, grabbed some breaky at McDonald’s (as those who know me well understand that I’m a grumpy you-know-what without fuel in the morning!). It was 6:00am, and most people were just coming back from the bar. I ran into a few guy friends from CAU and then headed to the subway to meet my friends Janna (from Finland) and Kristina (from Lithuania) before departing to the tour meeting spot.

We made it there on 10 minutes early – perfect timing. The bus rolled up and we were on our way!

Sadly, once I was at the subway station I realized that I’d forgotten my passport – a REQUIRED item if you intend to enter the DMZ area! It would be too late to run back to the dorms now. I frantically called William, the tour leader and explained my situation. He seemed a bit uneasy but reassured me that he would figure something out. Thank god he did!

——–

Part 1 of the DMZ Tour: Imjingak

First Stop: Freedom Bridge

The Freedom Bridge is so significant because it connects South and North Korea.

Hyundai’s late founder, Chung Ju-yung, is widely loved in Korea. He was a North Korean defector who stole a cow from his father to help finance his escape to the south. After gaining incredible success in the South, Chung sent 1,001 cows over the border via the Freedom Bridge as interest on the cow, and as an act of aid that the North Koreans could truly appreciate.

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A bronze relief depicting the Korean War near the Freedom Bridge.

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A very powerful memorial… Stones from war zones around the world were gathered and made into a monument here

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The Peace Wall

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DMZ “guards” on the bridge near the Freedom Bridge

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Ribbons with prayers for peace and unification between the two Koreas.

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I liked the contrast between the ribbons and barbed wire in this  photo.

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Ribbons symbolizing a unified Korea.

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Me with the bridge in the background.

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Photos with images of the war that lined the bridge

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I have no idea what this says!

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One of the many ribbons on the bridge

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With Janna (left) and Kristina (right).

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It was so cold! But nice and sunny.

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Painting of a unified Korea

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Doing the tacky tourist pose with the little guard!

Third stop: Tunnel #3

Next up was Tunnel #3. The North Koreans dug a series of tunnels to the south with the intention of secretly invading Seoul. A defector tipped the South Koreans off, et voilà, the North Koreans’ secret was out. Several tunnels were found and are now tourist sites (although photography is forbidden, which is why you won’t find any pictures here on my blog).

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At the 3rd Tunnel

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This was a film we got to watch before entering the tunnel

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A very powerful image of a man who was presumably separated from someone across the DMZ

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The “Axe Incident”

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DMZ model

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Some SK Soldiers…

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Janna and Kristina pushing together the globe for peace & unification!

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One of the observatories we visited

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Off to Dorosan Station, one of the places I’d been most looking forward to!

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Dorosan Station

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It was built as a symbolic gesture. The hope is that one day, after unification, a railway will be created to go across the peninsula and thereby connect Korea with the rest of Asia and Europe.

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A map explaining this concept in detail

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To Pyeongyang!

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I was a little hesitant about taking this photo, but at the last minute I changed my mind (YOIKO!).

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A description outside the station.

After Imjingak, we were off to the Cheolwan area!

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Here is a statue of a Korean figure comparable to Robin Hood. This area was the place he hung out most in. We decided to eat lunch fast and then visit the canyon he relaxed in.

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This was the restaurant our guide reccomended, and he even called in ahead to take pre-orders. Within a few minutes of sitting down, our meals were delivered to us piping hot. We had the choice between bulgogi (Korean marinated beef) or doslot bibimbap (mixed veggies + raw egg on top of rice, served in a hot clay bowl). I’d had the cold version of bibimbap before and sort of liked it, but this hot version blew my mind! The hot bowl makes the rice all warm and a little crispy on the outside, while also cooking the raw egg.

With bimbimbap, you need to take a spoon and mash up all the ingredients together…

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Before…

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…And after! The result was a warm, delicious bowl of irresistible comfort food. I know I’ll be having that dish again sometime!

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This was the beautiful canyon area where the Korean Robin Hood would find solace in…

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Gorgeous!

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A ferry boat was doing tours, but our time was rather limited.

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Getting a bit mischievous….

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Nothing says “trip to the DMZ” like a ride on a carousal! This place was eeeeeerie, and just seemed out of place at such a solemn area. You should note that PSY’s “Gangnam Style” was playing in the background.

After the canyon, we were off to the next observatory….

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Staring out into North Korea! The faint white triangle in the middle of the landscape is a North Korean propaganda village. The area next to the DMZ has very few (if any) NK civilians living there, so the village just serves as storage, training, and the occasionally housing facility for the NK military stationed there. You may be able to see a very small rectangle in front the of the triangle. Through the binoculars I was using, I could actually see what was on it. It was a propaganda poster, featuring a woman in hanbok (traditional Korean dress) holding a child. The writing in Korean was too hard to read, and  I can barely understand the language anyways ^^

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South Korean outpost?

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On top of that mountain to the right is a North Korean outpost. Apparently, you can sometimes see a NK guard on duty, walking back and forth. I guess he was on his lunch break (lol), because I didn’t see him.

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Next, we were off to a monument commemorating a famous battle at “White Horse Hill”. It was a pretty similar story to Vimy Ridge.

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Our guide, an enthusiastic young SK soldier.

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A really cool relief made with the bullet shells of the battle.

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The sculpture at the top of the hill (again very similar to Vimy)

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The battle was so intense that some of the soldiers’ guns even melted from the heat of firing too much.

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Another bronze relief; made the same way (melted bullet shells)

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A pavilion at the top of the mountain

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The tour guide’s dog! So cute and well-behaved!

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Overall an AWESOME experience. I would recommend WiNK for any future tours. They were well-organized, efficient, and our guide (William Cho) taught us a lot about Korean history and the DMZ situation. As someone who has a minor obsession with North Korea, I went into this tour thinking I wouldn’t learn more than I already knew, but I was wrong. William gave some great insight into Korean and international politics. It was the perfect balance of being taught history and actually experiencing it. AWESOME tour.

Photos of NK souvenirs to come!

 

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