October 22 was another adventure. We started the day early because we had a guided tour that would take us to DMZ or DeMilitarized Zone. Our guide was really early and we were surprised that he knows a bit of Tagalog. Kuya Hong, as he preferred to be called, went to the Philippines to study English a few years ago. Furthermore, he has visited the country a couple of times together with his family. He also maintained friendships with his Filipino classmates.
Kuya Hong informed us that we would be traveling for about 40 minutes or so just to get to Imjingak Park in Paju. At Imjingak Park, we saw the Bell of Peace, which represents the aspiration for peace of humankind and the unification of the Korean nation for the new millennium. To commemorate the 21st century, the bell weights 21 tons and has 21 stairs.
Bell of Peace, Imjingak, Paju, Korea, October 2010
The Bridge of Freedom or Freedom Bridge lies in the area as well. It is the only bridge crossing the Imjin River and the only bridge which connects North and South Korea. It is said that about 13,000 war captives crossed this bridge crying “hurrah for freedom,” which gave the bridge its present name. (from www.koreadmztour.com)
Freedom Bridge, Imjingak, Paju, Korea, October 2010
The steam locomotive, which was partially blown up during the Korean War, was also a sight to behold. There were bullet holes in it and of course, blast marks. It sat outside the Jangdan station in the DMZ for about 56 years after the Korean War and was preserved as a cultural heritage by the South Korean government.
Steam locomotive, Imjingak, Paju Korea, October 2010
There were numerous ribbons hanging on the wires in the area. The ribbons contain messages from Koreans or visitors. The content of the messages? I have no idea. I didn’t have the chance to ask Kuya Hong about it. But my guess is – it may be aspirations for unification.
Imjingak, Paju, Korea, October 2010
We then boarded the shuttle bus that would take us to the DMZ.
Paju, Korea, October 2010
The DeMilitarized Zone or DMZ a strip of land running across the Korean peninsula, serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half, crossing the 38th parallel on an angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and the east end lying north of it. The most heavily armed border in the world, the DMZ extends 248 km/155 miles long and approximately 4 km/2.5 miles wide (from www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Korean_Demilitarized_Zone).
Since there were lots of tourists that day, we proceeded to the Third Infiltration Tunnel. The third tunnel was discovered at the point of just 52 km away from Seoul, in the administrative district of Paju in 1978. The tunnel is 1,635 meters in length, 2 meters in width, and 2 meters in height. It is said that it is as large in scale as an army of 30,000 fully-armed North Korean soldiers to pass through within an hour.
A drawing of the 3rd tunnel, DMZ, October 2010
We got our protective hats on and then walked down the walkway which would lead us to the third tunnel. The walkway measures 358 meters, sloping downward. Going downward, I felt my knees and muscles in the lower part of my body protest with the exertion. Reaching the bottom, we then proceeded to walk the Third Tunnel which spans 265 meters. We were only allowed to walk until the third blockade and so we turned back and walked again another 265 meters. The real challenge was going up the walkway (which is 358 meters again!). Going up, I felt my body getting pushed and pulled in different directions. My breathing was getting rapid and strained. I thought I would have an asthma attack but thank God, I didn’t. We rested for a bit and then we went to watch a short audio-visual presentation about DMZ.
After the AVP, we returned to our bus and we continued on to Dora Observatory where we viewed North Korea from the observatory platform using a telescope. We were prohibited to take photos in some areas of the observatory. I had mixed feelings when I saw the highest flagpole in the world bearing the North Korean flag and felt that this was the closest I can get to North Korea, eh?
A portion of Dora Observatory, DMZ, October 2010
We only had 10-15 minutes at the Dora Observatory and then we returned to our bus to proceed to Dorasan Station. It is the last station in South Korea before the North Korean border. Its railway is located in Gyeongu line. However, this station has not functioned ever.
Dorasan Station, DMZ, October 2010
To Pyeongyang, Dorasan Station, October 2010
After our stop at the station, we boarded our bus to return to Imjingak Park. Kuya Hong then drove us to restaurant for lunch.
The DMZ tour was one eye-opener of an adventure for me. I cannot imagine the pain of those South Koreans who have families in the North or vice versa and not be able to see them for a very, very long time. Very tragic! But the most striking and unforgettable part of this trip was the TUNNEL! The tunnel experience was one-helluvan adventure. Among my travel buddies, we now share a joke, if you’ve survived the tunnel, you can survive anything! It was that challenging!