I’ve alluded to being close to North Korea. It’s time to come clean: Matt and I live in Cheorwon County. It’s basically as far north as you can go and still be in South Korea.
On Saturday, Matt and I took a tour of the Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ. As all the guide books like to point out, the name is interesting because in fact the DMZ is one of the most heavily militarized areas in the world. The Korean War never officially ended, so after the ceasefire in 1953, the DMZ was created as a buffer zone between the North and South.
The DMZ is about 150 miles long, so there are multiple areas and tours to take. We took the Cheorwon Security Tour that is about 20 minutes from where we live. The tour was all in Korean, but there were some signs in English, and we had a map that also had a few sentences of English about each stop on the tour.
The tour started at the Iron-Triangle War Place Tourist Office and included the 2nd Underground Tunnel, the Cheorwon Peace Observatory and the Crane Museum.
The highlight of the tour was the 2nd Underground Tunnel. Four tunnels have been discovered over the years running from North Korea to South Korea. The 2nd tunnel was discovered in 1975 after a soldier heard an explosion from underground. It took a few days to find the tunnel. It was wide enough that about 16,000 soldiers could move through it in one hour.
The tunnel was confining and damp, with water dripping in some areas. We noticed many areas with holes in the rocks; from the explanations in Korean, we think they were where mines were found and removed. Some parts of the tunnel were tall enough to stand in, but many parts required you to hunch over while walking. I was happy for the helmets we were required to wear because Matt hit his head so many times I lost count. Every time he made a comment or tried to point something out to me, he forgot to crouch and inevitably hit his head on the ceiling. A young Korean girl knocked her head so hard that her helmet flew off.
At the farthest we were allowed to go inside the tunnel, we were 300 meters from North Korea, or about 950 feet.
At the peace observatory, we could use binoculars to see into North Korea. We also drove past the Labor Party Building, which was used for awful acts of torture during the war. Matt was looking forward to stopping there and was disappointed when our bus only slowed down. Someone explained that because people are allowed to visit without being on a tour, the tour doesn’t actually stop there.
The tour was definitely interesting. We’ll probably take another tour in a different area at some point, as well.