The DMZ is about a 2.5 mile (4km) wide border line between North & South Korea that runs 160 miles (250 km) long.
Here is a bit about what I learned while taking notes on my first tour in late 2012:
- From 1910-1945 (end of WWII) the Japanese had control of Korea.
- Post WWII North Korea was support by the Soviet Union and South Korea by the Americans.
- NK then wanted to unite and become a communist country and that is when the Korean War began (1950-53).
- After the Korean War there were 10 million people displaced from their homes.
- The war ended when the armistice was signed and that was when the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) was created. The north and south both have 2 km.
- The DMZ area was violated so now there are many armed camps and it is one of the most heavily armed places in the world.
**FUN Facts about the DMZ**
Please note that this was all just told verbally to me by the guide and I didn’t have any other sources at the moment. After the fact I looked into the accuracy of what was told to me.
- As we were heading up north on the bus from Seoul our tour guide told us about the barbed wire fence along the river. The further we got, the higher up and more armed the fences became. There were soldiers stationed along the river the whole way. North Korea used to send out spies along the river which is the reason for the barbed wire.
- In SK, all men are required to do two years of military service. In NK, men are required to serve for ten years and women for seven years.
- Hunger is still a huge issue, even for those in the military.
- People are constantly trying to escape due to the fact that there is no hope. A great read about a prisoner who escaped is the book “Escape from Camp 14”.
- A common phrase in SK is “당신은 먹었” (Have you eaten?) because their biggest concern from the prior two generations was that people were always going hungry.
- When we arrived at the DMZ checkpoint one of the military officers had to check our passports.
- To be in the military you must fit these three requirements:
- Must be 175 cm tall (5’7”)
- Must be trained in one martial art
- Must be handsome (tour guide was a jokester).
- The light green uniforms were for American soldiers and the dark green were for the Koreans.
- We drove over “cow bridge” or “bridge of no return” which has its name because the man who started Hyundai came from NK with only his cow (source from guide).
- During the time that the DMZ was being created there was a lot of tension about borders. There were a million landmines placed within the area. The SK army had only recovered about 10% of them so there are still about 900,000 left.
- There have been four tunnels found at the DMZ. They were built by the North Koreans and were heading towards Seoul. Three were found in the 70’s and one was found in the 90’s. It is still believed that there are more. We were able to walk inside of the third tunnel for a few hundred meters until the barbed wire stopped us and we could see the North Korean side. The whole tunnel was about 2 meters wide by 2 meters high.
- The tunnels were painted black so that if they were discovered it would be thought to have been used for coal mining.
- In 1980 there was a “flag pole war” in the DMZ area. Who could have the tallest flag pole? NK won and now has the third tallest flag pole in the world. Congratulations! This was near a “Propaganda Village” on the N Korean side and now is populated with residents.
- We went to the lookout and saw the village mentioned above. Our tour guide informed us that they may look the same as the South Koreans. We saw people walking around and riding bikes. It was a bit eerie. There was a line that we couldn’t cross and take photos otherwise the guards would take our cameras and phones and erase all of the memory.
- At one point, the N Korean factory workers were given $110 a month and two pieces of chocolate pie per day. That kind of money goes far in NK and the pie was a luxury as it is not heard of in that country. People would sell their pie on the black market for about $10 a piece. When that was found out, the government started rewarding people with more pie so that it wasn’t such a rarity.
- In North Korea there are over 25,000 statues of the leaders.
- We went to a deserted train station, Dorasan, near the border. From 2007-2008 it was open and went to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang to transport goods back and forth. In 2008 a South Korean woman was killed by a North Korean soldier so the train was closed. The station is now currently deserted. There is hope that the train station will open again one day.
- In the northernmost town of SK the people are not required to serve in the military or pay taxes (because it’s dangerous to live in that location). That used to be the case for the second most northern town, as well, but then they all became wealthy farmers so now have to pay taxes and serve in the military.
- On the way back from the DMZ we saw “Freedom Bridge.”It is the bridge that the prisoners crossed over after the Korean war to go back home.
- In 2000 there was a museum built in SK that was supposed to have relics from NK. But NK broke their promise and never gave them any relics so now it is just an empty building.
Our tour guide told us that we had seen the past, present, and future. The past was that the tunnels were built and we got to go inside on of them. The present was standing at the observatory and looking into the village with the North Korean people. The future was the train station and the hope that it can be reopened one day and that the countries can be unified.
**For more information about life in North Korea watch the following: