Dr. David Thiessen lived all over Korea. The DMZ was his second home.
You can experience this morning calm throughout the Korean peninsula. I did when I visited all of these sites.
Experience the DMZ
Once you pass through the inspection points, all rules of normal life seem suspended. There is no hustle and bustle at all in the DMZ—just quiet existence. There, a person can enjoy one of the best-preserved natural areas of the world.
Of course, there are rules to follow when you are in the DMZ, but those are more for safety than anything else. If you want to see the DMZ via a tour, you can start by looking in Seoul. The Lotte hotel is home to many Panmunjeom tour companies.
The only drawback is the sensitivity of the area. These tours can be cancelled at any time without notice.
Sunrise Park & Lighthouse
One of the best places to feel the calm that comes with Korean mornings is a side stop called Sunrise Park & Lighthouse. This park is located on an east-coast cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Feel the morning calm as you watch the sun rise over the eastern horizon. The beauty of the ocean combines with the splendor of the sunrise to bring you a morning calm you may not have experienced before.
You have a little choice with this location. You can either take the train to Dorasan station, transfer to a bus to get to the third tunnel and Dora Observation post. Or you can get a bus tour for the same location.
The train station is right outside of the park waiting for tourists to fill it. The bus tour office is right in the heart of the park beneath the large ceremonial bell. The cost at both is a lot cheaper than if you started your tour in Seoul.
While you are waiting for your tour to begin, you can tour the park. Imjin Park is filled with exhibits and things to do. An observation building with western and Korean restaurants gives you a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area. Plus, the Freedom Bridge is just a few yards away. At the one end are all the prayers for trapped loved ones and for reunification.
For children, there is an amusement park, or they can ride the mini train. If you are hungry, there is a grassy picnic area on the east side of the parking lot. Or if you did not bring your own food, you can buy your lunch at one of the many traditional Korean restaurants.
There is something for everyone at Imjin.
This is the name given to the geographic area where a key Korean War battle was fought. The name stuck because the valley looks like a punchbowl. The real name is Haean-myeon, Yanggu-gun, Gangwon Province. It is a long drive to get to this DMZ location, but it is worth every mile.
In the small town is the North Korean Hall, where you can get facts about the two Koreas and the war that divided them. Next to this hall is the civic building where you get your passes to enter the DMZ.
Also, at Punchbowl is the fourth tunnel and the Eulji Observation post. If you are driving, which is about the only way to get to this North Korea overview, watch your brakes. The road up and down is very steep.
This is the easternmost entrance to the DMZ. To get there, you need to travel to the east coast city Gangneung, then turn north. Whether you drive or take a tour bus, there are a lot of interesting stops along the way. There is even a campground if you want to camp the Korean way.
Before you enter the DMZ, you must make a stop at the checkpoint building, pay your fee and get your pass. Inside the building, there are lots of souvenir vendors who would love to help you spend your money.
The drive is tranquil, like all DMZ roads, and before entering the park with the observation post, you will come to the Peace Museum. This has many artefacts and other exhibits about the war and life on the Korean Peninsula.
The park itself has small museums, a train restaurant, a long walk up to the observation building and other wartime remnants. Each place provides excellent photo opportunities.
This is the location of the second tunnel dug by the North Koreans in a failed attempt to invade the South. Your first stop is the Cheorwan Park where you get your pass and can see the natural beauty that is a big part of Korea.
Once inside the DMZ, you will be taken to Woljeong-ni Station, where an old North Korean train lies rusting away. You will also find the second tunnel and the Cheorwan Peace Observatory not too far away. Everything in this area runs on a strict time schedule, so do not be late.
This is probably the most beautiful area of all the DMZ tourist spots.
There are two observation posts where most tourists do not go. They are off the beaten path and not well advertised. It is bare bones at both, but you can see North Korea quite well, as it is only just across the fence. You get an up-close and very personal view of the communist country.
The drawback is you are not allowed to take pictures of the North from these spots.
Some Honorable Mentions
If you travel highway 3 north of Donducheon, you will get to the DMZ. The path forward is blocked by the DMZ checkpoint. If you turn left, you will find a quaint park dedicated to the memory of the Korean War.
It is good for hiking and having a quiet picnic. When you get to the observation lookout, there is another ceremonial peace bell. There was a time you were able to ring it, but maybe not anymore.
If you turn right at the junction, you will come to the old North Korean Labor building. A must-stop for any DMZ tourist. It is said that the people taken in there came out a changed person.
But that is not all. Less than a kilometer south from the labor building (and a place no one goes to) is the old Methodist Church. Once a center for anti-North Korean activities, it was taken over by the North Koreans and used for torture and other nefarious acts.
A new church has been built at the site, but the old remains are still there, rarely seen by any tourist.
Some Final Words
Even though the views throughout the DMZ bring the reality of what happens with war, you can still sense the morning calm no matter where you go in that fenced-off land. Life is just different once you pass the checkpoint and enter the DMZ.
© 2018 David Thiessen
Liz Westwood from UK on December 05, 2018:
Your writing gives a great introduction to Korea.