As I’ve previously mentioned, we recently did a tour of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the area between the two Korea’s. The tour was quite extensive, so I’m covering it in three parts: I already talked about Imjingak Village and Freedom Bridge, and today I’m talking about the Third Tunnel and Dora Observatory.
The Third Tunnel was the third (duh) one of its kind discovered by South Korean forces in the DMZ. It was discovered in 1978 based on information provided by a North Korean defector. It’s about 1.1 miles long, 6.6 feet high and 6.6 feet wide, and could have accommodated 30,000 soldiers per hour. So far four tunnels have been discovered, but there are believed to be up to 20 more, and U.S. and South Korean forces are still actively searching the DMZ for other tunnels. North Koreans claim that the tunnels are part of an old coal mine—coal was even painted on the walls to make this look plausible. However, the angle at which the tunnels are dug, the direction of the drill marks, and the unlikely chance that there is any coal in the area makes the North Koreans story very unlikely.
We had the chance to climb down into the tunnel, but unfortunately, photography was not allowed. First, we had to put on hard hats, and we were given warnings about the low ceilings in the tunnel. I don’t think any of us were prepared for how steep the entry to the tunnel was though, or how long the walk down there and back would take. For most of the trek through the tunnel, we were literally bent in half, crouching under low, protective ceilings. It was dark and damp down there, very cave-like. By the time we climbed out, our backs were aching from being bent over, our legs were sore from the long, steep climb back up, and we were sticky and sweaty from the muggy heat. It was interesting, but overall, not my favorite part of the tour. However, the area around the tunnel (and around the DMZ in general) is really beautiful–nature is thriving in the DMZ in way unlike anywhere else in Korea since it’s virtually untouched by humans.
After we left the tunnel, we headed over to the Dora Observatory, an observatory on top of Mount Dora on the South Korea side of the 38th parallel. This is the closest you can get to North Korea within South Korea without actually crossing into the DMZ. You’re free to use telescopes to peer into North Korea, but you can’t take photos past a certain line. The day before our tour a North Korean soldier shot his two superior officers and defected to the South, and we were told because of this security would probably be tighter—so I didn’t try to take any sneaky photos!
Next up—Dorsan Station, the train station that will someday connect the two Korea’s, should they ever reunite. Stay tuned!