The Korean DMZ

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Oct 12, 2011
Hi guys, following from my look at the War Memorial of Korea, here are some images I took during a day trip to the Korean DMZ, including the Joint Security Area (JSA), the only place representatives of the two Koreas can meet face-to-face on the border. firstly, a bit of background. In 2017 I planned a trip to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea (Voted The Best Korea three years running in The DPRK Is Great magazine :D) to go to the Wonsan Air Festival. Yes, North Korea had an airshow, the first and thus far only airshow the country had was held in 2016, but at the time I was in Argentina, so I missed it. Since they were planning one for 2017, I decided to arrange it. Travelling to the DPRK isn't easy, it can only be done through an approved tour company and so I found one running a seven-day tour that included the two days of the airshow, as well as a day doing joy flights on old Soviet airliners that Air Koryo, the DPRK's national airline still operates. Unfortunately, relations with the West soured in 2017, with things reaching a head, when on 3 September 2017 the north detonated a nuclear device. Around that time the airshow was cancelled and so was my tour, with only two weeks to go before we departed for Pyongyang. In something of a hurry, I had to redo my travel plans. Going to the DPRK is best done from China and as I was already spending two weeks there I decided I would go to South Korea instead.

For those not in the know, officially the Korean War has not ended yet and there has been a fragile armistice agreement on the Korean Peninsula since the end of hostilities in 1953, with frequent skirmishes happening since in and around the Demilitarised Zone between the two countries. Despite its name, the Dee Emm Zee is far from demilitarised, since there are military installations within it, mines scattered through the forests and motion and infra-red sensors everywhere. This hasn't stopped firefights, many of which don't ever make it to the papers, but they happen with disturbing frequency. In fact, not long after I visited, there was a North Korean defector shot by his own soldiers whilst defecting at the JSA. We'll discuss that a bit later.

So, at the time of my visit, the tours to the DMZ were running but the JSA tours had been cancelled and although I had paid for one, it wasn't until I actually reached Korea that I found out that the trip to the JSA was actually going to take place. We left Seoul first thing in the morning, around rush hour. Koreans get up early. I photographed this sign from the bus as we departed Seoul, it seemed appropriate. The building behind the sign is an orthodontist's.


As I mentioned in my War Memorial post, Seoul straddles the Han River, which originates in the north, which gives the DPRK reason to send spies and infiltrators down the river in specially prepared rivercraft, such as this one, on display at the War Memorial; its low profile and low speed making it difficult to detect.


As you can see in the next photo, the Han River is extremely wide in parts and as a result of the DPRK infiltration attempts, its banks are lined with barbed wire and defences. A typical Seoul vista on the far bank, with vast blocks of accommodation high risers.


A few examples of lookout posts, equipped with searchlights and machine guns, although I never spotted any of those.


All of this was a stark reminder that we were embarking on a tourist trip quite unlike anything else.


Our first stop was at a place on the edge of the DMZ named "The Third Tunnel", after the discovery of a DPRK invasion tunnel. But first, a toilet stop at the Imjingak car park (more of which later) before we entered the controlled zone. These are bomb shelter entrances.


Understandably, photography within the DMZ is prohibited, and we were warned that if we got caught taking photos our cameras would be confiscated and the memory cards wiped. This is the entrance archway just before the Tong-il Daegyo Bridge that crosses the river on the road into the DMZ. Written on the archway is Paju, the district we were in and although we weren't, strictly speaking yet in the DMZ, everything within the Paju area is strictly controlled and enforced at gunpoint. The bus was stopped and an RoK MP got on board; we had to show him our passports.


Next stop was on the edge of the DMZ near the border at the location of the third infiltration tunnel. This is a tourist site, so has the usual audiovisual presentations, mini-museum and shop, as well as access down the tunnel. A plaque describing the tunnel and salient features.


This is the ramp that leads deep underground to the tunnel, which we had access to. There was no photography allowed and we had to leave cell phones and our bags behind.


Here's a small bit of information taken from a Seoul tourism page, which also has a photo of the inside of the tunnel and precautionary warnings about visiting:

"Before 1975, the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel was unknown. It was not until 1975 that a North Korean defector named Kim Bu-seong claimed that the north had built a secret passageway across the demilitarized zone for the main purpose of invading the south. To find the location, PVC pipes filled with water were placed every 2 meters (6.56 feet) along the expected location of the secret passageway. Over three years later, on June 10, 1978, one of the PVC exploded with water shooting up into the air. From this, South Korea was able to locate the secret passageway called the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, or Third Tunnel of Aggression."

Interestingly, the soldiers who dug the tunnel painted the walls black, in an attempt to disguise it as a disused coalmine shaft!

The Koreans love their symbolic sculptures and these are all over the place commemorating one thing or another - reunification is prevalent on the national psyche. This sculpture signifies the joining of the two Koreas at the site of the tunnel, despite its purpose being significantly more militaristic than the sculpture implies.


This is a model of the DMZ area with the sites we visited on this day highlighted by placards. The DMZ is obviously the area within the yellow lights, with the border in red lights. At the bottom centre ringed by dark green bushes is Imjingak, where we will return to, with the bridge crossing the river into the DMZ the second card along of the three on the river next to Imjingak. The 3rd Infiltration Tunnel is at the slight bump in the DMZ lights at the centre, with our next destination, the Dora Observatory the card directly below the tunnel location. Then we would be stopping at the Dorasan train station, the only road and rail link between the two Koreas, which is located right on the DMZ line with the railway line visible as the diagonal line that runs past Imjingak and heads through the DMZ into the DPRK. Before heading for the JSA we would stop and transfer to a different coach with a military escort through the DMZ proper, from Camp Bonifas, which is the card on its own to the right on the DMZ demarcation line. Lastly, the JSA is the green dot located right on the red border line directly above Camp Bonifas.


A few displays in the small museum comprising items recovered from within the DMZ. Land mines.


A Kalashnikov Type 58 assault rifle, "AK-58 Method Rifle" on the display plaque and an unknown bolt action rifle (firearm experts? Name please?).


An RPG-2 rocket-propelled grenade launcher.


And lastly for now, a model of Panmunjeom, or the JSA. The white markers signify the border, with the three huts of each party sitting directly across the border, the blue being the UN buildings, the centre of which we were able to cross the border within. The big building just below the huts is Freedom House, with its DPRK opposite Panmun-Gak on the other side. At the extreme left is a bridge across the river, which the border cuts through. This bridge is called The Bridge of No Return and next to it is a tiny tree stump, which has a gruesome tale to tell, which we'll do later. I took this picture not knowing whether or not I was going to the JSA, and although we were eventually told we would get to go there, we didn't get to see either the bridge or the tree stump. When we got to the JSA, no photographs were allowed to be taken, except within designated areas. Tensions were still high at the border.


Next, Dora Observatory and a glimpse into North Korea.
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Oct 12, 2011
Our next stop on our day tour is at the Dora Observatory, which sits at the top of the Dorasan peak to the south of the third infiltration tunnel site. On the way up to the top, we pass some RoK army barracks, which provide personnel that carry out patrols in and around the region. At this point, photography was not permitted, so I was sneaking photos from my seat. There was a transport barracks up the hill.


From here we get a panoramic vista over the DMZ into the DPRK. Whenever you see pictures or footage of Western leaders looking over at North Korea in the distance on news reports and so forth that isn't the JSA, it's here. Photography was not permitted inside the big concrete auditorium, but you could photograph the exterior.


A ceremonial bell tower. Korean bells date back thousands of years and serve a ceremonial purpose, similar to the Japanese Shinto Buddhist Bonsho bells used to mark time and call monks to prayer. We'll see one up close later on our trip.


Our first view across the DMZ looks toward the northwest, with two distinct towers visible in the murk, flag poles of the south, to the right, and north, to the left. Visibility on this day was not particularly good as dust filled the air, making photographic clarity poor. The defensive line visible in the foreground is the southern border of the DMZ, with the northern border partially visible just below the sandy yellow horizontal strip in the distance. From there onwards is the DPRK.


Looking northwest towards Daeseong-dong, or Freedom Village and its enormous flag pole, which sits within the borders of the DMZ. It is the only community active within the DMZ on the southern side and the villagers eke out a living as farmers under escort by UN personnel within the DMZ. They remain in situ because following the armistice in 1953, the villagers refused to leave and so Daeseong-dong, which means "Attaining Success" was created. Around 200 people live permanently in the village located just over 350 metres from the actual north/south border. The flag pole is the tallest in the RoK and is 98 feet tall, the RoK flag itself weighing in at 287 lbs and was subject to what became known as the Flagpole War, as the DPRK wanted to upstage the south with its own big flagpole...

DSC_7861, just over a kilometre away from the border at Kijŏng-dong, the North Korean propaganda village. To match the RoK flagpole, the DPRK Panmunjom flagpole is 528 feet tall, even upstaging the RoK with a bigger flag. As a propaganda village, Kijŏng-dong is uninhabited and was built to entice southerners into believing life in the north was great, complete with loudspeakers blaring out DPRK propaganda throughout the day. We couldn't hear a thing at the time we were there but we were told that the loudspeakers could be heard clearly from the observatory when the wind was blowing in the right direction


This is the Kaesŏng Industrial Region, a collaborative working bee set up in the DPRK with the assistance of the RoK government. Here's a bit of wikiblurb:

"Its most notable feature is the Kaesŏng industrial park, which operated from 2004 to 2016 as a collaborative economic development with South Korea (ROK). The park is located ten kilometres (six miles) north of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, an hour's drive from Seoul, with direct road and rail access to South Korea. The park allows South Korean companies to employ cheap labour that is educated, skilled, and fluent in Korean, whilst providing North Korea with an important source of foreign currency. As of April 2013, 123 South Korean companies were employing approximately 53,000 DPRK workers and 800 ROK staff. Their wages, totalling $90 million each year, had been paid directly to the North Korean government.

At times of tension between North and South Korea, southern access to the Industrial Park has been restricted. On 3 April 2013, during the 2013 Korean crisis, North Korea blocked access to the region to all South Korean citizens. On 8 April 2013, the North Korean government removed all 53,000 North Korean workers from the Kaesŏng industrial park, which effectively shut down all activities. On 15 August 2013, both countries agreed that the industrial park should be reopened.

On 10 February 2016, the South Korean Ministry of Unification announced that the industrial park would be "temporarily" closed down and all staff recalled, partly in protest over continued North Korean provocations, including a satellite launch and a claimed hydrogen bomb test in January 2016. The next day, the North announced it was expelling all South Korean workers and said it will freeze all South Korean assets and equipment at the jointly run factory park. All 280 South Korean workers present at Kaesŏng left hours after the announcement by the North."

Kaesŏng remains closed to the south to this day because of Covid.


The fortified peak in the foreground is deep within the DMZ and served as an RoK observatory post, but whilst researching this thread I noticed on google maps that it has been entirely dismantled, with its kidney-shaped border fence the only thing visible; all buildings have been removed from the site. The powerlines in the foreground run alongside the road and rail link to Kaesŏng.


We are looking due south at the border of the DMZ, with the road and rail link entry point between the north and south visible in the foreground.


On the way back down from the observatory we were told of the presence of minefields in the area. I snapped this sign in the roadside hedge; a reminder of the precarious position we were in even though we were not within the DMZ. Paju is a dangerous place for the unwary.


Next stop is the Dorasan Train Station, where the RoK workforce employed at Kaesŏng begin their journey along the lonely link through the DMZ into the DPRK. We weren't allowed to photograph the station exterior, just inside.


If you miss your stop, you could end up in the capital...


As with everywhere within Paju, there are RoK MPs in the station, these ones keeping a watchful eye on some women returning, presumably, from Kaesŏng. They're definitely not DPRK citizens; such shabby standards of appearance would not be tolerated in the Kims' Korea!


Aboard the bus leaving Dorasan Station for our next stop, I snuck this photograph of a road sign indicating Highway 1 heading to Kaesŏng and Pyongyang. Again, no photography allowed of the mean streets of Paju.


Next, Imjingak and more memorials.
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Oct 12, 2011
Leaving Dorasan station, we head back across the Tong-il Daegyo Bridge that crosses the Imjin River, the border of the Paju control zone. Note the tank traps. These would be pulled across the road on word that DPRK forces had crossed the 38th Parallel again.


Our next stop for lunch and a look around is Imjingak, a tourist haven with memorials and sites of interest relating to the division of the two Koreas. In the foreground is a garden of different memorials to different things, which also includes stones dedicated to US military units, including the 2nd Infantry Division and the 187th Airborne Squadron, both of the US Army. Here, our bus tour group had lunch before separating into two separate groups, those going to the JSA and those not doing so. Obviously, I had booked a JSA tour despite not knowing that it was definitely going ahead, but over lunch we were told it was actually happening. Ours was the first JSA tour following the cessation of cordial relations (for the umpteenth time) between the two Koreas following the detonation of the nuclear bomb on the 3rd of September.


This is the US Forces Memorial with the statue of the 33rd US President Harry Truman in front. The memorial was erected in recognition of the sacrifices that US forces made during the Korean War, being the first to dedicate troops to defending the south after the incursion by the northern troops in 1950, eventually sending 572,000 troops to Korea.


A slightly ambiguous choice of display item, but welcome nonetheless is this RoKAF F-4D. Since 1968 the RoKAF has operated a mix of former USAF F-4Ds, new build F-4Es and second-hand RF-4Cs, the type having been retired from use, the fighter variants in 2010 and the reconnaissance aircraft in 2014.


This aircraft is a bit schizophrenic, bearing two different sets of identification on it. According to the stencil on the intake it was built in 1965 as 65-0650, which makes it among the second batch of F-4Ds supplied to the RoKAF, in 1972, but its tail number starts with "67", but should be 66-0753, which was among 24 F-4Ds transferred to the RoKAF between 1987 and 1988. In a book I have on the F-4, there is a photo of this aircraft in service clearly wearing 66 753 on its fin. Note that its J79s have been removed.


This is the Railroad Discontinuation Point, the place where the Gyeongui railway line ran from Busan in the south of the RoK to Sinuiju in the north of the DPRK before the division of the two Koreas. The Gyeongui Line was a two-lane system, with one bridge running northbound trains and the other southbound. This is located on the northbound line. The train on the platform, so it is said is awaiting reunification before it can continue on its journey traversing the length of the country, although it might find that a difficult prospect, as we'll see later.


This is a ruined train that was disabled by Allied forces at Jangdan Station during the Korean War in the face of the invading Chinese army, by whom it looks like it's been strafed. It was bought to Imjingak as a registered historic monument in 2007.


Along a barbed wire fence that lines the remainder of the Gyeongui Line are coloured streamers left by well-wishers sending messages to displaced citizens and family members stranded in the north since the separation of the two countries. Anyone can do this.


This is the end of the Freedom Bridge, which was named as such when some 12,773 prisoners of the north were returned across this bridge in 1953 following the armistice. A young Korean photographs flags and messages to lost and displaced family members as a result of the war.


This is the wooden Freedom Bridge adjacent to the railway line, the former Gyeongui Line that returns from the north into the south, with the Imjingak platform behind the hedges adjacent to the Freedom Bridge, where the former prisoners were released. The bridge in the background has been repurposed as the main rail link into the DPRK, the same that stops at Dorasan Station before heading into the DMZ and has been reconstructed from the original southern line bridge.


This is why the Gyeongui Line train at the Discontinuation Point heading north is gonna have a hard time reaching the DPRK, let alone getting as far north as Sinuiju. The northbound line bridge was destroyed by North Korean forces during the war.


Finally for now, do you get the feeling you're being watched? That's because you are! Everywhere you go in this part of the world, your movements are being monitored. These observation posts are located on the Imjingak train platform. Note the fences that line the Imjin River bank on the edge of the controlled area of Paju.


Next, setting foot in the DPRK! The Joint Security Area.


Oct 12, 2011
Continuing this day tour of the DMZ, we are standing on top of the Imjingak conference centre and looking toward the Tong-il Daegyo Bridge, the entry point into the Paju controlled area, which we were about to cross for the third time that day, this time to go into the DMZ proper. The usual checkpoint precautions were undertaken, the bus, this time half empty as not all on our tour had booked the JSA trip since there was no guarantee it was going to happen before the tour began, was stopped, an RoK MP boarded the bus and inspected our passports. You can see the shelters I photographed in my first post at the bottom of the pic in the carpark.


This photograph was the only one I risked taking before arriving at our first stop on the way to the JSA, this was on the road to Camp Bonifas, which is the entry point for anyone going to the JSA, as this is where the formalities of entering the DMZ take place. Firstly, Camp Bonifas is the base for the United Nations Command (UNC) Security Battalion-JSA and is located just south of the DMZ. Named after Maj Arthur Bonifas, who died during a brutal attack by DPRK personnel on a UNC tree felling team in August 1976, more of which later, the base was formerly known as Camp Kittyhawk. On arrival at Camp Bonifas, we were herded out of the bus and into a tourist area for a mandatory briefing and signing of a declaration form advising us of the consequences of entry into the DMZ. I still have my form. We were then led to a small minivan with an armed escort aboard and we were told to take only one piece of photographic equipment; bags had to be left behind. As usual, no photography was permitted whilst transitting through the DMZ.


Known as Panmunjeom, our arrival point at the JSA was Freedom House, the large building we entered before stepping into the UNC controlled area at the border. The RoK army is responsible for conducting the tours at the JSA and since ours was the first since the previous cancelling of the tours because of the detonation of the atom bomb on the 3rd of September, we were advised not to photograph Freedom House nor were we given access to any other part of the JSA, which would have been granted under normal circumstances. Nonetheless, it was an interesting time to be there and there was a heightened sense of tension at the border. In this image, we see our guide, who explained the rules to us and what we could and could not photograph. Note the RoK guards adopting a traditional Tae Kwon Do stance, which all RoK personnel based with the UNC must know.


This building is Panmungak, the DPRK equivalent to Freedom House, which, on a normal day is usually filled with tourists observing the southern side of Panmunjeom from the balcony with the observation binoculars mounted on it. On my original DPRK tour we were going to be visiting this very site, perhaps not on the exact same day, but I was supposed to be looking across to where I was standing taking these photographs.


As previously mentioned, the blue buildings are the UNC huts installed for joint talks with representatives of the north. Unbeknownst to us at the time I took this photo, a month after our visit, on 13 November, a DPRK soldier was shot by soldiers of his own side whilst attempting to defect at this very spot. Unarmed and driving a jeep, the lone soldier drove at speed past many of his fellow countrymen, who, startled by his actions began running after him. Driving his vehicle into a ditch near the border demarkations, he scrambled from his vehicle whilst under fire from his own troops, being hit five times, before crawling to safety behind a small wall next to the concrete coloured building at the end of the row in the picture below. He was dragged away by RoK personnel to this side of the building and was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Seoul to be treated for his wounds. It was the first time that DPRK soldiers had risked opening fire at the border in years, according to news reports. UNC representatives stated the gunfire was in violation of the armistice.


This is, as it says on the sign, the UNC Military Armistice Commission (MAC) conference building, which stands on the site where the armistice was signed between representatives of the DPRK, the People's Republic of China and the UNC in 1953. A photograph of the building that stood on this site will be shown in the next post, as well as a facsimile of the armistice document on display at Camp Bonifas. This building was our entry point into the DPRK, the border visible as the low concrete demarcation line between the buildings.


In this image, I am officially standing in the DPRK. The border marker is clearly visible out the rather dirty window. It was a far cry from a seven-day tour, but at the time, it was the closest I wanted to go to North Korea.


This is the table that straddles the border; I'm standing on the DPRK side. On this spot is where the armistice was signed on 27 July 1953, by Kim Il-sung of the DPRK, Peng Teh Huai of the Chinese People's Liberation Army and Gen Mark Clark, Commander-in-Chief of the UNC. At this table today is where members of the MAC sit to discuss violations of the armistice, as well as other pertinent issues, although with around 10,000 tourists a year visiting, the conference room houses more ordinary citizens than officials.


Taken from the southern entry to the conference building, the conference table straddling the border is surrounded by tourists, note that the RoK guard is unperturbed by the tourists. We were told not to interact with the military personnel. At the far end of the room, guarded by an RoK guard is the door of no return. We were told that if we somehow managed to get past the guard and exited the building through that door, we were on our own and we would not expect rescue from the DPRK guards on the other side of it.


One thing that was noticeably absent during our brief time at the JSA was DPRK personnel. We were told they were definitely there, but they were notoriously camera-shy during tourist visits, preferring to hide out of sight behind the buildings until the tourists left. I caught this one sneaking a peak from behind a pillar on Panmungak. he was the first North Korean I had photographed.


That was it for the JSA; we weren't there for very long at all, not surprising given the tension between the north and south at the time of our visit. Next, back to Camp Bonifas and the tourist centre there.


Airman 1st Class
Dec 23, 2006
Great pictures and thanks for the memories. I was to South Korea in 2011 and visited many of the places your pictures show. I was impressed by the cleanliness of Seoul, and respect that the Koreans had for their elders. I also found it amusing and sad of the rivalry between the 2 Korea's at the DMZ was extended to even who had the tallest building. If my memory is correct, the Freedom House (?) started out as a one story building. The North Korean counterpart was constructed to be taller. When the Freedom House was renovated it was constructed to be taller than the North Korean equivalent. The North Koreans then remodeled their building to be taller than the Freedom House.

There was also (in 2011) a wish by Koreans whose families had been split by the border reunite so thier familes could be together again.

Just some thoughts and observations from 10 years ago.



Oct 12, 2011
There was also (in 2011) a wish by Koreans whose families had been split by the border reunite so thier familes could be together again.

Great post, Eagledad. I like the Koreans, great people. There have been hopes this will continue happening for years and it occasionally still does, prior to 2011 previous South Korean and US governments facilitated transfers in exchange for aid, but once the DPRK got their nuclear weapons programme in swing, the South and the rest of the world changed their attitudes and things became tenser. The current RoK president, Moon Jae In is interested in reconciliation, but Kim Jong Un is reluctant to reverse his country's nuclear programme, which is why talks between all parties keep failing. The Kims won't back down on their nuke programme.


Oct 12, 2011
The last post in this thread sees us returning to Camp Bonifas following our brief but fascinating journey to the JSA. There's a tourist centre with displays and the usual shop (on a military base!), so we spent time there before being bundled back onto the bus to cross over into the real world again. This is a Buddhist shrine at Camp Bonifas and the only place we could take photographs outside. It is dedicated to those from UN countries who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Korean War.


This is the rather ornate interior, with tablets in the background signifying the nations that took part in the war.


Next to the shrine is this bell tower, designed to call to prayer. I have a fancy for the Eastern architectural style.


The bell and its percussion instrument, a large swinging log. These bells can weigh several tons in their biggest form.


Inside the display room are various items of interest relating to the conflict, including this.


This is a KPA Officer's dress cap, typically seen as a part of the dress uniform of DPRK officers.


I tried to find information about a Capt Byon who might have defected, but could not.


Defection happens more often than the DPRK is prepared to admit, with the JSA the most likely place to do it, if you're a soldier stationed at the border, that is.


Now we turn to the most guesome artifact mentioned earlier, the tree involved in what's become known as the "Axe Murder Incident". Remember Arthur Bonifas, whom the base is named after? He died during a brutal incursion by DPRK personnel across the border at the Bridge-Of-No-Return at the JSA (you might have to go back to the model in one of my first posts as I didn't get to go there when at the JSA), hacked to death by KPA soldiers with an axe. Here's a bit of background, rather than me writing about it:

Here's a piece of the tree trunk being felled at the time Bonifas was sadly killed.


This is a photograph of the structure at what is now the JSA where the armistice was signed, when it was completed.


This is a copy of the armistice agreement document, with signatures of the representatives of the countries involved, the DPRK, PRC and UNC represented by US military personnel.


So, that was my day tour of the DMZ during a tense and interesting time. I hope you enjoyed it. I'm still hoping that one day I'll get to look in the opposite direction from the Panmungak House toward Freedom House and the West. Maybe if they reinstate the Wonsan airshow...

More images here: DMZ Korea 2017

Thanks for looking.

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