[singlepic=669,250,250,right]The KTO (Korea Tourism Organization) sponsored a free guided tour to two DMZ destinations to foreigners living in Korea last Friday. I didn’t join the tour and it rained heavily. One of the destinations in their itinerary is Cheorwon, located on the far north of South Korea, beyond the 37th Parallel. The place used to be North Korea’s land until after the Korean War. I’d been to Cheorwon four times since I got here five years ago. The first time was in 2004 with just me and my husband. Second time was in 2005 with my mother. Third was with my parents-in-law and aunt-in-law in 2006. And the last time was in 2007 with my sister.
Cheorwon is famous not only for its DMZ tour but for its rice and samgyeopsal. The best “kalbitang” (beef rib soup) I’d ever had was in one of the restaurants located near the Goseok-jeong. In the autumn season, you’d see thousands of migratory birds resting in Cheorwon’s rice paddies. (Avian flu?)
Cheorwon is a two-hour drive from Seoul (if you drive like my husband who almost always slows down in the countryside as if it’s Route 66). The road from Cheorwon to Chuncheon (a famous place known as a shooting location for dramas like Winter Sonata) is one of the most scenic places in Korea, specially in Autumn, and I’m sad to learn that there are plans to build a highway there.
The DMZ tour in Cheorwon is guided by the military so it’s necessary to be there 20 minutes earlier than the scheduled tours for the registration. Good thing we always take our IDs with us. There are shuttle buses provided by the tour office for people who don’t have their cars. I’d advise bringing a car specially if you don’t want to be in a bus full of ajummas and ajosshis.
First stop in Cheorwon is Goseok-jeong. The control office for application to tour the area is on the second floor. On the first floor is an exhibit of North Korean goods. There is a nice fall and a valley located a few meters behind the office building. I’d only been there once.
The convoy of vehicles starts at the scheduled time. The military guides this tour as the whole trip is about 50 kilometers or so. (Sorry, I don’t know the exact traveling distance) The first destination is the 2nd Tunnel, one of the four tunnels made by the North in the early 1970s in an attempt to invade South Korea. Tourists are allowed to enter the tunnels, however it is prohibited to take pictures and the guards are there to “confiscate” cameras in such cases. The walk down the tunnel is steep and long. It is not advisable for people with health problems to go down.
After the tunnel, the next stop is “Cheorui Samgakji Observatory”. On the topmost floor of the observatory, there are binoculars that can be used to see the “northern sights” for just 500 won (US$0.50). The 500 won is worth the sights that you’ll see. We actually saw some deers inside the DMZ. I was surprised to learn that there is a palace inside the demilitarized area. A mini-lecture is held to educate the tourists of the area and its surroundings.
To the right of the observatory is the Woljeongri Station. The last train to stop at the station is still there, riddled with bullets. This is one of my favorite stops since it reminds me of how frightening a war is. In front of the train is a bunker and the demarcation line.
The last destination of the tour is the Labor Party Headquarters. Before we got there, we passed by the ruins of some Japanese colonial buildings: a bank, agriculture inspection center and an ice plant. There are warnings on the side for landmines and we’re not allowed to stop. I just took the pictures while we’re driving.
The description at the Labor Party Headquarters reads:
“After the Liberation in 1945, the communist built this building to strengthen political influence and control of people until this Korea War. North Korea exploited people in the name of contribution and mobilized manpower and equipment by force to construct this building. For five years, the communist committed brutal exploitation and arrested, tortured, and massacred many patriotic citizens. In the trench behind the building many skeletons were found along with bullets and wires used in execution.”
My husband said Cheorwon is a major lost for North Korea since the area has a wide plain that is used for rice planting. We also visited Baekmagoji, which is the site of the bloodiest battle in the Korean War history. Filipino soldiers fought in this battle too.