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Lots to see and do in the DMZ
THE push to make the DMZ more accessible and attract greater interest as a tourist destination, is being made at all levels, with a wide variety of tours and activities available.
The DMZ Unification Train Tour is an excellent way to start. The twice daily train runs between Seoul Station and Dorasan Station.
There are two recommended tour routes, the Security Tour and the General Tour.
For the Security Tour, visitors need to purchase a security tour pass at the Imjingang Station ticket booth operated by Paju City. Upon reaching Dorasan Station, the pass allows visitors to tour the Third Tunnel and Dora Observatory by bus. The General Tour lets visitors walk around in the Dorasan Peace Park 300 metres away from Dorasan Station.
A DMZ Train pass can be purchased at railway stations across the country, or on the Korail homepage (http://www.letskorail.com). International visitors must carry their passports to purchase a DMZ Train pass.
For nature lovers, the DMZ has amazing views of green mountains, the clean blue sea, the crystal-clear river, and valleys. Sights include Yangju Bulgoksan Mountain with its magnificent nature, Chuncheon Soyanggang River with its quiet ambiance, Pocheon Baekun Valley with its clear water, and Ganghwa Seokmodo Island with its splendid views of the sea.
Nami Island in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, would be a familiar name to many K-drama fans, as it was where the series Winter Sonata was shot in 2002. The island is filled with dense woods and has many facilities, including lodges, museums, and stages. Diehard romantics will love the paths where you can take a peaceful walk under the green shadows.
More predatory nature lovers can seek their fill at Baekhak Reservoir in Yeongcheon, Gyeonggi Province, which is renowned for many species of fish such as carp, crucian, and catfish.
The fishing experience can be further enhanced with the amazing natural view of 22.9 hectares surrounded by the mountains and white egrets flying in groups around the reservoir. The public was forbidden entry to the area till 1989.
Leisure activities also abound in the area. These include river rafting on the whitewater Naerincheon Stream in Inje; Baemikkumi Sculpture Park in Modo, Ongjin, where you can view the splendid beach and surrealistic sculpture works; and other diverse dynamic activities and quiet leisure activities in border-area cities and counties.
River rafting is also available on the Hantangang River, which is a popular hangout for locals during the summer as it is just an hour and a half drive from Seoul.
For culture lovers, Heyri Culture Art Village in Paju, Gyeonggi Province is the largest art village in Korea.Visitors can see many interesting buildings and sculptures occupying different corners in the village.
Also in Paju, the Provence Village is an interesting little French-themed village in the middle of Korea where visitors can soak up the charming atmosphere of many colourful cobbled plazas, cottages with wooden shutters, and an array of sweet boutiques. Both attractions can be combined in one as part of a day tour.
For a more benign blast from the past, Camp Greaves was one of the oldest US military bases in Korea, but after the withdrawal of the US Armed Forces, the camp was remodelled into a peace security experience facility for civilians in 2013. It is used as a youth hostel for visitors to have a security tour and a DMZ ecological experience while spending a night at the camp. K-drama fans will also recognise Camp Greaves as the film location for the series Descendants Of The Sun.
Thrill-seekers must not miss the Inje Speedium Resort Circuit, Korea's first-ever motor cultural space complex in Inje. The 3,908 metre long circuit is a part of a larger complex, named the Inje Auto Theme Park. The site includes the main circuit, a separate kart racing arena, a 134-room hotel and a condominium with 118 rooms. For more environmentally-friendly pursuits, the DMZ Bicycle Tour is endorsed by the Gyeonggi Tourism Organization, and is a monthly activity that rides along the fences demarcating the civilian controlled line (CCL).
The unique 17.2km route offers participants the rare opportunity to experience cycling along the most heavily guarded area on earth. The bike tour has been running since May 2010.
There are two levels for beginners and intermediate or higher riders, the first running 14 km and the latter covering the full distance.
Since the DMZ Bike Tour runs through the CCL, it has a strict background check policy. Despite the minor hassles however the views are worth it. Tongildaegyo Bridge, seen while riding along the barbed-wire fence, has no iron fence, offering a broad view of the beautiful Imjingang River. Riders will also be able to see the wide river with resting water birds, as well as grassland habitats. Across the river are rice paddies, showing the peaceful scene of golden fields waving in the breeze.
The DMZ Bike Tour is a special DMZ experience programme, which runs on the fourth Sunday of each month from February to November. Both individuals and groups are eligible to participate in this program, which takes three hours to complete.
A reservation must be made in advance, and only the first 300 people are accepted, making this tour very special experience to the participants.
The DMZ is also the home of "The Most Special Walking Tour in the World: Pyeonghwa (Peace) Nuri Trail".
This is the northernmost trail in South Korea as the only divided country in the world. Opened in May 2010, the trail connects Gimpo, Paju, Yeoncheon, and Goyang near the DMZ. Consisting of 12 routes (three routes in Gimpo, two routes in Goyang, two routes in Paju, and three routes in Yeoncheon), the trail stretches over 189 km.
Each route is about 15 km long and takes four to five hours for visitors to complete. Dotted along the trail are village alleys, rice paddies, dikes, costal iron rails, downstream the Hangang River, and the Imgingang River, letting visitors experience Korean nature, history, and culture at their finest.
The Gyeonggi Tourism Organization operates scheduled Pyeonghwa Nuri Trail Walking Tours. There are a range of routes from the 11 km Paju Route to the 15 km Yeoncheon Route.
The border areas are also the scene of enjoyable annual festivals. The diverse seasonal festivals are full of sightseeing attractions, food, and fun things. Visitors can taste the wild greens grown in spring; have outdoor fun in the summer, harvest experiences in autumn and ice-fishing experiences in winter. For example, the Tomatoes Festival in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, is held in August and has been held around the town of Sachang since 2003 and over 10 million people have visited every year, enjoying various experiences involving tomatoes, such as tomato zenga, tomato wrestling, tomato sliding, and making a tomato sandwich.
In winter, the Sancheoneo Festival is around the Hwacheon Stream in January. It is one of the top four winter festivals in Korea, where the water in the Hwacheon Stream freezes and visitors can enjoy ice-fishing for trout. Fringe activities include ice-sled, ice-skating and bare-hand fishing. Runners out for a unique experience can try Yanggu's DMZ Marathon which is held in August. The event runs along a path to Geumgangsan Mountain in the northern restricted civilian area to Dutayeon. Runners can do the full and half marathon courses as well as a 10 km course and a 5 km course.
Foodies can check out unique food source programmes with the Jangdan Bean Festival in Paju in November.
Paju Jangdan-gun is well known as a major producer of beans, and Jangdan Baekmok, which was designated as the first recommended bean variety in Korea in 1913, is a native variety from the area. Paju City holds the Jangdan Bean Festival in November in Injin-gak Square. Activities include beancurd making, among others.
The border area is also the source of some attractive local specialty products. These include grapes, apples, pears, and mushrooms from both Gimpo and Pocheon, as well as rice from the former and ginseng from the latter,
Paju is known for grapes, blue berries, pears, strawberries, tomatoes, and jangdan beans, while Chuncheon has potatoes, tomatoes and cherries.