At YPT we are more than casually interested in the DPRK, so a few years ago we decided to take things up a notch on a geeky level and arrange our now quite famous North Korean Borderlands Tour. We drive from Three Points Pass, where China, North Korea and Russia meet all along the border, until we get to Dandong, the last land border point between China and North Korea. A great tour, and one that inspired us to do the same on the border between the North and South. Here’s our guide on what to see on the southern side of the DMZ!
I’ll start with the most obvious, and a must for most people visiting the north, or south side of Korea. There’s two versions of this on the southern side – the Korean run and the American run. What do they both have in common? Ever wondered whether the North or South had the stricter DMZ tour? Panmunjom is much stricter on the South than the North, with there being a dress code, no pointing, and – get this – they don’t even let you drink beer there. Land of the free, eh? That being said, it’s a really good contrast to visiting from the North, and is a must if you are visiting the Republic of Korea.
Cheorwon County, or Chorwon depending on where you sit on the Korean spelling divide, is situated in Gangwon province, and slap bang on the border with North Korea. After the Korean War, the whole of Cheorwon County was part of North Korea. During the war, however, it saw intense fighting and changed hands on multiple occasions. The county is now split into Chorwon in the north, and Cheorwon in the south. So why visit Cheorwon County? Firstly there’s Woljeong-ri Station, which, pre-war, linked the two Koreas. Nowadays it’s the northernmost southern station to the DMZ, with there being a sign that says “This train wants to run, symbolizing the tragedy of national division”. My second favourite spot here is the Labor Party Building, which was built under Soviet influence for bureaucrats to work in. A great example of the architecture of the time. There’s also a ton of other great sites, such as the Seungilgyo Bridge, The Second Underground Tunnel, and the Iron Triangle Zone (which offers great views into North Korea), which make it easy to spend at least a day or two in Cheorwon.
Sokcho and the northern border
Sokcho is a city on the coast of Korea in Gangwon-do province that has a population of around 90,000 (which would make it a small village in China). Much like Cheorwon, this used to be DPRK territory, and can be considered another part of what was “won” by the south. Why should you visit Sokcho? Leaving all the Korean War stuff alone, it’s simply a great city. Sokcho has a good nightlife, seafood, and beaches. But we promised war stuff, right? The most famous place to see is the Abai Village, which is populated by North Korean “expats”; actually a little lame. In my humble view. head north towards the DMZ, where you can see the former villas of President Kim Il Sung (there a photo of a very young General Kim Jong Il). Interestingly, you can also visit the former palace of President Rhea of the RoK. Head further north still and you will find another Panmunjonesque viewing platform where you can see over into the Wonsan area of the DPRK.
There’s obviously a hell of a lot more to a tense border like this, a border that took 3 million lives and divides a nation, but you could literally go on for days about it. These are, in a very sad way, the highlights of the divided nation.