"P'anmunjom and the DMZ" Taesong-dong by mke1963

Taesong-dong Travel Guide: 13 reviews and 17 photos

The freedom village

Taesongdong is the only inhabited village in the DMZ, and lies just south of the P’anmunjom JSA. Here some several hundred Koreans live just a hundred metres away from the Median Demarcation Line. The residents refused to leave their homes after the 1953 armistice, and stayed on to farm their land. Each family has 17 hectares, compared to just four hectares for the average South Korean rural family.
To keep going with their livelihoods, the resolute Taesongdong people must put up with a rigorous curfew – in the house and locked in by 11pm without exception – and the nightly bombardment by high volume loudspeakers at the nearby, uninhabited, North Korean village of Kijongdong.
Above Taesongdong flies a massive South Korean flag on an equally huge flagpole – so huge it actually has to have have a supporting structure to hold it all up. The North Koreans have a slightly larger version at Kijongdong.

The DMZ: the practicalities

Unless you intend defecting to the North, you can only visit the DMZ as part of a tour group. Period.
If your tour does not include the P’anmunjom JSA (and the brochure will be explicit in mentioning it if it does) and most do not include it, then you are better off creating your own tour for about one-quarter of the price.
Sound paradoxical? OK, here’s how.
Your arranged tour just takes you to Iminjak, the ‘resort’ where there is a lot to see, and from there, you take a shuttle coach managed by the local authorities. Your ‘private’ coach is left for much of the day sitting in the car-park at Imjingak. The time spent looking around Imjingak depends almost entirely upon how much traffic there has been in central Seoul on the way. Your ‘guide’ buys you a ticket for the next shuttle coach and accompanies you on that shuttle. If you are lucky, your guide will tell you about the surroundings and the history of the DMZ: ours spent most of the time on his cellphone to his girlfriend. However, we managed to eavesdrop on a guide speaking to her entourage further back.
If you want to be more in control of your time at Imjingak (and there are other sites nearby worth visiting) then it is simple. Get one of the hourly trains from Seoul Station to Imjingak, and buy your own ticket at the shuttle bus office. They leave on the hour – more frequently if there is the demand. You will need to ask the driver to show you on his watch or yours what time to get back on the bus at each stop. The routine seems to be one hour at the Third Tunnel (which starts with a quick presentation in the cinema hall…make sure you get your language headphones) then the museum then down to the tunnel and back for a quick drink at the café. The museum is worth more than just a few minutes.

You will get just 15 minutes at the Dora Observatory, with a brief explanation from a soldier about the landscape in front of you. There is a strictly enforced, and rather absurd rule about not taking photographs except from behind a line five metres back from the parapet! Rather pathetic in this day and age, when any spy can buy a satellite image on the internet for a few dollars.
Note, though that unless you are going to the Panmunjom JSA, Dora Observatory is the only place you will go that is inside the DMZ on your entire trip – and only be a few metres! Despite all the melodramatics at Imjingak and as you cross the Imjingang river, this is all still part of South Korea “proper”. The DMZ starts halfway up the hill to the Dora Observatory.
The third stop is the Dorasan station, where another fifteen minute stop is allowed. This wonder of optimism and architectural splendour is ready for through trains to Pyeongyang, with signs in place and great plans for the future.
As a final note on the practical issues of this trip, it is not advisable to get one of the three trains to Dorasan, the stop beyond Imjingak, unless, that is, you want the cachet of having crossed the Freedom Bridge (actually possibly worth it, just because of that!) because once at Dorasan there doesn’t seem to be any opporutnities for getting to Dora Observatory or any of the tunnel sites. You are certainly not allowed to wander around the countryside here: every person is checked in and out again.
The brochures (and the press) always refer to the Freedom Bridge as being the only bridge between North and South Korea – this is incorrect, and you can see one of the other bridges less than a kilometre away to the north. Indeed, your tour bus will cross it on the way to the DMZ.
Our trip (for four, with a discount for two children) cost us W178,000 ‘out of a brochure’ for a half-day tour which was rushed. We could have done it by train, at our own pace – yet in less time door-to-door – for under W50,000. (The adult fare one-way from Seoul to Iminjak is 1,300 won). Sadly, once again, the folks at Lonely Planet haven’t exactly researched the options very well.
We didn’t go to P’anmunjom, for a variety of reasons, but still felt that we had really experienced the sorrow and sadness of a divided country; we also felt the real desire of Koreans to be reunited once more, but also felt that maybe the military of both Koreas and the USA benefit a little too much from the division.

  • Last visit to Taesong-dong: May 2005
  • Intro Updated Feb 3, 2006
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mke1963

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