After visiting the Joint Security Area, the tour went to Dorasan Station and Dorasan Observatory, where we could look into North Korea.
Dorasan Station is the northernmost train station within South Korea on the train line which connects Seoul to Pyeongyang. A lot of money was invested in rebuilding the train line to reconnect South and North Korea, mostly by wealthy North Koreans living in South Korea (such as the founder of Hyundai). In 2007, train service between South and North Korea resumed, running from Dorasan Station to the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea (more about that later in this post). However, this train service was cut off by North Korea in 2008. Now, the only trains which go to Dorasan Station are tourist trains from Seoul.
Some South Koreans had hoped that this train service from Dorasan to Kaesong Industrial Complex would be expanded to full train service from Seoul to Pyeongyang. Our guide (who is South Korean) said that it would be wonderful to have trains from Seoul to Beijing and Seoul to Moscow (via the Trans-Siberian railway), but “we have to go through their country” (I find it interesting that she refers to ‘North Korea’ as ‘their country’ – apparently our guide considers South Korea and North Korea to be different countries).
In anticipation of establishing international train service, a customs room has even been built in the station … yet so far, this customs room has never been used.
We then went to Dorasan Observatory. The tour guide said that the last time she came, it was so foggy and hazy that visitors couldn’t see anything. We were luckier.
We could actually see quite a bit of detail from the observatory that day. Once again we saw the propaganda village Kijong-dong. I actually saw a truck moving out of the village – most likely workers from the Kaesong Industrial Complex who were sent in for maintenance work. Hey! I saw NORTH KOREANS in NORTH KOREA with BINOCULARS.
So, what is the Kaesong Industrial Complex? It’s basically a place south of Kaesong City (in North Korea) where South Korean companies have set up factories, and North Koreans work in them. The North Korean government takes a cut of their salaries, and of course they are paid much less than South Korean workers, but even after the North Korean government takes its cut, it’s still a much higher salary than most North Koreans get, so they are eager to get these jobs.
On the way to/from Dorasan we passed the highway checkpoint where trucks travelling to / from the Kaesong Industrial Complex pass through. As the tour guide said, if we went any further on that highway without turning off, we would have driven straight into North Korea.
All of the hills – and much of the land on the North Korean side – is stripped of trees. Our guide says that this is to make it harder for would-be defectors to hide. I wonder if the North Koreans simply needed the wood to burn in winter.
I could actually see a lot more details that were captured in my photos (I guess my eyes + binoculars are sharper than a cheap camera). I even saw all of the way to Kaesong City itself, which unlike Kijong-dong and even, in a way, the Kaesong Industrial Complex, is a real North Korean city. ‘Well, what did you see,’ someone asked me. ‘Tall white buildings’ I said.
The guide says there is a village at the foot of those mountains and that sometimes – with binoculars – they can see North Korean elementary school children walking around.
So that’s Dorasan Observatory, where I got to get my best look at North Korea with my own eyes. In the next post, I will conclude the description of this DMZ tour with the Third Tunnel.