After the Berlin wall that (thankfully) went down in the late 1980’s, Korea’s DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South, is the most famous military site of its era. It is not only the most heavily guarded area in the world but also (inadvertently) the site of a unique nature reserve.
The western part of the wall is a popular tourist site for visitors to South Korea, and only about an hour journey north from Seoul. As there is no public transport a guided tour is the best option for visitors. A guided tour takes care of the many details of the trip, including the DMZ entrance fee and checking the passport requirements before departure. All visitors must have a current passport with them at all times.
Amongst the many historically significant sites in the DMZ are the North Korean tunnels. Four have been discovered, with one, the tunnel of aggression, being open for public inspection. This particular tunnel was uncovered in 1978 after a tip from a defector. With a length of about 1600 metres, and internal dimensions of about 2 m width and height, it is the largest tunnel known. Though well-guarded visitors may enter and inspect one of the internal barricades that mark the North/south boarder. Photography is not allowed in the tunnel.
Both sides of the demilitarized zone have peaceful villages in sight of the military facilities. The Daeseong-dong village on the south side houses South Korean citizens who are exempt for military service and taxes. The Kiljong-dong village on the North side cannot be visited by tourists from the south. This village appears as a luxurious group of brightly painted multi-story buildings with modern conveniences, but is suspected to consist of unoccupied, empty buildings put up merely for propaganda purposes.
The nature reserve around the DMZ is an unintentional product of the imposed political boarder. As people were kept out of the area the local wildlife was free to live without threat. This, along with the diverse geography of the area, resulted in some unique animal species. The extremely rare Siberian tigers, Amur leopards and Asiatic black bear are thought to survive here, with several types of rare crane that are often depicted in Asian art. Along with 2900 plant species there are 70 mammals and 320 known birds that survive, perhaps exclusively, in this nature reserve.
The DMZ tour provided both an important look at the historical sights of the Korean military situation, and some extremely rare Asian flora and fauna.