In the 1960s-1980s, North Korea dug tunnels under the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into South Korea in an attempt to surprise attack their neighbors from underground. Depending on the size of the tunnel it could funnel 10,000-30,000 soldiers an hour and some are big enough for vehicles as well.
Unfortunately for North Korea, the tunnels were discovered.
That is to say, four of them: three just north of Seoul in the 1970s and the fourth farther east near Yanggu in the early 1990s. There is speculation whether there are more, but nobody on the South side really knows.
As Coen and I were driving through South Korea in an oh-let’s-take-that road-to-see-where-it-leads kind of way, we got a regional map at a tourist information office and learned that we were near the fourth tunnel. We knew that in Seoul you needed to sign up for an organized tour to visit the tunnels near the capital, which we didn’t feel like doing, and hoped this wouldn’t be the case here.
Visiting the 4th Tunnel in the Demilitarized Zone
We were in luck. No guide or tour needed. We bought a permit at the Yanggu tourist information office and drove a couple of kilometers out of town to the tunnel. By the look of the size of the parking lot it can be packed here, we assume on weekends and during holidays/vacation. We were the first ones today and had to wait half an hour before the tour would start.
We passed the explanatory panels and photos inside the building on site. I was disappointed. No, to be honest, I was annoyed. Everything was in Korean, nothing in English.
Why this bothered me?
Because half of the presentation was about the Korean War, specifically the battles fought in this region. It was largely fought by Koreans but also by soldiers from many other nations and I think it would be a sign of respect to those soldiers – and their countrymen – to have translated the panels.
I set off to find a brochure in English, but that didn’t exist either. I felt kind of laughed away, ‘Neah, we don’t have that’, which annoyed me as well. As I considered my actions for a moment the soldier looked at the storm brewing on my face.
“Okay, let’s go,” he said and accompanied me to the rooms where, in broken English, he tried to capture what we were looking at.
Inside the Museum of the 4th Tunnel
Initially his explanation was focused on weapons and mines, which Coen was interested in. I then asked for the more elaborate explanations on the panels.
“Oh that’s about the battles,” he answered.
“I understand. That’s where my countrymen fought, from the Netherlands. Please tell me,” I asked.
I think only now he understood my point. But this was too much to ask. Not because he didn’t want to but this was beyond his translation skills. We stood in the front of the panel of Heartbreak Ridge.
“Ah, Nederland fought here,” he said and read more. “They did good,” he added but I have no idea whether that really stood there and let the matter rest.
Our tour was about to begin. We were invited to sit down in the otherwise empty auditorium with a huge screen to watch a documentary. Music blasted through the speakers as if it needed to be heard ten miles away. With fingers propped in my
It was not so much the text as it was the tone, for me very reminiscent as to how Chavez approached the masses in Venezuela. But then, it may work for certain people; it’s something that turns us off completely. The situation between North and South is serious enough and without any need for further dramatization.
Into the Tunnel, Under the Demilitarized Zone
Oh well, off to the4th tunnel. Our soldier guide explained how they had learned about this tunnel from a defecting North Korean soldier. They had searched for it by drilling narrow holes into the mountains until one drill hit a void; they had discovered the tunnel.
It had not yet been finished and the South Koreans built the last 700 meters to create an opening. They closed down the tunnel underground at the end of their side under the DMZ, which is now monitored with CCTV while they use the first part of the tunnel for tourist purposes.
While the South Koreans side drilled their 700 meters with enormous machinery, the North Koreans had dynamited the tunnel of roughly 1.7 by 1.7 meters wide. This, our guide explained, is high enough for the short North Koreans to walk through. We took a seat in the narrow-gauge tourist train that rode into the tunnel for a couple of minutes, and returned to the open air.
While somewhat disappointed with the explanatory part of the visit, to have been here and to have seen to what an extent people (a power/government) can go in order to fight with fellow humans, was a sobering experience.
Also Worth Visiting in the Region
Visiting the DMZ – Demilitarized Zone
There are different ways to visit the Demilitarized Zone and the 4th tunnel. We opted for the independent way because we have our own wheels. If you don’t, it makes sense to visit the DMZ with an organized tour. There are several tour agencies offering such a tour. Check which one suits you best.