[english.visitkorea.or.kr] The Gyeongwon Line, the train line that runs between Seoul and North Korea’s city of Wonsan in the northern part of Gangwon-do, was built in 1914 and was later disconnected when Korea was divided. Korail launched their second DMZ Train on August 1, 2014 to celebrate the train line’s 100th year. The Gyeongwon Line takes visitors from Seoul Station to Baengmagoji Station, the northernmost station. Meanwhile, the Gyeongui Line, which opened in May this year, runs from Seoul Station to Dorasan Station.

The DMZ Train (top) / The DMZ Train traveling to Baengmagoji (bottom left) and crew members of the DMZ Train (bottom photos courtesy of Korail)

The Road to Baengmagoji

The DMZ Train has three cars, each designed with a different theme and with a different message. The Peace Car (lead car) has a rusty steam locomotive motif, conjuring up images of hope and memories of the past. The other two cars are decorated with images of people from across the globe holding hands, symbolizing Love and Unity. Inside, the seats have pinwheel patterns and the walls display photographs of the DMZ’s past and present.

The DMZ Train departs from Seoul Station and makes stops at Cheongnyangni, Uijeongbu, Dongducheon, Hantangang River, Yeoncheon and Sintan-ri Stations before finally arriving at Baengmagoji Station. The name of the station was derived from the name of a small hill in Cheorwon that was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Korean War, the Battle of Baengmagoji. 30 minutes into the train ride, the crew greets the passengers and holds games such as a scavenger hunt, trivia quiz, on-the-spot photo contest, and a postcard lottery where winners receive prizes. From the monitors installed in the front and rear side of the car, visitors can watch the scenery unfolding in front of the moving train. There is a snack station in the second car where passengers can buy hardtacks (biscuits commonly used by the military because they are inexpensive and long lasting) and other military food items, and barbed wire souvenirs. DMZ postcards are also available for free.

Cheorwon Durumi Peace Village (left) / Bibimbap at Durumi Peace Village

Individuals taking the DMZ Train can purchase their train tickets, get off at Baekmagoji Station, and take either the Security Tour or the City Tour. Bus tickets can be purchased from the ticket counter at Baengmagoji Station. Security Tour passengers are then transported to the nearby Durumi Village for lunch. Those who chose the City Tour can have lunch at the Goseokjeong National Tourist Area.

Package tours are also available and can be purchased from Korail’s website (online booking for the DMZ Train is currently available on the Korean version of the site only). Package tours for the Security Tour include lunch while those for the City Tour do not. A tour guide will be on board the bus to give a commentary about the history of Cheorwon-gun as the bus travels.

Bullet and shell marks on the walls of the House of Labor Party Ruins (left) / The remaining foundations of the House of Labor Party Ruins

Cheorwon Security Tour

The first stop of the Security Tour is Durumi Peace Village. The village was named after the durumi (red-crowned crane), one of the most common animals inhabiting the DMZ. Located in Daema-ri, Cheorwon-eup, Durumi Peace Village is very close to the Civilian Control Zone (CCZ). The road from Baengmagoji Station to the village was once a flourishing street in Cheorwon. Now, the barbed-wire fences next to the trees prohibit entry to the area leading to a minefield.

Durumi Peace Village was built to attract tourists and revitalize the economy in the northern part of the CCZ. The village offers seasonal programs such as a farming experience in the summer and the Durumi School (visiting and feeding durumi) in the winter. The package tour includes a bibimbap lunch, which is made with fresh ingredients from Cheorwon.

The next stop is the House of Labor Party Ruins, the building used by the North Korean Labor Party until the Korean War broke out. The Russian architecture style is still evident in the foundations and the frame of this now hollow building. Looking closely, one can see bullets holes in the walls, as well as tread marks from a tank on the front steps of the building. Behind the building, there is a garden with mugungwa trees.

Next is a visit to the Anti-Communist Observation Post of the Baekgol Army Division (one of South Korea’s oldest exiting infantry divisions). This is where the soldiers observe the demilitarized zone and the region bordering North Korea. In the auditorium, visitors will be shown a video explaining the history of the division and the current state of affairs. Photography is prohibited inside the observation post. Remains of the Geumgangsan Mountain Electric Railroad Bridge can also be seen from here. During the Korean War, this bridge was used for transporting North Korea’s war supplies. It now remains as a structure symbolizing war and division.

Cheorwon Durumi-gwan (left) / Woljeong-ri Station

Woljeong-ri Station, the next destination, is an abandoned train station on the northernmost end of the Gyeongwon Line. Behind the station, there remains the wreck of a train bombed during the Korean War and the train’s Locomotive No. 4001. Cheorwon is also home to the Cheorwon Crane Park where visitors can learn more about the different bird species found at the DMZ through the exhibits.

The last stop is the Baengma High Ground Battlefield, one of the bloodiest battlefields during the Korean War. During ten days of battle, the hill changed ownership 24 times after repeated attacks and counterattacks for its possession. It was one of the most intense position-grasping battles for a small hill during the course of the Korean War. The more than 270,000 bombings changed the original shape of the hill and turned everything white and gray, making it look like a white horse (baengma) lying down when viewed from above. A monument was built to honor the casualties of this battle and a memorial service is held annually on October 16 to commemorate the victory.

Baengma High Ground Battle Memorial Monument (top) / Railroad disconnection point at Baengmagoji Station (bottom left) / Baengma High Ground Observatory (bottom right)

Cheorwon City Tour

The City Tour shows visitors the beautiful scenery around the Hantangang River. The bus takes you to the Goseokjeong National Tourist Area from Baengmagoji Station. Located in Jangheung-ri, Dongsong-eup in Cheorwon-gun, Goseokjeong Pavilion was built during the reign of King Jinpyeong (reigned from 579–632 AD), the 26th king of the Silla Dynasty. The pavilion was lost during the Korean War and restored in 1971 by community leaders in Cheorwon. Today, Goseokjeong refers to the entire area around the Goseokjeong Pavilion and the valley surrounding Goseok Rock. The City Tour gives you one hour to explore the area on your own. A local specialty here is maeun-tang (spicy fish stew) and there are plenty of restaurants serving this dish in this area.

After Goseokjeong, the bus then takes passengers to Seungilgyo Bridge. The bridge was started by the North Koreans in 1948 and completed by the South Koreans after the war. The two halves of this bridge are clearly different in design. Cars are no longer allowed to cross the bridge since it is a registered cultural asset. In 1999, the government commissioned the construction of Hantandaegyo Bridge which was built alongside Seungilgyo.

The City Tour then continues to Songdaeso, where the best views of Hantangang River and Jusangjeolli Cliff can be seen, before finally heading to Baengma High Ground Battlefield, the last stop of the tour.

The City Tour takes you back to Baengmagoji Station where you can take the 4 p.m. train back to Seoul. While waiting for the train, passengers can sample some treats or buy local specialties from the temporary market set up at the station.

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