Gamaksan Suspension Bridge & Nuri Peace Park Near The DMZ
A couple weekends ago, I was able to go on a tour to Gamaksan Suspension Bridge and the DMZ. I’ll be honest, that I hadn’t really had any interest in visiting the DMZ before, at least not the Paju area DMZ. Mostly, because so many people go there, I was unsure how much of it was a tourist zone/trap and how much of it was educational. A few years back I visited the DMZ in the Cheorwan area and found it extremely interesting but also it was insightful and real. There weren’t large busloads of people and the village that used to be there is just buildings that are clearly war torn or just rubble. It wasn’t a spot you’d take a selfie or smile and that sort of seems to be what Imjingak is… but, that’s not all it is. So let’s dive in…
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Gamaksan Suspension Bridge
This was actually the last stop on our tour, but it was my favorite part so I’m going to talk about it first. The Gamaksan Suspension Bridge spans 150 meters across Silmari Valley and was the longest suspension bridge in Korea for a hot minute. It was opened in the autumn of 2016 and was the longest for just over a year it seems until the Wonju Suspension Bridge was finished in the beginning of 2018. While it’s not the LONGEST anymore, the Gamaksan Suspension Bridge is substantial and pretty awe inspiring. The official name of the bridge is actually “Gloucester Heroes Bridge” as it is dedicated to the 1st Battalion belonging to the Gloucester Regiment of the British Army who fought in the Korean War. Along with the 170th Mortar Platoon, the 1st Battalion battled three divisions of the Chinese Communist Army and were completely wiped out sadly. This bridge commemorates their sacrifice which will never be forgotten.
Gamaksan rises 675 meters above sea level and is oft described as the ‘closest mountain to the DMZ’ which may not be completely accurate but it is probably the most popular one to hike near the DMZ, as Korean Trails explains. Check out their site if you want to cross the suspension bridge and hike up to the peak. The site has substantial information on what you’ll see and the historical relevance of the area. If you’re like me though and don’t have time to hike or JUST want to see the suspension bridge though, then you’re in luck because the suspension bridge is just 10 minutes up some stairs from the bus drop off/parking lot area. This might be the most easily accessed suspension bridge in the country.
Do be aware, that do to the ease of access, there are plenty of people that are there checking it out. That doesn’t mean don’t go, BUT when we went, we were able to get up and to the bridge in 10 minutes. We were also able to stop and take pics on the bridge fairly easily without a ton of people waiting. However, Arielle went in the autumn and it took her 3 HOURS to get up that same set of stairs to the bridge and then there were SO many people on the bridge, Arielle didn’t even want to chance the weight limit and just watched from afar as it was bumper to bumper… or behind to behind on the bridge with hikers. Want to see what another nearby bridge looks like when it’s packed with people bumper to bumper and I tried to cross? Check out this stop at a nearby reservoir. WOWZA!
Go with ease of access in mind and maybe go when it’s not autumn for the best, lease people, options. Or just get there super early in the morning when only photographers want to wake up.
Nuri Peace Park (평화누리 공원) & the Imjingak Resort (임진각관광지)
The Nuri Peace Park (평화누리 공원) is a part of the Imjingak Resort (임진각관광지) which is located 7 kilometers from the DMZ. The area has a bit of an awkwardly touristy vibe in an otherwise super serious area. Built in 1972 in the hopes that unification would someday be possible, visitors can see the The Bridge of Freedom in which Koreans seeking the south crossed after the signing of the Armistice Agreement. The bridge is marked with flags, relics and banners from Koreans that have signed their hopes and dreams for re-unification as well as put the names of family members that are still in the north. It is here that people may awkwardly take selfies and left me with a weird taste in my mouth. This bridge is just steps from the Mangbaedan Altar where families with members still in the north come to perform ancestral rites because they can’t go to their hometowns in the north. Here you can also see the Gyeongui Train Line which was destroyed during the Korean war but has been under construction since 2000. This trip to the DMZ was very different from a previous trip I’d taken to the Cheorwan DMZ area where the experience was a bit more somber and bullet-hole ridden.As much as this is for tourists in so many ways, there was a lot to learn and understand and our guide did an amazing job. She explained so much but also kept the tour a bit upbeat and hopeful. From Imjingak, we headed in to see the 3rd Tunnel which was discovered in October of 1978. We weren’t allowed to photograph anything there so I can’t show you anything, but I will say if you have the choice to either ride down on the monorail they’ve built or walk… take the monorail. It’s quite the climb.
FYI: Technically, you cannot just go into the DMZ or the Civilian Controlled Zone on your own so you have to be in a group. You CAN visit Imjingak without being in a tour, but if you want to go any further, you must join a group. All tours start in Imjingak anyway, so if you choose one, they will stop here first most likely. You can either join one that will pick you up in Seoul so it’s super easy, or make your way out to Imjingak in Paju on your own and then get on a bus from there. Some options for DMZ tours that I would recommend include:
- Klook offers half day tours that include transportation to and from Seoul as well as stops at Imjingak, the Freedom Bridge, the 3rd Tunnel, Dora Observatory and Dora Station.
- Join the full day Klook tour that stops at Imingak, the 3rd Tunnel, Dora Observatory and Station, Unification Village and the Peace Observatory near the Northern Limit Line.
- If you want to make your way out to Camp Greaves, get a shuttle bus ticket that will get you out to Imjingak where you’ll have to find the area to sign up for the FREE bus to Camp Greaves.
Nuri Peace Park
Nuri Peace Park is quite different from the very serious Freedom Bridge and other rusted train relics just on the other side of the parking lot at Imjingak Resort. This park was built in 2005 as part of a Global Peace Festival sponsored by Gyeonggi-do. As the theme was peace and unification, the park is famous for artworks under this theme. Thousands of pinwheels turn in the breezes of “Windy Hill” and there is an outdoor amphitheater that could seat thousands. Unless you bring a picnic, the park doesn’t take more than 30 minutes to walk around and take photos. This is where a lot of families and school field trips come as it is quite a lovely open space in the area. From this park area though, you can also hop a FREE bus to nearby Camp Greaves that was once an American military base that is now an artistic and historic place to learn about the DMZ. It’s really interesting and a different way to tour the area.
Dorasan Station (도라산역)
Dorasan Station is the furthest north you can go on the South Korean rail line. The station is 56 kilometers from Seoul and 205 kilometers from Pyeongyang. The station was opened as a tourist stop in 2002 in the run up to the Korea-Japan World Cup. The station can be reached on the Gyeongui Line from Seoul Station but you have to present valid identification at Imjingak since it is located within the Civilian Control Zone (CCZ). Once the line is completed to Pyeongyang, and idealistically after unification, the station would also play the role of customs and immigration for visitors. Currently, they give tourists a stamp on a fake passport page to symbolize what will play out at the station. It’s the emptiest station I’ve ever seen.
I appreciate that I had the opportunity to visit the DMZ area here as it wasn’t quite what I expected and was at the same time. If I were to recommend where to go if you want that DMZ experience, I’d still say Cheorwan, but if you’re pressed for time and what more of an overview, then this is definitely a great option. Make sure to book a DMZ tour in advance as they can fill up and you’ll need a guide to get you through the various check points. Don’t forget to take your passport with you as well.