A pleasant day trip a buddy of mine and I went on the last time I was in Korea was to the Odusan Unification Observatory just north of Seoul. The observatory is located on a hill that is strategically perched overlooking the confluence of both the Imjim and Han Rivers that creates the border with North Korea:
Here is how the area looks in the 3D Google Earth view looking into North Korea across the confluence of these two great rivers:
The first thing visitors to the observatory see is this statue of Korean independence fighter Cho Man-sik:
Cho became the first leader of post-Imperial Japan North Korea following the end of World War II. However, once the Soviet Union moved in they eventually forced Cho from power and imprisoned him due to his anti-communist leanings.
The Soviets installed their protege Kim Il-sung into power while Cho languished in prison where it is believed he and other political prisoners were executed at before the fall of Pyongyang to UN forces during the Korean War. Cho’s death only further cemented the iron grib Kim Il-sung was able to keep on North Korea until his own death in 1994.
From there it was a short walk into the observatory where they showed a short film of North Korean gymnasts for some reason. We didn’t stay and watch that for very long and walked to the top of the observatory to see the view. From the top of the observatory it is pretty clear how close to North Korea people really are because of the various ROK Army guard towers that dot the shores of the river:
The observatory does provide excellent views of North Korea, but not the real North Korea as the shores of the opposite bank of the river have the show piece collective farm apartments that are just front buildings that no one actually lives in:
They have telescopes on top of the observatory that could zoom in much further then my camera lens could and even from the telescopes I could not spot one sign of life on the opposite bank of the river into North Korea:
Equally lifeless were the hillsides that were stripped nearly bare of all vegetation which stands in sharp constrast to the lush green hillsides of South Korea:
Even looking out towards Mt. Songak that rises behind the North Korean city of Kaesong the hillsides looked very depleted of vegetation as well:
From the observatory the confluence of the Imjim and Han Rivers sure did look treacherous with its swirling waters right below us:
It seems like this would be an extremely difficult area for a North Korean commando to infiltrate into South Korea from because of both the swirling waters and the number of South Korean guards posts of the southern shore of the river:
Besides views of North Korea, the observatory also provides some nice views of this still some what rural area north of Seoul as well. For those of us that have long experience with Korea, this super highway along the DMZ that runs right by the Dorasan Observatory just continues to be an incredible sight to me considering how dangerous this area would be if hostilities were to break out:
All the development north of Seoul and the construction of this highway is all the evidence you need to conclude that the South Korean government no longer takes the threat of a North Korean invasion very seriously.
One of things being constructed is this large palace structure which I was told is supposed to be a Korguryo Museum one day:
Looking towards the south from the observatory the craggy peaks of Korea’s most visited National Park, Bukhan Mountain is easily visible:
Besides the great views from on top of the observatory, inside there is actually a some what interesting museum that shows every day items from North Korea such as their money:
Too bad the museum doesn’t have a sample of their counterfeit money as well. I would love to have seen some of their Supernotes. Ironically near this museum is where the South Korean human rights groups have been sending by balloon with their propaganda messages this same currency to North Korea.
The museum also had a display on clothes worn by the people in North Korea:
For the kids there was plenty of North Korean toys on display and none of them had anything to do with Starcraft:
There was also a room that is supposed to display a North Korean apartment. Looking at this apartment it is pretty clear they are modeling a nice apartment in Pyongyang and not how people who live outside the capitol live:
The museum even had a model of a North Korean classroom, which if the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union had their way, all South Korean classrooms would look like:
Also if you have always wanted to try some North Korean alcohol, this is the place to stock up on it because the gift shop at the observatory has a wide selection of North Korean spirits:
I have tried the Pyongyang Soju before and if you think South Korean soju is bad then don’t go near this stuff then because it causes me to imagine what kerosene must taste like.
Of course like any other tourist trap in Korea, you can find plenty of South Korean trinkets and what not for sale as well:
That is pretty much it that can be seen at the Odusan Unification Observatory. Like I said before it is a pretty good day trip, but no subsitute for actually visiting Panmunjom and the JSA. If you haven’t done that yet I highly recommend you do so.
Here are directions to the observatory:
1. Train: get off at Geumchon station of the Gyeongui line, take bus No.2 bound for Seongdong-ri, and get off at parking lot of Tongil Dongsan
2. Bus: take No.909 at Bulgwang-dong or No.912 & 158-2 at Seoul station, get off at Geumchon station, take No.2 bound for Seongdong-ri or take No.567 at Sinchon station (via Ilsan) or No.77-33 at Sinchon Railway station (via Ilsan), get off at Geumchon station, take No.2 bound for Seongdong-ri, and parking lot of Tongil Dongsan
It costs only 2,000 won to get in so the place is very inexpensive to visit and would make for a good trip to do in the morning followed by spending an afternoon checking out Imjimgak which has its own DMZ displays to include access to the iconic Freedom Bridge.