Dora Observatory at the 38th parallel in Korea

The Dora Observatory (도라전망대) sits on the 38th parallel immediately south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and North Korea, in Paju-si, South Korea. On a clear day you can see miles into North Korea, including (with the help of binoculars) a statue of Kim Il-Sung.

From the observatory you can see also see the only two villages that exist within the DMZ: Kijŏng-dong, better known as Propaganda Village, which belongs to the North, and the nearby South Korean village of Daeseong-dong, better known as Freedom Village.

Propaganda Village includes one of the world's tallest flagpoles and largest flags (dry weight of 600 pounds), constructed as a response to the residents of Freedom Village hoisting a South Korean flag of similar but smaller stature. Propaganda Village is really a fake village, buildings that are nothing more than facades, with enormous speakers broadcasting false promises to South Koreans in Freedom Village, in hopes of enticing them to defect to the North.

Freedom Village is under constant protection from the United Nations, and in the past North Korean soldiers have infiltrated the village to kidnap villagers, mostly farmers. Those who live in the village are permitted to do so only if they or their direct descendants lived in the village prior to the Korean War. Women are allowed to marry into the village, but men, because of strict military draft regulations, are not. Men in Freedom Village are the only men in all of South Korea categorically exempt from the mandatory two years of military service.

This is the front entrance of Dora Observatory.

From the observatory you can view North Korea through these binoculars. Immediately after taking the two photographs below, I was approached by a uniformed ROK soldier (Republic of Korea) who inspected my camera. Later I learned he could have confiscated my camera without warning, because photography of North Korea from the Dora Observatory is not allowed, but fortunately he returned my camera, after, I suspect, realizing it is a film camera with no digital controls through which to review or delete photos. Maybe he just didn't want to deal with the paperwork associated with confiscating equipment, or perhaps the young soldier had never even seen a film camera before and didn't know what to make of a camera with no LCD screen.

Almost all of what you see below, except for the immediate foreground, is in North Korea.