Despite what you hear about the relationship between South Korea and North Korea on news and media, it is not as tense as it is depicted. In fact, the border zone, or DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), between the two nations is one of the most popular destinations among the foreign travelers and tourists to Korea.
1. Korea, the only remaining divided nation in the world
After Korean War, a truce line was drawn across the Korean Peninsula and a ceasefire was put into place, which means the two Koreas are still officially at war. It has been more than 70 years since the South and the North were divided into half and there were times when several incidents heightened the tension between them. Nevertheless, it is doubted that these two nations would go to war in the future (hopefully).
2. What is DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)? Is it really dangerous?
For those of you who are unfamiliar to DMZ, it is a buffer zone between the two Koreas that was established on July 27, 1953 when the Armistice Agreement was signed during the Korean War. Dividing the North and the South into half, this strip of land across the Korean Peninsula is 250 km (160 miles) long, and about 4 km (2.5 miles) wide, and military activity is forbidden in this area. Untainted and undisturbed for a long time, the zone has become a haven for wildlife and endangered species today.
And no, it’s not as dangerous as many of you may think. It’s quite peaceful and even safe, actually, if you look out to the land stretching before you. Well, at least the zone and the surrounding areas are.
3. How to get into DMZ
Civilian access to the DMZ is strictly controlled. So when anyone says they visited the DMZ, it means they went to the designated tourist sites in the area. Even private cars and taxis are not allowed! The only way you can visit the DMZ is through tours offered by select travel agencies. And for a destination like DMZ, booking in advance is highly recommended. DMZ Tour Package is available here.
As North Korea still remains as one of the most isolated and secluded countries in the world today, DMZ tour offers a great opportunity for you to sneak peek at what’s beyond the border from the South and also learn about Korea’s tragic history.
4. What You Must Bring
All visitors, locals and foreign visitors alike, must bring ID card, passport, or other type of documentation (Application Registration Card (ARC) for example) for identity check purposes on the day of the tour.
5. Starting off with Imjingak
Usually, the DMZ Tour starts off or ends at the venue called Imjingak Resort and Nuri Peace Park, an hour and half drive away from Seoul. Located 7 km from the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the land border between North Korea and South Korea, it is possible for foreigners and locals to visit without going through any security check points. Today, Nuri Peace Park is a great place for couples, friends and family to spend time and relax. It is beautifully decorated with artistic sculptures and holds performances time to time.You can also see on tanks and war crafts that were used during the war. How cool is that!There’s even an amusement park near the Nuri Peace Park (you can reach it within 5~10 minutes on foot) where you and your whole family will have plenty of fun as well. Built in 1972, this three-storied building is called Imjingak, which is surrounded by several monuments, Unification Park and North Korea Center. Inside the building, you can see exhibitions and collections of various relics and monuments related to the Korean War and subsequent South-North confrontations.In front of Imjingak, you can find this old train that used to take passengers to the northern end of the Korean Peninsula before the two Koreas divided.
6. DMZ’s got a theater?
After passing the security check point, you will be able to visit tourist sites like the DMZ Exhibition Hall, for example. It consists of a theater, Special Exhibition Hall and many other facilities. The theater may not be fancy, but this place for sure helps you understand about the DMZ better. Here, you can watch a short 3D film about the Korean War, when and how the the DMZ was created as well as the ecology of the DMZ.Outside the theater, there are wonderful sculptures so go ahead and take photos to cherish the memories of your tour! 😉At the Special Exhibition Hall, you can see photographs and other materials found within the DMZ as well as this guy below.
7. Explore the Third Tunnel. It’s scary but fun!
The tunnel is 1.64 kilometers long, 2 meters high, 2 meters wide and is about 73m below ground. It is said that approximately 30,000 soldiers can move per hour through this tunnel.
8. Advice on the 3rd Tunnel before you get inside
We strongly advise those with respiratory problems or is claustrophobic, not to get inside the tunnel. And wear proper shoes! You will definitely regret wearing flip flops or high heels once you go down the tunnel. Also, put your belongings (taking photos are not allowed inside the tunnel) in a locker before you enter. We can tell you that it is an easy way down but it’s going to be a long way back.
9. Drop by the gift shop and get DMZ-related souvenir
From North Korean rice to ‘Obalju‘, a North Korean alcohol drink, you can find great souvenirs at this gift shop next to the entrance of the Third Tunnel. Stop by and take a look around! 🙂
10. Bring a coin for the binoculars at the Dora Observatory
This is the Dora Observatory where you can look out to the Northern territory through binoculars.When the weather is great (hopefully), you will be able to see the statue of Kim Il-seong and Gijeongdong, a village near Gaeseong City.Also, look for a flagpole that is listed on Guinness Book of Records as the world’s tallest flagpole, which is 160 meters tall.If you don’t want to miss out on this chance to see the North Korean land, make sure you bring some coins for the binoculars!
12. The gateway of hope and unification
Dorasan Station is one of the northernmost railway stations on the Gyeongui Line that is 700m away from the southern boundary line of DMZ. Though it is not in operation yet, this train station stands as a symbolic place that gives hope to the people of Korea.
13. Panmunjom & JSA are even more strict!
For those who want to feel and experience more tense atmosphere, we highly recommend you to take a tour to Panmunjom and JSA (Joint Security Area), located within the DMZ. There are more restrictions when visiting Panmunjom and JSA. For example, a colored copy of your passport is required if your nationality is one of the following countries. Click here for details.Panmunjom is where the two nations meet and the JSA are the blue buildings where the negotiations are held since 1953. Here you can see the North and the South Korean forces standing face to face, which will be a very unique experience for you in Korea. This is how the conference room looks like! And these are the conference tables where the North Koreans and the United Nations Command (South Koreans and Americans) have discussions.
There is no other place in South Korea where you can get this close to North Korea and North Korean soldiers like the DMZ, so if you have the chance, you better take it. Those who want to explore both DMZ and JSA in one day, click here.