I’ve been trying to visit the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) and Panmunjom, Joint Security Area (JSA) for a few times now and on my previous trips to Seoul, my reservations got cancelled because of one reason or another due to some military/North Korean activity.
I took the full day tour where I visited Imjingak, the 3rd Tunnel and the JSA/Panmunjom. It was 130,000 won per person.
I was excited that I didn’t receive any notice about my tour reservation being cancelled this time but at the same time, I wondered if I would be able to go through with the entire tour as the military can decide to cancel the tour at any point. Drama usually follows me around and I certainly didn’t want to be involved in any drama especially within the DMZ and/or JSA.
Also, to be honest, I am a little nervous about blogging about my experience during the DMZ and JSA tour because I know that someone in the North and South Korean army will most definitely see and read this and I do not want to unwittingly mention something which leads to the restart of war between North and South Korea. I’m probably being a little dramatic here but hey, who knows right?
If you don’t know, the DMZ and JSA is an active military base and the national security of South Korea is at stake so if you ever go on this tour, please respect the photo policies imposed. I know how annoying the photography restrictions are and I wanted to take a picture of the world’s largest flag pole in North Korea but nope, I didn’t managed to get the angle to capture it because of the photo policies. Oh well.
Also, take note that there is a dress-code for this tour. Slippers and sandals are not allowed (among other things) and I don’t know how true it is but the tour guide was joking (I think) about how it is best to wear sneakers/track shoes in case there is a need to start running for your life. O_O
Still, I will post about my experience on the trip because it has been such an enriching experience and it reminded me how fragile peace is and how often we take peace for granted.
The Panmunjom part of the tour left the deepest impression on me. I observed at Panmunjom that the North Korean side was looking at everything we were doing at the South Korean side. It was something I found really interesting and I still struggle to understand how a country can be divided the way North and South Korea are and how deep the mistrust they have for each other.
Despite it being called a Demilitarised Zone, the DMZ is the most heavily guarded border in the world. The calm and quiet in the atmosphere at Panmunjom was quite unreal. I didn’t sense tension in the air when I was there but still, I was sufficiently scared enough by the extreme and seeming superficial level of calm to not dare to make any sudden movement.
TIP: If you go into the JSA, you will be able to visit the Dorasan Train station which technically connects South Korea to North Korea by rail. Bring some paper/index cards there, they have 2 commemorative stamps that you can stamp as if you have crossed the international border to enter into North Korea. 🙂
I must say that I’m really amazed by the tunnels that North Korea dug/built in the direction of Seoul. They are seriously hard-core. The most amazing tunnel to me is the 4th tunnel. The distance the North Koreans dug was unreal, it was almost across the width of the entire Korean peninsula.
Anyway photos are completely prohibited at the 3rd tunnels so …
In the DMZ area, you are able to look into North Korea from Dora Mountain observatory. It is also here where I was trying to take pictures of the giant flag pole unsuccessfully.
I’d say that this DMZ + JSA/Panmunjom tour is definitely worth going. As Singaporeans, you’ll need to book this tour at least one week in advance and submit your passport details. All the tour agencies offering this tour are about the same all the tours are done by Korean Tourism Board (KTB) and the tour agencies are mostly just in charged of selling the tickets.
That said, here are the photos from the tour. Enjoy!