Seeing North Korea through DMZ Tour
DMZ tour is one of the most interesting tours in Korea. It is dubbed as the world’s most heavily armed border. It is often tagged as one of the most dangerous places on Earth; but despite of it, DMZ is still one of the most visited sites in the country. It gives guests an understanding of the history between North and South Korea.
DMZ, which stands for Demilitarized Zone is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that works as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. It is said to be a de-facto border barricade, which runs along the 38th parallel north. The DMZ was established in 1953 through the Armistice Agreement, signed at the border village of Panmunjeom, otherwise known as a Joint Security Area.
Despite of being heavily armed site in Korea, getting to the said border is still somehow easy by joining a group tour that is being offered by select agencies in Seoul. It was said that private vehicles are not permitted; visitors are only allowed to enter the zone via shuttle/tour bus or train. I joined VVIP Travel for a morning tour in DMZ. VVIP Travel is a tour agency in South Korea offering a large choice of package tours in Seoul and selected provinces. These tours can be about culture, sightseeing, entertainment or adventure.
There are three DMZ tours that the tour company is currently offering: (1) The 3rd infiltration Tunnel Tour + Dora observatory (2) Panmunjeom Tour (JSA Tour) and (3) The 3rd infiltration Tunnel Tour + Panmunjeom Tour. I joined the first one. The morning tour starts at 8:00 AM and ends at 2:30 PM. There’s no lunch break so tourists who wish to join the tour has to bring snacks and drinks.
A visit to the DMZ requires an ID card, passport, or other types of documentation for identity check purposes.
Tourists participating in the tour are being picked up from specified destinations. Since I was staying at Mapo-gu area, I was picked up at Hongik University Train Station at around 8:00 AM.
Travel time from the city to DMZ takes about more or less an hour.
Sharon was our guide during the tour. She was kind, approachable and helpful. As we traversed the road going to our tour area, Sharon briefed us with the dos and don’ts inside the Demilitarized Zone. She also discussed about our itinerary and things to expect during the tour. She also provided us an overview of the history of Korea and how DMZ was created.
It was past 9:00 AM when our bus reached the area of our destination.
Imjingak Park was our first stop. The park is situated on the banks of the Imjin River in the city of Paju, South Korea. The site is the place where the Korean War was broke out in 1950. Now, the park has many statues and monuments as regards to the Korean War.
There is also a restaurant, an observation deck, a pool in the shape of the Korean peninsula, as well as a small amusement park. The park is also where the “Bridge of Freedom” lies.
It was said that the park was made to console those from both sides who are incapable to return to their homelands, friends and families because of the division of the country.
We were given 15 minutes to explore the area.
DMZ Theater / Exhibition Hall
After a quick visit in the historical park, we had proceeded to our next destination, the DMZ Theatre and Exhibition Hall. The exhibition hall gives guests general information about Korean War and DMZ. A tour inside the hall takes about 15 minutes. There’s a short film showing shown to us when we were inside the theatre. The short film provided us a visual of how things happened between North and South Korea. It gave us an overview of the history of the war and the heavily armed border.
The 3rd Infiltration Tunnel
After knowing the history and all, the highlight of the tour came in next. Our tour guide accompanied us to The 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, which is just situated across the exhibition hall. The 3rd Infiltration Tunnel is one of the four known tunnels under the border between the two countries, extending south of Panmunjom. The tunnel was discovered on October 17, 1978. The tunnel is said to be 1.7 km long, 2 m high and 2 m wide. It runs through bedrock at a depth of about 73 m below ground.
When this tunnel was first discovered, North Koreans insisted it was made by South Koreans in a plot to invade North Korea. However, this theory proved eventually to be false. Apparently, it was said that tunnel was designed for a surprise attack on Seoul from North Korea.
The tunnel is now well guarded. The place is now a busy tourist site with visitors coming down to see the tunnel. The tunnel is a long steep slope that starts from the lobby. Tourists can walk as far as the third blockade. The second blockade is visible through a small window in the third.
There are lockers provided wherein guests can leave their belongings. Mobile phones were not allowed to bring inside the tunnel but after the South Korea Ferry disaster, mobile phones are now permitted.
Photos are forbidden within the tunnel but I guess you can’t blame tourists like me to take one. 🙂
Dora Observatory is the northernmost observatory of South Koreawherein visitors can view a part of North Korean life through a telescope. Sites such as Mt. Songaksan in Gaeseong, Kim Il-seong statue, Gijeong-dong, the outskirts of Gaeseong-si, Train smokestack at Jangdan station, and Geumamgol (collective farm) can be seen from the view deck.
The place has been opened to the public in January 1987.
Taking of pictures is only allowed in a specific parameter.
After having a glimpse of how North Korea looks like, we then proceeded to Dorasan Station, which was the last stop of our tour.
The railway station is situated on the Gyeongui Line, which once connected North and South Korea. If the two countries will be united once again, the Gyongueisun Line will be linked to the European continent via the Siberian Railway.
But for now, four trains from Seoul per day currently serve the station for tourists.
Civilian access to the Demilitarized Zone is strictly controlled. There are certain places that restrict individual tourists from visiting the area on their own, making some tourist sites in the area accessible for sightseeing through a few DMZ tour packages offered by select travel agencies like the VVIP Travel.
Joining DMZ tour let me understand how things took place between the divided countries. The saga between North and South Korea hasn’t ended yet, it’s still continuing. Being divided is a disturbing thought, what more for a country.
The DMZ tour took us back in time and provided us a glimpse of the history. Through this tour, I was able to take a peek of how a certain place in North Korea looks like. After the tour, I became more curious how life is on this other half of Korea. Eventually, I became more interested to see the place.
Thank you VVIP Travel for letting me experience this one of a kind tour. It was definitely an incredible expedition, which made it as one of the high points of my visit to Korea.
DMZ Tour 1 is available daily except Mondays and National Holidays. The tour costs KRW 40,000 per person. The tour package includes tour guideuide, vehicle & driver, pick-up & drop off service and entrance fee. Morning tour starts at 9:00 AM and ends at 2:30 PM. If you wish to join DMZ Tour, please book through this site.
Korea DMZ Tour
Room 303, Shin-A Building
11 Gil 50, Seosomunro, Jung-gu
Seoul, South Korea
Phone: +82 2 757 1009