Visit the JSA within the DMZ and cross the MDL
Following the Armistice Agreement which ended the Korean War in the 1950s, all combat units were ordered to pull back 2km from their point of last enemy contact, creating a demilitarised no-man's land (the DMZ) between North and South Korea. The border itself, the Military Demarkation Line (MDL), runs along the middle of the DMZ, marked by rusting yellow-painted signs stuck into the ground on poles every 100 meters or so. On the south side of the DMZ, a three-pronged fixed defensive network stretches from coast to coast, consisting of a tall mesh fence topped with razor wire and regular observation posts, a mine field, and a huge anti-tank wall. The two sides huddle in their watchtowers and bunkers, peering at each other through binoculars.
In the west, near the coast, is the only place where North meets South - a small area within the DMZ called the Joint Security Area (JSA). Here, a number of buildings straddle the MDL, some owned by the UN, some by the DRPK. ROK Military Police stare aggressively across the line, half-hidden behind the buildings, and although the northern side may appear deserted, the watchers are there. See my separate travlogue for more photos and information.
Let me preface this by saying that I went with a tour guide. I have heard it is considerably harder to get there on your own as you will have to pass through many military checkpoints. That being said, the tunnels are actually a pretty good thing to see, considering how long it takes to get there. There are at least 4, but the only one I know of which is open to the public is the 3rd tunnel.
When you get there, the only thing you will see is a small concrete wall with a hole in it, and a few soldiers guarding it. There will also be a rack of helmets. If you are tall, like me, take one! The trip to the tunnel requires that you go down a very tight, very low and narrow and very steep incline. There are ropes and rails, and a rubber mat to help ease the way, but it is like a cave and can get slipery from the moisture in there. Getting down is the easy part, and it ain't that easy. If you have trouble walking, or heart problems, I would pass this one up.
At the bottom, you will see a tunnel which looks smaller than the ones used on Hogan's Heroes. Maybe you could fit three men side by side, but it is not like you are going to drive a tank through it. The height of the ceiling is only about 6 feet tall. And it is capped in multiple places. So when you get to the metal wall blocking the tunnel, you are not touching North Korea, it is quite a ways beyond it. But it is still interesting to see the lengths the North would go to, to be aggressive towards the South.
The way back up is the same way you came down. But it is harder to climb. There is a major atmospheric change, and it will feel like you are very out of shape. I was, but I wasn't this bad. The professional athlete I was with even felt the change. It is much harder going up. And you will be sweating! Everyone sweats, especially in the summer. The temperature change can be drastic from going that far under, to the hot and muggy surface. Just don't bring a camera, photos inside are not allowed.
The DMZ (de-militarized zone) has been called the most dangerous place on earth. While North and South Korea have signed an armistice, the two countries are still technically at war and the 48th parallel is still very much a military outpost. You can take an organized tour from Itaewon from one of many agencies. Make sure that you take the full day tour and that it includes a visit to Panmunjum (the propaganda city, built expressly to fool people into believing that North Koreans aren't starving to death).
Tours are, unfortunately, rather pricey, but you can't visit alone. You need to sign up in advance - many brochures are available in the lobby of the Hamilton Hotel, which is also where you can be asked to be picked up. Also, be sure that you bring your passport and that you are dressed well: no sneakers, no jeans, no shorts, no sandals, no messy hair, no ripped up or dirty or sheer clothes - wear your best otherwise you may be denied entry (North Koreans have used photos of sloppy tourists in propaganda campaigns to prove that western culture lacks moral fiber.
The world's most heavily fortified border, the -151-mile long, 2.5 mile wide, Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, spans the border between North and South Korea and is surrounded by landmines and bunkers and crisscrossed by barbed wire.
One of the most noted potential military flashpoints on the globe, a visit to the DMZ makes the situtation on the Korean peninsula very real and highlights the continual tension between the Koreas (who are technically still at war, since the signing of the Armistice in 1953).
I will upload pictures later from my visit in 1999 to the DMZ, however for now, I will borrow a few that I found on the web!
When I woke up that morning I went to the DMZ, I had no idea what I was getting into. I took a tour from Panmunjom Co-op center and I selected a tour with a N. Korean Defector. The tour cost about 70,000 Won ($70 USD), and lasted from 9am - 5pm. You also need to bring your passport.
Going to the DMZ was great, because I got to see N. Korea, where you can hear the propaganda from across the border. You also get a chance to go to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel where the N. Koreans were supposed to launch a surprise attack.
But the best part of the tour was, in fact, the defectors. Everything comes to reality when you hear the sad stories and the hardships they had to go through just to go to S. Korea. Some of the stories can make you cry, but it's also interesting to ask simple questions like, "What's the most delicious food you've had since coming?"
If you're going to Seoul, definitely go on the tour!
The Panmunjon tour to the 38th parallel, the cease-fire border between North and South Korea.
The tour is by bus, is offered in several languages. Once arriving, there is a mandatory lecture of history by miltary personnel. There is a dress code, smart casual, and nothing too slovenly or revealing.
Though there were some elements of tourist trappism, such a little heavy on the political rhetoric of the evils of the enemy, etc. (Visitors who interested enough to show up are likely to already have a quiet appreciation of the problems..), it does give a first hand view of historical events in progress.
The Demilitarized zone between North and South Korea on the 39th parallel is a must for visitors. This was a frightening but very informative experience that I highly recommend. There are lots of rules from clothing restrictions to where you can stop, and the tension is high. Standing in the Freedom House and watching North Korean soldiers watch us with binoculars was especially unsettling. There are various companies, I took the KTB tour from Lotte Hotel which was a bit pricey at 70,000 won (Unification Observatory, UN Command camp, JSA, bridge of no return, and Freedom house) but I wanted to see the Conference room with the demarcation line in the center of the table. Just remember - no pointing!!
The DMZ is the demilitarized zone between North and South Koreas. You can visit it ONLY by taking a tour. The cost is approximately 42,000 won (around 35 USD) for a half day tour. There is no difference between the half day tour and full day tour in what you see...you just get lunch included in full day tour, but you may as well get your own...it'll be cheaper and tastier.
Make sure you take a tour where you get to see one of the tunnels dug by the North Koreans in an attempt to infiltrate South Korea.
I would highly recommend visiting the DMZ. It really puts into focus the serious tension that still exists between the two countries. It's only about 40 or so miles from downtown Seoul. The tour is arranged via the USO for only about US$30 per person. The USO can be reached locally in Seoul at 795-3028. Their office is located on the US military base, Yongsan, in Seoul.
It's a very unique opportunity to visit one of the most guarded borders in the world. This visit is one that the local Koreans can't experience. The tour allows you to visit the very room where negotiations take place between the UN and the North Koreans as well as step on North Korean soil. This tour takes you back to the world when the cold war was at its peak.
The Demilitarised Zone or DMZ. Ironically called so despite the massive military build up on both sides. Even the old and now gone Iron Curtain in Europe was just a picket fence in comparison. But worth a visit and if you feel up to it, do a trip down one of the North Korean invasion tunnels. There are three or four of them dug under the barbed wire.
A breath of history and a realisation of just how tense the peninsula is even today.
And if you thought communists were masters of propaganda, you have another thing coming. You even get the chance to step on the face of the leader of the north, Kim JJ.
While photography is forbidden at many of the sights in and around the DMZ there are however areas where restricted picture taking is tolerated such as at the viewing space of the Dora Observatory.
The DMZ has not beenoccupied by people for 50 years and the wildlife has really made a comeback. It is a beautiful area.