DMZ - DeMilitarized Zone, Seoul
DMZ tours take ~5 hours including transit to/from Seoul.
Combined DMZ/Panmunjom (JSA) tours take ~8 hours including transit to/from Seoul.
I did the USO tour a few years ago. It was a great introduction to Panmunjom and the JSA, but did not touch on the other sites in the DMZ.
Subsequently, I visited from the North side during my tour of DPRK. Needless to say the history lesson and stories one hears are much different. (Panmunjom)
So I toured again, for the third time doing a joint DMZ/JSA tour and found my experiences to now be much more rounded and complete. The 3rd infiltration tunnel and the JSA in my opinion are the highlights. The "Bridge Of No Return" is seen through the bus windows, but you must have special clearances to get out and see it first hand.
The other "touristy" thing is that during all my time in DPRK, they would not stamp any documents, nor give me copies of my Visas, so other than the photos that I took there was no proof of my visit. There is a "commemorative stamp" in the Dorasan Station (stopping point on all DMZ tours) that offers an unofficial stamp with the dove of peace and a barbed wire representing DPRK and RoK.
FYI, Panmunjom & JSA options of the tours are not available Sundays, Mondays or holidays. During those days, only the DMZ portions are available.
For an example of itinerary & booking company, see: itinerary
Just do a Google search for one that fits your price, but all tours will hit the same sites.
west DMZ ~ $45 ~ $50 (3rd tunnel, Dorasan Station, Dora Observatory, Imjingak, Unification Bridge, Freedom Bridge)
JSA ~ $70 ~ $80 (Camp Bonifas & Ballinger Hall, Bridge of No Return, 1-hole golf course, Freedom House, Conference rooms & "MAC" building)
Combined ~$130 (all of the above)
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.
Surprisingly, most of the locals have never been to the DMZ. I guess with the constant reminders that war could break out at any second, it probably is not something they like to do with their free time. but for western folk, the world's most heavily guarded border is your playground!
Well, not quite. I have been to both sides of Panmunjom, and never want to go north again. But the South side is actually interesting and worth seeing at least once.
Tours will have to be arranged through an agency, or through a military liason, if you are in the military. There is a dress code and it is strictly adhered to. No jeans, shorts, t-shirts, open toed shoes, dungarees, etc. You will want to wear business casual. If not, they won't let you in.
The tour is actually pretty brief. An hour bus ride from Seoul, 7 minutes in Freedom house, 7 minutes in the MAC room, where you can set foot on North korean soil, 10 minutes at checkpoint 5, a quick bus ride past the axe murder site and the bridge of no return and the hour ride back to seoul. While it seems quick, there is a lot to be learned and a lot to see. And as long as you don't point or make gestures towards the north, you won't get shot or start a war. And that is always a good practice for any tourist.
For those of us living in the Western World, it can be easy (even in this age of 'terrorism') to forget about war and hostility because it rarely knocks on our own door. For me, even living in S.Korea, close to one of the most (the most?) guarded and mined borders in the world, it was easy for me to forget the situation that Koreans live with daily.
The DMZ is a 2 km wide area along the borders of North and South Korea that both countries have agreed to clear of military personnel. The only area where the military is officially allowed to be is in the Joint Security Area, or the JSA, which is a small complex that rests along the Demarcation Line of the borders.
If you take a tour, you will be offered different types. Some, like ours, only take you to the edge of the DMZ, but you'll still get to see some neat stuff. If you go to the JSA, you can go right into the complex and can even cross the border (as per your guide's instructions). This tour is a little more tense, as you have to follow very strict instructions. There's even a dress code.
I think that this tour is something that everyone should go on. It's amazing to see one of the only Cold Wars in existance playing itself out right in front of you.
The USO Panmunjom tour is billed as one of the best ways to understand the nature of the North and South Korea division. So true. Your understanding of the recent history of Korea takes on a new dimension.
The Dress Code for the Panmunjom tour is fairly strict. They let you know that you are being watched and/or possibly video taped from the North side. Obviously, it is in South Korea's and the USA's interest to give as little fodder for propaganda material as possible.
The tour starts at Camp Bonifas, whose motto "In Front of Them All" provides some idea as to its position in relation to the border. We were given a 20 minute slide presentation highlighting the history and present situation at the DMZ.
My group got to go to the MAC (Military Armistice Commission) building. It was interesting to watch the elite South Korean soldiers deploy as we were escorted in two lines to the building. Inside you can actually cross into North Korea as you stand on the other side of the talks table. We also were able to see the Pagoda at Freedom House and Checkpoint 3, which is near the scene of the 1976 Ax Murder Incident. We saw the Bridge of No Return, the only bridge connecting North and South Korea and the site of many prisoner exchanges. We couldn't see the giant flagpole on the North Korean side as it was too damn foggy.
From the camp we moved to the Dora Observation Deck that overlooked the DMZ. We were then whisked away to the Third Infiltration Tunnel. Three tunnels were discovered in the 1970s that could possibly be used for insertion of North Korean troops and/or agents into the South.
The USO tour is probably the best of all the tours that you can take. It is $20 US for military and $40 US for civilians (lunch not included). They tend to run on Tuesdays and Saturdays but check their schedule. Demand is high and you must pre-book
While it may be surprising to most, the recent efforts at rapproachment between the North and the South have led to the proliferation of tours to areas near the DMZ. Only 20 miles north of Seoul, this is definitely a must-see excursion. You might even get to tour a tunnel dug by want-to-be North Korean infiltrators, depending on the tour. Interestingly, the tunnel tour is preceded by a multi-media presentation who's unintentionally humorous theme can best be described as this: the DMZ is a beautiful wildlife preserve in which animals live in harmony. Soon it will disappear and the Korean people will live in harmony, too!
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 demilitarized zone is a 2.5 mile wide, 175 mile long strip of land that divides the two Koreas. At the signing of the Armistice in 1953, it was agreed that both sides would pull their troops back 2,000 meters in order to maintain a peaceful border. REMEMBER that there has never been a peace treaty, technically the DMZ is a grim reminder that war and destruction are separated by thin white line in the tiny village of Panmunjeom, only a "cease-fire" agreement is in effect, the longest cease-fire agreement in military history. An interesting side note, Soldier of Fortune Magazine once published a bounty offering $1 million for any person who will steal the flag pictured below (the flag is located on the North Korean side), understand that if you are unsuccessful you will either be shot or placed in a prison cell to live out the remainder of your days (I think I will stick with my lotto tickets)
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!!
As we were in Seoul, we also decided to go to the DMZ - demilitarized zone.
We booked a tour to the border, for more information you can write me a message. Mostly tour includes: Camp Bonifas, JSA (Joint Security Area), conference room, freedom house adn bridge of no return.
We visited all of those places and I can honestly say that it was a great experience. Atmospehre was a little bit electirc because there were soldiers around and it was a border (North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war). But we had a Korean guide, she always told us what to do, when to take pictures.... ''No pictures, no pictures! Oh, why you don't listen to me?'' (c) Haha, she always told this to Japanese tourists.
When we arrived to JSA, Joint Security Area, we saw many tourists BUT on North Korean side! Oh, it was a great feeling... You can see it on one of my photos.
Overall experience is amazing! 100% you should go and visit DMZ!
Before going to the JSA, we signed a visitors declaration, where was written: ''The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail the entrance into a hostile area and the possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action'' (c)
Everyone should visit the DMZ, who knows how long the last remaining border seperating a country will last. When you visit, and the weather is nice, you can see the North Korean Soldiers on their guard post throw the binoculars. The tunnels aren't anything exciting, except for the fact that you are visit pieces of history. I"m short but if your tall, the tunnels can be pretty difficult. I was with a few people over 6 feet tall and their heads were a little banged up from the ceilings.
We went on a tour curteousy of my husband's company. I won't bother describing the DMZ in detail since so many other people already have but I will say that it was one of the most interesting places I've had the opportunity to visit. Definately worth going.
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separates the communist north from the free south. After arriving at US Army's Camp Bonifas (named for an American soldier killed by the North Koreans during the infamous "Axe Murder Incident"), you'll get briefed on the rules at the DMZ. Do act appropriately so as not to give propaganda to the North. Don't cross the border!
You'll take a bus to the DMZ town of Panmunjom located in the Joint Security Area. The center of the town are the baby-blue buildings that straddle the border between the countries. Visitors are able to enter the center building where peace talks are held. Be wary of the South Korean soldiers standing in Tae Kwon Do stances -- they guard the door leading to North Korea. They serve a dual purpose--to protect visitors from the North Koreans, but also to prevent people from entering the North. While in this building, you may step across the line into the North...but only for a few minutes until the tour continues. Across the border you'll see the North Korean soldiers with binoculars watching the tourists.
You will also see the "Bridge of no Return" where POWs were exchanged after the war--upon agreeing they would never return; & you'll see the site of the Axe Murder Incident. At this spot in 1976, a US Army Captain was killed, and 8 other UN soldiers were wounded while trying to "prune" a tree to improve visibility between checkpoints. For more info and pictures of the Axe Murders, go to
Also nearby is the the Odusan Observatory located on a mountain overlooking the DMZ. It gives a good view into North Korea & across some of the final battlefields of the Korean War.
Over the years, North Korea has dug several tunnels under to DMZ into South Korea so as to enable a surprise attack. Only 2 km from Panmunjom, the tunnel is accessible on a small tram. Once you arrive, you can walk for 5 or 10 minutes to look at the tunnel an examine the drill holes.
The DMZ tour was great and well worth it, but don't buy the lunch, that is a ripoff! There are plenty of other places to get food right around the restaurant that they take you to, and the lunch costs an extra 14,000 KRW (US$13), really not worth it. And that price for lunch does not even include a drink! The cost was 5000 KRW (US$4) for a beer and the other drinks are equally high priced. Definitely avoid the lunch on any of these tours.
When visiting Seoul the number one must do activity would have to be the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) Tour(s). There are full day and half day tours. I took the half day tour and this included a number of key important sights concerning the separation of the two Koreas.
The half day tour of the DMZ begins at the so called Bridge to Nowhere and takes one to the Dora Observatory with views into North Korea. Here one sees deep into that country, off limits to many. The world's tallest flag pole has the North Korean flag flying higher than the one built more recently by the capitalist South. This powerful symbol would be most effective to the moral of the northerners. After here the group is taken to another location and a small trains travels deep into the earth to the sight of one of many so called Infiltration Tunnels. They were discovered in the 1970s and were supposed to be possibly used if the North were planning an invasion of the South. When down below one can walk through the narrow passage, complete with hard hat and watch your head, under the no mans land known as the DMZ.