As controversial as the relationship between South Korea and North Korea may seem, globally people are extremely interested in seeing what is behind the North Korean curtain.
Despite remaining the most guarded border in the world, the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) between both countries continues to attract hundreds of visitors daily. Myself being one during my visit Asia. The zone is swiftly gaining attention – and it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations major tourist attraction in South Korea among foreign travellers. Despite it being one of the strictest and scariest places in the world to visit.
To help ensure you make the most of your visit to the DMZ, this complete guide provides tips that make for a unique travel experience. This will include how to visit the DMZ and JSA from Seoul, what is the demilitarised zone, the difference between both areas, and how to choose the best DMZ tour for your trip.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to Visit Korea’s DMZ from Seoul—Complete Guide
- 1.1 What is the demilitarised zone
- 1.2 How to book a South Korean DMZ Tour
- 1.3 How to visit the JSA
- 1.4 Joint Visit to the DMZ and JSA – Day Tour to DMZ and JSA
- 1.5 How to Choose the Best DMZ Tour for You South Korea DMZ Tour
- 1.6 The DMZ Tour Broken Down – To date, touring the Third Tunnel of Aggression as a DMZ tour involves the following stops too:
- 2 Photos of North Korea
- 3 Which Rules and Restrictions Do You Need to Follow?
- 4 Things to Know Before Visiting the DMZ
- 5 How to Book your DMZ Tour
- 6 5 Best DMZ Tour Companies
How to Visit Korea’s DMZ from Seoul—Complete Guide
What is the demilitarised zone
A demilitarised zone, DMZ is an area in which agreements between nations, military powers or contending groups prohibit military installations or activities. A DMZ often lies along an established frontier or boundary between two or more military powers. A DMZ may sometimes form a de facto international border, such as the 38th parallel between North and South Korea.
How to book a South Korean DMZ Tour
How to visit North Korea’s DMZ – The DMZ is about 250 kilometers (160 miles) long and about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide, extending from Gyeonggi-do to Gangwon-do, which cuts across seven cities and it is centered by the MDL (Military Demarcation Line) which represents the actual border between South Korea and North Korea.
Civilian access into the DMZ is heavily restricted. Visits to the area are limited to the designated tourist sites within the zone.
A visit to the DMZ offers visitors a fantastic opportunity to have a magnificent view of the sights beyond the border from the Southern area and learn more about the tragic history of Korea. And no, the area is not as dangerous as many thinks. The stretch of land before you and its surrounding areas are safe and peaceful enough for tourists.
How to visit the JSA
The JSA (Joint Security Area) is the closest point to North Korea a tourist can get to. It is at this spot you will have a chance to stand physically in North Korea yourself and even take a photo as proof.
The JSA is occupied by the South Korean and United States Military forces, and to complete your fun time in the area, you’ll find a gift shop with original items from North Korea DMZ such as stamps, wine, and money. Book Your Tickets Here.
Joint Visit to the DMZ and JSA – Day Tour to DMZ and JSA
While a joint visit to the DMZ and JSA is the most expensive package on this travel plan, it has the most value of the three options. You’ll have an opportunity to see the both areas.
The disadvantage, however, is that the schedule for a joint visit can be especially tight, leaving you with only a limited time at each location. But this is a small price to set your foot on the North Korean soil without getting arrested or worst.
How to Choose the Best DMZ Tour for You South Korea DMZ Tour
Your visit of the DMZ and JSA from Seoul largely depends on your preferences and time flexibility. Hence, it would be wise to consider the views both zones (the DMZ and JSA) offer so you can settle for the one you find most exciting. I had limited time in Seoul during my trip to South Korea, so only visited did the tour of the DMZ. Book Your Tickets Here.
I have broken down the DMZ tour below.
The DMZ Tour Broken Down – To date, touring the Third Tunnel of Aggression as a DMZ tour involves the following stops too:
The tours on your visit will be comprise the following locations:
The Imjingak Park was established in 1972 following the declaration of the Armistice Agreement. Lying next to the DMZ, the Imjingak Park offers a variety of relics and attractions connected to the popular Korean conflict. The Freedom Bridge, a railroad channel formerly used for the repatriation of soldiers returning from North Korea, is one of the most interesting sights you will find in this area.
Next to the bridge, you will find a partially blown up rail transport which was used during the way and masked by bullet holes. This view provides both ends of the divide – the best and saddest – that highlight the horrors of the war. A small amusement park – which was a little creepy and airy to say the least – is in the Imjingak Park.
The Third Infiltration Tunnel
The Armistice Agreement is one many North Korean hardly accepted that, and a secret invasion into the South was always under the waters. Several invasion channels were dug, which were to provide access for a swift strike on Seoul. Discovered in 1978, the
Third Infiltration tunnel, is only 44 kilometers away from Seoul, and it had the capacity to move about 30,000 soldiers every hour. Today, the tunnel is surrounded by tourist attractions including memorial sculptures, the DMZ video hall, and even gift shops where you’ll find original items from North Korea.
You have the option of entering the tunnel with your tour, however if you are claustrophobic or very tall with a bad back. I would sit the tunnel out as the tunnel gets progressively smaller the deeper down it you go. To where your bending and need to form a single file to see the window at the end. Book Your Tickets Here.
The Dorasan station, located next to the DMZ and lying on the Gyeongui line, is the northeastern station of the Korean railways. Following the destruction of the original station during the Korean War, the current one was recently constructed with money received from different donors. You can purchase a ticket from Dorsan to Pyeongyang, as this allows you have a feel of what the platform of the Dorasan station looks like.
Real trains come from Seoul four times daily, but these trains do not continue to North Korea. They rail transit here serves to carry the station’s employees to their workplace and back. And the message here is simple: unification. The train connection is designed to ensure transport network to North Korea can be restored as quickly as possible. If a re-unification deal is ever reached by both sides.
This, for many tourists, is the most interesting part of the DMZ tour, besides the tour of the JSA. The Dora observatory offers binoculars to views of Kijon-dong a fake town in North Korea.
Lying on the Dora Mountain, the Dora observatory is close to the South Korean Daeseong-dong village and the Kijŏng-dong a propaganda village in North Korea, renowned for the “Flagpole War”. The Dora observatory offers binoculars to views of Daeseong-dong village and the Kijŏng-dong. Built in the 1950’s to entice South Koreans to defect to the North.
Although the Kijŏng-dong propaganda village, as the name implies, serves for propaganda and is not occupied by regular North Korea residents and looks abandoned with no sign of any ever living there. The views from the observatory is fascinating and during my visit to the Dora Observatory I could hear the propaganda music that the North Korea were playing. It was surreal.
Photos of North Korea
Which Rules and Restrictions Do You Need to Follow?
If your tour does not include a visit to the JSA, the rules are often simple:
- Simple dressing
- Always have your passport
- Do not consume alcohol during the tour. It is prohibited.
Things to Know Before Visiting the DMZ
However, if your tour to the Korean DMZ includes a visit to the JSA, the rules are more stringent:
- In accordance with the UN rules, the list of JSA tourists must be reported 48 hours before the tour. They require tourists to send their names, nationality, and passport numbers to their tour operator at least 3 days before the tour.
- Tours are only possible through an organised tour company that the Government approves of
- Korean citizens who are residents in Korea are not allowed entry into the JSA.
- Korean citizens living overseas can join the JSA tour, however, they are required to scan and send their overseas resident registration issued by the Korean Embassy via an email, including their name and passport number at least 4 days before the tour day.
- Tourists must come along with their passports on the DMZ Tour Seoul
- Dress appropriately for the DMZ tour as stringent dressing regulations apply. Clothing you cannot wear during the tour include: leather clothing, faded jeans, knee trousers, sleeveless shirts, shorts, sandals, slippers, military-styled uniform, round neck t-shirt, hats, dresses.
- Items such as umbrellas, walking sticks, wheelchairs, and cameras with zooming lens over 90mms are prohibited during the tour.
- UN Background Check will be conducted for some countries, and it will require citizens to provide their scanned passports to the tour operator at least 4 days before the tour day. These countries include: Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Bosnia, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Estonia, Georgia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Macau, Malaysia, Moldova, Morocco, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian authority, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen.
If visiting the JSA is a part of your tour plan, it will be ideal to book your tour at least one month before the day. Otherwise, the slots for your tour might be filled up when you are ready. Here, however, you can still make it for the DMZ tour without a tour of the JSA.
You may also note that your JSA tour can be abruptly canceled for several reasons.
How to Book your DMZ Tour
Now you are aware of the types of tours on offered that will interest you and the rules that apply, it is time to book and plan your tour. There are currently 5 companies offering tour services to the DMZ, and they offer different rates, so you can settle for one that best fits your tour plan.
The easiest way to book tickets to a tour is online. To get an immediate booking confirmation, I suggest booking on GetYourGuide or Viator as they are the most convenient and hassle free. Book Your Tickets Here.
You can also read reviews and see photos of the tour from other visitors to make sure you’re are choosing the right tour.
Alternatively, I have listed a few of the best tour companies below:
5 Best DMZ Tour Companies
- Panmunjeom Travel Center
Tours by this operator are offered in Korean, English, and Japanese. It is the only company that offers you an opportunity to meet a North Korean refugee/defector, allowing you better understand the human right challenges in North Korea.
- VIP Travel
Tours by this operator are offered in Chinese, Japanese, and English Language.
Tours by this operator are offered in English language and includes lunch.
- JSA Tour
Tours by this operator are offered in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese.
- DMZ Spy Tour
Tours by this operator are offered in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese.
While the DMZ is known as the “Demilitarised Zone”, it is the most militarised borderline in the world. On one side of the divide, there are 4 million nuclear-fortified men providing aggressive protection for the country. Although ugly incidents are rare in the JSA, they happen.
That is why every intending tourist will be required to sign a disclaimer before being escorted into the JSA. And that is why there are also many strict rules and limitations that apply to tourists in DMZ.
That said, the DMZ is one of the unique tourist attractions in the world. With proper precautions taken, you can rest assured your tour of the zone will turn out to become a truly interesting and rewarding experience – one you will never forget.