A visit to South Korea is never complete without a day trip to DMZ. For some, North Korea is similar to a mythical creature – we don’t know much about it and visiting it is out of discussion.
However, there is a way to learn more about the history of both North and South Korea and get as close as possible to the border separating these two countries.
If you are traveling to Seoul, make sure to add a visit to DMZ to your itinerary. Apart from this intense experience there are many other interesting things to do in Seoul such as admiring the views from the Namsan Seoul Tower, exploring Seoul’s nightlife in Hongdae and renting a traditional Korean dress.
Quick jump list
1. Getting there and where to stay
The closest big city to DMZ is Seoul. If you’re planning a visit to one of the most dangerous borders in the world, make sure to stay at least one day in Seoul. This is the place where most of the tours start.
If you are on a budget, finding a decent accommodation in Seoul can be challenging but not impossible. We chose to stay at Itaewon Time Zone Guest House and we were not disappointed. Located in the heart of the city, this guest house is great if you are looking for a good value for money place.
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You can always search for more accommodation options on Booking.com . Keep in mind that some of the best neighborhoods are Hongdae, Itaewon, Gangnam, and Jamsil.
Tip: you can only visit DMZ with an organized tour. Make sure to book your tour a few days in advance through a trustworthy company.
2. Why you should take a half day tour to DMZ
When traveling to a new country, finding out about its history should be one of the top priorities. You can’t expect to understand a country’s culture and way of thinking without digging in its past.
The best way to find out more about the separation between North and South Korea is through a DMZ half day tour. During the tour, the guide will tell you more about how and why the two countries separated, you will have the chance to visit some important monuments and, the most exciting part, you will even get a chance to take a sneak peek inside one of North Korea’s cities. However, before all this you will have to choose the tour that best suits your needs.
3. Which tour should you choose
There are three big tour categories: DMZ half day tour, JSA tour and DMZ+JSA tour. Don’t panic, I’ll explain the differences between them.
JSA – Joint Security Area (Panmunjeon) Tour
If you saw those blue buildings with soldiers standing by on the internet or in newspapers, this is the place to see them in real life. This is the only place where North Korean and South Korean soldiers stand face to face.
A standard JSA tour includes the following objectives: Camp Bonifas, Bridge of no Return, Freedom House and JSA.
Unfortunately, during our visit to Seoul the tours to JSA were all canceled due to some military training. Therefore, we chose a simple DMZ tour. Read below my DMZ half day tour review.
Tip: if you want to make sure that you will have the chance to visit JSA, make sure to send an email to the tour company to confirm that a visit here is possible during your stay. Usually, during national holidays or other military training days the JSA is closed to the public.
DMZ half day tour
After we were picked up by VIP Travel from Itaewon Station, we headed towards our first stop: Imijngak Park. Here are two main attractions: the Freedom Bridge and a locomotive called ‘the iron horse wants to run’. The locomotive was derailed by bombs during the war and it was left in DMZ to symbolize the railway connecting the north and the south.
You will have about 15-20 minutes to explore this place until your guide is registering the tourists.
The next stop will be the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel (1 635 m long, 2 m wide). This is one of the four underground tunnels built by North Korea to invade South Korea. Although North Korea never recognized that they built the tunnels, the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel is definitely a reminder of the tensions going on between these two countries.
You will have to leave your belongings inside the lockers provided and wear safety helmets. Also, no photos are allowed inside the tunnel.
Tip: the tunnel is pretty long and it might take you a while to get to the end of it especially if there are many tourists. Make sure to move fast and make the most out of the time you are going to spend there. Also, if you have health problems make sure to inform your guide as the path to the tunnel is quite steep.
Now let’s get to my favorite part of the tour: getting a sneak peek inside North Korea at Dora Observatory. As I am not planning a trip to North Korea anytime soon, I am sure that this is probably the closest I’ll ever get to this country.
Take your time and take a look through the binoculars at a small North Korean city. The weather was excellent and we got a great view of it.
Our last stop before heading back to Seoul was Dorasan Station. This train station was built to connect South Korea to Pyongyang and China. Although the line is not yet functional, if things improve between South and North Korea, connecting the two countries can become a reality in the near future.
South Korea is a peninsula but it acts as an island since the goods imported or exported cannot pass through North Korea. This train line can be a breakthrough if it will ever be opened.
Here, at Dorasan Station you can buy souvenirs like magnets or decorative objects or have a cup of coffee.
As we were heading back to Seoul, we passed by the Unification Village and due to the good weather we had another opportunity to see some mountains inside North Korea.
4. Things you need to know before booking the tour
Depending on the tour you are going to choose there are a few rules you must follow:
- book your tour at least 3 days in advance
- make sure to have your passport with you (copies or other IDs are not accepted)
- if you plan to visit JSA, dress code is required: no sleeveless shirts, no short pants or skirts, sandals or military looking clothes
- the JSA tour does not allow children under the age of 11
Tip: When booking your tour, get in contact with the agency and ask them for the rules specific to your chosen tour (usually they will include this information in the confirmation mail you will receive).
5. Final thoughts
My half day tour to DMZ has definitely been one of the most exciting and interesting experiences of my life. Getting so close to North Korea and finding out so much about the history of these two countries made me wish for peace. Who knows, maybe someday there will no longer be South and North Korea but just Korea.
I hope that you found my DMZ half day tour review useful. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask in the comments section.
May the travel bug bite you!
Disclaimer: VIP Travel sponsored my DMZ tour in exchange for an honest review of my experience. As always, all opinions are my own.