DMZ or the Demilitarized Zone is a famous place in Korea both in the North and South. It is the only place where the two Koreas coexist. It is possible to visit DMZ from either side. I visited DMZ from the South.
I travel a lot and this trip to DMZ is one I am really looking forward to. I was always curious about North Korea. I have watched a lot of documentaries about the hermit state and the life of ordinary people there. And now I’m about to be as close to North Korea, my level of excitement was undescribable.
For starters, going to the DMZ requires visitors to book with a travel agent. There are three options to choose from. The first is the Panmunjom Tour. This is the DMZ part where you visit the Joint Security Area where you can see North and South Korean soldiers staring at each other.
The second option is the visit to the 3rd infiltration tunnel where you can see the tunnel dugged by the North to invade the South. And the third option is a combination tour of the first two options. I chose the first option because I’ve heard a lot of good reviews about it.
Booking of tour requires advance booking for at least two days or more depending on your nationality. There are some nationalities that require four days booking in advance due to some regulations. The list of those countries are posted here.
The tour company will require some basic information about you upon booking like passport details, nationality, and contact number. Some companies require payment upon confirmation of booking and some accept payments on the day of tour. I advise you find the latter in case of sudden changes in your schedule.
The tours can also be cancelled at any moment depending on the condition in the DMZ and relationship of the two Koreas on the day of your visit. Although this is the case, it is generally safe and peaceful in Korea. Sometimes the media distort the real situation on the ground for their vested interests of selling the story. Ask a random Korean and I can guarantee that the person you would ask does not feel threatened at all by the presence of the North.
Anyways, the tour to DMZ starts early at around 8am where tourists are gathered at a certain place depending on your tour agent. Departure is around 9am and travel time is a little more than an hour. Inside the bus, the guide will tell stories about the North and how the people suffered during the famine in the 90’s.
Overlooking to the left side of the bus window, the guide pointed that the bark of the trees in the North served as food during those fateful years. The guide also emphasized that visitors should follow the rules strictly like avoiding taking pictures in places where it is said to be prohibited. Zero tolerance is being implemented.
Approaching the DMZ, we passed a place called Camp Bonifas which is controlled by the United Nations. There are two US soldiers boarded the bus and inspected the faces of the passengers. I felt the tension as the soldiers do not smile. We passed another checkpoint and minutes later we’re inside the DMZ.
We were escorted to a nearby building where they showed us a short video about the DMZ. After watching, they gave us a waiver form which declares that no one except the person signing it would be responsible for any untowards incident which may happen as a result of violation of rules and warnings being given.
After sigining the waiver, finally we were allowed to see North Korea from the other side. As soon as the guide gave the permission that we can take pictures, everyone started taking pictures as if there’s no tomorrow.
We were also allowed to go inside one of the blue building. It is where the two sides meet and discuss matters. It is equally divided between the two. And it is the only place in DMZ where you can cross to the other side of the border. It was a surreal experience being in the North.
After having the moments of our lives in the border, we were taken to a place where a train is exhibited. The train used to cross the country freely before the Korean war and it depicts the reality of a divided country. Relatives are barred from seeing each other and it made me sad realizing that while I’m having a time of my life in this place, people continue to suffer the effects of war.
The notes posted by South Koreans on a wall is such a lonely scene. Gaeseong, the closest town from the border is only 22 kilometers away. It is so close yet so far.
I brought a lot of memories from DMZ and I learned to treasure the small things that I enjoy. Traveling is one of my greatest teacher and this trip thought me lessons that I would never forget.