Day trip to the DMZ

Monday, June 05, 2017

Hola all!

I am making sure that I'm checking off everything I've been putting off since I got here. The DMZ tour was numero uno on my list of things to do back in 2015, but somehow I'm just now getting around to it.

In order to visit the DMZ area, you need to go with a tour. Viator is my go to for most of my travels, and their prices were better than the local competition, so I chose them again.

Brief history on the DMZ area, also known as the Korean Demilitarized Zone, from the official Korea tourism website:

"The Korean peninsula is home to a single nation of people with the same language and ethnicity, divided in two. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a buffer zone, which was established on July 27, 1953 when the Armistice Agreement was signed during the Korean War. The DMZ vividly captures the scars and wounds of the Korean War as well as the wishes and hopes for the future.
South and North Koreas drew a truce line across the Korean Peninsula, from the mouth of the Imjingang River in the east, to the town of Goseong in the west. On either side of the truce line is a 2km-wide stretch of land where military activity is forbidden. The zone has been protected from human disturbance for about 6 decades and has become a haven for wildlife. The destinations in this ecological area have been regaining popularity among eco-driven tourists."

One thing they don't mention is that the peninsula was divided by two outside countries: the U.S. on the side of the South and the former Soviet Union on the side of the North. You may recall that I complained about how unfriendly some peninsula Koreans seemed to be toward foreigners. Once you come to know the history of the country better, it kind of makes sense. There was always some outsider invading their land and stripping them of sovereignty. I understand a little better now.

There are extensive day tours and then there are half day tours that take you through the popular spots. I chose the half day tour, and it was just enough for me. The full day tour comes with a lunch and a visit to the Joint Security Area (JSA) where you can see North and South Korean soldiers up close. This is the most heavily armed border on Earth. As mentioned above, the two countries signed an armistice but never signed a peace treaty in the 1950s, and thus, are technically still "at war."

Our tour began at Imjingak resort, where you get to see relics  and memorabilia from the Korean War. The highlights here are the bridge to freedom and the train.

"Bridge to Freedom"

Next we went on to view a brief post war history film, as told by the South, before heading to The 3rd Tunnel.

"Discovered in 1978, the 3rd tunnel was dug by the Northern army to spy on their Southern counterparts. The tunnel is 1.64-kilometers long, 2-meters high and 2-meters wide. It is a prime example of the South-North confrontation."

Inside of the 3rd Tunnel     Photo: Wikipedia
We had to put all of our belongings in lockers, including cameras.

Chile. The North Koreans are trill af. This tunnel was long and deep (we couldn't take photos). If they hadn't been caught, the tunnel would have provided over 30,000 North Korean soldiers access to South Korea. For perspective: South Korean army has 600,000 soldiers. Young males age 18-20 are required to serve for 21 months in order to maintain their citizenship. North Korea has 1.5 million soldiers, twice the number of the South. Both women and men are required to serve in the military for 10 and 12 years respectively. Whew. Basically, without help, the South would be in serious trouble.

There were many photo ops at The 3rd Tunnel. Despite the seemingly hostile relationship between the two nations, much of what I saw was in favor of reunification, not anti-North at all. That was interesting to say the least.

Symbol of Reunification of the peninsula

Smiling replica guards (yeah right) at 3rd.
There are actually four tunnels that have been discovered, trill!

We left 3rd Tunnel and went to the Panmun Station at Dora Observatory. This lookout is as close to the North Korean border as we could legally get. From the naked eye, you can see North Korea in all of its glory, including a North Korean village; allegedly civilians live there. I didn't see any civilians through the lookout binoculars but I did see the North Korean guard post and their flag quite clearly.

Very close

Views of North Korea

North Korea
The pole in the distance is the North Korean flag
The two countries blast propaganda via loud speakers back and forth for 12 hours per day

THE DMZ, a place of "peace", overrun with nature
You can clearly see the DMZ border split

I saw no anti North propaganda, only sentiments of reunification 

Our last stop was Dorasan Station. Dorasan is the northern most train station in South Korea, or rather it was. The South stopped rail transport to the North back in 2003. It remains open as a tourist attraction, and yes, we ate it up.

This is the wall of South Korean donors that contributed to building the (former) railway between South and North.

Dorasan Station artwork

What could have been

Yes, I bought the souvenir book. It's actually quite lovely :)

If you buy the book or a postcard you can get a souvenir station stamp

North and South Korean relations are quite complicated. If interested in visiting the country, definitely take some time to research some historical information on the two. It will give you a better understanding of the region as a whole.

Important things to know:

-You must take your passport on the tour. There are a couple of military check points before the tour officially begins

-Though we are allowed to see some things, a lot remains off limits to civilians. The tour guide will tell you where you can and can't snap pics

-The 3rd tunnel is not for the faint of heart! You need to be physically fit to complete the tunnel. The return is akin to an incline on a very steep hill or mountain. If your knees, heart or lungs are bad, skip it, or go peak for the first few seconds but go right back. Trust me on this. I did the full tunnel but it was not easy. Also, I made the mistake of wearing flip flops. It's wet inside of the tunnel, and again, the return is very steep. Don't make my mistake; wear sneakers.

I was supposed to do this tour with my former coworker, Nancy, when we first moved here but she passed away in April. Nancy came to me in a dream a few weeks ago. We were in a tunnel with a bunch of other people, on a tour it seemed :) At the end of the dream, she gave me the biggest hug, and then I woke up. I heard you loud and clear, Nancy. I know you would have enjoyed this tour immensely, from the gorgeous views en route to the sites to the propaganda (lol). Rest in Eternal Peace, Nancy King.

Peace in the far east 

You Might Also Like


  1. That must have been an interesting experience. I would have been a bit nervous l think, but ultimately would be glad l went. I for sure would have skipped the tunnel. I am a big chicken and the quick peek would have sufficed..Thanks for sharing :-).

    1. Yeah if not for the dream I am certain I would have skipped it. No regrets, it was a highlight of my time here.

  2. Wow...your dream was so vivid. It's a good thing you acted on it! Sorry for the loss of your friend. This seems like such an interesting tour. I'll definitely take this tour whenever I get to South Korea. And it's very interesting that reunification seems to be the goal (at least in South Korea). I hope that happens one day.

    1. Yes, this is absolutely a must-do. I went home and read up some more on the history of the two countries. They teach classes at the universities about how reunification would need to happen in order for it to work. Might be ambitious, all things considered.

  3. Awesome recap of your experience. I took the tour back in 2008 or 2009 but it looks like you covered way more ground than I did. What other things remain on your Korea bucket list?

    1. I think I've covered everything but visiting the Seoul Tower. I literally see it almost daily but I've never gone up. I will be there this weekend!

  4. Great piece. I have always wanted to visit the DMZ and hope I will get the chance in the future following your tips. Thank you

  5. This sounds like an interesting experience. I always love visiting new places.

  6. Wow, the sites are very pretty there and this seems like such an interesting tour. Kudos to you for getting out there exploring a side of the world I didn't even know we were welcome in!

  7. I can tell there is a lot of history told and told from DMZ. When I decide to travel abroad, the various countries throughout Asia are definitely on my list.

  8. This looks like a really interesting place to visit. Thee tunnels sound intimidating though.

  9. The tunnels sound crazy fascinating but the way my anxiety is set up. I don't know if I could handle it. This was a great history lesson.

  10. Great Pictures...looks like a very beautiful and interesting place to visit!

  11. This looks like such an interesting place! I had never heard of it, thanks for sharing. Great pictures as well.