North Korea is probably the most closed off countries in the world and stepping across its border was a haunting and memorable experience we highly recommend. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) tour provides you with a more in depth look into a humanitarian crisis that most people do not know a lot about. So, if you are interested in being able to boast about visiting North Korea here is how to do it:
Step 1: Decide what you are interested in seeing
As the DMZ has restricted civilian access the only way you can visit is through a tour company. There are numerous companies which offer tours to the DMZ and each tour offers different attractions and activities. It is therefore important that you are clear on what you want your trip to include. So, the first step is choosing which places you want to go to visit. Here are the main highlights available:
The Panmunjeom Joint Security Area (JSA)
The JSA is the only section of the DMZ where North and South Korean soldiers stand face-to-face. It is also the closest a tourist can get to North Korea and the only place you can physically cross the border and stand on North Korean soil. The JSA is occupied by the South Korean and US military and contains a gift shop where you can purchase various items from North Korea such as money, stamps and even wine.
Surprisingly enough, during the time that South and North Korea were having peace talks, North Korea began digging tunnels to infiltrate the South. There are four tunnels in total with the Third Infiltration Tunnel most visited by tourists on tours to the DMZ. The Third Infiltration Tunnel was discovered in 1978 before its completion. It is 1, 635m and was estimated that approximately 30,000 soldiers could move through the tunnel per hour.
Imjingak Resort and Bridge of Freedom
The Imjingak Park of peace was built in 1972 in hopes that unification between the two countries would be possible. The park contains The Bridge of Freedom where 13,000 prisoners of war were traded at the end of the Korean War. It is in this moving place that Koreans, separated from their families during the Korean War, leave messages of peace on brightly colored ribbons.
Odusan Unification Observatory
Mt Odu Observatory provides a safe view of North Korean day-to-day life without being in the country itself. Provided binoculars allow for close up views of North Korean civilians across the Han River.
Step 2: Choose your tour company
Once you have decided on the things you want included in your tour you can choose a tour company. There are various companies to choose from (a select few are listed below) and your choice will depend on your budget and what you want included in your tour.
We chose DMZ Tours which included a trip to the JSA and the Imjingak resort and Bridge of Freedom.
Step 3: Take as many pictures and learn as much as you can
The DMZ tour will provide you with an opportunity to learn more about a humanitarian crisis that most people know very little about. So learn as much as you can from your guide and take in the austere atmosphere. Also, areas in which photos are allowed are strictly controlled so make the most of the opportunity to capture a very unique and haunting experience.
Most tour companies require you to book 2-5 days in advance so bear this in mind when booking your tour.
Passports are required for most tours so don’t forget to bring it with. It is also normal for the tour company to ask for your passport number when you book your tour so don’t freak out if this happens.
Make sure you follow the dress code specified by your tour (ie. no sandals, ripped jeans, etc.). These rules are strictly enforced as North Korean soldiers may take photos and produce false propaganda that other countries are not able to afford proper clothing.
If tensions rise at the border tours could be cancelled. This means you are not guaranteed to get to the JSA, nor are you guaranteed to be permitted to take pictures of the North side.