The Korean Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ in short, is possibly one of the most fascinating places in the world. The two countries that border the Korean DMZ, North and South Korea, are still technically at war and tension along the DMZ can still get quite high during occasions. Despite the dangers and risks, the Korean DMZ is also one of the most popular tourist destinations, given the attention that it gets on the international stage.
If you are planning to visit Korea, I strongly encourage you to visit the DMZ. After all, there are not many places around the world like DMZ and it is technically the safest "war zone" in the world. Here are some tips/advice on what you should do if you plan to visit the Korean DMZ.
The Joint Security Area (JSA), probably the most recognisable part of the DMZ1. Decide which country you want to visit the DMZ from. Since both North and South Korea border the DMZ, you have the choice to visit the DMZ from either side. However, given that South Korea is more tourist friendly and the capital city of Seoul is just nearby to the DMZ, going from the South is the easier choice. There are more operators from the South providing the DMZ tour too, so you can pick and choose what you like. But if you love to live dangerously, you can consider a North Korean DMZ tour. I heard visitors to the North can do this, though I am not sure how. For me, I visited the DMZ via South Korea.
North Korea, as viewed from Dora Observatory!2. Pick the places that you want to visit in the DMZ. From the South Korean side, there are several points of interest in the DMZ that tourists have access to. Depending on your appetite, you may want to visit all of them or you may want to only go to those that interest you. Time may also be a consideration, as the more places you choose to go, the longer you'll spend. I chose to visit most of them and hence I went with the full day DMZ tour. I included the places that I have visited during my full day DMZ tour below and you can click on the place name for my Google review of the places.
Personally, I highly recommend JSA and the Tunnel out of all the options, as they allow you to experience something completely different than usual tour spots.
Pushing for a unified Korea
3. Pick a tour. Once you decided on the places you want to visit, pick a tour group that fits the most into your schedule and offers you what you're looking for. As the DMZ cannot be accessed by the public freely, going with a tour group is the only option. There are many tour groups offering DMZ tours, a simple Google search will do the trick, but my advice is to go with a tour group that allows you to pay on the day itself. This is very important. DON'T PAY ONLINE for the DMZ tour. Insist on paying on the spot if possible. The tour operator that we went with allowed us to pay on the spot using cash as long as we gave them the credit card number for collateral. This is because DMZ tours can be subject to last minute changes due to unforeseen circumstances (like North Korea suddenly threatening war) and going through the process of refund can be quite a hassle.
4. Be mindful of the rules. Another thing to take note of are the rules in the DMZ. Unlike other tours, visitors must be mindful of the rules in the DMZ such as the dress code and no simply taking pictures at certain areas, but as long as you follow the instructions of your guide, the trip should be fine. Breaking the rules in the DMZ can also land you in serious trouble, and possibly spoil your entire trip.
Summary: In summary, I really enjoyed the trip to the DMZ. As someone who is interested in the Korean War, it gives a really different perspective to a place that has captured the attention of the world. It is sad to see Korea divided into two due to political reasons and the DMZ stands today as a testament to how international politics can really mess up a country. Also, the DMZ is the most dangerous place that I have visited so far in my life.
So what do you think of the DMZ? Have you visited the area before? Will you consider it? Let me know!