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Monday, October 7, 2013

Stepping into North Korea {DMZ/ JSA Tour}

During our Chuseok holiday Matt and I took a tour to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone} and the Joint Security Area. For those that don't know this is buffer zone between North and South Korea. It is 4 km-wide and 240 km- long. 


We booked our tour through Koridoor Tours and it was around 80,000 Won each for the DMZ and JSA tour. {If you are military there is a discount.} You have to bring your passport with you, you have to be above the age of 10, and there is a dress code. {No shorts, t-shirts, sandals} 

We had to be at Camp Kim USO at 7:30 am to check in and our tour left right at 8:00 am. 

Our tour included stops to: USO, Unification Bridge, Camp Bonifas at JSA, Freedom House, Conference Room, Check Point 3, Point of Ax Murder*, Bridge of No Return*, DMZ Theater and Museum, 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, Dorasan Observatory, and the Dorasan Station. Plus lunch at a "Korean Restaurant" which was about 10,000 Won per meal. 

*Because of construction we weren't able to go to these sights. Does it make me morbid if I really wanted to see the point of the ax murder? 

{Our coach for the day, and our tour guide Clare} 

From the USO, it takes about an hour to get to the DMZ area. Our tour guide was really informative and the whole ride up to the DMZ she was giving us little facts about Seoul, the DMZ/ JSA area, and the Korean War {which she called The War where North Korea Invaded South Korea- this reminded me of the War of Northern Aggression aka The Civil War to those of you not raised in the South}. 

Our first stop was the Dorasan Station. The whole station is a symbol of the uniting of North and South Korea one day. The tracks lead all the way up the North and are ready to be used when the day of peace comes. 

 {This train would connect the Korean Peninsula to the Eurasian continent!} 

 {Pyeongyang is the first stop in North Korea.} 

{You can buy a ticket to go out onto the Train Platform for 500 Won. I wish we had known about this because we didn't bring in our wallets. There are guards checking your tickets as you go through the gates. Also, the station has a gift shop- again wish we would have known this!} 

The next stop was to the Joint Security Area. This is where the tour flips over to the control of the American military. There is a PowerPoint show explaining everything and you have to sign another release form to continue the tour. There's another gift shop in this building as well. This time we were smart and I got my JSA shot glass! 

We then went to the Freedom House. This building was built for people with families in North Korea. The idea was to allow families to meet and see each other, but it's never been used because North Korea doesn't let people leave.... 

{Via- We weren't allowed to take pictures while on the bus, so I had to find this picture somewhere else.} 

Once you go through the Freedom House you are taken to the MACC building, which is the conference room. This is when you get to 'step' into North Korea. 

 {The microphones on the table are on the ceasefire line, so anything the right of the microphones are in North Korea.} 

 {ROK solider} 

{ROK solider in North Korea} 

 {In North Korea- I can't tell you how exciting this was. I really wish they could have stamped my passport. I felt completely safe the whole tour, but it was still crazy being able to say I stepped in North Korea. Although I guess I was a bit chicken because I stayed pretty close to the boundary line... you know just in case.} 

After the MACC building you step outside and the solider man gives you a little background on the JSA. The blue buildings are the JSA's and the gray are the North Koreans. 

{The big gray building is the North Korean visitor center. If you look closely at the left bottom door you can see a North Korean solider. The third story was recently added because they wanted the building to be taller than the Freedom House on South Korea's side. I really wanted to wave, but that's not allowed.} 

 {That cement line in the middle is the line that separates North and South. Sometimes the North Korean soldiers will come down and stand guard, so the two sides will literally be standing in front of each other.} 

 {The gray building is called the "Monkey House" because if there are talks between the two countries the North Korean soldiers will stay in that building and I guess they make mean faces to the other side.} 

On this part of the tour you will also see the Daeseong-dong village (Freedom Village) on South Korea's side. This is a village where people live and take care of the land. The people have farms to take care of and they earn about $80,000 a year. You have to have been a descendant from this area and there is a wait list to gain land. Women can marry into families here, but men cannot. 

Anyway, there's this huge South Korean flag hanging from the flag pole there, and North Korea didn't want to be out done so they put their own huge flag pole up in there own village. This village is called Gigeong-dong (Peace Village), but the South calls it Propaganda Village because no one lives there. They just play propaganda from the speakers at all time in the evening. 

{Left: North Korea's flag- 160 m- high and Right: South Korea's flag- 100 m-high
Image via

Next stop was to the Dorasan Observatory. This is where you can see North Korea for real. They have binoculars for you to use (500 won per use) and you can really see North Korea. It is really surreal. 

 {You can only take pictures behind this yellow line, so the pictures aren't that good. But the view from the binoculars is really great.} 

{Where you see the trees stop is where North Korea starts.} 

 {The mountains are in North Korea} 

The whole experience is really cool and really strange. On our drive up to the DMZ there is barbed wire, aka Constantine Wire, all along the coast, and it continues all throughout the DMZ and JSA. The area is really pretty and green, but it's deadly. A lot of the land is still a live mine field, so you have to stay on certain roads. Our military guide told us that a few months ago three men defected to South Korea from the North, and the South was so surprised they made it because of the all the live mines. So the South made the guys show them how they escaped and only 1 lived coming back because the other two were killed by a mine. That was a little shocking and sad because the men made it all the way and then were killed because the South wanted to see how they did it...

Last stop was at the museum and the third tunnel. Basically, the North has built multiple tunnels to surprise attack the South. Three have been found so far, but there's rumored to be 20 others out there that haven't been found. {Oh you know, just a nice little tidbit to help me sleep at night.} In other good news, the third tunnel was found in 1978, a good 25 years after the armistice agreement was signed... 

You can go down into the tunnel if going underground and walking back up is your cup of tea. It's not mine, but Matt went and said it was cool. FYI- the whole tunnel is under surveillance and you can watch the monitors in the visitors center... so I really didn't miss a thing... expect being sweaty- win win! 

The tour was from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, so it was quite long, but I really think it was worth it. I know there are just DMZ tours that you can go on, but the JSA was really cool! I think it's worth the trip just to see what's it's like up there. It's beautiful in a creepy kinda way. 

*Notes on the tour: I would book with Koridoor again- it was awesome. The "Korean" restaurant was basically a cafeteria where you could chose from Bulgogi or Bibimbap. You can also bring your own lunch if you want. 

Would you travel to the DMZ? 


  1. Soooo cool! This is definitely on our to-do list while we're in Korea.

    1. Yay! I can't wait to hear how your visit goes. We really did enjoy our tour.

  2. Would love to visit the DMZ! Such interesting history, thanks for offering us the tour vicariously through your pictures! :)

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the virtual tour. It was a really cool/ strange place. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of the history of the Korean War, but I learned so much on our tour.

  3. Sounds like you guys enjoyed the tour! My father was stationed in the DMZ during the 80's and I work with a lot of Veterans who had served in Korea so I am very excited to do a tour of the DMZ in the Spring.

    1. Thanks Jessica. How cool that your dad was stationed there- I bet there are amazing stories! I hope you enjoy your tour and I can't wait to read all about it!

  4. that sounds really neat. I would love to be able to see North Korea and its neat that they have tours like that. I would probably be chicken too and stay near the line!

    1. I hope you get to see North Korea one day- it was a good tour!

  5. Fascinating!! I bet it was so informative!! Those so little I know! I know the basics, of course, but I learned a lot I had no idea! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I thought I knew more than the average person, but the facts they gave were so informative. I'm glad we took the trip. It really was a once in a lifetime opportunity!

  6. This was definitely one of my favorite parts of our Korea trip! Even though we felt tense about being in a possible warzone, it was an experience well worth it. Anyway I just wanted to say that I thought your post was really informative and decided to link to it in our guide about Seoul. Cheers!

    PS - it's linked in this article http://zerothreetwo.com/travel/our-little-guide-to-seoul-south-korea/

    1. It is a pretty amazing trip. I think it's a must see if you come to Korea. I totally agree about the tense feeling. It was really strange being up there. Thanks for sharing this in your guide!


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- Alex