Korean DMZ Tour: Stepping Foot on North Korea

korean DMZ tour

Few people in the world (including Kim Jong-Un’s BFF Dennis Rodman, tourists touring with accredited tour groups, and North Korean citizens themselves) can proudly say that “I have stepped foot on North Korea!” — I am one of those people.

Last 2013, on the second day of my South Korea trip, I spent valentine’s day at the Korean Demilitarized Zone or more popularly called DMZ. And it was one of the most unforgettable valentine’s day ever (no offense to Beep who I left in the Philippines to celebrate v-day by himself).

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DMZ is a strip of land that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. Despite being a demilitarized zone (considered a neutral territory because neither side is allowed to control it), the Korean DMZ is the most heavily militarized border in the world. What does that mean for tourists like me? If someone makes a wrong move (like this South Korean tourist who got shot), we could get shot by North Korean snipers. Or worse, our tour day could be a day when North Koreans decide to attack South Koreans in DMZ just like the many cases of incident and incursions at the border listed here.

korean dmz tour

The DMZ tour is not a joke (we were a part of the USO DMZ/JSA and 3rd tunnel tour which is the only tour that will take you this close to North Korea). We found that out when we were in that room designated for the orientation. We were made to sign a document which states, “The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action.” Still not scared?

Your tour guide will be an official military personnel (usually from the US) with a serious look in his face and will strictly keep all of you in line and tell you to not take this number of steps to your left or right, to only look straight ahead, to not point fingers at anything, and to not take pictures in certain areas. You will feel like you’re in a military camp and you won’t help but stand straight at all times and barely move your head.

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Don’t worry, MOST people will do everything this military personnel will say because everyone’s lives depend on each of your actions. I say MOST because we were unfortunately grouped with an annoying woman who of all the places in DMZ, she had to point to a North Korean standing and observing us in the building of the North Korea side at the Joint Security Area (JSA) Panmunjom (the best and scariest part of the tour). The JSA is that area with the blue buildings where official negotiations between the two sides are held. It’s popularly known as that area in the border where North and South Koreans stand face-to-face. Luckily for us, nobody got shot (your tour guide will tell you about the North Korean snipers carefully watching your every move). The woman just got reprimanded by our military personnel tour guide.

korean dmz tour

We were taken inside the middle blue building where half of our group (myself included) were told to step forward to the other side of the table, and then we heard the magic words “You are now in North Korean territory”, which sent chills down my spine. I officially stepped foot on North Korean soil!

korean dmz tour

 A South Korean soldier inside the blue building. Wouldn’t it be fun if he was a famous Korean actor/singer on his military service? Haha

The rest of the tour will take you to observatory decks (one of which is where you will see a fake city with no residents at all made by North Koreans to show that they’re rich and progressive too like the South), sites in DMZ where the famous attacks and murders happened, the eerie train station that once connected South and North Korea, and one of the tunnels dug up by the North Koreans to attack South through Seoul.

korean dmz tour

 a peek into North Korean territory

korean dmz tour

the now closed train station that once connected North and South Korea 

korean dmz tour

 Not to frighten you or anything but, see how close DMZ is to Seoul?  

Though we’re not really big fans of tours, this is one of those exceptions to the ‘DIY it’ rule. You cannot DIY this. The DMZ tour is one of my favorite travel memories. Touring in the North Korean side with accredited tour groups is also on my bucket list.

The USO tour, that you can book online here (look for DMZ/JSA and 3rd tunnel) costs 96,000 won ($80 / Php4,000+). Pricey but I promise you, it’s worth it. Remember to bring your passport when you go to the assembly place (Camp Kim USO). They also have a dress code which will be sent to your email with the itinerary and receipt upon paying. Also, children below 10 years old are not allowed in the DMZ tour.

Have fun and remember, don’t point at anyone or anything!

 

Gem is the co-founder and author of Travels with a Hobo. When she’s not hopping on a bus or a plane, climbing mountains, or soaking up the sun in one of the 7,641 islands of the Philippines, she lays in bed all day watching crime documentaries and TV shows and rewatching Game of Thrones. Winter is here.
  • pinaytraveljunkie.com

    Scary and at the same time exhilarating! I’ve always wanted to do this. But perhaps, when Luna is much older when she could stay put. LOL.

    • http://www.travelswithahobo.com/ travelswithahobo.com

      Yeah, you’ll have to wait a few more years to take Luna! She might run towards the North Korean side while you’re at JSA. Haha. Thanks for dropping by Gay! :)

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  • Rian

    I’m just wondering did you do the DMZ tour alone or with a friend… I’m planning to travel to Korea alone it’s my first time of visiting the place as well

  • John

    Hello, can I know what you used to edit your photos? They all look equally nice. I especially like the mild effect you’ve applied.

  • Riecely M. Esguerra

    very exciting. aww because of this article i am now more interested to go to north korea than south korea hahahaha just kidding. i really enjoyed reading your posts. :D

  • Guest

    Back when in Aug., I read this article on what DMZ is all about so that when the time we get there, I do have an idea what it looks like. The month ahead, Sept., we went to SK and went there with the same agency for DMZ. Just want to share the moment when I signed a waiver while we were in Camp Kim USO at the same time, I suddenly thought about of going home! Haha. Btw i love SKorea!!! And this blog made my trip to SK more informed. Thank you guys! :)

  • Camille Cenidoza

    Back when in Aug., I read this article on what DMZ is all about so that when the time we get there, I do have an idea what it looks like. The month ahead, Sept., we went to SK and went there with the same agency for DMZ. Just want to share the moment when I signed a waiver while we were in Camp Kim USO at the same time, I suddenly thought about of going home! Haha. Btw i love SKorea!!! And this blog made my trip to SK more informed. Thank you guys.! :)

  • http://adventureinyou.com/ adventureinyou

    Wow. This is crazy. I knew nothing about the DMZ before reading this, so thanks for writing. Interesting way to spend a valentines day also. Definitely something you will never forget!!

  • http://www.onceinalifetimejourney.com/ Once in a Lifetime Journey

    Funny to read this – I am back from 7 days in North Korea so here is my write up from the other side http://www.onceinalifetimejourney.com/once-in-a-lifetime-journeys/asia/de-militarization-imaginary-walls-and-war-in-north-korea/ Trust me, no snippers, North Korea DMZ is rather tamed and very peaceful, the soldiers don’t even carry guns… ;) Propaganda and lies on both sides it seems!

  • Girl Unspotted

    This is pretty awesome! I might look into this then!

  • http://www.travelnotesandbeyond.com Anda @ Travel Notes & Beyond

    While I find your post very interesting, I can’t figure out why would anyone want to visit such a place like North Korea? I was born and raised in a Socialist country and I experienced first hand how Communism can mess up peoples’ lives. But probably some people get bored with their good life and want to experience a little misery. Well, in this case, North Korea fits the bill.

  • http://hitchhikershandbook.com/ Hitch-Hikers Handbook

    Definitely a unique way to spend your Valentine’s Day! I’m not a fan of tours either,but I know you cannot visit North Korea otherwise and 80$ for the tour is probably not so bad.

  • Kristi Trimmer

    I can’t for the life of me figure out why you would want to go other to say that you went? And $80 for this experience seems low to me… I would pay someone a lot more than that to keep me safe!

  • Megan Claire

    Sounds fascinating – I’ve been wanting to get to North and South Korea after having heard so much about them – I’ve been reading a lot from one girl who’s been traveling throughout North Korea and she has some really interesting insights that you don’t get to read or see anywhere else.

    I’m glad you had such an unforgettable day, and that no-one in your group was shot!! Scary stuff but super fascinating at the same time!

  • Claudia Luxembourg

    I have lately read a few posts of bloggers who have actually made it into North Korea. I am still reluctant to go. I don’t think I would be impressed, given the human rights record of the country. I can feel no fascination for that level of dictatorship