DMZ Korean Demilitarized Zone Tour
While Jen taught English and lived in South Korea, she had never gotten the chance to visit the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone - the border between South and North Korea). Therefore, when we got the opportunity to visit the DMZ we took advantage of it; our hotel, Hotel Karashy organized us joining a set tour that regularly visits the DMZ. We were instructed to be in our Hotel Lobby by 7:30am sharp and that the tour bus would pick us up. When we made it down to the lobby we were informed that due to traffic the bus would not make it to our hotel in time so the tour company sent a taxi to bring us to the tour bus located more central Seoul.
When we arrived to the rendezvous point, we joined a group of about 13 people in a van transport and proceeded to pick up a couple more people before heading up approximately 1 hour north to the city of Paju to reach the DMZ. We had to show our passports and also paid an approximately $47 fee for the tour. The van ride was AWFUL because Jen and I were stuck in the back and the suspension is terrible; there were a couple times that we were airborne from going over small bumps. It was a nauseating ride but we made it to the first stop in one piece before entering the DMZ. It is also much easier to travel with a group in a smaller van because it takes less time for the screening process to get through to the DMZ (compared to the large coach buses in which there are more people, so it takes more time).
The first stop takes you to the Imjingak tourist resort (임진각관광지) where the tour guide had us explore while she went to register our tour group to be permitted access into the DMZ. This area has restrooms, refreshments, and you can also view many war monuments, the Peace Bell as well as the Bridge of Freedom.
Before reaching the Dorasan Observatory (제3땅굴) which contains the 3rd tunnel, our bus stopped at a military check point to have each passenger's passport verified by military personnel. Upon arriving at the entrance to the 3rd Tunnel, the tour group stowed personal items into complimentary lockers, grabbed hardhats and followed the 1635 meters (2 meters in width and 2 meters in height) narrow pathway. This tunnel was discovered in 1978 just 52 km away from Seoul, making it the largest discovered tunnel which North Korea created in plot attempts to invade South Korea. Although the tunnel was narrow, it is estimated that approximately thirty-thousand fully-armed North Korean soldiers could move through the tunnel per hour. I walked to the end to find a metal wall barricade with a small window cut out which gave sight to what looked like other barricades. After heading out of the tunnel, Jen and I made our way over to a quiet spot and had sandwiches for lunch. We all then loaded back on the bus to head over to Dora Observatory (도라전망대), where we could see North Korea and use binoculars to get a closer look at Propaganda Village and farmland.
Our last stop was Dorasan Station (도라산역) , a former active operating railway station (for workers between North and South Korea) on the Gyeongui Line, and is currently the northern most stop on South Korea's railway line. The station was opened as a tourist attraction in 2002, and since then continues to attract tourists through the DMZ tour, and can even be reached by riding South Korea's railway originating at Seoul Station and going through a security check at Imjingang Station, then ending at Dorasan Station.
After the tour of the railway station the tour group split up depending on if you were going back to Seoul or continuing on to the extended tour where you can visit the JSA (Joint Security Area - 판문점), the only designated area in which North and South Korea can meet for diplomatic reasons. Jen and I decided to opt out of including the JSA as apart of our tour as we wanted to make it back to the city. Our tour group brought back other guests from another tour to the city and we were to stop at an Amethyst factory (which apparently is apart of the tour), and it heavily reminded me of my China tours when we had to make stops at a pearl, jade and silk factory. As nice as our tour guide was, we just wanted to go off on our own and skipped the Amethyst factory tour.
If you're planning to visit South Korea, I suggest embarking on the DMZ tour if you get the chance and do a little bit of research beforehand as well as coordinate with your hotel to see if they have partnerships with DMZ tours. A couple things to keep in mind are your dress attire (dress somewhat conservatively and do not wear any kind of military garments), make sure to have your passport with you, and do not bring valuables.