If you don’t want to (or can’t afford a) visit to North Korea, you can still get a whiff or the rare and oppressed air on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Joint Security Area (JSA).
First off – this place is crazy. I mean, on one hand, it’s intense. Soldiers are staring each other down through binoculars, barbed wire is everywhere, and within the JSA, tourists are prohibited from pointing. On the other hand, it’s home to one of the world’s best nature reserves, thanks to the fact that human movements are extremely restricted. And it’s around 30 miles from Seoul! That never fails to blow my mind. So naturally, it’s a must. You can go visit the Panmunjeom, where both sides try to hash things out. Remind yourself while there that the Korean War never officially ended. This place is amazing, and not just for history or military buffs.
Secondly – while there are many tour companies to choose from, DMZ Tours is a solid choice. You can make a reservation online, the sooner the better. Make sure to get the full day tour (which includes lunch), otherwise you’ll only go to the DMZ and miss the JSA. This will cost about $115/person. At the DMZ, you can visit the Nuri Peace Park at Imjingak, the 3rd Tunnel (not for claustrophobics!), dug by North Koreans for a surprise attack, two different observatories, and Panmunjeom. At the JSA, there are good views of the North’s Propaganda Village, the South’s Freedom Village, and the Bridge of No Return.
Finally, here are the vitals:
Bring your passport. Not just for the tour operators, but also for entry to many sights you’ll be seeing. Passport holders from certain Middle Eastern countries like Libya, Syria and Iran are not allowed in the DMZ or JSA. Chinese (including Hong Kong and Macau) passport holders will need to apply a few months in advance for a tour to get cleared. You’ll also need to sign a waiver freeing the UN and South Korea from responsibility should things kick off while you’re there.
There’s a dress code. Really. The basics are: no ripped, dirty, sheer, skin-baring or sleeveless clothing. Leave the flip-flops and heels at home and choose sensible, covered-up clothing and shoes.
And there’s an etiquette code. At the JSA, refrain from pointing and waving. You’ll have to walk in single file at certain points, and taking pictures is limited. Follow your tour guide’s instructions! As a woman, and a solo traveler, you shouldn’t encounter any unwelcome experiences; getting called out is reserved for those who didn’t listen to directions.
What are your tips for a day at the DMZ?