What is only one hour’s drive from Seoul? That is right, North Korea. Going on a Panmunjom and DMZ Tour is a popular tourist attraction and with a guided tour you can learn a great deal about the area.
I have been looking forward to the tour for some time. I wanted to know more about the history and the situation so what better than to go on the Panmunjom and DMZ Tour, which took about a day. It cost about 120 € and included transportation from and to Seoul.
The Panmunjom and DMZ Tour
So what does the tour really mean? First of all the DMZ stands for the Demilitarized zone between South and North Korea. There also lies the only highway that combines North and South Korea. Now I will go through some of the places I visited there.
The 3rd Tunnel
In 1978 they discovered a third tunnel, which was 1635 meter long and evidently was created for the purpose to do a surprise attack on Seoul. To visit this tunnel, we put on blue helmets and sat down in a lift that took us down to the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel they also had a counter that counted how many days they have been, technically, at war.
“A tunnel is a tunnel”, my guide stated many times. Maybe she wanted to point out that there was not much more to see than just how it looked like. Parts of the tunnel is now filled up with water and concrete and naturally does not work as a tunnel from North Korea to South Korea anymore.
In the tunnel we were not allowed to take pictures. Overall during this tour there were places we could take pictures and other places where it was not allowed to take pictures.
We also visited the train station closest to North Korea called Dorosan station. There they had a small gift shop with over-priced chocolate. For this, like my tour guide about the tunnel, I would say that a train station is a train station (honestly was quite boring).
In the freezing cold we could stand outside and look into North Korea. For a coin we could use the binoculars to see even closer into North Korea. Now this was cool.
How would I describe what I saw of North Korea? It was an area of light-coloured buildings. There was a green (as in the buildings were painted green) propaganda village that apparently is fake as the windows are painted on the buildings. I could not see many people there however I could spot someone casually riding a bicycle. I wonder where this person was going…
All the trees in North Korea were cut down. This they explained was because they needed the trees for food and wood.
And what could we hear when we stood there? The propaganda music!
Joint Security Area and the MAC conference room
The last stop of the Panmunjom and DMZ Tour was the JSA and MAC conference room.
In the JSA many important meetings have been held. But after an incident they divided this part as well in half.
The MAC conference room is located in a way that puts half of the building in North Korea and the other half in South Korea. So I can say I have stood and walked in North Korea.
Our guide for the JSA part of the tour, major Gomez, explained that they call the guard that stands on the North Korean side Bob. And Bob stands there all the time, even during at night. I think I could hear some amusement in his voice when he explained this.
During the whole stay they checked our passports many times and to enter the JSA where we had to sign a visitor declaration that started with:
“The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail the entrance into a hostile area and the possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action.”
Safe to say that I have not signed anything like this before.
Other things I learned from the DMZ tour
We could also talk to the guides and ask more questions. Here are some pointers of the things I found interesting:
- Kim Jong Un has made over 10 plastic surgeries to look more like his grandfather.
- For the incident that happened, they could not comment because they were not allowed.
- Major Gomez said that being stationed there was actually quite a boring place to be. There was not much happening so he did not do the things he had gotten the training for. He also talked about the amount of fake news spread throughout the world.
- There is about 100 ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers for every US soldier in the area.
Overall a very interesting experience that raised even more questions.
Would you ever go to North Korea?