I have booked the JSA tour(Joint Security Area, an area located in the DMZ between North and South Korea) a month before arriving at Seoul. It is highly recommended to book this in advance as it could be hard to reserve one on short notice. The tour could be cancelled any time by the Authorities given certain situations. In fact my tour has been cancelled and had I not called for alternatives I never could have gone to the next scheduled date.
Before the sunken navy ship incident
earlier this year, it was even possible to book a guided tour to a border town in North Korea, but Authorities (North or South I am not sure) forbade this to signal higher tension between the two parties. As of this week the tension has gone a notch up as South Korea formally accused North Korea of launching a torpedo on their ship. I hope that the JSA tour will still be available in the coming days.
I booked the tour using Joong Ang Express tour
, on their web site you will find the stringent requirements for this tour. On this entry I will only focus on my impressions. First off I made the mistake of not bringing my SLR camera, as I thought it was forbidden. It is actually allowed to bring SLR cameras provided that your lens is not longer than 100 mm. There is a strict dress code, once in the JSA you will be monitored by both parties, the way you dress could be used as propaganda for some purposes.
The JSA area was not delimitated by the MDL (Military Demarcation Line) before– soldiers from both sided were permitted to cross the line within this zone until the Axe Murder Incident in 1976
. Today, both parties stay on their respective lines and face each other under a tense mood. There are three buildings that overlay the MDL, the one in the the middle is the conference building, to this day this building is used as communication line between North and South.
We were not allowed to go inside this building because of tourists(most of them were Chinese) from the North were there at the same time. We saw them escorted by North Korean soldiers and on the Southern side, Korean and American soldiers were on alert, our guide told us that it is rare to see such a face-off these days.
Picture taking was limited to a certain time and we had to do this under the conventions that our Military guide has mentioned us(No space for special pose here). Our Military guide was a South Korean who was on the verge of finishing his mandatory 2 year stint within the Korean Army. He has a black belt in Taekwondo( South Korean soldiers posted in the JSA are elite soldiers), and he is under UN authorities. In fact we wore UN badges in the JSA premises, tourists become UN observers to qualify for this tour.
I highly recommend the JSA tour(also known as Panmunjom tour) if you arein Korea and are interested in History, especially the Cold War, it is not every day that you get to see such a living relic!