Tag Archives: korea

DMZ South Korea

North and South Koreans in close quarters in the Joint Security Area, within the the Korean DMZ. For most people 2/3 days advance reservation is required for this visit. I booked my tour with www.panmunjom.com. Technically both South and North Korea are still at war! You don’t get to visit many places where you sign a disclaimer from the United Nations that you accept responsibility in case of injury or death as a result of enemy action. #Korea #northkorea #southkorea #panmunjeom #travel #history #dmz #bbctravel (at Joint Security Area)

About the JSA tour

I have been receiving a considerable amount of hits regarding the JSA tour. This is fine but I would like to mention that this site shows only my opinion on certain travel and photography topics. If you want to know requirements regarding the JSA tour please check out these sites http://www.jsatour.com/ . This company is the one I used to book my trip last year, they are very reliable.  I have shared my impressions about the JSA tour  in an earlier post: http://troi.senturias.com/site/travel/2010/05/jsa-tour-south-korea.html .

I also get hits on the kind of camera that you can bring. According to tourdmz.com (http://www.tourdmz.com/english/07guid/tour1_1.php ), “You can bring your camera. However you are strictly asked to follow the instructions of your tour guide when and where to take a photo. (No camera with zooming capacity more than 100mm are no allowed to carry to this area) ” .
Before going to the tour I was anxious about this, because I had a DSLR and wasn’t entirely sure about the restrictions. I wanted to be on the safe side and so I didn’t bring it; I just brought my point and click. On hind sight, I should have brought my SLR —  some visitors did and they didn’t have any problems. So if I were to do it again, I’ll definitely bring mine, of course I will comply with  the 100 mm lens limit.
Again I will stress out the importance of booking the JSA tour the sooner you can do it, it isn’t your regular tourist tour.  Point in case jsatour.com does not make a secret about the fact that you could be subject to background checks.

JSA Tour

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.

MDL South Korean soldier in front of North Koreans

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! 

Korea impressions, the first night

The trip to Korea was quite short. I have not been spontaneous enough to actually post an entry there. Arrival at Incheon airport was very pleasant:  it is a big airport and yet it is easy to navigate your way through it.  I do not wonder why it is consistently voted as the best airport in the world.
To get out of the airport I took the Airport shuttle bus as my accommodation was in Myeong-dong and most Shuttle bus(9000 WON  –  9 USD) do stop at hotels there.  Once out of the shuttle,  I did have a hard time finding my way to my hotel.  Most people did not speak English and I think that even if I spoke Korean I probably would still had problems. To find out my way to places I usually use Google maps and Iphone’s GPS( as last resort as Internet data roaming is quite expensive), alas the hotel address was wrong in Google. I should have verified that information. I found some help by asking a receptionist from another hotel, he gave me a map of Myeong-Dong and pointed out where my hotel was. The map was useful but the receptionist tried to dissuade by telling me it takes 15(he pronounced this as 50!) minutes to go there.
 In Korea, you get to places using landmarks as often times streets would have no names and coordinates are difficult to figure out.  One of the intersections which led to my hotel had a Dunkin Donut shop, from there it was just 2 blocks away.
It was already midnight after I after I got settled in my room.  I was very hungry and was very eager to test the local food,  Myeong-Dong has a number of  food stalls at its fringes.  I did not bother to eat street foods, seeing the locals and the Japanese comfortably seated outside the stalls somehow  assured me of the quality of the food being served.  I am rather adventurous when it comes to food so I didn’t mind just pointing at the pictures of the food to order… No English translation only Japanese and Chinese! This is why I ended up with cold soup on my second day in Seoul