When visiting South Korea, one of the most interesting things you can do is take a day trip outside of Seoul to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Joint Security Area (JSA), where the North and South meet to discuss matters (including peace talks). This area is heavily guarded by military from both North and South Korea.
Why Visit the DMZ and JSA:
- You will learn an important part of 20th century world history which continues to have significant global impacts on international affairs today
- For many visitors, this is as close as you may ever get to North Korea unless things change dramatically
- It’s safer than you think
- It’s unlike any other “tourism” experience on earth
Read More: The Ultimate One Week Itinerary in Seoul
Preparing for Your Visit:
In order to visit the Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area, you must book with a package day tour departing from Seoul. This must be booked several days in advance, and you must send the tour company a photo of your passport photo page in order for them to gain clearance for you to visit the DMZ and JSA.
You must have your passport on the day of the tour.
When visiting the JSA, you cannot carry anything off the bus – bags must be left behind. You can carry a camera or phone in your pocket.
Tim and I visited in January, when it is extremely cold. If visiting in winter, wear layers and prepare for harsh conditions. If visiting in summer, prepare for exactly the opposite – hot and humid conditions. Be mindful of the dress code regardless of the season. When in doubt, wear long pants, clean shoes, and a long sleeve shirt (or carry a sweater or jacket you can put over a sleeveless shirt).
What to Expect on Your Tour:
- Meet at the location designated by your tour operator. For us, this was at Yongsan Station in Seoul. If you are staying in a hotel in Seoul, they will pick you up there.
- The tour operator will drive you to the Demilitarized Zone starting point. Here you will see the Peace Bell and an amusement park (which is quite odd at the most heavily militarized area on earth).
- You will then go to three places – Dorasan Station (which used to have a train operating between north and south, but now only operates in one direction); The Third Infiltration Tunnel (which North Korean troops made using dynamite in the 1970s in order to enter South Korea in a coordinated attack from under ground. You will get to go into this tunnel); The Dora Observation Deck (where you will be able to see cities and towns, including the fake “propaganda village” of North Korea).
- After these sights, you will have lunch which will most likely be included in your tour.
- After lunch, you will visit the Joint Security Area, where you will be escorted by a member of the United States Military into an auditorium where you must sign a statement acknowledging you are going into a hostile territory where death or injury can result directly from enemy action. After a briefing, you will proceed in military formation to the JSA. You must follow military commands at all times, as you will be under constant watch from North Korean soldiers from watch towers and windows. You will go into a conference room used for talks between the two sides and you will have the opportunity to stand in North Korea. Do not touch anything or say anything that could get you in trouble, as the room has microphones that are monitored 24/7 by North Korea. The US soldier will speak about this room. You will be allowed to take photos. Note you will be asked to show your passport numerous times during this portion of the tour.
- After visiting the JSA you will transfer via bus (provided by tour operator) back to Seoul. Our operator dropped us off at the Seoul City Hall metro station and we took the subway to our apartment from there.
Visiting the DMZ and JSA means you are visiting one of the most hostile areas on earth. There is heavy military presence from the United States of America, South Korea and North Korea. The Korean War is still ongoing (they are merely in an armistice), and North Korea has violated the terms of the armistice numerous times. An breach of this armistice could occur at anytime and you could be hurt or killed if this takes place during your visit. Visiting this area is not for the faint of heart. Additionally, I would not recommend it for children or anyone who has a hard time following instructions. It’s also worth noting that tours can be cancelled at any time at the discretion of the military.
Read more: Our Adventures in South Korea
We went with this tour, which we booked using Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
We both have the Chase Ultimate Rewards Sapphire Reserve Card. It has a larger annual fee ($450 per year), but it comes with $300 cash back on travel purchases and access to airport lounges around the world (which typically range from $20-50 per visit without a pass). If you apply and are approved, you can earn 50,000 bonus points. Note: I will also receive a small commission in points if you apply and are approved. Learn more here.
Hear me and other experts discuss what it’s like to travel to South Korea in the World Nomad’s podcast!