North Korea / South Korea

Touring the DMZ

I’ve alluded to being close to North Korea. It’s time to come clean: Matt and I live in Cheorwon County. It’s basically as far north as you can go and still be in South Korea.

On Saturday, Matt and I took a tour of the Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ. As all the guide books like to point out, the name is interesting because in fact the DMZ is one of the most heavily militarized areas in the world. The Korean War never officially ended, so after the ceasefire in 1953, the DMZ was created as a buffer zone between the North and South.

The DMZ is about 150 miles long, so there are multiple areas and tours to take. We took the Cheorwon Security Tour that is about 20 minutes from where we live. The tour was all in Korean, but there were some signs in English, and we had a map that also had a few sentences of English about each stop on the tour.

The tour started at the Iron-Triangle War Place Tourist Office and included the 2nd Underground Tunnel, the Cheorwon Peace Observatory and the Crane Museum.

Outside the 2nd tunnel.

Outside the 2nd tunnel.

The highlight of the tour was the 2nd Underground Tunnel. Four tunnels have been discovered over the years running from North Korea to South Korea. The 2nd tunnel was discovered in 1975 after a soldier heard an explosion from underground. It took a few days to find the tunnel. It was wide enough that about 16,000 soldiers could move through it in one hour.

In the 2nd Underground Tunnel. Uhhh, are we allowed to take pictures down here?

In the 2nd Underground Tunnel. Uhhh, are we allowed to take pictures down here?

The tunnel was confining and damp, with water dripping in some areas. We noticed many areas with holes in the rocks; from the explanations in Korean, we think they were where mines were found and removed. Some parts of the tunnel were tall enough to stand in, but many parts required you to hunch over while walking. I was happy for the helmets we were required to wear because Matt hit his head so many times I lost count. Every time he made a comment or tried to point something out to me, he forgot to crouch and inevitably hit his head on the ceiling. A young Korean girl knocked her head so hard that her helmet flew off.

Matt looks possessed. I think he hit his head one too many times.

I think he’s about to hit his head again.

At the farthest we were allowed to go inside the tunnel, we were 300 meters from North Korea, or about 950 feet.

At the peace observatory, we could use binoculars to see into North Korea. We also drove past the Labor Party Building, which was used for awful acts of torture during the war. Matt was looking forward to stopping there and was disappointed when our bus only slowed down. Someone explained that because people are allowed to visit without being on a tour, the tour doesn’t actually stop there.

The tour was definitely interesting. We’ll probably take another tour in a different area at some point, as well.

Outside the Cheorwon Peace Observatory.

Outside the Cheorwon Peace Observatory.

At Woljeongri Station, the last stop before North Korea. It was shut down during the Korean War. Apparantly there is a sign there that reads, "the train wants to run."

At Woljeongri Station, the last stop before North Korea. It was shut down during the Korean War. Apparently there is a sign there that reads, “the train wants to run.”

North Korea is somewhere behind us.

North Korea is back there. I swear.

Looking toward North Korea.

Looking toward North Korea.

The Labor Party Building.

The Labor Party Building.

Heading up to the peace observatory.

Heading up to the peace observatory.

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9 thoughts on “Touring the DMZ

  1. Looks like quite an amazing day trip….I can see why Matt would have wanted to get a bit closer to that Labor Party Building….that’s EXACTLY the type of building that is just asking to be explored! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Man you guys are adventurous! How’s the food over there?
    Thanks for sharing the tour, very interesting.
    Be safe!

    • Eileen: The food is really, really good! More than once Matt has said, “what are we going to eat when we move back to America?” haha

  3. That is an interesting trip for sure. It’s crazy how in South Korea it’s a tour, and in North Korea no one knows…I think I read in an earlier post that South Koreans aren’t nearly as worried about North Korea as the world is (see: U.S.) Is there any interaction with North Korea at all where you are?

    • Oops. Sorry I didn’t respond till now. In terms of interaction, there is a complex that I think is an hour or two from here called Kaesong. It is a joint operation between the North and the South that has factories run by South Korea and employs more than 50,000 North Koreans. It’s a big sign of the two Koreas working together. However, it was closed down in April after all the threats from North Korea and the tension here. Actually I think the North is who pulled out their workers and caused it to close. Now they are holding talks about possibly reopening it.

  4. Hey, I have all sorts of questions about your tour! I really want to do this tour but I read that you have to apply in advance to go into the tunnels. Did you use a real tour agency or did you just do it all yourself? It seems like there are a few ways to go about it and I’m curious about what your system was.

    • Hi! Yes, there are a few ways to go about it. For this particular tour that I wrote about in the blog, we just went there the day of the tour (I think they run them most days of the week) and bought tickets. So we didn’t have to do anything in advance to get into the tunnel. We may have given our Alien Registration Cards when we bought the tickets but I really can’t remember. That tour was fun and interesting, but if you can’t understand Korean or you don’t already live nearby, I would recommend doing a tour out of Seoul.

      When my family came to visit, we did a tour out of Seoul and it was awesome. There are a few companies that offer it. We used TourDMZ (tourdmz@tourdmz.com) and did the joint JSA-Panmunjon and third tunnels tour. You do have to register in advance and give them your passport number, and that is because you actually get to go into the joint operating area where South Korean and North Korean officials meet, and you can step into North Korea. You also go into the tunnels. It’s a long day, but we loved it and there is an English speaking guide. The USO also offers tours out of Seoul and I have heard good things about them too.

      Hope you get to visit! We thought it was really interesting.

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