Best Korean DMZ Tours – JSA, Dorasan and More!

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DMZ Train

Eerie. If I had to describe this place in one word, eerie is the word I would use. The first thing you notice is the deafening silence… Deafening except for the patriotic North Korean music coming across the border.

This was my second time visiting the border. But, these thoughts still struck me as I stepped off the tour bus. I could visit there twenty times and still have this feeling of amazement at how it feels.

The DMZ

The eerie feeling is only added to when you know that those hills in the distance hide thousands of weapons and artillery pieces that are always aimed at Seoul.

The Korean DMZ is the reminder of a painful reality. One of the most unique and eerie places in the world, it is a must-visit in Korea.

The DMZ itself is only a few hours away from the capital city, Seoul. It surprises many people when they realise that Seoul is merely 50km away from the border. Only slightly further than that is North Korea.

The DMZ covers a length of 250km along the border between the two Koreas. On average, it is about 4km wide.

While you can’t access the DMZ itself, there are a lot of interesting attractions in the area. The most common DMZ tour is to Dorasan Station and then to the Dorasan Observatory.

The observatory provides a stunning view of the DMZ. From the observatory, the Kaesong Industrial Complex is also visible. The Industrial Complex used to be a place of cooperation between the two Koreas. However, it shut down after increased tensions.

Getting to the DMZ

The DMZ Train is the easiest way to get to the DMZ!

Getting to the DMZ is very easy. However, it also isn’t a place that is readily accessible.

If you purchase a DMZ tour (which is the only way to visit the DMZ) through most tour companies, you will get a shuttle bus included.

Nearly all tours will leave from Seoul. Often you will have multiple choices for pickup locations. Dongdaemun, Myeongdong, Hong-Ik University, and other popular locations are common pickup areas.

However, if you don’t have transport included then your best way to get to the DMZ is with the DMZ Train. This train runs many times throughout the day and costs approximately 8000KRW.

To find out more about the DMZ train including the train schedule, please refer to this link.

Best DMZ Tours

There are many different tour options available for visiting the DMZ. Since the area is restricted access, it isn’t possible to visit without a tour guide.

However, there are a large variety of different tours that offer a large variety of different activities. It’s possible to find something for everyone!

Most tours can be completed in a morning or afternoon. These tours also depart from all over Seoul, making them very convenient.

There are also longer tours available, depending on what you are looking for.

Afternoon/Morning Tours

The most common tour takes around six hours. From Seoul, you will take a shuttle bus to Imjingak Park. This park is located outside of the city of Paju (near the DMZ). It is themed towards the reunification of the Koreas.

After visiting the park you will head towards Dora Observatory and the 3rd infiltration tunnel. North Korea has built multiple tunnels over the years that pass under the DMZ. If needed, these tunnels were to allow soldiers to sneak undetected into South Korea.

The infiltration tunnels do require a short walk and they are very small. For this reason, consider avoiding the tunnels if you are claustrophobic.

These six-hour tours tend to be the most common as they can be planned quickly and don’t require a whole day. You also get to see a lot of the most popular attractions at the DMZ.

I have done this tour three times now. If I had to recommend one DMZ tour it would be this one. You can easily fit it into a day with other activities and you still get to see the biggest attractions of the DMZ.

If you want to see the JSA (Joint Security Area) however, consider the tours below.

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Day Tours

View from the Dorasan Observatory.

DMZ JSA Tour

The DMZ JSA Tour is another very popular activity. Not only is it the location of many negotiations between the nations, but it is also the closest that you can get to North Korea as a visitor.

The JSA is the only location along the DMZ where soldiers from the north and south are face to face. Not only this, but you get to see exactly where talks between the countries have taken place!

This tour also takes you to the Dora Observatory and the 3rd infiltration tunnel from the half-day tour. That means that in this tour you will get to see almost everything there is to see about the DMZ!

The JSA within the DMZ.

If you are particularly interested in seeing the JSA then this is the best tour package. The whole tour takes about 9 hours from Seoul.

However, there are some factors to take into account. Some passport holders are banned from the DMZ (including Korean passport holders). Also, some passport holders must book at least 4 days in advance.

To see which passports have limitations please visit the tour page below.

If you are interested in seeing everything that the DMZ has to offer then I recommend this tour. While it is a long tour, you will come out knowing that you didn’t miss anything.

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Cheorwon DMZ Day Tour

The Cheorwon DMZ tour is a less well-known tour. However, that isn’t to say it’s bad. It’s quite the opposite!

The Cheorwon DMZ tour has many similar attractions to the Dorasan tour. You will also get to visit an infiltration tunnel (although this time the 2nd tunnel rather than the 3rd). Further, you will also get to visit the Cheorwon Observatory.

Not only this, but you will also get to visit some stunning locations such as Goseokjeong Pavilion. The pavilion has a stunning view and is a nice bonus to the Cheorwon DMZ Tour.

A unique attraction of the Cheorwon tour is that you can visit the Cheorwon Korean Workers Party Headquarters. This was the headquarters of the labour party for a short period before the beginning of the Korean War.

This tour is a less common day tour for whatever reason. Possibly because it is a longer drive, or maybe because the JSA is a bigger tourist attraction.

However, the Cheorwon area has lots of attractions and I recommend taking a look at both tours before deciding which is best for you.

As with the other tours, this tour departs from Seoul. The whole tour will take about 12 hours and as such requires a dedicated day.

Book your trip to Cheorwon now!

DMZ Highlights

The DMZ is kilometres wide.

The main attractions of the DMZ are the infiltration tunnels and the observatories. While there are a lot of other attractions – like the Peace Park and Freedom Bridge, the tunnels and observatories are why most people visit.

Infiltration Tunnels

The infiltration tunnels are small tunnels below the ground. However, when you think about why and how they were made they are quite amazing. The North Koreans tunnelled kilometres and kilometres before being discovered by seismographs.

Even if you aren’t a fan of tunnels or aren’t particularly interested in the Korean War and other Korean history, it’s worth visiting. It’s something truly unique that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world!

Dorasan Observatory

Unifying Korea!

The Dorasan Observatory is on the itinerary for most tours. This observatory provides a breathtaking view of the DMZ. Even more breathtaking is the silence and calm that has settled there.

Like I said in my opening paragraph, the feeling at the DMZ is truly eerie.

Eerie. If I had to describe this place in one word, eerie is the word I would use. The first thing you notice is the deafening silence… Deafening except for the patriotic North Korean music coming across the border.

Even more concerning is that there are thousands of weapons located in the mountains across the DMZ. All of them aiming to the south.

I haven’t personally visited the observatories other than Dorasan so I can’t speak about them. However, I feel like the eerie feeling would be the same everywhere along the DMZ.

From Dorasan, Kaesong can be made out in the distance. Once the capital of Korea, the town looks desolate now. Telescopes are provided at the observatory so that you can look around the DMZ and get a slightly closer view.

Imjingak Park

Imjingak Park is another destination that most tours visit. The park itself is located around 7 kilometres from the border and shows the hopes of unification.

The park is dedicated to peace and stands in the hope that one day the Koreas will be reunited. The park has a few exhibits including some military vehicles that are on show. There is also a photo exhibit showing the realities of life in North Korea.

It is possible to visit the park without a guide. It is also possible to book tours here. However, as the Visit Korea website points out, English guides are usually not available. For this reason, it is best to book using an online tour company.

IMPORTANT Things to Remember

A path winds through the DMZ.

Since the DMZ is an area of very high security there are a few important things that you need to keep in mind.

Passport

When visiting the DMZ make sure that you always have your passport on you. Your passport will be required to be allowed into the DMZ area. Further, it is important to keep it on you at all times in case you get asked to present it.

Passport Limitations

Specific passports are banned from the DMZ area and the JSA area. For this reason, you must check the list of restricted countries before visiting. At the time of writing, holders of the listed passports must submit their passport to the relevant tour agency up to a week before visiting.

Albania, Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Estonia, Georgia, Hong Kong, Iran, Iraq, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Morocco, Moldova, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen.

For more details please visit the tour companies websites as they will have all of the restrictions listed. Another source of information and a more updated list can be found here.

Children

Depending on the tour in question, children may not be allowed to join. Once again, this depends on the specific tour and tour company. As such, make sure to check the website’s details.

Camera restrictions

While this isn’t very strongly enforced, there are restrictions on which camera gear you are allowed to take. Specific lenses are banned. This usually means any focal length over 90mm. However, I have been allowed to use a camera with a larger zoom and I was never questioned.

However, to make sure that you don’t get your gear taken away or are denied access, don’t bring lenses over 90mm. This is a high-security area and there are very strict rules.

Dress code

This is usually only relevant if you are visiting the JSA. If you plan to visit the JSA however, you must follow the dress code. If you don’t, you will likely be denied entry.

In short, don’t wear casual clothes. For the specific requirements of dress, please refer to this guide by Klook.

Should You Visit the DMZ?

In short, yes. There are a few experiences that can’t be had anywhere but South Korea. The DMZ is one of them. It’s a truly unique experience and one that can only be had in South Korea.

Since you have to visit as part of a tour group, I recommend checking out a few different tours and seeing what best suits you. Whether you want to visit in an afternoon or for a day, there are lots of options available.

If you are visiting South Korea, make sure to visit the DMZ!

 

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