Everything About The DMZ & JSA Tours
Photograph by Henrik Ishihara
In Korea many tour operators propose to take a stroll along the DMZ - the Korean Demilitarised Zone. Ironically enough its vicinity is the most militarized area in the world. So why would anyone go there and why does it exist? Let's get into it!
What is the DMZ
First we must go back 70 years and learn a bit of Korean history.
After WW2 Japan was stripped-off its colonies, so Korea finally became free after 35 years of occupation. Their liberators proposed that Korean would be under a trusteeship until they can elect their new ruler.
American generals proposed the 38th parallel to divide the country as it conveniently goes through the middle of the Korean peninsula, and the Soviets accepted. However it also crossed through mountains, villages, and farm lands. This choice would separate families for over 70 years no Korean had the chance to say anything.
Photograph by Rishabh Tatiraju
Sadly the Cold War quickly started and a fratricide war occurred in Korea. After the now-called “Korean War” the country, more especially the South, was destroyed to a great extent. And the separation that was supposed to last for a mere few years still exists today.
A no man's land was decided and only one point of connection exists for diplomatic purposes, the Joint Security Area.
A famous place
The Joint Security Area is especially famous thanks to the homonymous movie by Park Chan-Wook. In which a killing happens and a detective must discover whether a South Korean or a North Korean is at fault. For all of you Tarantino enthusiasts, he included it in his top 20 favorite movies of all times!
North Korea's insistants tries and final success into accessing nuclear power shined a light on this heavy militarized zone, and all the diplomatic meetings happening in the JSA were followed with interest by many all over the world.
You may also have heard of the big speakers blasting propaganda on each sides of the DMZ, or of the propaganda balloons flying over the border. Those practices have stopped in 2018 but they were quite unique.
Why would I want to go there?
By going on a trip there you will discover a part of Korean history, the zone is controlled so you can only go there in organized tours. Most of them propose similar visits in half a day or a full day. The prices range from 50 000 KRW to 100 000 KRW.
You can visit the famous JSA and see the line separating both countries, if you wanna have an overview of how it looks like, the American show host and comedian Conan O'Brien went there with the actor Steven Yeung, and the video is pretty funny!
3rd Tunnel of Aggression
North Korean troops dug an almost 2km-long tunnel under the DMZ in order to lend a surprise attack on Seoul! Thankfully the tunnel was discovered before it became operational. You can now visit it and imagine the chilling issue it might have had if the operation succeeded.
Photograph by Josh Berglund
The Dora Observatory is situated on the mountain of the same name and the binoculars there give the best view on North Korea possible! You will see Kijong-dong, North Korean propaganda village that was built in 1953 and remained inside the DMZ. If the weather is nice enough you could even see the (real this time) city of Kaesong.
View from the Observatory by Laika ac
Near the Dora mountain there is a railroad line crossing the DMZ border for fret transport, it was opened in 2007 and it has been opened and closed at multiple occasions ever since. This Dorasan Station remains a conveniently-located touristic place.
You will come across numerous different bridges, all with a different history: the Freedom Bridge that was crossed by thousands leaving the North, the Bridge Of No Return, used to transport war prisoners and that saw a terrible tragedy occur… And the 72 Hours Bridge was built in… 72 hours, in an effort to mend the broken relations after the incident.
Source: Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea
Museum, remembering places, and beautiful scenery will also help you to enjoy your visit. For all it has to offer and the competent tour guides it comes with, the DMZ tour must be on your to-do list if you want to deep-dive into Korean modern history.