The Korean DMZ

The Korean De-Militarized Zone (or “DMZ”) is probably one of the strangest places on Earth to visit as a tourist.  There are no beautiful sights to see.  There are no interesting foods to try.  There are no department stores from which to buy something fashionable.  Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the DMZ has separated North and South Korea.  This 2 kilometer area on each side of the border between both countries spans the entire 251 kilometer width of the Korean peninsula.  Armed soldiers from both sides patrol along the DMZ and there are many military outposts and towers in the area.

About 75,000 tourists visit the DMZ each year.  It is the most popular tourist attraction in South Korea.  Despite that, it is not an easy place to access.  First, organized visits of the DMZ are only allowed at a very specific part of it.  This point, called the UN Joint Security Area, is located about 40 kilometers north of Seoul.   Tourists to the DMZ must sign a form that shows they understand and will obey the rules of the tour operators. They also forbid tourists to take photographs at certain times, even while on the bus.  There is a strict dress code enforced and tourists cannot wear t-shirts, jeans, or shorts on their visit.

After arriving at the DMZ, tourists can see guards patrolling both the north and south side of the border.  They can also visit several tunnels that the North Koreans dug under the DMZ and into South Korea many years ago.  Of course, the visit isn’t totally somber.  There is, after all, a gift shop so you can buy something to remember your visit to the strangest place in the world!