When people think about South Korea, they usually think of the DMZ. The DMZ runs along the 38th parallel between North and South Korea.; it splits the Korean Peninsula almost in half. When you go to Korea, going to the DMZ is a must! At first, I wasn’t all that interested. but after going and learning more about it, I am so glad I had the opportunity to see a historical site that not many people can say they saw.
We took a tour bus from Osan AFB up North. Osan AFB has the best price for the tour. For military AND civilians, it’s only $55; this includes transportation, lunch, entrance fees, and a tour guide. We looked into several options and this tour included the most stops and was the best deal. Check out their schedule of tours here.
We left Osan at 7:30 in the morning on a Satuday and arrived at our first stop around 9:30, Imjimgak Resort Park. This is primarily a tourist spot, lots of gift shops and snack shops. From here, you can see The Bridge of Freedom, artifacts from North Korea, and the Bell of Peace. We didn’t spend a ton of time here, so we didn’t get to see much, but there are a few good lookout points.
Our next stop was the DMZ Tunnel #3. We got off the bus and were told to go inside and put helmets on. We then went down a steep ramp that seemed to go on forever. This steep ramp was the entrance to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel. This tunnel was created to perform a surprise attack on Seoul, which is only 27 miles away from the tunnel. Walking down into the tunnel wasn’t so bad. When we got to the end, we were able to see into a hole, a hole which lead to North Korea. Walking back out the tunnel was the rough part! The elderly, people with heart problems, and people with Asthma are not encouraged to go into the tunnel. I have Asthma and I was huffing and puffing when I got out. Definitely bring a bottle of water down into the tunnel if you think you may need it. We couldn’t take photos here.
After the tunnel, we stopped at the Dora Observatory. The observatory is located in Paju. From here, we were able to look over at North Korea and take photos, even though photos were allowed, you could only take them from a certain point. So camera junkies, bring your best lens because otherwise, you will be too far away to get a good shot.
After the observatory, we went to lunch, which was delicious. It was a mix of Korean, American, and Chinese food. There was sweet and sour chicken, rice, bulgolgi, fries, kimchi, glass noodles, and a few other options. I was more than happy with this lunch and would love to eat there again. We had about an hour to eat lunch, which I thought was a bit much to eat a buffet, but it was nice to relax for a few minutes.
After lunch, we went to the Mount Dora Train Station. This was one of my favorite stops on the tour. The train station was built in hopes that North Korea and South Korea settle their differences. If the train station ever becomes more than a tourist stop, the train will take people to and from North Korea. The train station is located at the northernmost end of South Korea. It is South Korea’s hope that peace will be restored and the train will allow access to Pyeongyang, North Korea. From there, Koreans, and tourists, would be able to travel to China, Siberia, and Europe. When President Bush visited South Korea in 2002, he went to Dora Mountain Station as part of his country tour.
At the train station, you can buy a ticket to nowhere for only 500 Won (less than 50 cents.) The ticket is pretty cool and a cheap souvenir to keep forever; ours will be going in our photo album. You can also stamp something (except for any sort of money and your passport.) I brought a few sheets of plain paper to stamp. Using the stamp is free; you could get really crafty and turn your stamps in to bookmarks.
Our last stop before going back to Osan AFB was the iconic JSA. This is what you think of when you think of the DMZ, at least, this is what I thought of. We even looked at a tour that didn’t even INCLUDE this stop, which left me dumbfounded. The Joint Security Area, also known as the JSA, is an area occupied by the U.N. and North Korea. There are two separate sides: one side for the U.N. and one for North Korea.
When we arrived at the JSA, we were instructed to put on visitors badges and sign a contract basically saying that the tour wasn’t responsible for anyone if they screw up…i.e. don’t try to go into North Korea, don’t wave at the North Korean guards, don’t make any sort of gesture what-so-ever to anyone on the North Korean side. I started getting nervous during this slide show because the guide talked about riding our bus (a different one than our original tour bus) down the most dangerous in the world. Yep, this basically caused me to hyper ventilate, just a bit. The guide also told us that there were certain times when photos could not be taken, therefore we had to wait for his directions on where and when we could take photos.
After the slide show, we boarded the bus and made our way to the JSA main buildings. On the way, our guide told us a lot of very interesting and informative facts. I was very pleased with the guide that was provided for our tour at the JSA. He was a U.S. Soldier and really seemed to know what he was talking about.
When we arrived at the boarder between the North at South at the JSA, we were able to stand and take photos.
After taking a ton of photos, we then entered T2 which is the building where the North and South meet for military conferences. I was standing on the side of the table where North Korean sit for discussions.
After going into T2, we returned to the bus and went to a lookout point where we were surrounded by North Korea on three sides of us, pretty creepy/surreal if you ask me.
Next, we went on to see “The Bridge of No Return.” Once you cross this bridge in to North Korea, it’s highly unlikely that you will get back into the South. After the bridge we went back to the first stop at the JSA, where we watched the slideshow, and were able to look around the gift shop, the best gift shop out of them all (there is at least one at every stop, as well as bathrooms,) and museum.
We arrived back at Osan around 6:00 PM. It was a long day, but worth the time. This tour was fantastic! Everyone should go to the DMZ/JSA while they’re here in South Korea. If you are stationed at Osan AFB or Camp Humphreys, you should go through ITT at Osan, you will get the most out of your trip up North and get a great meal for lunch.
Some important facts for you visit:
If you have children under 10, they can not go to the DMZ.
You MUST wear a collared shirt on this tour, no t-shirts/tank tops.
Skirts must be knee length or you have to wear long pants (NO SHORTS!)
Closed toed shoes are required, no sandals, flip flops, slippers.