Sunday, June 29, 2014

DMZ: A Glimpse of North Korea

North Korea is one of the most secretive and least traveled location in the world, so when given the opportunity to have a glimpse of the boarder of North Korea, you need to take advantage of it!

In our third visit to South Korea, we finally decided to take a tour of the North Korean border. We initially planned to visit there directly but was advised that you can only enter with official tour guides. As much as we want to avoid the unnecessary expenses bundled with tours in general, for security reasons, we booked one of the most reliable DMZ tours known in Korea-- VIP Tours. To know more about this, you can visit the DMZ Tours website.

Generally, there are 3 tour options:

1. Half Day DMZ Tour = 8:00am-2:30pm which costs KRW 40,000 or Php 1,700. Tour includes Infiltration Tunnel, Observatory, and Unification Village.
2. JSA Tour = 9:00am-5:00pm which costs KRW 87,000 or Php 3,700. Tour highlight is on entering the JSA or the location where the North and South Korean soldiers faces each other.
3. Whole Day DMZ+JSA Tour = 8:00am-5:00pm which costs KRW 130,000 or Php 5,500. Tour is combination of Tour #1 and #2.

Note: For JSA Tour, there are some nationalities that are restricted. Koreans are the number one on their list and Chinese citizens (so I can't go inside too because my BF is a Korean unless I go solo haha Booo!) but in order to go inside JSA these nationalities must apply a permission 10 days in advance and for South Koreans, they must undergo a background check around 2 or more months prior. Well, for Koreans, this is a waste of time because visiting JSA is like a death row so mostly, they don't care to visit at all.

Choosing the best tour options:
If you have a lot of money, then go for option 3. People say that JSA on its own is a very unique experience that is worth paying for. But due to the limited time that we have and of course the budget, we decided to take the half day tour which in itself was also worth the tour fee as we were able to have a once in a lifetime experience of having a glimpse of North Korea.
Waiting excitedly inside our tourist bus!

Things you need to know:
1) Sometimes tours are cancelled because of military activities. Such decisions are made by the military personnel and not the tour operators so don't get mad at them. 

2) Obey photo rules and generally, JUST OBEY your tour guides because they know the do's and don'ts inside DMZ. You don't want to be touching bombs and get caught having selfies with the North Koreans and be in the headline the next day right? But if your tour guides tell you you can take photos, go ahead and take lots of it! 
Our tour guide is soooo cool he said "I'm not your ordinary tour guide. I care about your security and your total experience here in DMZ but I will not ask you to take photos of the usual tourist spots here so let's go to the restricted part...LAND MINES! just be careful okay? Don't let the guards see you ;) I'l give you few seconds to take a picture behind the wires! Watch out!"

3) Some nationalities are prohibited inside JSA Tours.  For more details about the nationalities, check out this site for the complete list.

4) Dress properly. This is not the fashion lane and not the best place for your #OOTD. Dress neat and presentable--no ripped jeans, flip-flops, sexy/provocative clothes or text/design, no gym clothes, sleeveless shirts, tank tops, and baggy clothes. Just a side story, when I learned about this dress code, I changed my bright yellow top to black fearing I can easily be spotted by North Korean soldiers haha! I'd rather stay low key and blend with the majority ;)

5) Consider the weather because it might impact your overall tour experience. Also most of the time, it is difficult to get a glimpse of North Korea at the observatory because of the fog or clouds. Good thing when we visited, it was clear despite the rain a day before.

How to get started on the tour:
You can either send an email to them at koreaseoultour@gmail.com or call directly at 02-757-1009. We did both but unfortunately they did not respond through email so we were able to reserve through the phone call. We reserved 2 days before our tour but the tour guide advised us to reserve much earlier if you want the JSA tour as there are times that it becomes fully booked for several weeks due to Chinese travelers who come in bunches.

Let's start the tour!
1) A bus will pick you up and tour will start from there. All tour guides speak fluent English. Payment of the tour will be made in the bus and they accept credit card or cash.

2) There are several pick-up points but mostly are in Seoul central area. You can ask upon reservation where you'd like to be picked up but we selected Lotte Hotel in Seoul near Myeongdong as it was near our hotel. A tour guide (who looks like an ordinary citizen in casual clothes) will go around the hotel lobby and ask your name. Be very vigilant in identifying these people so the tour bus will not leave you behind because they will pick up other tourists as well in other pick-up locations. I suggest you stay put and don't roam around because these tour guides will not look for you in the hotel. It's better if you inform the receptionist of the hotel where you will be seated in the lobby so when the guides look for you, they know where to direct. ALWAYS BE ON TIME to avoid disrupting the tour itinerary.

2) Ride going to DMZ area will be 1 hour from pick-up point. There will be stop-over for bathroom break and for quick snacks while your tour guide pays for your entrance fee and registers your name. Note that YOU MUST BRING YOUR PASSPORTS THE DAY ITSELF! because it is being used for registration, security purposes, and check point once in a while--yes scary! so never ever forget to bring your passport.
3) For the half-day DMZ tour, we followed the following itinerary:
  • Imjingak Park (Freedom Bridge/ Mangbaedan/ Memorial Monument)
  • Unification Bridge-Pass and ID check point
  • DMZ theater and Exhibition Hall- You'll watch a 15 min. intro video of the history of South and north Korea.

  • The Third Infiltration Tunnel- a total of 1,635 meter tunnel found in 1978 was located 52km away from Seoul City. When you go inside the tunnel, safety helmets will be provided. Prepare to walk around 30 minutes through the tunnel and prepare to get extremely tired and sweaty as the tunnel will be very deep and going back will be extremely uphill. It's not advisable for the elderly or for those with cluster phobia. 

      • Dora Observatory- The place where you can take a glimpse of North Korea.
      My soldier boy!
      THIS IS NORTH KOREA. I know I'm being hard-headed at times...the guide said "Don't take photos of North Korea" but I secretly took this photo when the guards were not looking for the sake of blogging hahaha cue hashtag  #medyobadboy or #pasaway ;) This is "buwis buhay" photo for you my dear reader ;)
      • Dorosan Station- The famous (International) train station going to North Korea.
      Toll gate to North Korea. Wanna come?
       "Not the last station from the South, but the first station toward the North." Hmm...
       That's our tour guide in white. His name is C.K. or "Crazy Korean". He's so cool and very experienced in handling DMZ tour! He's also the General Manager of VIP Travel agency. I highly recommend you avail his services because he's super entertaining :)
       Welcome to Pyeongyang Station!
      Here's the map of the international Dorosan Station. Initially, it was planned to be the first international station that can get you to different parts of the world like Europe, Africa, China, etc. via train! Through this train station, it will maketraveling much more easier and import/export business much more cost effective. The train station was created for this purpose however, it has not yet been used even once due to the ongoing war which makes it useless for now. 
      You may buy your commemorative stamps here for I think KWN 500 to 1,000 (sorry I forgot how much).
      We bought a round trip ticket to North Korea as a commemorative souvenir. The tour guide said the government promised to have a "FREE" visit to North Korea once the war ends. I will definitely keep this ticket because it has no "expiration date" but I do hope that I get to witness the end of the war between North and South.
      • Unification Village
      • Souvenir Shop- Bring money as you might be able to visit a village where they sell North Korean Products. We bought several wines and Chocolates with high grade soy bean as souvenirs which we plan to keep forever as it is made from North Korea haha.
      • Ginseng Center (Seoul)- photos are prohibited because Ginseng in Korea is "gold" and highly controlled by the government. You'll learn a lot about Ginseng by visiting this place and you can buy pasalubong here however it's very very pricey.
      • Arrive at Seoul-Drop off (City Hall and Myeongdong Station)
      Overall Recommendation:
      The DMZ tour costs a lot but it is definitely worth the experience for adult tourists (not really child friendly tour in my opinion). Going here once will be enough and it will be something to brag about to your friends as not everyday you'll get to say that you've visited North Korea! :) 
      Photobucket

      1 comment:

      1. I'm really interested in DMZ (Demilitarized zone) tours. Thank you for very useful information. Is there any package deal for DMZ tour?

        ReplyDelete

      Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...