I booked the Joint Security Area/Demilitarized Zone tour for the 23rd September (actually I booked it for the 19th bu they lost my booking so I had to rebook!). It is impossible to access the JSA without booking a group tour unfortunately due to the security restrictions.
I chose to do the JSA only, which usually includes the UN Conference rooms that straddle the border, the JSA area itself (South side only) and the Bridge of No Return. This tour cost 87,000 won (approx. US$87), whereas the JSA & DMZ tour includes an extra few hours to visit one of the tunnels dug under the border by the North and also a visit to a train station that used to connect the North and South. This ‘DMZ’ component costs another US$50 but I hadn’t heard great things so I left it out.
I was picked up in Hongdae at 7am by the tour company Cosmojin. They took me and a few others to the larger bus in Itaewon, where we left for the JSA.
The drive there got interesting quite quickly. It’s amazing how close Seoul is to the border. The bu wound along the highway that follows the river, and soon enough a high security barbed wire fence appears that follows the river as it approaches the border.
It really hit home when we drove past four tanks cruising along the highway north, it was quite surreal to see as we sat inside the air-conditioned tour bus. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of photos of the trip because it was at about this point the guide told us we were not allowed to take any photos from concern that the North could use them strategically or as propaganda if they ended upon the internet. When we arrived at the JSA, A US Soldier boarded the bus and checked everyone’s passports, then we were taken to a building for a short talk on the history of the conflict and had a look at the small museum and gift shop (North Korean currency and alcohol was available at the gift shop). Unfortunately at this time they told us we could not visit the Bridge of No Return due to heightened security issues.
Next we were transferred to a military bus and went to the Freedom House (originally built for North/South Family reunions) which overlooks the UN Conference Rooms that sit on the border. It was only at this time that we were permitted to take outdoor photos, as long as they faced North. It is possible to see a single North Korean Solider standing guard outside the building on the Northern side.
After a moment taking photos and looking North, we were ushered into the conference building where we could step on North Korean side of the border. But within a few minutes we were ushered out again and back to Freedom House, back on the bus and out of the JSA and first to lunch and then to a weird theme park nearby, which had some interesting memorials to the broken families of the North and South.
But with that, the tour was over. It was interesting, you could feel the tension and I’m glad I did it, but it was a seven hour commitment based largely around 5 minutes at the border.