This post most likely contains affiliate links to things such as tours, transport, accommodation, products & amazon associate links. I may receive a small commission if you use the links which costs you no extra, but helps keep this blog going.
When I said on Twitter that I’d be visiting South Korea a fair few people said that I needed to go on a tour to the DMZ when I was in Seoul and I’m so glad I did!
North Korea has interested me for a while and whilst I didn’t know that much about it and don’t stay up to date on current affairs I have seen Youtube videos from travellers that have been on a full tour there (because that’s the only way you visit!). It’s one of the most closed-off countries in the world, that’s enough to intrigue any traveller right?
In order to visit the DMZ border, you have to go on a tour, there’s no doing this independently thanks to military checks and the obvious fact that you’d be heading very close to a demilitarized zone on your own- that’s not going to happen!
Luckily there are many day tours from Seoul to the DMZ on offer for all budgets that allow you to get as close to North Korea as you can get without going into the Country.
I decided to take this tour from Seoul:
I chose this particular tour of the DMZ as it had the most reviews with a high overall rating. Plus it’s one of the cheapest tours to the DMZ I found.
I was one of the people that added to the positive reviews after my tour as it was really good so if you’re looking for the best DMZ Tour from Seoul, I really recommend this one!
IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE WHEN PLANNING YOUR DMZ TOUR:
1- You need to take your passport with you!
2- My guide said that on some days thousands of Chinese Tourists come off cruise ships (literally 4000-5000 people!) to do this tour so it means it’s much busier and requires a lot more queuing. They usually visit on Tuesdays and Saturdays so if you can avoid these days when planning your Seoul Itinerary, then I really recommend it. I went on a Sunday which was busy but not crazy busy.
3- I know it’s hard to plan around the weather but if you can go on a sunny and clear day over a cloudy day then do as you’ll be able to see North Korea better from the observatory.
So, what happens when you visit the DMZ, or the DMZ border at least??
I got picked up close to my hotel at 8:30 am, luckily I was the last pick up, others who had been met before me had been on the bus for at least an hour doing pick up’s I think!
It only took us 40-50 minutes to get to our first stop and most of the way our lovely guide gave us information on how the next few hours would go as well as a bit of history.
To be honest we didn’t get told a huge amount of history although later in the day we did see a short video with more information. If you don’t know anything about the Korean War, how and why North and South Korea were suddenly separated after being one Country for thousands of years, and the DMZ, I’d recommend doing some research first so that things make a bit more sense. There are lots of books on South Korea and North Korea out there too which give some really interesting information!
At one point during the drive our guide told us to look left as we could now see North Korea over the river, she said that one big difference is that the mountains which we were looking at were Green in South Korea and Brown in North Korea and at this point, we could see both!
Our first stop was Imjingak Park. Although we could see a lot of Countryside from here we were told that everything we could see was South Korea. The reason that this is a popular place to visit for locals and day tourists like us is that it’s the furthest North people can get without government permission!
We had 30 minutes here to see Freedom Bridge, a memorial to the many families that were split during the separation of the two Countries, and part of a bombed train which had been left in the DMZ for over half a century but was recently removed as it’s a pretty historical object!
Before arriving at our next stop we had to stop and get our passports checked by the military- a man came on board and checked every one individually. If you go on this tour REMEMBER TO TAKE YOUR PASSPORT otherwise you won’t get any further and neither will the rest of the group!
Dorason International Station was our next stop, this was completed in 2002. The railway goes from Seoul to here, then across the border through North Korea into China, Russia and Europe! As it stands only one train leaves per day for local tourists however it’s an interesting stop to make as it was built as a sign of hope and connection between the Countries.
Here you get the chance to get a stamp! I just stamped part of the brochure we were given and it’s a pretty cool thing to do and hold on too but yeah, don’t stamp your passport!
On sale in the train station is blueberry wine made from blueberries in North Korea if that takes your fancy!
The highlight of the trip to the DMZ from Seoul, in my opinion, is the Dora Observatory where you get to actually see North Korea and this is a short journey away from Dorasan Station.
Our guide said it used to be really noisy here with propaganda messages on both sides however in 2018 both sides agreed to stop this so now there is no noise which is nice, but she said the South Korean side used to use K Pop as their propaganda so that would have been funny to see and hear!
The observatory is up on a hill but it’s not a hard or far walk, inside there are 2 viewing levels. Level 2 which is inside with huge windows and Level 3 which is outside and very open.
I was really lucky to be visiting on a sunny day with minimal haze, I know its hard to plan around the weather or know what it will be like but if you can visit on a non-cloudy or hazy day it would be best.
With that being said, these tours can book up quickly and the tour I did and really recommend to you doesn’t run every day so don’t leave it too last minute!
From either floor, across the DMZ and across the river, you can clearly see North Korea!
There are buildings in clear view however we were told that these are not real, lived in buildings, it’s a propaganda village so don’t go thinking that you’ll see people living their day to day life there.
With that being said, with the help of the telescopes that line the 3rd floor that are free to use you can often see North Korean Military Soldiers and North Korean civilians. I could see a tractor but I couldn’t see if it was moving or not.
I found the telescopes to be fantastic so make sure you do use one, you may have to queue/push your way to one but definitely, do!
Another thing we saw from there were 2 flag poles- one for each Country. Our guide said that South Korea put theirs up first, North Korea put theirs up after but higher, so South Korea put another one up that was higher, and North Korea did the same! After this South Korea gave up (a good idea I think) and now North Korea has the highest flag pole in the world at 160m with South Korea as the next highest!
A short drive from Dora Observatory took us to our final stop – an infiltration tunnel!
There are 4 known tunnels that go from North Korea under the DMZ and into South Korea and 2 of these are open to tourists however the UN have carried our surveys and say that there could be over 20!
We went to what’s known as the 3rd tunnel which was the most interactive part of the tour! First, we had to watch a short 8-minute video about the War, the DMZ, and the tunnels which were really interesting and I learned so much.
One fact I found really interesting is what an amazing ecosystem the DMZ has! The DMZ is 2km either side from the border and runs the length of the border so it’s a pretty big area and because no humans are in allowed in (unless authorised) Nature has had its own way and there are now so many species of flowers, animals and birds, it’s kind of amazing!
Now it was time to go into the tunnel! We put all of our stuff including camera’s, phones, wallets and water into lockers as you’re not allowed anything in there, put on a yellow hard hat and started walking!
As you can see in the diagram below the walkway on the right is pretty long and extends fairly gently considering you’re going 73 meters below ground.
Going down is pretty easy and it’s possible to stand up straight. At the bottom, there is a water fountain and then you carry on along the tunnel.
I will say now that the tunnel is pretty chilly. It was a warm May day when I went, I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and the temperature drop was pretty big! If you’re visiting in winter be sure to wear extra layers for this section as I can imagine it’s freezing in the winter months!
It was really interesting walking along the tunnel, I had to stay fairly crouched most of the time so I didn’t hit my head. The end was a bit of an anti-climax as all you see is the blockade with a small window in which looks to the next blockade. If you think you’ll have difficulty walking all the way along the tunnel I wouldn’t bother going all the way.
The last part is the hardest and is pretty intense due to the sheer length and incline of the tunnel when walking back up it. We were given enough time to walk up and down without rushing which was good.
As the guide said if you suffer from claustrophobia or have a bad back or knee’s you are advised not to walk down the tunnel at all as the only way out is up this hill!
Before we knew it we were heading back to Seoul, you can choose to have lunch as part of the tour back in the City, it seems that most people didn’t do that.
We were given 2 drop off points- City Hall and Myeongdong. I got off at Myeongdong, got some lunch- there are lots of restaurants and street food stalls here and then walked up Namsan Park to Seoul Tower which is a free thing to do in Seoul and a great way to end your day!
In my opinion, you have to do this day tour when in Seoul. It’s such a good way to learn more about the Korean War and the situation between North and South Korea. You’re really witnessing history by going!
To SEE my trip to the DMZ, watch my YouTube video here!
For more of my posts from South Korea see:
This post contains affiliate links at no extra cost to you.