Korea · Life

Once in a lifetime experience

Whilst my parents, my younger brother, my best friend and her boyfriend were in Korea for my wedding we decided that we should at least go visit the divide between North and South Korea. To be honest, before I researched about the tours I didn’t know there was a difference between the DMZ tour and the JSA tour.

Below is the itinerary for the DMZ tour. I couldn’t go because I was working on the day that everyone could go. The price for this tour is actually pretty decent. My husband booked through the hotel they were staying at and because there was a group going (6 people) they managed to do the tour plus lunch for ₩51,000 each.

I don’t have any pictures to show from that tour because they weren’t allowed to take any pictures at the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel (I’m not sure about being able to take pictures in the DMZ theater or the Dora Observatory).

The tour I was able to go on was the JSA tour which is where you can go over to the North side inside the blue building guarded by South Korean soldiers. This was the more expensive tour – because I couldn’t go during the week we booked to go on the weekend which is ₩10,000 more per person. We ended up paying ₩97,000 each but there was only 4 of us this time because my friend and her boyfriend went to Japan and my husband couldn’t go because he’s Korean and he would need special permission to go on the tour about 3~6 months before booking.

My parents told me the JSA tour was more interesting than the DMZ one because they could actually see North Korean soldiers and they could experience being in the middle of the two Koreas.

Obviously this tour was more strict and the American soldier taking us on the tour was very blunt and always kept warning us to not stray from the crowd, to not make any gestures towards the North side, never to point or laugh in the direction of North Korea incase we offended them. Also when we were taking pictures the soldier was very clear of what we could and couldn’t take pictures of.

There was only 1 North Korean soldier visible that day, perhaps due to the recent defection from the North Korean soldier who fled to the South and was successful, although heavily injured in doing so.

The South Korean soldiers are something else altogether. They never change positions or their facial expressions. They always wear sunglasses to look more intimidating to the North. My husband told me that to work in the JSA section the Korean men have to be a certain height, a certain build and be good looking.

This is a picture of me standing next to a S.K. soldier on the North side of the building.

Later, we had some time to visit the gift shop next to the building we were first briefed about what was expected of us before going to the JSA point. There was a lot of Korean gifts and American army items. What caught my eye was some woman selling North Korean money. I’d never seen North Korean money before so I was really interested in it. My husband likes to collect old and new money from other countries so I decided to buy some for him as he couldn’t come on the tour with us. For both strips the total was ₩75,000. Possibly more than necessary but I probably would never get the chance to go on the tour again so I guess it’s worth it.

Overall, the JSA tour was good and a once in a lifetime experience. In my personal opinion I think ₩97,000 is overpriced but I can now cross it off my bucket list. If you want to visit the divide between North and South Korea I would say definitely do the JSA tour – maybe you’ll be able to see more North Korean soldiers than I did.

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