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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

DMZ Tours from Panmunjom Travel Center

By Jason Teale

Let’s face it, if you hear the word “Korea” in the news it is probably following the word “North” and most of what people know about it comes from the Korean War. So it is not a far stretch of the imagination to find that there are a lot of tours heading to the Korean Demilitarized Zone or DMZ.

Recently, I had the pleasure of tagging along on a tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) run by the Panmunjom Travel Center.  For those looking for a great tour of the DMZ, this is the tour company that you should seriously consider.

Located of the 6th floor of the Lotte Hotel in Seoul, their office is easy to get to and English-speaking staff will be there to assist you in every way. The tour bus leaves from the hotel, which is only 1-stop away from Seoul station, making it easy to get to for travelers from Ulsan.

What sets this tour apart from the rest is that you will travel with a North Korean Defector for part of your tour. This is not a gimmick, but a way to understand the situation and hardships that the people of North Korea face. During my tour I realized that the DMZ is a lot more than just some buildings and soldiers, but it is division between people as well. Talking to the (formerly) North Korean lady on the tour also taught me that even though they have made it to the South, the fight is not over, as her family still lives in North Korea.

The Tour Program

The tours all start from Lotte Hotel, which is located near Seoul City Hall. Depending on what package you choose, buses will leave either at 8:30 or 9 am but all will return around 4:30 pm.

I went on the Panmunjom Tour to review it and compare it to the other tours of the DMZ that I have been on. While the last tour that I went on was anything but memorable, this tour seemed to have a lasting impression.

We first hit the Mt. Odu Unification Observatory. This is your standard place to look across the Imjin River and to get your daily dose of propaganda. However, it was here that our special guest told her sad story as we sat in a recreation of a North Korean classroom. It was challenging to come up with decent questions as my mind tried to grasp all that this woman went through.

 

Following the observatory went went on to Imjingak. This is the area where families come to pay their respects to their loved ones in North Korea. Our tour guide was also clever enough to point out that the reason for the amusement park is in reality the time can be a bit boring for younger people and thus it is there to entertain the kids not to monopolize on the tourists.

Imjingak also has a beautiful park surrounding the main buildings and the “Freedom Bridge”. The Gyungui Train serves as a reminder to the fierce battle that took place here.  You will have time to take a look around, but on the day that I went it was raining, thus we didn’t stay at Imjingak for too long.

Following our bulgogi lunch we set off for the JSA. Our guide explained various points about military life for the young boys who have to serve their country and talked us through what to expect.

Our first stop was Camp Bonifas, where we changed buses and watched a short video about the area. Then it was off to the JSA. We were taken to the famous bright blue T-2  buildings that straddle the border of North and South Korea, all the while under the careful watch of the ROK soldiers.

We took one last look at North Korea and I am sure all of us took that iconic shot of the two blue buildings and the soldiers in their fighting stance. Before we left, they took us on a short tour of the JSA, stopping at various points along the way like the famous “Bridge of No Return”, and then it was back to Camp Bonifas to change buses. There is a small shop to pick of some DMZ goodies and products from North Korea there, too.

Bridge of No Return

All in all, this trip was extremely interesting and done is a timely manner. Points of interest were explained very clearly and the tour guide was quite knowledgeable about the area. Having a North Korean defector gave a more human face to the tour and really added to what could have been a boring part of the tour.

Tours and Prices

  1.  Panmunjom tour 77,000won (9:30am-4:00pm)
  2. Combined tour (Panmunjom+3rd infiltration tunnel) costs 120,000won (8:00am-4:00pm)

The reservation needs to be made at least 3 days in advance. Passport needed on the tour day. You pay on the tour day. Visitors pay nothing extra beyond the tour price. **Lunch is provided (vegetarian meal available).

Contact Information

Panmunjom Travel Center

6th floor, Lotte Hotel, Seoul

02-771-5593

email: jsa33@Korea.com

Web: www.panmunjomtour.com

According to the Panmunjom Travel Center, all tours are currently going ahead as scheduled with out interruptions. 

 

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