Thursday, December 24, 2015

Korea // Visiting the DMZ On Your Own

Visiting the DMZ is something that has been on my Korea bucket list for a while, yet I've never had the opportunity until now to go. After doing research, I realized that visiting the DMZ is a very tourist-oriented experience. If you're wanting the more intense version, then you should visit the Joint Security Area (JSA), which can only be booked through selected travel agencies.

The DMZ is near Paju, where I initially planned to visit. I figured I could visit the DMZ in the morning and tour Paju city in the afternoon. WRONG. Visiting the DMZ is a whole day activity. Also since I decided to visit the DMZ the day before going booking a tour wasn't an option. I'm glad I didn't though. The tours are exactly the same as what I did except double the cost (verified this with a hostelmate who did book a tour).
KTX ticket booth in Seoul Station
To get to the DMZ go to the KTX ticket booth in Seoul Station and ask to buy a roundtrip ticket to Dorasan Station. You will be riding on the DMZ train.

Above is the latest DMZ train timetable, updated on July 1, 2015. The blue column is the weekday train (excluding Monday) and the red columns are train times for the weekends. These are the only available trains so make sure you plan accordingly! 

You'll also be asked to fill out the form above. Remember to bring your passport because they will check it at the checkpoint in Imjingang Station.

The DMZ train is easy to recognize because of its loud exterior and interior decorations. Each car has a different theme with pictures of different spots you'll pass along the way or during your tour.
Taken at Imjingang Station
At Imjingang Station everyone will be asked to disembark and go through "immigration," if you will. They will check the form you previously filled out, your passport, and hand you an ID.
The closest South Korean station to North Korea, Dorasan. The surroundings are eerily empty.

Once you exit the platform area you need to buy a ticket. This ticket allows you entrance to the DMZ.  It includes shuttle service to the DMZ, tunnels, and Peace Park. There are different ticket options but the day I went only one was available. Prices and options are shown in the picture above and updated as of 11/5/2015.

First stop, the DMZ area. The most exciting part of this place is that you can see into North Korea. Below is what I could see on that day.
Basically, nothing. For some reason the haze that day was extremely severe. Parts of this view are in the demilitarized zone so the nature has not been touched in over 60 years. Lost in the haze is North Korea territory.

After this stop we visited a rest stop area where we were forced to take an hour break for lunch. I was very displeased with this part of the tour because this is supposed to be a self-tour, yet it is still rigidly structured much like a tourist group. In addition we had to pay for our own lunch, so remember to pack your own! This also ruined my plan to see other parts of Paju.

Next stop were the tunnels dug by North Korea as a way to invade South Korea. It's pretty underwhelming. You walk down a tunnel until you hit a dead end, in which you then turn around and head back. It's a bit strenuous of a walk because of an incline and it was touching to see old grandmas and grandpas trying their best to make it all the way, as if it were a rite of passage.

The last stop the shuttle will take you to is the Peace Park, from where you can walk back to Dorasan and take the DMZ train. Once you board the train it will make a stop in Imjingak again, where you are forced to disembark and walk around the area. There's a large park, amusement park, and some museums around Imjingak.

And that was my underwhelming DMZ experience, though I don't regret spending my day there. It's just one of those things you feel obligated to do because of its historical significance.

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