My Trip to North Korea (Sort Of)

Twice a year, Teach and Learn in Korea gives me $100 to spend on a cultural experience that will broaden my understanding of Korean culture and history. This semester, I decided to put that money towards a tour of the infamous DMZ.

Short for Demilitarized Zone, the DMZ is a a section of land running across the Korean Peninsula that acts as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. In 1953, the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed between both Koreas, China and the United Nations Command. The agreement was that both sides were to move their troops back 2,000 metres from the front line. This created a four kilometre buffer zone which we now know as the DMZ.

Crossing at the 38th parallel, the DMZ is known to be one of the most dangerous and safe places in the world. Safe because the area is heavily guarded with both South Korean and American troops. Dangerous because just north of the border lies the unpredictable and secretive North Korea which is known for its efforts in developing nuclear weapons.

To venture into the DMZ, you need to book a tour. No civilians are allowed into the area on their own and for good reason; the whole area is covered in land mines.

After boarding a bus in Seoul, we drove north and passed the Civilian Controlled Line and made our way to the Dora Observatory.

Here, I got to see a panoramic view of North Korea. I wish I could have gotten a better picture but photography was restricted and pictures could only be taken from behind a yellow line.

Although the scenery was nice, I couldn't help but get the chills and wonder what goes on beyond the mountains in the mysterious country.

Our tour guide said to not be fooled by the modern looking buildings we saw in the distance. According to her, the buildings don't have window glass and are completely empty inside. To create the illusion that people live in the town, the building lights are turned on and off at random times. Apparently this act is trying to fool others into thinking that the country is modernizing and progressing.

Next, we headed to the Third Tunnel of Aggression. Discovered in 1978, the tunnel was built by North Korea in an attempt to sneak into the south. It runs deep underground from North Korea through the DMZ and into South Korea.

Unfortunately, photos weren't allowed in the tunnel but I can tell you that the pathways were so tight and tiny that everyone had to squat while walking in the dark.

It was nice and cool below, a nice change from the hot weather outside. However, the pathways were so narrow that many tourists ended up hitting their heads on the rocks above (I can't believe North Koreans were able to run through these tunnels with ease).

Three concrete barricades are set in place to ensure no North Koreans can pass through. We were allowed to walk as far as the third barricade. At the third barricade, there was a tiny window we could look through which showed the second barricade in the distance.

After lunch, we stopped at Dorasan Station.

Dorasan is a railway station which once offered trains from South to North Korea. Today, passengers can ride from Seoul to Dorasan however, can go no further north. Perhaps one day in the future, this railway will connect both Koreas again.

To get to the platform, we had to buy a train ticket for 50 cents. If the railway ever runs in the future, I got my ticket to Pyongyang all ready! 

Finally, it was time to discover the exciting Joint Security Area (JSA). The JSA is the only area of the DMZ where South and North Korean forces stand face-to-face.

After a brief presentation about the history of the JSA and DMZ, American troops took us inside the JSA. Here, North and South Korea meet for diplomatic talks and military negotiations.

The grey building ahead is North Korea. If you look closely, you can see a North Korean guard in front of the building on the left. We were warned to not wave or make any signals to them as our gestures could be turned into propaganda against the west and South Korea.

On the South Korean side, American troops and Republic of Korea soldiers guarded the perimeter.

The blue houses are where both Koreas come and meet.

Finally it was our turn to go inside the blue house! 

The left side is South Korean territory while the right is North Korean. 

I'm technically standing in North Korea right now! :O 

Now I get to tell people I've been to North Korea! Haha, but aside from that, I'd definitely recommend a tour of the DMZ and JSA if you're visiting South Korea. I learned plenty about Korean history and politics and have a better understanding of the relations and tensions between the two Koreas.

When you're booking a tour, make sure it includes a visit to the JSA because that was the most exciting part of the day in my opinion. Many tours will only cover the Third Tunnel, Dorasan Station and Dora Observatory so be sure to look over the itinerary before booking.  

Visit Seoul offers more in-depth information on DMZ tours and provides a list of companies you can book tours through. 


I’m a Canadian girl on a quest to step foot in every continent before I’m 30. You’ll most likely find me chowing down on Japanese ramen, partying at a music festival, hiking to the top of a scenic lookout, cuddling with cats, or chilling out at the beach. I’ve visited over 60 countries so far and hope to inspire you to do the same.

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