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A mere 35 miles north of Seoul, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a 148-mile-long, 2-mile-wide swath of land marking the division between North and South Korea. Running close to the infamous 38th Parallel (the final front in the Korean War), the DMZ was set up in 1953 as a buffer zone between the two warring countries. The Military Demarcation Line – the actual border between North and South Korea – has been heavily manned on both sides by military personnel ever since. And though there have only been a few minor military altercations in the past 60 years, tensions remain between the two sides. In fact, since the DMZ was set up through an armistice and not a peace treaty, North Korea and South Korea are technically still at war.
You may think a daytrip to the DMZ is a fool's errand, but it is actually an extraordinarily popular thing to do when visiting Seoul. A number of companies run tours to Panmunjom, an abandoned town that straddles the Military Demarcation Line where the famous Joint Security Area is located. It was here that North Korean, South Korean, Chinese, American and United Nations diplomats signed the Korean War Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953. Visitors are invited to place their feet on either side of a line that runs along the building's floor separating the two nations – one foot in South Korea and the other in North Korea. Tourists can also peer out at the mysterious country to the north through mounted telescopes.
Many tours of the DMZ also include a visit to Imjingak – a park that features relics from the Korean war as well as monuments and a lookout point that faces North Korea – and to the Third Tunnel of Aggression, one of four tunnels dug by the North Koreans leading under the DMZ into South Korea. While North Korean officials maintain that the tunnel was dug for coal mining, South Korea found no coal in the vicinity. Recent visitors caution that the journey into the tunnel can be strenuous; because of its low ceiling, many travelers had to stoop for the duration of the short hike. Also, be warned that the various areas of the DMZ can get very crowded. That said, most visitors still found the overall experience to be exciting, powerful and moving.
There are several companies that run DMZ tours. The United Service Organizations (USO) tours by Koridoor offer affordable DMZ tours. A half-day tour costs $36 per person, while a full-day tour costs $65. For more information about DMZ tours, visit Koridoor's official website.