OWL Magazine Korea

DMZ Security Tour at Paju’s Imjingak

Conducted at Imjingak, located on the border with North Korea, the “DMZ Security Tour” offers a close-up view of North Korea, making it a popular destination, especially for foreigners.

The tour lasts approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, following a course that includes “Imjingak – Dorasan Station – 3rd Tunnel – Dora Observatory – Unification Village – Imjingak.” The itinerary may vary slightly depending on circumstances, but a visit to the Dora Observatory and the 3rd Tunnel is a must.

“Preparation for Imjingak DMZ Security Tour”

A valid identification is essential to participate in the security tour. For foreigners, a passport is required. The original identification document is mandatory, and copies are not accepted for entry.

Once you have your identification ready, you’ll need to purchase a ticket at the ticket booth. If you’re not part of a group, you’ll need to purchase tickets in person on-site. Groups of 30 or more can make advance reservations. However, for group tours, the tour bus the group is on goes directly inside, so it’s essential to use the designated group tour bus.

For individual entry, there are two ticket options. One allows entry to the 3rd Tunnel via monorail, and the other is for walking entry. Taking the monorail is slightly more expensive, costing an additional 3,000 KRW. The adult admission fee is 9,200 KRW for walking entry and 12,200 KRW for monorail entry.

Student discounts are available, but only for students born from 2005 to 2016 based on the year 2023.

“Completing an Entry Application Form”

To apply for the security tour, you must fill out an entry application form. It’s designed for groups of five, with spaces for “Name, Date of Birth, Phone Number.” For group tours, it’s recommended to fill out the form in advance and submit it to save the hassle of manual entry on-site. When visiting as a group, it’s best to prepare the entry application form in advance.

“DMZ Tour Operating Hours”

Tour hours vary between weekdays and weekends. Tours are available almost every hour, but as it’s a popular tour, it’s recommended to purchase tickets as early as possible. Sometimes, tours may start approximately 2 hours after ticket purchase, and it’s not uncommon for all tours to be fully booked, both in the morning and afternoon.

The last tour starts at 3 PM, so if you arrive after 3 PM, you won’t be able to join the tour. In particular, obtaining tickets for the DMZ tour is known to be challenging. For individual entry, tickets are issued strictly on a first-come, first-served basis. Many people arrive early in the morning, waiting from 7 or 8 AM, which can be quite inconvenient.

This aspect prompts the need for a reservation system or similar measures to be implemented promptly. Given that foreign visitors are the main participants in the security tour, the lack of a proper reservation system can lead to disruptions in travel plans. Considering these factors, it’s clear that South Korea has room for improvement in its tourism infrastructure.

“DMZ Tour Itinerary”

Fortunately, we successfully purchased tickets early in the morning. The DMZ tour we participated in included the following itinerary:

  • 3rd Tunnel
  • Dora Observatory
  • Unification Village

The tour starts by boarding a tour bus at Imjingak. After boarding the bus, soldiers will check your identification at the checkpoint. Then, you’ll enter the Demilitarized Zone.

“3rd Tunnel: Monorail”

While it used to be possible to visit Dorasan Station, it’s no longer accessible. Therefore, we proceeded directly to the 3rd Tunnel.

You can explore the 3rd Tunnel either on foot or by taking the monorail. We opted for the monorail-exclusive ticket, riding the monorail to get to the tunnel.

Please note that photography is not allowed inside the tunnel, and all belongings must be stored in lockers provided. This includes bags, phones, and cameras, making photography inside the tunnel quite challenging. However, once you exit the tunnel, you’re free to take photos. It’s recommended to make the most of your time before and after exploring the tunnel.

“Monorail: Forward & Reverse”

The monorail cabins face each other. If luck isn’t on your side, you may end up facing backward. The entrance to the tunnel via monorail is quite narrow, and it may feel like your head is about to hit the ceiling. For taller individuals, this can be quite uncomfortable.

After disembarking from the monorail, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the tunnel. The tunnel has a low ceiling and narrow width, allowing only two people to pass at a time. You’ll need to bend your waist and move carefully. It’s akin to the posture of a short track speed skater.

You can venture quite deep into the tunnel. Since the monorail ride is quite long, and the time taken to travel after getting off the monorail is also quite substantial, the experience may become somewhat monotonous due to repetitive scenery.

“3rd Tunnel-Related Video”

Upon exiting the tunnel, you’ll move to a screening room to watch a short video. The narration is in English, but with a headset, you can listen to the explanation in Korean.

The time allocated for exploring the 3rd Tunnel can be quite tight in some cases, while in others, there’s ample time. The allotted time seems to vary depending on the circumstances.

On my first visit, time was very tight, and there was hardly any free time for sightseeing. However, on the second visit, time was more relaxed. After finishing the video, there was enough time to thoroughly explore the exhibitions located at the back.

“Dora Observatory”

To proceed to the next location, we boarded the same bus we used earlier. The destination was the Dora Observatory, where you can enjoy the view from an observatory located at the top.

Originally, the course involves watching a video, listening to an explanation, and then viewing the landscape from the observatory. However, due to time constraints, we went straight to the observatory to enjoy the view.

The observatory is equipped with binoculars and digital telescopes. While you can use binoculars, it’s more convenient to use the three digital telescopes in the center to easily and comfortably view specific areas.

You can see places like the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Panmunjom. It’s considered the highlight of the “DMZ Security Tour” as it offers the closest view of North Korea.

“Unification Village: Souvenir Shop”

The final destination we visited was Unification Village. It houses a souvenir shop where you can purchase memorabilia related to Paju or the DMZ.

You can also taste food and beverages at restaurants or cafes. The phrase “Tofu Kimchi, Ready in 3 Minutes” is quite memorable.

If you’ve never been on a DMZ Security Tour, it’s definitely worth considering. Especially if you have foreign friends, it could be a meaningful tour to take together with them.

However, there is a pressing need for improvements in the reservation system. Standing in line at the ticket booth from the early morning is highly inefficient, and it doesn’t help erase the image of South Korea as a tourism underdeveloped country. Additionally, if there happens to be a provocation from North Korea on the day of your visit, the tour you’ve been waiting for since dawn may be abruptly canceled, creating a very inconvenient situation. While it’s true that it’s difficult to prepare for North Korea’s provocations, which are akin to natural disasters, developing an online system for reserving tickets as smoothly as possible under normal circumstances is essential.

“Imjingak: DMZ Tour”