Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
Known as the buffer zone established in 1953 after the Korean War between North and South Korea, this strip of land running across the Korean peninsula is roughly 250km long and 4km wide
Known as the buffer zone established in 1953 after the Korean War between North and South Korea, this strip of land running across the Korean peninsula is roughly 250km long and 4km wide. The mists of the Cold War still linger in these parts – where the urban jungle disappears and gives way to no man’s land.
The unbroken spiky line from coast to coast separates the two Koreas and their opposed ideologies. Forbidding as it sounds, it’s possible to enter the zone and take a few steps into North Korea, which thousands of civilians do every month as part of tightly controlled South Korea tours. A few platforms also give the curious opportunities to gaze across the border.
In the beginning of the Korean War (1950), no clear winning side emerged across the peninsula. The next year (1951), armistice talks began in the northern city of Kaesong, later relocating to Panmunjeom – a tiny farming village.
The ceasefire talks went on for two difficult years, revolving around contentious issues such as the repatriation of prisoners of war. In 1953, terms were finally agreed and exchanges took place over the river Sachon, on the “Bridge of No Return.”
“Operation Little Switch” saw sick and injured prisoners transferred, with 6,000 returned to the north and 10% of that going the other way. “Operation Big Switch” quickly followed, during which soldiers on both sides were asked to make a final choice on which side they would take.
One of the longest military deadlocks in history followed, an uneasy truce that prevailed from the 1960s to the 1980s.
How to get there
- Book the DMZ, Dora Observatory & Imjingak Park Tour
- There is train dedicated specifically for the DMZ from Seoul that stops at Neunggok, Munsan, Uncheon, Imjingang, and Dorasan. However, many destinations in the DMZ require a guided tour bus with a fixed itinerary.
- Tours to Panmunjeom have the strongest restrictions. There may also be some nationality restrictions for entering the area, so make sure to double check with your Korean travel agency.