Panmunjeom

The village of Kijong-dong, on the North Korean side of the DMZ

Panmunjeom (판문점), also P'anmunjŏm, is on the demarcation line between North and South Korea.

Understand

The joint security area seen from the south side

A unique living relic of the Cold War era, Panmunjeom is a small village that happened to be on the front line of the final battle of the Korean War. The truce that suspended hostilities after the devastating Korean War was signed here in 1953 but, as peace was never agreed to, the two sides are still officially at war over sixty years later and a million men stand guard around the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). There are no troops in the DMZ itself (except in the JSA), although both sides of the 4 km strip of land separating the Koreas are likely to be the most heavily armed in the world. Pillboxes, land mines, barbed wire, and tank stoppers line the entire border and stretch back halfway to Seoul in the South and Pyongyang in the North. This section is often referred to as the Militarized Zone. In South Korea there are also adjacent border areas called Civilian Control Zones where public access is restricted.

One kilometer east of the former village (now deserted) is the Joint Security Area (JSA), an almost circular patch of land with an 800 m diameter. This area is jointly policed by the South and North, and the two sides occasionally meet for discussions. Most of the time the soldiers glare at each other across the border and have not been allowed to cross the demarcation line into each other's side since the "Axe Murder Incident" in 1976 (see below). Panmunjeom is right on the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), which is the actual border between North and South Korea. The DMZ is a four kilometer wide buffer strip centered on this MDL.

Get in

NOTE: Access to the DMZ is occasionally curtailed at short notice when tensions rise, for example in May 2010 during the aftermath of the Cheonan sinking. As of October 2013 tours are operating normally again.
Korean DMZ

From the South

Panmunjeom is very close to the South Korean capital of Seoul, and tours from the center of the city with itineraries that include Panmunjeom generally start in the morning and end before the evening.

Visits to Panmunjeom from the South Korean side must be arranged in advance as part of an organized tour, although for foreigners three days' notice usually suffices (longer over weekends). Many companies advertise "daily" tours, but generally tours to the DMZ run only certain days, so check in advance. On tour days, depending on the day, various combinations of tours to 3rd tunnel, tours to Panmunjeom, and joint tours are available. In terms of planning, please note that your booked tour can be cancelled at any time in response to the prevailing security situation.

There are restrictions on the nationality of people who can visit due to the sensitivity of the area. These restrictions are set by the United Nations and United States.

Rule
South Korean Citizens of South Korea will need to make special arrangements - usually with at least two months' notice.
Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Bosnia, Burma, Egypt, Georgia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Macau, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Palestinian Authority, China, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen Citizens of these countries can apply for the Panmunjom tour; they require a color scan of the photo page of their passport sent at least four days prior to the tour day.
Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria Citizens of these countries are not allowed to participate in the tour and no special arrangement is possible.
All other countries Citizens are allowed to participate in the tour as long as the application is received at least three days in advance of the tour day.

Some Seoul-based companies such as Cosmojin Travel and Grace Travel require only a minimum of 24 hours' notice, but their prices are much higher. Be aware that their itineraries vary, and may not include entry into the DMZ.

The 62 km journey towards Panmunjeom from Seoul is a sight in itself. The 12-lane Freedom Road becomes eerily empty as you approach the border, as its primary purpose is to get tanks there as fast as possible if war breaks out. To repel an invasion, both sides of the highway, especially the side facing the Imjin River and open water to North Korea, are covered with barbed wire and dotted with observation posts every few hundred meters. Nearby hills house machine gun emplacements, the median strip has clusters of sandbags for defense, and many bridges above the highway can be activated as tank traps as they contain large concrete blocks that can be dynamited to block the road. Large illuminated signs, proclaiming "Freedom and Democracy" in Hangul script, face the North.

VIP Tour

If you happen to be (or have been) an ambassador or higher level government official, then a VIP Tour of Panmunjeom is available from South Korea.

If, however, you don't qualify and you are sufficiently important (politician, business leader, pop-star, etc) then an alternative VIP tour is available.

Both tours have no restrictions on nationality but UN approval is required.

From the North

To visit from the DPRK side is relatively straightforward if it is previously specified as part of your tour. Most tours include a day trip to the DMZ from Pyongyang. See North Korea for tour agent listings.

The JSA is 215 km south of Pyongyang traveling along the six-lane Reunification Highway which, much like its Southern counterpart, is vast and largely empty. Its poorly maintained and signs along the road indicate the distance to the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Get around

Regardless of whether you visit from the North or South, your tour will be tightly controlled and you will have no opportunity to explore by yourself. You will be transported by bus into Panmunjeom and then escorted by soldiers from the respective side.

You are allowed to move freely around the tight confines of the conference hut that crosses the demarcation line, and you may cross that line into North or South Korea. The door to the other side will be guarded whilst you remain inside the building. When visiting from the South, one soldier will guard the North door and another will be guarding him just in case someone from the North tries to grab the first soldier.

See

The Dorosan observatory
Conference rooms straddling the demarcation line

When booking your tour, be sure to clarify what exactly will be offered. The primary points of interest for most visitors from the south are the Joint Security Area and the Third Tunnel, but not all tour companies have clearance to visit these and you'll have to pay a small premium for those that do.

From the North you will be able to visit the original site of the Panmunjeom village and the Peace Museum that was originally built for and houses original copies of the 1953 armistice. From there it is a short drive to the JSA.

DMZ and JSA

Outside the DMZ

On the South Korean side, sites outside the DMZ can be visited more cheaply and with less hassle. An hourly train runs between Seoul and Imjingak for about ₩1,300 each way. Bus tours passing the Second and Third Tunnel cost ₩8,000. This is an excellent alternative for the DMZ tours, though it is not possible to visit Panmunjeom this way.

Buy

North

All tourist facilities for foreigners in the DPRK include a gift shop and the gateway to the DMZ is no exception. Just inside the concrete wall you can purchase Korean art and, of course, endless amounts of literature on Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il. Prices are reasonable.

South

"The Monastery" in Camp Bonifas actually a former officers' club, whose members used to wear brown robes for ceremonies and call themselves the "Merry Mad Monks of the DMZ" has a gift shop retailing DMZ-related paraphernalia, including chunks of rusty barbed wire from the original demarcation line (₩25,000) as well as blueberry wine from North Korea (which is imported after a long detour via China).

Eat

The canteen in Camp Bonifas is no longer open to the civilian visitors, so most tours now arrange a set lunch in a Korean restaurant outside of the DMZ: this is usually clearly stated as part of your tour package. Some snacks are available in the gift shop in Camp Bonifas.

There is no food available for purchase on the Northern side and the closest available facilities are in Kaesong.

Drink

Consumption of alcohol in the DMZ is prohibited and only allowed on special occasions.

Sleep

There is no accommodation for the general public at Panmunjeom. Most visitors from the south day-trip from Seoul, while visitors from the north either do a long day-trip from Pyongyang or overnight in Kaesong.

Room and board at Camp Bonifas is restricted to active duty soldiers in the United States Armed Forces. However, retired servicemen who have received the Medal Of Honor might be able to stay on a "space available" basis. Contact the United Nations Command Security Battalion - Joint Security Area for enquiries.

Respect

From the South, a strict dress code applies for all visitors: "faddish, extreme, torn, tattered, frayed, overly provocative or otherwise inappropriate" clothing is not allowed. Sports clothes (incl. tracksuits), military clothing, oversized clothing, sheer clothing, sleeveless shirts/tops, tank tops, anything that bares the midriff or the buttocks and flip flop-type sandals are specifically banned; clean jeans with a clean T-shirt, on the other hand, are fine. The proclaimed purpose is twofold: one to make sure scruffy hippies don't end up on North Korea's propaganda posters, and the other to make sure ladies in miniskirts and high heels don't trip over and fall if somebody starts shooting.

Within the DMZ, photography outside designated points is not permitted, even from the tour bus. Your military escort will tell you know when photography is allowed. Cameras are subject to inspection by the South Korean MPs. Lenses of up to 90 mm focal length are allowed (although, in practice, lenses slightly longer than this have been allowed). Tripods are prohibited. You must stay together with the group and follow the tour leader's instructions at all times. In the JSA pointing, waving and gesturing are all off-limits. Your group will be asked to walk around in two lines when in sight of the North Korean side.

From the North, visits to the DMZ are more casual than from the South and restrictions are minimal, although it is wise to show a level of respect and etiquette that befits the highly sensitive location. Unrestricted photography is permitted at the JSA and the Peace Museum. Elsewhere you will have to ask permission.

Stay safe

WARNING: Do not attempt to cross the border at Panmunjeom under any circumstance as that would risk your life, the lives of members of your tour group and the lives of soldiers from both sides.

From the South, entry into the JSA/DMZ requires that you read and sign a disclaimer from the United Nations where you agree to accept responsibility for "injury or death as a direct result of enemy action". Although Panmunjeom remains in a state of ceasefire you should bear in mind that both Koreas still officially regard themselves as being at war with each other.

Your tour company will return your signed safety disclaimer to you after leaving Panmunjeom, so you get to keep a nice souvenir.

Tour companies can and do suspend tours at short notice if political tension escalates, and it's very unlikely that you'll be allowed into the DMZ if there's any real risk.

Go next

Visiting Panmunjeom is part of a high security guided tour, regardless whether you visit from the North or the South. Upon completion of your tour you will be escorted back to either Seoul, from the South, or continue your tour, from the North. There are no other options normally available.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 01, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.