You could call me, in all my matourity, a DMZ veteran if you’d like, seeing as last weekend marked my 4th visit to that very very scary border to the North.
I went once on Mama’s Schaeff’s birthday when sista came to visit me on my first birthday in the Koko. I went twice for 2 leisurely bike rides along the barbed wire majesty, and even got interviewed for all of Korea to witness. But, this last time, this last time I’ll have you know, is the most legit it has ever gotten, and will ever be gotten, unless I ever actually go to visit the North, which is highly unlikely. But never say never. 5 is a good number.
I finally got to check off that fatty trip to the Joint Security Area / Panmunjeom from my Korean Bucket List, and stood two feet in the North next to a soldier guarding the door to the Hermit Kingdom.
I think many people are pretty out of the know when it comes to the two Koreas, so when they hear I live in Seoul and that it’s within an hour’s drive of the North, people are like WTF ARE YOU DOING, GET OUT OF THERE BEFORE YOU GET BOMBED. But it’s so not like that. It’s so chill, and the North’s shenanigans are so far removed from anyone’s waking thoughts.
I say this because I never get scared knowing that I’m so close to Kim Jong-un and his missles and $800 bottles of brandy. But, last Saturday I could feel myself getting more and more tense as we reached the JSA. And honestly, it wasn’t because I thought anything would happen. But it’s just such an intense place, and the dress code was so strict, and the security just to get into the JSA required 2 busses, no pointing, no taking pictures of the building behind us, no walking behind soldiers and no touching of tables. There were so many rules and I really had to practice keeping my gestures to myself, because you know I like to gesture. I fucked up, as you’d imagine, but I’m still here so it’s all good.
The tour that we went on took us to 3 places at the DMZ. The first being Camp Bonifas, which, fun fact, is home of the world’s most dangerous golf course. One wrong move and your ball could land in a field of unexploded mines. Camp Bonifas was named in honor of the Captain who, along with one other, was murdered by North Korean soldiers for cutting down a poplar tree, in what has since been deemed The Axe Murder Incident of 1976. Our tour guide could not stress this incident enough. Everything he spoke about, which I’m not sure his facts were all straight, always came back to this Axe Murder Incident.
First group shot at Camp Bonifas. Fun fact, the girl next to me refused to wear the skirt provided since her’s was too short.
Just beyond Camp Bonifas lies the JSA, which is comprised of blue buildings that straddle a thin cement slab separating the North from the South, and are maintained by the UN. The particular building where tourists are allowed to enter is where the military meetings necessary to uphold the Armistice Agreement are hashed out. I’ve heard it can get pretty wild in there when they get going, stomping on tables and ish.
By entering the building on the left, you can legally say you have been in North Korea, but a photo will have to act as your passport stamp. Just beyond the blue buildings is North Korea, and if you look close enough, just up to the left of the soldier’s shoulder you can see a North Korean soldier standing post.
Visitors from North Korea can also come to the JSA for a tour of the DMZ from the North, and apparently just the day before there were tons of North Koreans. We were told not to point or return any friendly waves or smiles if we encountered any North Koreans. Not because of anything malicious towards them, but because if we were to do so, they could take that as us believing that North Korea is great and use it to further brainwash their people. Pretty fascinating and I didn’t even think of that as an issue until told not to. Of course I pointed because my fingers have a mind of their own. Thankfully no North Koreans were in sight.
This soldier is standing directly on the border, and we found out the hard way that you are not supposed to walk behind him when Jenny accidentally did. Whoops.
You’re also not supposed to touch or put anything on the tables, which again, we fucked up on. Well, Veny did. Triple whoops.
No trip to a huge attraction would be complete without this guy, his big smile, and my “THIS GUY” face. We were also the last two out of the building. I’m seeing a trend since Dokdo. Token troublemakers.
They also took group shots of us, where girls had to bend down like sorority girls. I’m also pretty impressed with their turbo airbrushing skills.
Following in the haste of Dokdo, I almost forgot to get a picture of the room in its entirety, so here is the cockeyed shot I got as we were bolting out the door, last but not least.
On our way out of the JSA we stopped at the Bridge of No Return, which we were not allowed to get out and see, but just view from the bus. As the Korean War drew to a close, prisoner exchanges were done here. They were given the choice to stay in the North or South, but if they crossed over from one to the other they were never allowed to return again.
We just take selfies here.
And our final, final stop was at Imjingak, where I’ve actually been on all my trips before this. Imjingak is home to the Freedom Bridge, which was used after usage of the Bridge of No Return was shut down following the Axe Murder Incident. I didn’t get a photo of the bridge, but we did get this sick shot. That’s North Korean soju that I’m downing on ‘G” for Garry.
Last fun fact for you. While military service is mandatory for men in both the North and South, service in the South is just around 2 years depending on your branch, whereas 10 years of active duty is required in the North.
If you’re looking to catch a tour of the most heavily militarized border in the world, the tour group that we went through was called Tour DMZ. We originally wanted to do the USO tour group that sista and I went through when she was here, but that is sold out for months, so we got the next best thing. For a half day tour to only the JSA the cost is 85,000won. There is also a DMZ and 3rd Infiltration tunnel tour, and another combining the two tours.
I’ll leave you with a pointer for the wise. If you are hurtin’ to purchase some North Korean liquor at the gift shop at Camp Bonifas, I’d probably advise against it, unless you want to burn yourself from the inside out. Spend the cash monies on some North Korean wons instead. Now you tell me! Have you been to the DMZ / JSA or even North Korea? What did you think? Were there any differences between this tour and your’s?
17 thoughts on “I Finally Stood In North Korea”
This was a great post!! Ps what happened when you drank the North Korean liquor? Joel still has his! We haven’t tried it
Thanks sista! I haven’t tried to one I bought with you yet, though I’m sure it’s pretty foul. Josh and Dustin bought pear Brandy and as soon as it touched my lips they burned. It was like drinking rubbing alcohol. Maybe the one we got will be better though. Blech!!
interesting *across the border trip . …..what is this with the fist clenching stance. why? I am sure their hands are achie and stiff at the end of their work day.. Its so unnatural to hold them this way….not surprised & actually very fitting for this territory you happen to be in
Well, they’re soldiers so they’re supposed to look tough. They also wear the sunglasses to look tough too, that’s what the soldier who accompanied us said haha. Outside of the actual buildings, the guards don’t hold post all day. It’s mostly when they know visitors are coming or when there’s a big meeting, so I’d guess they don’t get too cramped standing like that all day.
Cool post! I really enjoyed the Joint Security Area when I went on the USO tour a couple years ago. I think we were briefed a little better on the meeting room and pointing etiquette, but that didn’t stop one of our members from getting yelled at for accidentally pointing. Poor guy. It’s tough to talk without hand gestures.
I just went to the east coast DMZ this weekend in Goseong. It was so much more laid back than the one near Seoul! There was no JSA, just the observation platform, but it was still a nice change from the tensity at the Seoul border crossing.
Thanks for the entertaining read! I liked the little fun facts you threw in. I had no idea the North requires 10 years of military service. Yikes.
Thanks! Yea, I heard that the USO tour is the best and pretty meaningful since it’s an actual military organization, but oh well. Time was of the essence for us! The pointing thing is crazy! I gesture so much and so often that I don’t even realize it, so it was super hard lol.
So cool you went on the other coast! I’ve thought about that but never did. Did you get to see any of the other tunnels?
Fun facts are my fave! You’re welcome! The North does NOT f around!!
I went to the DMZ but I really want to go check out the JSA next.
Definitely check it out, and try to book in advance so you can go on the USO tour. I hear it’s the best. Our time was ticking so we had to take what we can get. Obv any is fine, but apparently that tour has really great feedback 🙂
I’m jealous of you here. I didn’t get to do the JSA part of it but really had a great time when visiting the DMZ. Looks like you had a blast! Thanks for sharing. People should know about this place.
Yea, it took me forever to go to the JSA! Forever as in down to the last month of being here. I would have kicked myself so hard if I didn’t go. It’s definitely worth a go and to hear all about it.
We went to the DMZ once but haven’t been to the JSA yet, need to go back! looks intense and interesting. I love that you were mimicking the pose of the soldiers haha.
Thanks! I felt like I was mocking the guards at Buckingham palace, only these were like 100x more legit and scary hahaha
Oh also we got North Korean booze and tried it on camera and it’s still one of our most viewed videos!! haha definitely worth the pain.
Haha how funny! I’ll have to check it out! What did you guys think? It seriously tasted like something that could light your insides on fire. I actually also just tried the soju this weekend and it tasted like anise. NOT GOOD.
Good to know about the two different tour groups. I have wanted to do this since getting here. Should probably book a trip. But not excited about how strict they are.
I’d def get on it, esp if you want to go on the USO one. I read that that one felt more meaningful because it’s led by a soldier, but who knows. I feel like you’ll get the same info regardless, and you go to the exact same places.