Panmunjom Travel Guide
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So, North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il died this weekendat 8:30am local time on Saturday, to be specific. According to NK state media and CNN, the cause of death is heart attack. The sudden news will start this week with uncertainty, as North Korea enters a period of mourning (until December 29) and South Korea holds emergency government meetings.
Naturally we're thinking about how all this will impact travel, and while weekending in Pyongyang isn't exactly around the corner, the tense situation between North and South Korea will almost certainly end visits to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), at least temporarily.
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Our shot of a Republic of Korea soldier at the DMZ
So, we're sure you've heard about it already in the news, but there were actual shots fired between North and South Korea yesterday, and in the most hotly tense area: the demilitarized zone between the two countries. Aside from having some of the shadiest history (spy tunnels, tourists shot, etc), the DMZ remains one of the favorite tourist sites for visitors to South Korea.
In fact, an official USO tour departs from the American embassy in Seoul, and for around $40 per person, they'll take a busload up to visit the border and the famous Joint Security Area at Panmunjom. We've done it; it was great, but now with the escalation in tensions, is visiting the DMZ still safe?
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A North Korean underwater mine just blew up a South Korean naval vessel a few days ago, and at the same time as all this tension mounts and the border between Kim Jong-il's communist North Korea and the rest of the world starts to shake, we hear that South Korea is turning some of the Demilitarized Zone into an ecotourism hotspot.
The DMZ has been around since 1953, keeping the two Koreas separated by an untouched area of land 155 miles long and 2 miles wide. Any person setting foot into the area, outside of specified paths and heavily-guarded roads, can be considered to be invading the other side and can be shot on sight. Nonetheless, the UN joint security area at Panmunjom, just north of Seoul and manned by both US and Republic of Korea soldiers, has been bringing tourists to the DMZ for years. We've been there ourselves recently and can say that although more ecotourism is great, we're not so sure about exploiting this controversial area further.
DMZ photos and more, after the jump!