For our trip to the Korean DMZ we chose the DMZ/JSA and third tunnel tour with Koridoor tours, who are run by the USO. That’s USO as in the people who organise live entertainment and other social events for US troops and their families overseas. And also DMZ tours. Kind of weird. Sadly, Bob Hope didn’t make an appearance on our tour.
The waiting room at the US base in Seoul where we met up at the start of the tour was a little slice of America though.
We picked this tour because it came Lonely Planet recommended, and was billed as the cheapest tour which included the Joint Security Area. This is the only part of the DMZ where tourists can walk on North Korean soil (carpet), and the only place where soldiers of the two Koreas face off against each other, usually peacefully.
Do you need to book a DMZ tour in advance?
We booked about two weeks before our tour, but in summer they get booked up a month or more in advance.
Is the USO tour the best DMZ tour?
I’ve written a full account of our experience on the USO tour here.
Our tour did what it said on the tin, there weren’t any surprise shopping stops or other dodgy padding out techniques, and the lunch stop was cheap and good. Our guide was entertaining, talked lots and interestingly, and seemed very knowledgeable. It turned out some of the stuff she said probably wasn’t true, but that’s inter-Korean misinformation for you. I think she was going for entertainment value over fact also.
I think the USO tour is no longer quite the cheapest option for seeing the JSA, but most tours with similar itineraries are similarly priced. In our edition of the Lonely Planet it was the recommended option, and they still recommend it.
For more practical information, thrifty nomads have a handy roundup of the options here. The tour that they chose from Panmunjom Travel Centre included a meeting with a recently arrived refugee from the North, who they were able to interview. It sounds like this would also have been a good option. Lonely Planet now recommend this company too, though they claim that you’re not guaranteed a North Korean defector for company.
How much is a DMZ tour?
Our tour was about £60 each, pricey for us, but this is one of the cheapest options. I really wanted to see the DMZ, so we justified this expense as a birthday treat, since our tour day fell in the week between our birthdays. What can I say.
If you’re wondering if spending your money on a DMZ tour is a good choice morally, rest assured that if you visit from the South, none of your money will go to the North. Unless you buy some North Korean wine in the Camp Bonifas gift shop, presumably. For more on the pros and cons of visiting North Korea itself, have a look at my Should I visit North Korea? post.
For more on the Koridoor tours (USO) DMZ/Third tunnel tour, read DMZ: Korea meets Korea, a full account of our experience on the tour.