The Joint Security Area (JSA), aka Panmunjom, offers a look at the still simmering tensions that remain from the Korean War. The North and South technically remain at war, and the JSA, located deep within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), is the only place where visitors can see the actual border and North Korean soldiers on the other side.
Within the town at the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) Conference Room, visitors can even cross the border without a visa. The blue building is still used for face-to-face negotiation between the two sides and is bisected by the border, meaning travelers can technically cross into North Korea by walking to the other side of the room.
Due to the tension and security concerns involved, travelers are required to join an organized tour group in order to visit the truce village better known as the JSA. Day trips to the DMZ from Seoul include stops at the JSA, as well as other area attractions like Imjingak Park, the Freedom Bridge, the Third Infiltration Tunnel, Bridge of No Return, and an observation point where it’s possible to observe a North Korean village across the border through a telescope. Some tours also include a stop at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul.
Things to Know Before You Go
The JSA is a must-see for history buffs and anyone looking for a better understanding of the Korean conflict.
All Panmunjom tour participants are required to carry a valid passport, be at least 10 years of age, and dress appropriately.
Refrain from wearing worn or faded jeans, exercise clothes, sleeveless shirts, collarless shirts, short skirts, shorts, tight fitting clothes, military clothes, or sandals.
A DMZ tour from Seoul can last six to nine hours, depending on the option chosen.
Many tours to the JSA require booking several days in advance.
How to Get There
Panmunjom sits less than 40 miles from Seoul. However, visits can only be made via organized tour groups, which include strict rules of conduct, dress codes, and restrictions on photography to avoid starting an incident with the North Korean soldiers.
When to Get There
The Joint Security Area is closed on Sundays, Mondays, and public holidays. While the site is open for tours throughout the year, expect temps in the 80s and high humidity in summer, and temperatures below freezing in the winter.
The Process of Entering the JSA
To enter the JSA, visitors must pass through multiple checkpoints before arriving at Camp Bonifas, escorted by either US or South Korean soldiers. Here, JSA tour participants receive a security and safety briefing and sign a release form in case something happens.