What is Panmunjom? – Where the North meets the South
The original village where the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed is called Panmunjom. Today, this village is located a little North of the demarcation line (North Korea). These days however, discussions between North and South Korea have moved to what is known as the Joint Security Area (JSA).
The JSA and Panmunjom are only 800m apart. Technically the actual area where the Panmunjom tour takes place is the JSA, but nowadays both terms (Panmunjom and JSA) are used interchangeably to refer to the JSA.
Panmunjom is the place often seen on the news, where the North Korean and South Korean border guards stand facing one another. The area is located 53 kilometers from Seoul, and just 10 from Kaesong.
Highlights and Logistics of our tour
For children wishing to visit Panmunjom, there is a minimum age restriction of 12 years and they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Everyone needs to book at least 72 hours in advance, in order to comply with the UNC restrictions and allow for a seamless experience.
There is also a restriction on the number of people who can visit Panmunjom each day. This often results in tours becoming unavailable. Alternatively, if you wish to see the history and key points of the DMZ without worrying about advanced booking and limitations, we welcome you to have a look at our Half day DMZ tour, which is, in fact, our number one DMZ tour by popularity and has more flexibility.
Our Panmunjom tour includes lunch, transportation (excluding hotel pickup), entrance fees, and a visit to the infamous border between North and South Korea.
What you will see on our Panmunjom Tour
One of the best ways to experience the historical significance of the Korean conflict is by visiting Panmunjom. As this is a UN military-controlled area operated by the United Nations Command (UNC), the only way to visit is on an official tour with a fully licensed tour guide. During the tour you will be able see the following important sites.
Imjingak Park – explore the emotional dimension of the Korean War
Imjingak Park is a special place. It was created as a safe zone to console the refugees who fled the North, seeking freedom. Here, you can see the train called “The iron horse wants to run”. It was made as a symbol of the railroad that connected North and South Korea, which was dismantled during the war.
Next, on our Panmunjom Tour, you can see Mangbaedan. This is an alter where refugees bow to their ancestors lost in the North. You can walk the Freedom Bridge as well, which was built to free 12,773 prisoners in 1953. Finally, take a gander at the Unification Pond, which is the shape of the Korean Peninsula. Use the opportunity to take beautiful photos here!
The Unification Bridge (Tongildaegyo) – wishing for unity
Built in 1998, this bridge was a physical representation of the wish for the unification of North and South Korea. The bridge was constructed by the Hyundai Business Group of South Korea and stretches over the Imjingang River. The bridge also serves as a passport checkpoint. While we pass through security, stop and have a look at this iconic construction.
Camp Bonifas – a commemoration of courage
Camp Bonifas is where the UN-controlled Command Forces stay and have jurisdiction. The area was named by the late Captain Arthur Bonifas, who was killed in an act known as “the axe murder incident” on April 18, 1976.
The UN guard forces came to Panmunjom in 1952 in order to protect and promote peace. By the time the Korean War was over, there were 1900 soldiers on the ground. Today, there are about 400. Witness the splendor of the military! Here, you will see a slideshow and have a briefing explaining the deep history of the area.
Freedom House – a space for peaceful negotiations
Another essential landmark we will see on our Panmunjom Tour is Freedom House. It was built as a safe space for negotiations between the North and the South. Construction took place back in 1965. Red Cross volunteers helped out as well, serving as a liaison between the two countries.
Today, the house still sits on the border although it has been renovated since the time it was first built. You will see a sleek and modern design with four stories and a transparent roof, so take your camera out and snap some photos!
UNCMAC Conference Room – the room where crucial decisions are made
UNCMAC stands for the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission. The Commission was established at the end of the Korean War in 1953.
Its goal is to make sure that the Korean Armistice Agreement is being honored. The United States president who spearheaded this commission was Dwight Eisenhower, who advocated for peace between the North and South.
Here you will have the chance to briefly enter one of the UNCMAC conference rooms!
Peace House – the center of non-military negotiations
The Peace House is where all political talks that don’t have to do with military issues take place. It is located 130 meters from Freedom House. The building was temporarily erected in 1980 specifically for the meeting of the North and South Korean Prime Minister. It was later built again in 1989. Its design is modern and clean, with a circular park neatly lined by trees.
Tongilgak – a space for discussion
Located in the northern part of Panmunjom, Tongilgak (Unification Pavilion) was meant to be a conference hall back in 1985. Then, in 1992, it began to function as a “liaison” between North and South Korea and has been used as the place for critical political talks. The meetings held here are only those that have to do with non-military matters.
Panmungak – North Korea’s home in the JSA
Next, on our Panmunjom Tour, we will see Panmungak (Phanmum Pavilion). This is the building that represents North Korea in the Joint Security Area. Located 80 kilometers from Freedom House, this building was finished on September 2, 1969. This is where the offices of North Korean officials are located. Representatives from the North come here as they prepare for armistice talks with the South.
This building has also been used as the place to devise propaganda against the South every year on the 15th of August. One such example is the “8.15 Pan-Korean Convention”. This building was not opened to the North Korean public initially. This changed in 1964. Don’t miss the opportunity to see North Korea’s very own representative building!
The Bridge of No Return – a crossroads between the North and South
The Bridge of No Return crosses the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) and was used as the only entrance to the JSA from the city of Kaesong in North Korea. In 1953, a POW (Prisoner Of War) exchange was made right here. The soldiers were given a choice of whether they wanted to go to North or South Korea.
This is where the name of the bridge came from; once a soldier made his choice, there was no turning back. Later, in 1976, the famous “axe murder incident” happened next to this bridge which resulted in its immediate closure. Today, the bridge is surrounded by trees and vegetation, making it much less intense. However, there is a lot of bad sentiment surrounding this bridge.
72 Hours Bridge – the North faces a tight deadline
After the “axe murder incident” happened, the Bridge of No Return could no longer be used. North Korea needed another way into the area, as that was its only entrance. The country spared no time and built another bridge. As the name suggests, it was built in just 72 hours.
You may actually have seen this bridge before without realising it. The 72 Hours Bridge is the same bridge a North Korean defector drove a military Jeep across in November 2017! The footage was shown across all major news outlets.
In his bid to escape the North, he got fired upon by North Korean border security taking 2 bullets while crossing the demarcation line. He was then rescued by South Korean border guards and airlifted to hospital to receive emergency treatment.
Our Panmunjom Tour will give you a fantastic opportunity to learn about the Korean War and conflict resolution. Don’t miss the chance to visit Panmunjom and get a genuine glimpse into the past! However, for the ultimate experience, we would recommend our DMZ JSA Tour which combines the most important highlights of both the Demilitarized Zone and Panmunjom. Create travel memories you will never forget!