Straddling the border between South and North Korea is the "truce village" – Panmunjom. It is a relatively small village, only 800 meters in diameter. It lies in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the two sides ever since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The zone is filled with soldiers carrying loads of ammunition. Mind you, tension and emotions run high in this area. But in spite of this (or maybe because of this), Panmunjom Village is a popular tourist destination. It has its own fascinating charm that just draws people in. This small village was where envoys from North Korea and the United Nations had their armistice talks after the Korean War. These talks, which continued from October 1951 to July 1953, established the DMZ and made Panmunjeom the headquarters of the Military Armistice Commission.
The Truce Village is unique in that it is co-managed by both North Korea and the United Nations Command. That is why it is also called the Joint Security Area (J.S.A.). Perhaps what makes Panmunjom Village the tourist draw that it is, is its theme of conciliation between the two warring sides.
Panmunjom Village lies 10 kilometers east of Kaesong (North Korea) and 48 kilometers northwest of Seoul
). It is the only place where you can find the only road linking North and South Korea.
Some of its highlights include:
Camp Bonifas – Standing at the south entrance of the DMZ. This is a military base for US/South Korean soldiers.
Freedom House – This is the venue for meetings between the North and the South. That is why you can find the Liaison Office with North and South Korea. The new Freedom House was built in 1998, but was originally built in 1965. There is a Peace Pagoda standing next to this. Atop the Pagoda, you can see excellent views of the JSA.
House of Peace – This is 130 meters away from Freedom House. Rebuilt in 1989, it is where meetings between civilians belonging to South and North Korea take place.
Bridge of No Return – Featured in a James Bond movie, Die Another Day
, this is where prisoners of war from both sides were made to make a choice – to cross the bridge to the other side. This decision is irreversible, that is why the bridge is named thusly.
Panmungak of North Korea – Built in 1969, this is a facility for North Korean representatives. They use this as a waiting room before a conference and as an office for the security guards posted there.
Third Tunnel of Aggression – There are tunnels located beneath the DMZ. These tunnels, with its large passageways, were believed to have been built by North Korea as a way to spring a surprise attack against the other side. The third tunnel to be discovered is open to the public.
You are not allowed to take a tour to Panmunjom by yourself. Only organized tours are allowed inside. Also, most visitors are foreigners, as South Koreans need special permission from the government to be allowed to visit.