Less than two hours from Seoul, one can reach one of the world's most heavily-armed borders. The Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), a 250km weapons-free buffer zone dividing North and South Korea, is one of the newest frontiers opening in tourism that has since captured the imaginations of many. With the easing of diplomatic tensions last year, the area has seen a surge in tourism development and interest.
Areas opening up to visitors include selected military areas such as army camps and bunkers, the Joint Security Area (JSA) and secret infiltration tunnels used by the North Koreans, which has recently reopened since its closure for the last 50 years. Also less known about the DMZ is its broad themes from history, culture and nature that can cater to various groups and interests.
For a private tour experience to the DMZ, planners can consider partnering with DMZ Spy Tour, a tourism venture company accredited by Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (MCST) and Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). The tour operator specialises in several private half- and full-day itineraries for groups to the DMZ, and offers exclusive access to the South Korea Army Camp.
A spy's adventure
Just one and a half hour's journey northwest from downtown Seoul, groups can begin their full-day DMZ expedition at the Odusan Unification Observatory, a five-floor deck outpost located two-kilometres away from the river border shared by South Korea and North Korea.
The itinerary also checks off other bucket-list experiences, such as visiting a Korean military outpost located within the DMZ and walking along the barbed wire fence with Korean guard soldiers.
To cap off the day's visit, groups get to enjoy a unique dining experience at a caravan campsite, a former army base located near the DMZ. There, a spread of authentic Korean barbeque and local Korean wine awaits, accompanied by a live jazz or K-pop performance.
Planners also have the option to add on a workshop, seminar or conference session at the campsite, which has a two-storey building with rooftop facilities.
Those looking for a themed teambuilding activity can also tag on a session for groups to learn and play a specially-developed boardgame by DMZ Spy Tour. The role-playing war game was created based on the Korean War.
Active groups can consider a hiking experience that retraces the infiltration route taken by North Korean spy commandos in 1968, who were on a mission to assassinate then-South Korean President Park Chung-hee.
Led by an English-speaking mountain guide, groups begin their hike towards The Blue House, the official Korean presidential residence. Separate itineraries catering to small groups at both beginner and intermediate levels are available, with options for a six- or eight-hour journey respectively.
The first stop on the hike is what most consider as Seoul's most scenic lookout points. Of the city's more than 100 mountains, Bukhansan, is known for its romantic views over Seoul. Bukhansan National Park covers nearly 129sqkm, containing hiking trails, sweeping mountaintop views and gorges and granite peaks.
At the summit, groups can take in night-time views over Seoul from the Palgakjeong Pavilion. With another hour's hike, groups will reach Ho Kyungam Pavilion, where bullet marks on rocks and pine trees are what remain of the battle between the North Korean Special Forces and South Korean forces.
Highlights along the hike include preserved underground pits used by the Special Forces of the North Korean Army to hide before their attempted attack on the palace. Along the ascend to the peak, groups can stop for a lunch at a Buddhist temple.
As a post-hike reward, groups can visit one of three traditional fish markets, Yeongcheon Market, Huam Market, and Noryangjin Fish Market, to sample the range of fresh local produce and Korean barbeque and local dishes like pajeon (pancake).
+ MICE tailored DMZ Spy Tour with Jazz or K-pop concert
• Full-day tour from 8am to 5pm
• Maximum of 50 pax
• US$220 per person (all inclusive, 25% off for travel agency and big group)
+ Bukhansan National Park Hiking Tour along DMZ Spy Invasion Route
• A half-day hiking tour
• Summer hours: 2pm to 10pm; Winter hours: 12pm to 8pm
• US$120 per person