When foreign visitors to Korea think of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the first image that usually pops into their head is South and North Korean guards staring each other down from their respective sides of the border, separated by just a thin line. This iconic area is known as the Joint Security Area (JSA), or Panmunjom. It is the only portion of the DMZ where North and South Korean forces stand face-to-face and is the site of military negotiations between North Korea and the United Nations Command (UNC), as well as the home of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, which monitors the 1953 armistice between North Korea and UN forces. The negotiation rooms in the JSA cut right through the middle of the DMZ, with one half in North Korea and the other half in South Korea, which means visitors can technically step onto North Korean territory.
The JSA was established in 1953 on the outskirts of the uninhabited village of Panmunjom, whose residents fled during the Korean War. While the village has disappeared, the name still carries on and is used as an official name for the JSA. It was the site of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953 as well as POW repatriations after the armistice took effect. Since it was established, the JSA has become a major tourist destination, welcoming some 100,000 visitors each year, and also held the historic April 2018 inter-Korean Summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean Premier Kim Jong-un, which was the first time a leader of North Korea had entered South Korean territory.
What to Expect
Perhaps the most famous site in the JSA is the negotiation rooms, which are situated smack in the middle of the Military Demarcation Line, with one half in the North and other in the South. These basic blue structure host infrequent military negotiations between the militaries of North Korea and the UNC and was where the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed, which put a stop to the bloody Korean War. Visitors can technically step onto North Korean territory while touring the inside of the main negotiation room, but don’t try to cross the Military Demarcation Line once your outside!
Located on the immediate southern half of the JSA, Freedom House is a four-story building housing facilities for inter-Korean contacts, meeting, and exchanges, as well as the offices and conference room of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission. Visitors to the JSA are brought through here before heading to the negotiation rooms.