The time North Korea was just beyond the treeline.
Going to the DMZ from the South Korean side is an experience full of mixed emotions. On one hand, it's the closest you can get, as a regular civilian, to the elusive North without going for the full tour experience, and a piece of unprecedented, living history. On the other hand, it's certainly a strange experience to know that you are paying very much for a sanitised, nicely packaged tourist experience that does not really benefit the people on the other side or increase much understanding of the appalling regime controlling it. North Korea, in essence, remains a distant landscape, on the other end of your observatory binoculars. Needless to say, the typical tourist photos were a bit of a weird thing to do (but we did it anyway).
We went on the DMZ Tour run by the USO. It's really one of the only ways you'll be allowed into the DMZ zone as a tourist and a fairly reasonable price for a half day trip out.
Funnily enough, the bulk of drama happened on our way to the meeting spot to get on the coach, mostly due to the poor decision we made to actually get breakfast from a small bakery on our way to Hongik University Station at 7AM. I think we lost a good 15min picking our bread and then being served by the slowest bakery owner ever, who legitimately took about 5 minutes to make coffee for the person in front of us, by which point we were seriously considering abandoning our bread and dashing. We probably should have. Halfway through the train journey, with a sinking feeling we were going to be late, we decided to take our chances by abandoning the subway plan and frantically hailing a taxi, at which point I was definitely freaking out and trying (badly) to communicate to our driver that this was really urgent because the tour fee is non-refundable on the day. To his credit, the ajusshi comprehended the panic on our faces and really floored it.
We then got off the taxi and proceeded to run in the wrong direction towards the US Army base, which was a solid wall with barbed wire about a block long. We then got lost for another desperate 10 minutes (with the clock ticking down), before finally realising the meeting point was actually just across the (very wide road) where we had initially gotten off the taxi. A mad dash followed, which involved illegally vaulting over a bush and onto the main road, right in front of a bemused security guard at the US Army base.
So. Don't do that.
Briefly, things I learnt from visiting the DMZ on a comfortable, air-conditioned coach.
Almost all the places we visited were eerily quiet and empty...except for the occasional soldier or two, and busloads of tourists, especially at the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel. We were surrounded by a disconcertingly large number of Chinese tour groups.
Dorasan Station, the last station before North Korea, was how South Korean workers at Kaesong Industrial Park (jointly operated by North and South Korea) commuted to work, but the station has not really been in operation since the escalation of tensions in recent years. At some point though, some of your 'Made in Korea' clothes may have been made by people from both 'Koreas'.
You will probably bump your head at least once when walking through the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel so wear the hard hat provided for you at all times. It's a jarring sight to walk through the dank tunnel and see rolls of razor wire and heavily fortified steel 'walls' at the end - and not merely for display.