A hat that says "DMZ," or even a ceramic tile with some barbed wire.

It's hard to imagine the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, the world's most heavily armed border, as anything other than a long, dreary stretch of dangerous terrain. Just last month, a man was killed by South Korean soldiers while attempting to swim into North Korea. It's just the most recent fatal incident along the 150-mile-long DMZ, in place since 1953. 

It's a different story in the border city of Paju, South Korea. There, life looks more similar to Niagara Falls than a place of half-century-long political tension.


The tourist-friendly Unification Observator in Paju, South Korea. View Larger Map

Tourists here are more likely to find souvenir stands selling hats and t-shirts emblazoned with "DMZ," or even barbed wire mounted on ceramic tile as a keepsake. Visitors can check out the Unification Observatory, which offers a viewing deck with built-in binoculars and also a mock North Korean classroom. From there, you're just minutes away from amusement rides and go-karts.

Reuters photographer Kim Hong-Ji recently visited the South Korean border city to explore the campier side of a famously tense border:

A tourist poses for photographs with portraits of the late North Korean founder Kim Il-sung (L) and his son and former leader Kim Jong-il hanging on the wall of a mock North Korean classroom at the Unification Observation Platform, near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji) 
A tour guide poses for photographs with a stamp for tourists at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
A woman looks towards North Korea's propaganda village Kaepoong through a pair of binoculars at the Unification Observation Platform, near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
A man looks towards the north through a pair of binoculars at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
A visitor poses for photographs taken by her friends (not pictured) in front of military fences decorated with ribbons, on which people have written their hopes for peace and reunification of the divided Korean peninsula, at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
A visitor takes photographs in front of military fences decorated with South Korean national flags at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
A shopkeeper uses her mobile phone at her souvenir shop at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
Military uniforms for children are displayed at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
South Korean high school students look at the Super Viking ride at an amusement park in the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
A man looks towards North Korea's propaganda village Kaepoong through a pair of binoculars at the Unification Observation Platform, near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
Japanese students pose for a photo with a statue of a South Korean military policeman at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
Japanese tourists look at a travel brochure marked by stamps from various tourist sites near the DMZ at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
Tourists look over the Bridge of Freedom which was destroyed during the Korean War, at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
South Korean primary school students walk past a restaurant at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul October 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a WeWork office building
    Life

    What WeWork’s Demise Could Do to NYC Real Estate

    The troubled coworking company is the largest office tenant in New York City. What happens to the city’s commercial real estate market if it goes under?

  2. Uber Eats worker
    Life

    The Millennial Urban Lifestyle Is About to Get More Expensive

    As WeWork crashes and Uber bleeds cash, the consumer-tech gold rush may be coming to an end.

  3. James Mueller (left) talks to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (right)
    Equity

    South Bend’s Mayoral Election Could Decide More than Pete Buttigieg's Replacement

    Pete Buttigieg's former chief of staff, James Mueller, is vying with a Republican challenger to be the next mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

  4. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  5. A man wearing a suit and tie holds an American flag at a naturalization ceremony.
    Life

    The New Geography of American Immigration

    The foreign-born population has declined in U.S. states that voted Democratic in 2016, and increased in states and metros that voted for Trump.

×