Were the two countries not still at each other’s throats, you would be able to walk to North Korea from little CHEORWON (철원), the South’s closest urban settlement to the North Korean border; note that it’s actually in Gangwon province, not Gyeonggi. From Cheorwon, it’s just about possible to take free tours of the DMZ, which given the town’s remote location are far more relaxed than those on offer in Panmunjeom itself. Driving around the area, you’ll notice a substantial military presence, and checkpoints all over the place. It’s not unusual to hear explosions either – training usually takes place once a week, more often if the North has been making similar noises. Be sure to look out for the large lumps of concrete suspended over the roads – their purpose is to block the path of North Korean military vehicles, should they ever arrive. Note that there are landmines and barbed wire around the border area, but you won’t be allowed to venture anywhere dangerous.
Other than the free tour around the border sights, there are few actual sights in Cheorwon. However, before or after you take the tour be sure to head to nearby Goseokjeong (고석정), a rocky crag that pokes up through an extremely pretty section of the river that flows through Cheorwon. Buses head to this countryside location from all across the city; if you have time to kill before or after a tour, head to the riverbank – steps lead downhill from the small restaurant complex – where it’s often possible to hire a boat for small trips.