Only hours after US Private Travis T. King fled into North Korea while taking part in an organized tour on the heavily fortified border, groups of tourists coming from the South Korean side were still visiting the area on Wednesday.
Going to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, which remain technically at war, is a popular trip for tourists looking to get a glimpse of the reclusive authoritarian state.
King made his unauthorized crossing on Tuesday while on a group tour of the "peace village" of Panmunjom inside the DMZ, US officials said.
Visiting North Korea
"I was aware that it's a trip that has its own rules ... knowing that North Korea is just a visible distance away," Felicia, a 28-year-old Malaysian tourist who declined to give her full name, said on Wednesday after returning from a visit to the DMZ area.
The DMZ was established after the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, and despite its name, is highly fortified with razor wire and minefields on either side of a 4-kilometer (2.5 miles) wide buffer.
To brush up even closer to North Korea, tourists can visit Panmunjom, known formally as the Joint Security Area (JSA) - a cluster of buildings that has hosted inter-Korean talks and where troops from both sides stand almost face to face.
How can tourists visit North Korea?
Tourists need to sign up either with the South Korean government, or via tour agencies approved by the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) which oversees the area, days in advance to visit the JSA, and are supposed to follow strict rules while on the trip, right down to what you wear.
"Worn or faded jeans, exercise clothes, sleeveless shirts, miniskirts, knee trousers, sandals and slippers" are not allowed, HanaTour ITC, a travel agency offering tours said in its guidelines on its website.
It also warned the tours may be canceled "at any moment" if an unexpected situation arises.
The number of people allowed on the tours is limited, and visitors need to provide copies of their passport to register.
Dangers of the border
"The DMZ remains a very dangerous area due to mines, unexploded ordnance, poor infrastructure and the resident forces of both sides," the UNC said on its website.
Most infamously, axe-wielding North Korean soldiers in the DMZ in 1976 murdered two US soldiers who were cutting down a tree to secure a clear view. In 2017, a North Korean soldier was riddled with bullets by his comrades, but ultimately survived as he made a dash into the South.
JSA tours resumed in July last year after suspensions due to African Swine Fever and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UNC has now suspended JSA tours until further notice, a Seoul official said, though tourists can still visit other points of interest around the DMZ, including an observation post in Paju and Freedom Bridge, where prisoners were exchanged.
Lee Sang-sub, a 58-year-old South Korean tourist visiting the area on Wednesday, was puzzled by the news that an American soldier had crossed the border into the North.
"I don't understand. ... He must have done it not knowing exactly what North Korea is like," Lee told Reuters at the observation point.