Finally going to South Korea. Going to the DMZ?

Finally more travel agencies picked up South Korea as a travel destination here in The Netherlands so if you want to go with a travel agency you don’t have to depend on the one agency who asked way to much. I was planning on planning it on my own but due the lack of a travelbuddy I’m going there with a travel agency in either september or october hopefully.

The trip goes to Seoul, Busan and you even have a temple stay next to other places. and you can book some extra activities for the trip and the most tricky one is the DMZ. I always said I would never go there when I go to South Korea. To me it feels so weird to just go there for fun to look at the other side and then I can’t help but think of all those people there who have a hard time on the other side, the broken families etc. But I start to have second thoughts, if I go I will most likely hear more things and see things in real so I can understand the situation better. But then I read reviews that on the south site t seems to be more of a fun activity then a serious one.

Are there more people who did or did not go to the DMZ? Why did you decide to go or not go? What was it like?

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Hi Dudie!
I have never been to South Korea either, still thinking about going there one day …
So I can’t tell you about the DMZ.
But I can tell you about a similar experience I had at the age of 9.
I was visiting my uncle with my parents in 1979 in West Berlin. Even at that age it left a deep impression. I remember passing the border check points, as well as that “famous” transit route to Berlin.
On one day we went to a view point at the wall, it was wooden and looked more like a makeshift, but maybe it was the only way the platform was tolerated, I don’t know. But I remember till this day, how I felt watching the Brandenburg Gate from the front but the Quadriga on top of it from the back. It just felt wrong, not only the Quadriga, the whole situation, people of one town to be separated by a wall.
I could see the men of the military and police patrols with dogs walking back and forth.
We did go to other places like the “Reichstag”, which back then wasn’t a building for our politicians, as Berlin was not the capital city, it was nothing more than a museum about German history. And we added another place in our schedule, that was Plötzensee Memorial a prison and place for execution on traitors to the “Reich”.

All these information had a huge impact on me. I started to dig deeper in history. That’s why some things these days in politics make me edgy, that populists and nationalist will come up again by totally ignoring the past.

But that wasn’t what I was writing about. I came back again to the Brandenburg Gate around 25 years later, and I started almost at the point where the platform once was , I could see the marking stones on the road we were easily walking to the Gate and pass it on foot. You can’t imagine how that felt.

I think, if you are interested about the history of the country you might want to go, of course you might feel a bit devastated about the destiny of so many people or if there are “fun segments” included you might not be able to relate to it. But to understand a nation, looking at their biggest “scars” is in parts shocking, as well as evocative to how it can be that this country is divided like it is. You might find many answers but even more questions.

At the end it depends on how you are traveling. Are you more the educational, the sightseeing or the just for fun tourist?

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I didn’t to the DMZ because I didn’t have the time. It always is hard for this kind of places : is it voyeurism or sincere curiosity. I think it’s good to not forget. I think the next time I will go. I’m Swiss and Switzerland was one of the countries chosen to be in this zone.

I asked a travel agency to make a trip for my sister and me. And I think it was a good idea. Obviously more expensive but easier for us. There were a lot of things we didn’t have to think about.

What do you want to visit ?

Part of my conference in Summer 2015 included the DMZ. As one person said this is all about the Korean government agenda to brainwash/strongly encourage us overseas Korean young folk to think certain ways about Korea.

Anyway. I learned actually going to the real DMZ is a real pain just 6 hrs to go in and out (3 hrs each way) and so because the agenda wasn’t planned right we skipped it. You need your passport because you are at a border crossing. We went to Mount Odu (closest point to North Korea with an observatory) and I didn’t feel anything profound to the same extent Lutra did.

I thought it was eerie how close North Korea was but yet so far. I didn’t like how I and my conference colleagues may have been like look! There’s one of them farming (snap picture). What are we at a zoo? (I did this too because it is a rare sight. I never met a North Korean yet).

I think the museums were fun to go to, but the actual DMZ may be a friggin pain to get to and not worth it if your time is more expensive than gold.

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@sophie2you Did you write that one review I did read where the person mentioned the zoo too? :joy: And yeah 6 hours excluding the time there, such a waste if it’s all a let down.

If I go I have about 2,5 days free time, maybe a bit more but I exclude the day we arrive because I will most likely be a zombie then due the lack of sleep on the plane and the jetlag. At the moment I’m making a list of things I want to do in Seoul and if I don’t go to the DMZ I do have an extra day which I also like so I can relax a bit more and sit down a bit longer at Jholic and going to Moldir just because I’m a fan of Jaejoong :wink:

Dudie if you are one of those people who would think of the DMZ and not going there then go :slight_smile:

I wondered what it would be like because I had some essays that wrote about it. But I am thinking on the rice paper journal from DDP that I didn’t get!!! I regretted not spending more time with friends

Yes I saw many documentaries and did read quite a few books from defectors. If I didn’t see and read those I would go to the DMZ without a question but now I’m just not sure because I know people on the other side are suffering and those “OMG! I see a North Korean there!” as if it’s a zoo is just wrong in my opinion.

Dear Dudie!
I did some homework on the DMZ, reading some reports from other tourists.
Most said that it was announced as half a day tour, but quite a lot of them ended up with a 2-3 hours delay, because of either too many people at the DMZ or rush hour.
In my opinion I would not go there if I only had 2,5 days for visiting, if I wanted to see something about Korean History, I would be looking for an interesting museum instead.

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Speaking of which the secret garden in the palaces was one of the places I heard was great (but couldn’t go to boo). I also missed going to the Palace Museum which cgwm808 said was awesome! I’m a freak for museums and I would like to for example go to the COEX aquarium which a lot of dramas were shot at. (Well because it’s an aquarium. I love aquariums).

Well they’re actors possibly? We’re not sure. The “houses” are unfinished some without roofs and things. It was set up to “entice” people to the North.

I am sure there are a lot of places to go to, it just depends on the season and the time you have to spend. I always prepare for a country to see different places. I read a lot search about 40 places, even if I only have 3 or 4 days to travel. I will have those places where I really need to go, and look if there are others, I can look at “on the road”. I take my time to enjoy those and learned that this is the ideal way of traveling for me. One part is fix, that means 25 % of my time an the other varies, it’s about the mood, the weather, what comes across while traveling, people I meet …
If you are asking how much I get to see out of the 40 places I am interest in, I guess not more than 8-10, most of the time there are even 2-3 attraction that weren’t even on my list.

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I’m currently in Korea, Jeju to be exact and will fly back to Seoul tomorrow and spend almost a day there before going back home. Turns out I couldn’t even do half of all the things I wanted to do, especially not in Seoul. So I have to go back one day for sure.


Did you have a great time? :smiley:

Yes, I really liked my trip to South Korea. And watching Kdrama is so much more fun now when you recognize simple things that remind you of your trip :smile:


Hehehehe greaaaaaat. I’m thinking about doing JapKor 2018 myself :smiley: 15 and 15 days. Still have to see how much it costs cause I fly from Argentina, and that’s 1400/1600 uds just the plane tickets :sob: hahahahaha

What did you see, where did you go? Detaaaaails hahaha I love hearing about trips!!!

Getting 30 days off from work is quite impressive ^^ I don’t know about plane tickets from Argentina, but at least from Europe it’s a lot cheaper to fly during fall or spring than flying during summer.

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Do you have any last minute recommendations for Seoul or in general?^^

I had to seach all airlines to find a good price. Still, since I’m going alone, I’m starting to rethink it, cause there are things you just need to be accompanied to enjoy :frowning: anyone wants to come? Hehehe

I was thinking of doing a combination of Japan and Korea at first specially after my Japan trip was cancelled back in 2011 but it was too expensive and I rather did spend more time in both countries. I plan on going to Japan in 2019 if I have money.
I see you are going alone, which is totally fine but there is something you need to know then. There are a lot of places where you can get Bibimbap and such for one person but there are also a lot of places which only serve dishes for 2 persons or more. In my opinion the portions per person in Korea are rather small compared to what I’m used too in Europe so if you are a normal to big eater you might be able to finish a 2 person dish on your own. Quite a few people know a bit of English so you can ask wether a dish is for 1 or 2 persons if you are not sure.

This was my day to day thing if I remember correctly:
Day 1: We arrived late so we didn’t do much.
Day 2: Changgyeonggung palace, exploring Insadong, exploring Hongdae in the evening (our hotel was there).
Day 3: Changing of the guards at Gyeongbokgung and checkin out the palace, bukchon hanok village, N Seoul Tower.
And on our last day before going home: We went to Gangnam to visit the K Star Road, I also wanted to shop at Moldir and visit Jholic but when I saw Moldir I was like nah too expensive and didn’t have time (and my feed where dying) to go to Jholic after we also went to an underground shopping thing there hoping to find souvenirs.
Tip: For souvenirs go to Insadong, I didn’t see much souvenir shops elsewhere. Also buy a Tmoney card, you can get it from the special vending machine you can find at every station. You et a reduced price when travelling and when you buy normal tickets you have to et your refund afterwards at the special vending machine. A Tmoney card can also be used in taxi’s and busses and you can pay with it in certain shops. If you run out of credit on it and you are not close to a station you can also recharge it at 7 eleven and most likely other shops too. I bought the Visit Korea Year one but you can also buy a cheaper one or a Line Friends one which is more expensive. With the Visit Korea Year one you et a package with the metro map and a list where you can get discounts.
Also download and the Korean subway app. They are really handy and work offline. Google maps isn’t so accurate in Korea.


  • Our stop for Seoraksan National park. The Ulsanbawi trail was to hard for me so I took the cable car instead. I heard that you have to wait long for the cable car but that’s not true. You buy a ticket for a certain time slot and you just make sure you get back there on time and can walk other trails in the mean time. At the top there is a restaurant and a small gift shop.


  • We went cycling to a temple and some other seeing stuff. The park with the Shilla tombs was next to our guesthouse. When I was there there was also a festival in the evening for the Shilla Kings but I was too tired to go there unfortunately.

When we where there there was BIFF ( Busan International Film Festival), BOF ( Busan One Asia Festival) and some other unknown festival at the Jagalchi market. We tried to get tickets for the opening ceremony for BOF but we failed because we couldn’t order them due conflicting information.
I went to Jagalchi market to just look, Gamcheon Cultural village, haedong yonggungsa temple by the beach (fun fact we went there when it was storming so the sea was pretty wild, later mom told me there was a tyfoon in Tokyo. A few beaches like Haeundae Beach, went beauty shopping at an underground market and went to a Noraebang.

If you have a drivers license: rent a car in advance! Public transport takes ages and you need to walk a few km from the bus stop. Did climb the Seongsan Ilchulbong vulcano which was really easy to climb, good stairs everywhere. Also went to the Manjanggul Lava Tube of which the ground was pretty flat most of the time so no trouble walking there either but I suggest you bring a small flashlight which I totally forgot, lucky I could borrow one from someone. Also went to a dol Haruban park but that was a waste of time in my opinion.
Also wanted to walk around Hallasan but I due health I didn’t. Also went to Hamdeok beach which was the most pretty beach on our side of the island according locals and it was indeed really pretty.


WOOOW you really enjoyed it I can see :smiley: Yeah, I guess there are too many things to enjoy with someone else. I really think it’s going to be troublesome to go alone, specially because of the language :’( can I cry? Guess I’ll have to delay this one again. It was going to be my first journey, and I couldn’t because of money. I went to Europe instead. Then went back to Europe. Mind you, I LOVE Europe. But I don’t know if I’ll enjoy it was much as going with someone else :frowning:

Getting back on theme, there are SO many things to see. And thanks for the tip about the Tmoney card. It’s always useful to have information like that :smiley:

About English, yes there will be a language barrier but it wasn’t that bad as I expected. Lot’s of people know some English (even the older people) and if they don’t know it they will find you someone who can. And sometimes pointing at stuff helps too or pronounce things how you think a Korean would pronounce it or throwing in some limited Korean you know. The subway and trains have English, the bus stops have English… didn’t use a bus in Seoul but in Jeju you could just press the screen and select English. For taxi’s and such just make sure you have a business card from your hotel to give to the driver or something else where you can show where you want to go. Also in quite a few restaurants and such the menu cards had some English on them as well as the street food stands. I was actually surprised how much English was used while Korea isn’t that touristic yet. Yes lot’s of Chinese and other Asian tourists but not so many from other regions. So expect you are being looked at (they mostly do it discreetly), some might be ‘scared’ and if you bump into school classes don’t be surprised they will say things like “hello” or “how are you” or “welcome to Korea!” to practice their English. In Insadong there where a lot of school kids doing their English homework by interviewing foreigners and having surveys. Like you have to choose between 3 types of activities and put a sticker at the activity you pick.
Also had a little chit chat with an Ahjumma on the subway. She thought I was from the US so I said I was not and she was all amazed I could understand what she asked and that I could reply in Korean :slight_smile: And they have a special number for foreigners 1330 I believe, you can call them and they can help you with translations… like you say something in English and they say it in Korean to the taxi driver. Also sometimes people called it to have their Korean translated to English. And sometimes even Google translate was really handy :stuck_out_tongue:

Also important: Next to your debit card bring your creditcard or have an other plan B. Only use your debitcard in the more well known Korean bank’s ATM like Wooribank, CitiBank, KB, Keb and Hanabank. Even at these banks not every ATM works, you need to look for Global ATM’s and even then it’s not 100% sure it will let you withdraw money like I found one in Jeju but it refused to let me withdraw money. But the KB one next to the ticketoffice at Seoraksan NP did work somehow while it wasn’t a Global ATM I believe. Some people had their card taken by the ATM of a smaller Korean bank so someone from the bank had to be called to take it out. (they came quickly wow, there is a phone at the ATM to call the bank). So really stick to the well known ones.

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