A visit to the DMZ in South Korea

Hello dear friends, I’m back from radio silence! It’s been a bit hectic for the last couple of weeks, especially since we’re in the middle of finally moving in to our new apartment, yay! We also went on a quick two and a half day trip to Seoul last week. Robert had to go for business and luckily I was able to tag along, and we even had a full day together for some touristy stuff. This was my second time in Seoul so I didn’t plan too many activities for myself. I was really looking forward to just walk around and feel the vibe of the city, and hang out with my lovely Korean girlfriends who I met during my summer Chinese course at Jiao Tong University.

But as mentioned, Robert and I had a day to do something interesting and different. We were discussing and researching quite a bit whether or not it would be worth to visit the Demilitarised Zone, or the DMZ, which is the neutral area between the South and North Korean borders. It’s pretty crazy how close North Korea is to Seoul. You really don’t think about it (at least as a visitor) when spending time in a super modern and international city like Seoul. But there it is, only an hour away by car.

Some TripAdvisor reviews claimed that the DMZ is a huge disappointment and visiting is a waste of time, others were extremely positive describing the place as an absolute must-see. We kept going back and forth, but when we thought about the fact that we would actually be able to look in to North Korea, this extreme, controversial country that is so mysterious and closed, we just knew we had to book the tour. And I’m so glad we did.

The negative reviews were right in the sense that there really wasn’t that much to see, but the super bizarre atmosphere of the place definitely made up for it. The tour took us to three areas in the DMZ: a secret tunnel that the North Koreans built to invade South Korea, a modern train station that has a track to Pyeongyang but is currently not in use, and an observatory from where you can look over the DMZ and in to North Korea. Out of the three, the observatory was by far the most exciting. You could only see fields, mountains and the so called propaganda village (an attempt by North Koreans to convince outsiders of how nice and prosperous their country is), but it was easy to spot small details immediately giving away that something just isn’t right on the other side. For example, there are barely any trees left on the North Korean side, yet the DMZ and the South Korean side is filled with them. Why? Most trees have been cut down for heating and light due to the lack of electricity.

In addition to the unique, almost freaky vibe, our tour was made very good by our tour guide, Hana. She covered a lot of super interesting Korean history and gave us great insight on how everyday life is when North Korea is your neighbour. Very fascinating stuff.

All in all I’m extremely happy that we went on the tour and I would absolutely recommend it to others. But I can also understand that someone who isn’t very interested in the topic might find the place boring and disappointing. We booked with Seoul City Tour, which came recommended on TripAdvisor. They definitely get a 5 star recommendation from me too.

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