A trip to the DMZ South Korea

| May 15, 2013

South Korea may not the first place that comes to mind for those planning a trip to the Far East, but when Cox & Kings’ Jimmy McLean was given the opportunity to visit this sometimes overlooked country, he jumped at the chance.

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I have always been interested in this fascinating destination, therefore to have a tour of South Korea and a glimpse over to the mysterious North from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was a dream of mine since childhood. On the way to the DMZ, which is only about an hour by car from Seoul, we could see from the road the 12-metre-high razor wire fences that separated North Korea from South Korea and it was like looking at the difference between the developed and the developing worlds.

On the South Korea side, the grass was green, there was neon advertising for Samsung products and life felt normal. From the road looking out to the North, the mountains were brown, the land was barren and the atmosphere was chilling. Our guide said to us, if you think this is chilling, wait until you are actually at the DMZ and looking over from the viewpoint. This sounded scary, but fascinating. We arrived at the DMZ shortly afterwards and pretty much raced to the telescopes, which were on top of the viewing platform.And there it was in all its glory – the ‘real’ North Korea.But it wasn't real. Our guide told us that the buildings in this photograph are purely a facade.  No one lives in them. No one walks the streets. This is the ‘Propaganda’ village, built by North Korea to try and show off to the South and entice defectors. North Korea claims that the village is host to a nursery, primary and secondary schools, a farm and a hospital. However, the South states that the town is completely uninhabited. And from our telescopes there was not a hint of any life.  No children or animals.  It was completely void.  Though no visitors are allowed, it is the only village in North Korea which can be seen from South Korea but as our guide said, and from what we could see ourselves, it wasn't real. The buildings were lifeless, there was no glass in the windows and lights come on by timer to give the impression that they were lived in.  But they weren't.  And if a South Korean did decide to go over to the North back in the 1950s and 1960s… there was no returning home.

As I looked over at the North from the DMZ, my hand brushed my red British passport which was in my jacket pocket and it was like touching a very dear friend. I thought that after visiting the DMZ, a trip to see the South Korean capital of Seoul, would be a bit of a disappointment.  To me Seoul did not have the exhilaration of Hong Kong, the chaos of Bangkok or the pomp of Beijing. But that’s what makes Seoul different. For me, Seoul is quite simply one of Asia’s most relaxing cities. The city is spotlessly clean and not a hint of graffiti can be seen anywhere. The old effortlessly mixes with the new and sitting outside the Gyeongbok Palace, you can check your emails using the free and super fast wireless connection, which is available throughout the city.

There is also an element of quirkiness to Seoul which I liked and to this day I am still trying to find out why there is an inflatable bus perched on top of the bridge below.

My favourite attraction in Seoul is the N Seoul Tower. For those who like panoramic views of a city, then you will definitely not be disappointed with the views from the top. Built in 1969, it was only opened to the public in 1980. It may not be one of the tallest towers in the world at 236 metres, but it does stand at 479 metres above sea level.

And as you can see, the views are spectacular.

Seoul might not be as famous as Tokyo or Shanghai, but I only scratched the surface of this megacity with its 10 million inhabitants and I am already itching to return.

View Cox & Kings' tours to South Korea.

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