Korea: 80 Blogs Around the World
Across a 4 kilometres wide area in Korea, stretching 250 kilometres across the entire Peninsula, is the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). You gawk as you arrive in your tour bus. The military presence is so built-up… not a handful of soldiers, but a great many, as if preparing for a sudden strike from the other side. There are landmines, tank traps, and electrified fences – even, in some places, heavy concrete.
North Korea and South Korea remain officially at war, for over half a century, though they are under a signed truce. At the DMZ, that truce can feel uneasy.
At one stage, both sides played propaganda on loud speakers at each other. Did the South Koreans play K-Pop, that adorable mishmash of pop music, synth, syrupy ice cream, and flashing purple lights, at their counterparts? Did any North Korean soldiers start bopping their heads before being stared down by their own comrades? We may never know, because both sides have now had a propaganda peace treaty – presumably that means K-Pop is banned. And probably from the whole of North Korea. Pity. Imagine Kim Jong-un jamming to K-Pop boyband H.O.T.
In any case, perhaps it’s for the pure thrill that brings you to the DMZ. You are not alone. It’s extremely popular with tourists who visit South Korea. It’s a must for history buffs – a once in a lifetime experience to say, “I saw history!”
One of the chief attractions in the DMZ is the Joint Security Area. It’s where you’ll find the meeting room where the 1953 truce was signed. In some parts, you’re technically in North Korea – the closest you’ll come to being in the country.
The Korean people, by which we mean the South Koreans, are an interesting if isolated culture. Many foreigners’ living in the country remark how difficult integration is. But if you’re here as a tourist, that’s not really an issue.
If you are a tourist, Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, is your first port of call. You could literally spend the rest of your holiday here, and not run out of things to do.
First up, Gyeongbokgung Palace. There are five palaces throughout the city, but Gyeongbokgung is the largest and most famous.
It’s been through its share of hair-raising experiences, such as being torched by the Japanese in the 16thCentury (and burned down again by the same people in the 20th). But the extensive rebuilding has kept this cultural and historical landmark alive. It is gigantic and requires a half day to fully experience it. The palace grounds are intricate, spanning multitudes of buildings, chambers, meeting halls, an artificial lake with two islands, and more. The National Museum of Korea is also found here – and considering how rich and vibrantly-long the human history of the Peninsula is, you won’t want to miss it. There are geological, palaeontological, and archaeological treasures spanning back eons.
Then there’s Namsan Park, Seoul’s largest park. It’s located in a prime spot for you to get a panoramic view of the city. Perfect on a clear day. Most of us are affected by the changing of the seasons. Which means, if you’re in Seoul over April, the northern hemisphere’s spring, you’re in for a treat. There’s a stretch of trees in the park called Cherry Blossom Avenue. While the cherry blossom tree is associated with Japan, it is a natural part of the Korean ecology too. During April, you’ll enjoy seeing these beautiful pink petals floating in the winds and decorating the ground so prettily. It’s a moment to be cherished.
If you’re into shopping, the Myeong-dong district will delight. The Koreans themselves are ravenous consumers when it comes to brands, products, and market goods. So at Myeong-dong, you’ll find international fashion brands and department stores peddling pure luxury. It’s not just any old shopping area, though. You’ll also find plenty to chew on amongst the street food vendors. They offer a feast of choice, from Western staple, to traditional Korean, to neighbouring countries’ styles like Japanese cooking.
On that note, Korean cooking is known for being very… unique. And can take tourists aback. But you’ll need an adventurous spirit, generally speaking. Hope you like fermented cabbage.
Other fun things to do in Seoul include:
Visiting the wonderous Everland – an outdoor theme park Disney-esque, but with its unique Korean flavour. The ultimate thrill ride while you’re there? The world’s steepest, wooden rollercoaster. Yeah, a good-old fashioned rollercoaster. Maybe don’t eat any cabbage before going aboard.
Or how about spending time in an ice home, made of ice couches, ice TVs, ice beds, even ice pianos. That’s at the Ice Museum. It reminds one of the ice hotel in the movie Die Another Day, featuring James Bond – it being a movie featuring Korean politics in the drama too.
For the price of admission, you can also visit the Trickeye Museum. A very special art gallery. Do you love your art larger-than-life? So much so, it comes alive? With the Trickeye Museum, thanks to advanced augmented reality and a recently developed app (called ‘Trickeye Camera’) you can form part ofthe painting.
Similar to this is the Seoul Alive Illusion Museum. With some spectacular 4D optical illusions, you can interact with the exhibits. It’ll look great on your Facebook cover page.
That’s not even close to all there is to do in South Korea. There are two volcanic islands, countless parks, festivals galore (including a Festival of Mud, which is very fun for tourists), mountain hikes throughout the mountainous country, smaller and more quaint towns to visit, et al.
And that’s not even including K-Pop concerts and professional video gaming events. (Korea basically invented e-sports.)
Finally, don’t worry too much about tensions between the two Koreas. Currently, these are easing up. And maybe, if you do visit the Demilitarised Zone on tour, you’ll even see soldiers smiling and cracking jokes with their opposites. It might be a possibility. It certainly wasn’t even a few years ago.