7 things to do this winter in and around Seoul – Head North

Posted on October 29, 2010

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7) Head North

I know I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’ve often found myself wondering why South Korea doesn’t receive more tourists than it actually does. While this is in many ways a blessing for the people who do actually visit and pretty much have the city to themselves (and the Korean crowd, of course), considering how I was smitten by the country, I’d love to see it more appreciated by foreigners.

Then when one day I suggested an article promoting South Korea to a travel website, I was told that it was considered too politically unstable, and suddenly it struck me. Could it be that people were uneasy about visiting because of its darker brother, North Korea?

I must admit that that idea never really crossed my mind, even as I was making my way as far up North as people from this part of the border can. Yes, I was on my way to the infamous DMZ. And that is precisely what I’m going to recommend you do in my last post about South Korea. Don’t be afraid (because there’s nothing to be afraid of), and head to the border between North and South. It may not be Disneyland, but it’s a must for those who really want to understand this country.

There are two tours which you can take to the DMZ, both which can usually be booked from your hotel and guesthouse. On the ‘hardcore’ tour, you’ll go to Panmunjom, the only inhabited place within the DMZ where you will be literally looking into North Korea (and at its stern soldiers). Note however that at the time of writing no South Koreans or Americans were permitted to go this far, and restrictions on dress code (no jeans or baggy clothes) were in place.

DMZ tours which do not include a trip to Panmunjom are appropriate for everyone, although you should remember to take your passport with you for whichever tour you choose. Whatever you decide, make sure that your tour of choice includes a trip to what is known as the Third Tunnel of Aggression (though please note that this is not for the claustrophobic). In 1978, a tunnel running from North to South Korea was discovered 73 metres below ground, and was the third of such to be found, with a fourth one found at a later date.  All evidence points to the fact that this and the other tunnels had been dug by the North Koreans in preparation for a surprise attack. While North Korea at first denied such accusations, it eventually started claiming that the whole structure was part of a coal mine, even if once again, evidence was found that coal was nowhere near the excavated area. Today, you can go down into the third tunnel of aggression via a shaft on a little lift or down a flight of very very long stairs. While the stairs are a modern addition and quite spacious, the lift option can get quite uncomfortable as the shaft quite tight ( no one told me about this before I went…). In the tunnel itself, you’ll be faced with a space of approximately 2 metre in diametre (sometimes narrower), enough, experts say, for North Korean soldiers to pass through at a rate of 30,000/h.

-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.wordpress.com

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Posted in: DMZ