Korea Travel: Military Sites in South Korea
South Korea's Military Sites
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is four kilometres wide and 248 kilometres long and it is a big deal.
Perhaps the best way to visit inside the actual zone (and be careful as many tours don't actually take you to Panmunjon) is with the US Military. You can book with the USO office but you will have to do so in advance. The bus will take you from the office in Yongsan, downtown Seoul, to the US Camp Bonifas near the border (the motto here is 'In Front of Them All') to be briefed. The tour of Panmunjon itself is guided by United Nations Command military personnel.
Panmunjon - This is the 'village' where the two Koreas meet or stare at each other from distance. It is where the truce was signed in 1953 and it is where you can see soldiers from south and north either side of the white line.
Visitors will be greeted with the distant sight of a North Korean soldier looking through his binoculars. That is why, so the official story goes, you must not wear shorts or generally look 'scruffy'. That can apparently be used as propaganda by the North in pictures, especially if you are pointing, which is also frowned upon. Frowning seems to be the preferred expression to show to the watching soldiers just the other side of the border.
Dorosan Station - If you don't want to book the full-on DMZ tour, you can catch the train to Dorosan station which lies at the edge of the DMZ and is the last stop before North Korea.
It is not, however, just a case of getting on the train at Seoul Station, heading north and having a look around. At Imjingang you will have to get off and go through security (you will need a passport) before continuing the rest of the journey an hour or so later (there are restaurants around).
You can simply choose to go to the station and then go back to Seoul or you can book a tour. These buses will take you to the Odusan Unification Observatory, from which you can peer into North Korea and see the world's biggest flagpole and the propaganda village and buy North Korean cigarettes.
Another stop is the third infiltration tunnel. This was built by the North Koreans (or by the South Koreans if you live on the other side of the border) to facilitate invasion and was discovered in 1978. 10,000 troops an hour can apparently pass through.
There is a kind of cable car down to the tunnel though you can walk if you so wish. It is cramped at the bottom and while you are given helmets, taller visitors will bang their heads and it can feel claustrophobic.
Imjingak is just a few kilometers south of the DMZ and it is basically a park surrounded by monuments and the Unification Park and was built in 1972.
Imjingak is home to the Bridge of Freedom that crosses Imjin River. The bridge is where Prisoners of War used to cross coming from North Korea. People in the South with North Korean relatives or people who were born in the North travel here especially on national holidays.
Korean War Memorial - Yongsan
The name (in English anyway) may give the impression that this mammoth building, just next to the huge American military base in the centre of Seoul, is the memorial to the 1950-53 Korean War.
While it is that, it is much more of a museum dedicated to the history of war in Korea throughout the ages.
In front of the building are a number of tanks, planes, helicopters, artillery and other vehicles of war which anyone is free to go and look around. They include equipment used by the Chinese and North Koreans in the Korean War of 1950-1953.
In the middle of the front court is a moving statue that shows two soldiers, one from the South, who is helping his brother, a Korean from the North to his feet. While the ground they stand on is divided, they are not.
Inside, while there is a large section of the museum, which is located on six floors and is 198,000 square metres, dedicated to the Korean War, there is much else besides.
Inside is a history of Korean warfare going back hundreds of years. Closed on Monday (as are a number of museums/galleries in Seoul and Korea) but is well worth a few hours of anyone's time.
This is located in Cheonan, about 75 minutes south of Seoul (not much more than 30 minutes by KTX and can now be reached by subway from Seoul on Line 1, though it takes over an hour). A large building, it is dedicated to showing visitors the Indepence struggle waged against the Japanese occupiers from 1910 to 1945 although one building focuses on the history of Korea from ancient times to just before the Japanese arrived.
There's a lot to get through with seven halls in total.
Battle Sites in South Korea
Many of the major battle sites of the Korean War are north of the border but you can still travel to the likes of: Osan and Incheon (both close to Seoul), Chipyong-ni, Jinju, Bunker Hill and Punchbowl.
North Korean Food
It is not difficult to find restaurants serving or, even named 'Pyongyang Naengmyon' after the ice-cold noodle dish that the city of Pyongyang is famous for. Cold noodles (often still spicy) are eaten by the bucketload on hot summer days. Some restaurants are run by defectors from the DPRK. Well-known places are Ryugyeongok in Gongdeok and Pyongyangmyeonok in downtown Seoul - though it is best to check online as restaurants in Seoul come and go with alarming speed.
After days filled with militaristic imagery, an evening in Itaewon may be in order. Seoul's international district is getting more cosmopolitan and gentrified by the day. Still, pubs like Seoul Pub, Nashville and 3 Alley are old staples in the area and well-frequented by American soldiers from the nearby Yongsan base. A few beers with these guys and you'll be yapping all night long.