One of the tours we wanted to hit was the South Korea / North Korea DMZ. We set up a tour through USO which was conveniently located right next to the Johnson’s house since they are near the US Military base in South Korea. We got up early and headed over to the tour to find a group that was mostly an American military background. We all hopped on our white tour bus and drove up the coast to reach the DMZ.
As we made our way up the coast, there was barbed wire fence protecting the river with various military installations. These were small huts basically the size of a large shed. Some of the installations had armed guards in them, and some of them had fake dummies in them which I found interesting.
There is a river that separates South Korea from the DMZ area so we made our way across the river. There were yellow barricades set up that you had to swerve around the whole way to slow down people coming in. We came up to the gate and there were heavily armed guards, all from the South Korea side.
After passing through the gate, the first stop is a tunnel that the North Korean’s dug to the South Korean side. There is a building set up where you can walk down a very underground path they drilled to meet up with the tunnel. We walked down the tunnel and the temperature immediately dropped 10 to 15 degrees and everything was very wet. You’re able to walk a ways into the tunnel until eventually getting to a barricade where you can peer into the North Korean side of the tunnel. No, there were no eager North Korean tourists staring back at us. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos and they had cameras set up every so often to catch people taking photos.
After existing the tunnel there was a small museum set up. They had an overview of the DMZ area and some general information about the conflict. They also had some old guns and other artifacts from the conflict.
We loaded back onto the bus to head up to the lookout point. The lookout point sits right on the edge of the DMZ. You can see into North Korea and see some of their military bunkers with soldiers set up. You can also see a small city where some South Koreans go to work each day. They get there via a train station each day to work and then head back to the South Korean side.
After that we briefly stopped at the train station that goes to North Korea. We grabbed a quick lunch with our group and then headed towards another location just across the river from North Korea. From here we could see an old railroad that used to cross into North Korea and a memorial set up.
Overall the DMZ tour was interesting. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go to the DMZ negotiations area where the two sides meet because that tour was full. It was worth the trip up there to learn more about the history of the conflict and we thought it was well worth the visit.
Visiting the US Military Base
On a couple occasions we also had the privilege of visiting the US Military base in South Korea. Kris is a contractor for the military and was able to get us on base. We quickly hit the base store which had imported items from America. We were able to get some Dr. Pepper and other snacks we hadn’t seen anywhere else which was nice!
In addition, they had a barber shop and I took the opportunity to get my haircut for the first time on the trip. It wasn’t exactly a military cut but pretty close! The girl finished my haircut in about 47 seconds so the speed was a bonus. Upon paying I did not leave her a tip as it’s not customary to do so anywhere in Asia. She gave me a weird look and I walked away and asked Melissa if tipping was normal on the military base and she said yes. I walked back up and paid my dues and felt a little embarrassed about it!
Saying goodbye to Kris and the family
We had just 10 short days in South Korea and the time definitely flew by! On one of our last nights with Kris and his family we went to a river walk area near a bridge that has a water show each night. It was a great way to close out our time in South Korea. Once again, I can’t say enough kind words about Kris, Melissa, and they’re amazing kids Austin, Adam, and Hailey. We loved spending time with their family and it was such a welcome relief to get off the road for a bit and feel like we were at home again!
I also have to give a special thanks to Austin. Ashley and I took over his room for the duration of our stay and he was forced out to the couch. I think this might have been half way ok because he seemed to get some extra time playing counter strike a nights.
Final thoughts on South Korea
Upon arriving in South Korea, it was obvious that things in South Korea are way different than in Japan. Generally speaking the biggest thing we noticed in South Korea was that it was not as clean as Japan and there was a lot of pollution. On many days in the city the smog was so thick that it made it look like you were in a cloud. To be honest, I’ve never really given air pollutants much thought but my time in South Korea definitely opened my eyes (and made them cry). During our stay there, I was sick for about 5+ days. I wasn’t sick to the point I couldn’t go out and do anything, but I was generally run down and felt like I was battling a cold.
It’s also worth mentioning the driving in Korea. The general rule of thumb in South Korea is, drive how you want and screw everyone else. The lines telling you which lane to be in were simply a suggestion that was rarely followed. On extremely busy streets on multiple occasions, cars would randomly stop in the middle of the road creating a traffic jam behind them. Why? Because they felt like it of course!
Overall, we enjoyed our time in South Korea a lot but it’s not a place either of us would likely visit again. The pollution, difficulty getting around, and overall feel of the city left a lot to be desired. I wouldn’t recommend a stop of more than a few days unless you have the time to burn.