South Korea is one of the nicest and safest countries in Asia and it has a rich history like most countries in the Orient do. What’s most unique about South Korea is that it has technically been at war with North Korea for over 50 years. The two Koreas were divided after World War II with the US occupying the south making it a democracy while the Soviets took the North making it a communist nation. The two countries have the largest fortified border in the world; with perhaps up to a million troops along their borders called the DMZ. The time I spent in South Korea was always short, so despite being a few times I feel like I haven’t seriously explored this country yet. When I return, I plan to do some more exploring of Seoul, visit the island of Seju down south, and do some hiking in their mountains.
The capital of South Korea is called Seoul, and is located in the northern part of the country, not very far from the DMZ. Seoul is a great city with plenty of things to see and do both during the day and night. Seoul is also much cheaper than nearby Japan, and with its efficient subway system and buses it’s one of the easiest places to travel in Asia. Above is a ceremony I stumbled across at Changdeok Palace in the middle of the city back in 2004.
Almost all foreigners that I know who visit Seoul immediately fall in love with it. In Washington DC for example, last call at many of the bars is 2:30am, while in Seoul if you’re up for it you can pretty much party all night. The subway runs 24 7 so you never have to worry about drinking and driving, and there are countless bars and clubs here. With an efficient public transportation system, plenty of things to do, a friendly population, and reasonable prices, South Korea is both a great place for tourists to visit and the foreign expats that live here.
On the left is a landmark in the capital, Seoul Tower. One of Seoul’s best Museums is the Korean War museum. The statue on the right represents two soldiers from the north and the south who were fighting each other and then realized they were brothers. When the two Korea’s split it immediately separated families, most of them never saw each other again, and in some cases there were surely siblings on each side of the front lines.
Above is a photo of myself and a friend in front of the museum back in 2004. The museum has a lot of interesting videos of actual footage from the Korean war and other information. The memorial on the right is located in front of the main building.
These two photos were also taken from the museum. The focus of the museum is the Korean War, but it has several artifacts and information from both modern times and other historic battles, like the one from medieval times in the upper left.
Here are pictures of palaces that I visited in Seoul after I returned to Korea. There are dozens of palaces here in Seoul, and if you go very early in the morning when they first open they will be completely empty and all yours to explore. Some of them you can only go with a guide, but these two photos above of Gyong Palace were empty at 7am, but quickly filled up with tourists, most of them South Korean children.
These photos are also from Gyong Palace. Above is a photo of some type of animal shrine and an older monument on the upper right. Below is one of the most beautiful pagoda’s I saw in South Korea, and the inside was equally beautiful if not more.
In Gyong Palace it seemed like it was just me with a large group of Korean high school students which were all girls. They didn’t hesitate to walk right up to my face and take my photo and walk away, but eventually they all came together and asked me to take some group photos with them.
Above are two photos from Osan Korean, which is located right next to a large American air force base. A lot of the stores here cater to American military needs, such as bars and gift shops, but it also makes this a great place to go shopping. Down below you’ll see me in a blue jacket that I bought from Osan, it came with a sweater for a total of $5!
These two photos are of some Buddhist temples in rural parts of South Korea. I’m not sure what the man on the left was doing, but I had hiked up to the top of a mountain with a friend and we watched him from a distance for about 20 minutes while he performed some type of ceremony by himself as the sun was setting. I later showed this picture to a young South Korean soldier to ask him what this ceremony might be about. He simply responded back to me, “I respect Buddhist religion, but I believe in Jesus”.
Despite all that South Korea has to offer, what I really wanted to see was the tour of the DMZ, or the military border between the North and South. I’m probably one of the very few people who has visited North Korea, so I have done a tour from both sides. On the left is a photo I took of the South Korean DMZ center building back in 2004, on the upper right is the back of the same building but taken from the North Korean side. The large crowd you see are tourists from South Korea doing their tour of the DMZ. Like I said on my North Korea page, standing from the opposite side of the DMZ and staring into the eyes of the US and South Korean soldiers along with western tourists while I was accompanied by North Korean guards was one of the most unique experiences in my life.
Something else I found interesting about the two Koreans were the differences in the uniforms. These photos were taken literally minutes apart from each other, but what they show look like they could be decades apart from each other. The North Koreans on the left look more like World War II soldiers than the modern South Korean soldiers on the right. The photo on the left was the North Koreans standing on the South Korean border inside one of the negotiating rooms. I found it interesting that both sides say you need a military escort for your own protection.
I went to Korea twice, (three times if you count the few minutes that I spent across the demarcation line from North Korea!), once with the Marines and the second time on my own to do things that I wasn’t allowed month, and basically were kept prisoners in our camp which you can see on the upper right. The exception was a single day off when we were allowed to get to the city Osan but had to be back before 9pm. At the end of our exercise, I was able to convince our Sergeant Major to let me and some other guys go out the capital, we were the only ones out of hundreds of Marines there who were allowed to go so we were pretty lucky. On the left is me playing pool in a Korean military base during a gas mask drill. The upper left is one of my jets returning from a training mission in Yechon.