Okay, hear me out with this one. The DMZ tour is a must see in Seoul, there is no other country that is so divided and has such a sad and interesting history. Visiting the military zone and getting a sense of how South Korea really feel about the North is a must do in Seoul, and once the tour ends you are nice and close to Hongdae area where you can see the artistic side of the city and party the night away with the cool kids.
These two things may not sound like they go together, but learning about Koreas past makes you appreciate the bustling Hongdae area that much more.
DMZ tour and Line 2 or 6
Getting to the DMZ is really easy, I have visited twice and always gone through this website – http://www.dmztours.com/. They are well organized and the tour guides have always been really funny and down to earth. I have issues with organized tours as sometimes there is a lot of messing around and the guides can be super cheesy, but this company seems to do it well. Both times I have always done the 8am – 2pm tour as I feel like that was enough and am able to have the afternoon to explore another area.
The tour picks you up from wherever you are at 7:30 am. I recommend bringing breakfast to eat on the bus as by the time you have picked up the rest of the group and driven to the DMZ area it can be 10am. The tour begins with the freedom park and bridge which is a heartbreaking insight to how most South Koreans feel about the North.
The park was constructed for the defectors who have escaped but still have their families in the North. It gives them a place to visit on national holidays such as Korean thanksgiving when being with loved ones is important. In addition to a pretty little garden, you can see the old train tracks which used to take people into the North and the ribbons with messages of hope that people have written to those they care about.
It really captures how most people don’t see the North as a threat, but as a sad place where innocent people are caught in the middle of two governments.
From here you visit the underground tunnels which North Korea secretly constructed as a was to quickly invade the South. No photos are allowed, but the tunnels make you wonder what else lies underground that we don’t know about.
The next stop is the train station which once ran to and from the capital city of North Korea. Due to an incident a few years ago, these trips no longer run but the quiet station is still there. The empty ticket booth and tracks are very eerie, but give you a little hope that maybe one day the train can run again. The tour finishes with the observatory where you can actually look through binoculars into the mysterious North. Again photos are restricted but in a way this makes the experience better as you are forced to take everything in and think about what you are looking at.
This tour is amazing and such a humbling experience. It allows you to understand Korean people a little more and makes the North seem much less threatening. On the way back into the city the bus always stops at a ginseng museum which is basically just a souviner shop selling different ginseng products. If you tell your tour guide that you wish to go to Hongdae, they can point you in the direction of the subway station which is only a 5 minute walk from the museum. Here you enter a totally different side of Korea, the artistic, café loving urban Seoul which loves to party and have fun.
Hondgae is where the main University is located and as a result a lot of quirky cafes and bars have sprung up around the area. This is a great place to grab lunch after the tour, just settle into one of the many cafés that line the streets.
For something different try patbingsu, a traditional Korean dessert which is hugely popular every summer. This is basically shaved ice with red bean and topped with various extras such as nuts, granola, fruit and rice cake. Not only is this delicious and refreshing, but the nuts, fruit and beans make it a pretty good lunch or late afternoon snack. They can be found in any Korean café during the summertime.
If you want something really quirky then head to the Hello Kitty café.
Even if you don’t like Hello Kitty this is a fun place to check out, as it summarizes everything Korea loves – themed cafes, cute cakes and coffee places.
To get here just walk into the station and re-exit at exit 9. Keep walking straight then turn left at the first intersection and again at the second right. The kitty café is on the left about a minute up the road, the bright pinkness of it makes it hard to miss!
Take your time in Hongdae relaxing with a coffee and strolling the streets and alleyways. The shopping is good, but what makes the area stand out is the street art scattered throughout.
You don’t usually see this in Korea so it is refreshing to see something a little different and more urban, especially after such a serious morning.
Hongdae is really famous for the nightlife so after grabbing some dinner in one of the many restaurants, stick around to check out the clubs. Here you are going to see the younger side of area party hard and get crazy. It is a fun way to end the day, so much fun that I have no pictures as they have all been deleted for good reason!
The DMZ and Hongdae may not seem like they work, but this way you can see the difficult history the country has overcome it to grow into a bustling, quirky city.