Korea - North and South

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Planing to go to both North and South Korea in September. Has anyone recently been to either place? I am looking for recommendations of places we "must see" in South Korea (not many choices in the North - we'll take what we get). Also looking for good budget to moderate places to stay as well as eat. Is it simple to do this on our own or is a guide/driver a good idea - perhaps for particular things? Good guidebooks and/or websites? Thanks for any suggestions!

I visited South Korea independently in October 2010. I used Lonely Planet and Rough Guide to plan the trip, and found the Korean Tourist Office - http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/index.kto - very helpful. I traveled by long distance bus and train, but you should be aware that there is little English spoken outside of Seoul.

Of the places I visited I would recommend Gyeongju in particular. I was limping while I was in Korea, or I would have wanted to spend time hiking in the national parks. There is some very good scenery. You can read my trip report starting here: http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/on-to-seoul/

I'm going to the DPRK in August with the Koryo Group, a British company based in Beijing that apparently sends at least half of all tourists into--and safely out of!--North Korea. I suggest you check their website and get in touch with them.

If you're assuming that you can travel directly between north and south Korea, I think you'd better check into this carefully. I don't think it's possible for Americans or Europeans. Koryo will know for certain.

Also, if you are serious about going to the DPRK in September, I think you'd better get moving. Everything has to be arranged in advance, and that takes time.

I agree with Stan, unless things have changed recently you can forget traveling between North and South Korea. When I looked into it, aside from a brief, circumscribed visit to an area just over the border (which may no longer be possible), you had to go to Beijing to visit North Korea, which is why I skipped it. I had considered going with Koryo, but I didn't want to add China (and a Chinese visa) to an already lengthy trip.

Right! And remember that you'll need a dual-entry visa if you visit North Korea by way of Beijing. The Chinese visa now evidently costs us $140; fortunately, the price is not higher for a multiple-entry visa.

I have been to North Korea twice. The most recent trip was less than one year ago in September. Fascinating country and much to see. I would even go back for a third time. A tourist must always be accompanied by a North Korean guide(s) and a driver so no 'on your own with a guidebook' travel in the DPRK. I don't know of any changes whereby one can travel between North and South Korea so Beijing is the transport city. The previous posters are correct in that visiting North Korea requires some planning (i.e, visas, places to see, etc.) but can surely be seen by oneself (and a North Korean guide, of course) or with a group but all must be arranged at least one month or so prior to arrival through a third party. Well worth it.

Thanks all. We are well aware of all the restrictions and have made plans to go with Global Exchange to the North. It was a difficult choice between them and Koryo who I have been in touch with also (as well as other companies). We know we have to go in and out through Beijing.

At this point, I am truly asking about South Korea and how we can do it on our own and if that is a good plan. Sounds like the language could be a challenge from Nancy. That kind of help is what we are looking for now. I will check out the web site mentioned. (Perhaps I should have titled the post only South Korea.) But I do wonder if it is worth going to the DMZ from both sides just for the contrast.

Thanks!

I've travelled around South Korea a few times on my own by bus and train.
Whereas language was sometimes a challenge, there was really no big problem in communication. The people were very friendly and helpful. Moreover, more and more Koreans are learning English nowadays. One thing you must be careful about is that several places have somewhat similar names so you have to make sure that people undertand the correct one. The Lonely Planet guide warned me of one potential mixup so I was prepared with pictures and Hangul to make my destination clear.

I agree that Gyeongju is a must. I returned there a second time because I liked it so much.

As for the DMZ, I would definitely recommend going from both sides if possible. I visited it twice from the South Korean side. Hearing the different propaganda -- and there certainly was a lot -- will definitely be worth it.

I hesitated to get into this because my last visit to South Korea was more than a decade ago. But unless things have changed, I'd also recommend a tour up to the DMZ.

Before proceeding to the negotiation center or whatever it's called, we had a briefing by a US Army sergeant who spoke in a peculiarly clipped military fashion. At one point, a very courteous Korean gentleman seated next to me turned and very politely asked me, "What language is he speaking, please?"

We were allowed to walk around the main conference table, so "country counters" could claim to have been in the DPRK, even though only for seconds.

I'd check online. One site I looked at said that you have to book this day tour several days in advance.