North Korea and South Korea officially are still at war. No surrender or peace pact was ever signed. Consequently, the media likes to report about the tension on the peninsula regularly. Things were especially tense in 2017 and early 2018 with sabrer-rattling (or missile rattling) from North Korea, and the US President making undiplomatic comments via Twitter. Despite this, 15 million people visited South Korea in 2018, and it is still considered one of the safest destinations in the world.
Here's everything visitors need to know about safety while traveling in South Korea.
In South Korea (where reporting North Korean rhetoric is banned) life goes on as usual. They're used to the mad cousin up north and figure he's going through a bad patch (maybe it's the phase of the moon?). In fact, the South Korean tourism board announced they had record visitor numbers in 2018, with no sign of a drop-off in arrivals.
The hotels are full, the flights are heavily booked and you can see plenty of tourists from China on the streets of Seoul.
The US, Australia and UK travel advisories all indicate there is little to worry about and travelers should take precautions as they normally would when traveling.
If you're trying to find the best time of year to travel to South Korea, perhaps avoid typhoon season, which runs from June to November. If you have a trip booked for typhoon season, stay up to date ahead of your flight to make sure there are no cancellations due to severe weather.
It's up to the individual to assess the level of risk and decide for themselves and their particular circumstances if now is the right time to go to South Korea. Keep an eye on developments and travel advisories. But make sure you know the difference between rhetoric, propaganda and real risk.
The warning for visitors (and presumably tourists) usually occurs a day after a warning from North Korea, advising foreign governments to evacuate their embassies because their safety couldn't be guaranteed in the event of hostilities.
In response no foreign embassies have closed, no foreign government has issued a travel warning and no foreign government has raised its alert status.
There's been one exception to the diplomatic equivalent of telling North Korea to "talk to the hand", with Japan deploying Patriot anti-missile batteries around Tokyo in February 2016. But this may be a propaganda move. The missiles have been placed in very visible locations in the center of the city when they would be just as effective placed in military installations elsewhere.
Aside from the continual tit for tat between North Korea and the US and the occasional weapons test, Kim Jong Un hasn't really followed through on any threats.
With one exception there has been no military activity of significance. No massing of troops on the border or activation of hardware. The one exception is the shifting of a missile unit to the east coast for another ballistic missile "test"- another reason why Japan has deployed Patriot missiles. Tensions also tend to heighten when there are joint US-South Korea exercises.
Despite those crazy neighbor style threats from the north, South Koreans tend to go about their lives.
Recently, there has been a show of diplomacy by both Korean nations with athletes competing together at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Athletes also marched together during the opening ceremony under a unified peninsula flag. It was 12 years ago when this last happened at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
Dignitaries including Kim Jong Un's sister made the trip south, the first time anyone from the Kim dynasty has visited its southern neighbor. And with opportunities for future talks between the two nations, it raises some hope for more peaceful times on the Korean Peninsula and potential unification.
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Though South Korea is a relatively small country, roughly 70% of the land is mountainous, making it the perfect hiking destination. Here are six trails to check out.