The Korean War was a devastating event in Korean history that drastically affected the country’s society and culture at every level and June 25 is referred to by Koreans as “Yu-gi-oh” when South Korea was invaded by the North.
Leading up to the Korean War, many historic memorials and museums such as the Kim Koo Memorial Hall at Hyochang Park and the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History sheds great insight about this often divisive period in which every day Koreans discussed and debated the future of Korea following its independence from Japan. The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History also holds an informative look at the Korean War itself with numerous artifacts, photographs, and memorabilia related to the conflict and how it affected the entire Korean peninsula. Also not to be missed here is the recreated look of life in postwar Korea including replicas of the shanty houses and dire conditions the devastating war left behind.
Another great resource for a historic and personal look at the Korean War’s effects specifically on a city-level is the Seoul Museum of History. As the capital of the south, Seoul was of major strategic importance during the Korean War and it passed between possession of the war’s major powers in bloody and catastrophic conflicts. The Seoul Museum of History houses photographs, artifacts, and memorabilia from this turbulent period that shows just how destructive the war was on the capital. The subsequent exhibitions also informs visitors on the near miraculous way Seoul recovered and modernized after the war into the global metropolis it is today.
The best resource to visit on the Korean War itself, however, is undoubtedly the War Memorial of Korea located in Yongsan-gu and near Samgakji Station. This museum is housed within the former national army headquarters and has six indoor halls. The Korean War exhibition itself offers a comprehensive look at the many facets of the war including the North’s surprise invasion, the various major battles, and the major roles the UN and various countries of the world played.
Other highlights of this museum include the Combat Experience Room, which eerily recreates the experience of a night battle complete with special effects, video, audio, smoke, and gun powder smell. And definitely don’t miss out on the outdoor exhibition which features restored tanks, vehicles, aircrafts, artillery, and even submarines that were used in modern Korean warfare including the Korean War. In addition to some fantastic photo opportunities, you can even go inside many of these machinery giving an insider view of what it was like to operate them.
On a more somber level, on the south side of the Han River lies the massive Seoul National Cemetery in Dongjak-gu. The remains of 165,000 political martyrs, soldiers, officers, and other members of Korea’s armed forces are entombed here from various conflicts in the nation’s history including the Korean War. Particularly harrowing is the Memorial Tower where the memorial tablets of some 104,000 soldiers whose bodies were never found from the Korean War is housed. Also enshrined are the remains of some 7,000 unidentified soldiers from the war whose bodies were never found.
Last but not least, though the Korean War ended in 1953 with the signing of an armistice, the two Koreas are technically still at war to this day. To experience this modern day, sometimes tense relationship between the two nations sign up for an official tour of the heavily fortified DMZ where soldiers from both sides are stationed. The DMZ can only be visited through an official tour with pick-up and drop-off services from Seoul. As this is a very politically and militarily sensitive site, please follow all instructions and rules.