We return to the Korean peninsula to examine one of the world’s major flashpoints from the other side of the border.

DATESSaturday 27 June 2020 – Sunday 4 July 2020

Seoul, Busan & The DMZ

DURATION7 nights
All AccommodationMeals and Water
Local TransportationExpert Guide
COSTCost: £4400.00
Single supplement: £500.00

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South Korea has undergone enormous political, economic and social change since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Once far poorer than the north, it is now one of the most advanced economies in the world.

Our trip includes a visit to the Demilitarised Zone that divides the two countries. No peace treaty was ever signed after the conflict and technically the two sides are still at war. We also travel south to Busan and Gwangju to see life outside of the capital.

We meet senior intelligence and defense officials for their view on the threat from Kim Jong-un’s new leadership and meet defectors from the DPRK now living in Seoul. The country’s relationship with China and the United States come under close scrutiny too.

With two unpredictable leaders at the helm in Pyongyang and Washington DC, the region is one of the most important foreign policy questions in the world.

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Like all our tours the itinerary is focused on current affairs. Events on the ground may change and the final schedule may be adjusted accordingly.

Day 1

Saturday, 27th June: Seoul

Arrival in Seoul and introduction to the week ahead and a briefing on the peace negotiations between north and south. Overnight in Seoul,
Day 2

Sunday, 28th June: Seoul

The first morning we briefly visit downtown Seoul for an introduction to modern Korea; the capital reflects this country’s extraordinary growth and change since the 1970s, from dictatorship to democracy, and from relative poverty – the Republic was in fact poorer than the north until the early 70s – to one of the most advanced economies in Asia. Later we visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a reminder that the peninsula is also one of the most volatile regions in the world. No peace-treaty was signed, UN troops continue to monitor the border to this day and the threat of a renewed conflict is frequent and real. A North Korean defector describes his own escape. Overnight in SeoulOvernight in Seoul.
Day 3

Monday, 29th June: Busan

We take the bullet train south to Busan (formerly known as Pusan) – a distance of just under 350 kilometers in just 2 hours 36 minutes. It was here that allied troops were pushed back and almost expelled from the peninsula. We soon leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind with a trip to a more remote rural area – rice paddies and villages are a reminder that Korea was largely rural and poor. At lunch we meet local families and a mayor – it’s an opportunity to see how much life has changed for South Koreas over the past 65 years. Are there lessons here for the north? We return to Busan and its waterfront for dinner. Overnight in Busan.
Day 4

Tuesday, 30th June: Busan

Busan lies at the heart of Korea’s rapid transformation; devastated by the war, overpopulated and without obvious natural resources it seemed far from likely that the country would emerge as an economic giant. We trace how that came about; from shipbuilding – Busan is Korea’s largest port – to electronics and a remarkable education system. Visits include a state-of-the-art production line and a meeting with students from Busan University. Korea’s education system is the envy of many. We also hear about the Chaebol, the wealthy families who continue to dominate Korean companies and politics. There’s also time off to explore the city shorefront cafes and beaches. Overnight in Busan.
Day 5-7

Wednesday 1st July - Friday 3rd July: Seoul

We return by high speed train to Seoul. Our last three days are spent in the capital where we look at relations with the north in greater depth as well as local politics. An opportunity to learn from the very best analysts as well as meet leading political figures:

We get a briefing on President Moon-Jae-in’s drive for peace with the north. Korea has long had plans for reunification – with a dedicated ministry – what do these involves. We get briefings from intelligence officials and think tanks on the latest situation in the DPRK. The United States has increased sanctions on the North, what impact are they having, and what do they think Kim Jong-un wants? We meet defectors from the north to hear their experiences – and meet with an NGO that supports their integration into Korean society. For most it’s an uneasy task and they face considerable discrimination.

We also learn about the presidency of Moon-Jae-in – a former human rights lawyer – and his drive for better relations with the north. Corruptions scandals – two previous Presidents have recently been jailed for accepting bribes – have left the opposition weak and President Moon seems to have considerable success in courting the North and President Trump.

But Koreans – two generations now have no memory of a united Korea – have no interest in reunification and see it as too costly. We look at the possible outcome of a peace-deal with the north. What really is possible? Overnights in Seoul.

Day 8

Saturday 4th July: Seoul

Tour Ends on Day eight after breakfast

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What’s Included

All of your accommodation and meals with water are included, as well as local transport (except during your free time). Flights are not included in the price and need to be arranged by customers themselves or with an agent. We can advise you on reservations if you need any help.

Following the news

Like all our tours the itinerary is focused on current affairs. Events on the ground may change and the final schedule may be adjusted accordingly.

This tour starts and ends in Seoul.

Group size

As on all our expert-led tours the groups are deliberately small and will not exceed 14 people. Limited spaces are available.


Four star centrally located hotels.


UK passport holders do not need a visa. If you have a British Citizen passport you can enter South Korea as a tourist for up to 90 days without a visa. You must also have an onward or return ticket. Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 3 months from the date of entry into South Korea.

Other passport holders may require a visa. It is always good to check with the embassy in your country for latest advice regarding visa requirements. You can check visa requirements with the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, London.

FCO Website – Travel Advice

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes regularly updated travel information on its website www.fco.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo which you are recommended to consult before booking and in good time before departure. Where it considers it appropriate to do so, the FCO may advise against all travel or all but essential travel to particular countries or parts of particular countries. Similarly, the FCO may withdraw any such previously given advice. Where the FCO issues such advice, we may as a result cancel your tour or make changes so as to avoid the area concerned (see clause 10 or our conditions). Alternatively, we may ask you to sign a form confirming you wish to proceed with the tour notwithstanding the FCO advice. It is in the nature of the itineraries we offer that the FCO may have issued such advice in relation to the country or parts of the country we are intending to visit prior to confirmation of your booking. In this case, you will be asked to sign the above form before we confirm your booking.

Medical Requirements

Advice on health requirements may be obtained from your GP, or alternatively from the Department of Health Leaflet Advice on Health for Travelers, or the Department of Health in the UK. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit http://www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk/destinations.aspx.


Local currency is South Korean won.


The weather is spring.  Day time high temperatures vary from 14 to 20 degrees Celsius, and low temperatures average between 6 and 11 degrees Celsius.

What to wear

Dress is generally casual and comfortable, comfortable walking shoes are essential. We also have a range of meeting with politicians or senior officials where we are expected to be more formally dressed.  For these men will need a jacket (and tie) and women the female equivalent.

Electricity & Plugs

The standard voltage in Korea is 220 volts at 60 Hertz, and the outlet has two round holes.

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Email us for a full list of speakers and meetings on this tour: info@politicaltours.com or call and ask to be put through to one of our staff

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This is our first tour to South Korea and follows seven years of travelling to North Korea. See our feedback from these and other tours.

“There is no way I could have lined up people for meetings and interviews the way you did. Getting to meet people involved in the war and politicians of later vintage offers a perspective on this that I would not otherwise have got. Let me also mention that the “reading list” you offered was very helpful.”
EL, Traveller on tours to Lebanon and Cuba

“Political Tours gives you on-the-ground access that wold otherwise not be possible. No matter what type of adventurous traveller you are, it is just not possible to easily meet with political leaders in other countries and hear the words directly from their mouth. Furthermore, PT takes the planning out of the question, meaning we could sit back and take it all in, rather than worrying about where the next meal was coming from or organising transport. ”
SC, Traveller to Lebanon

Comments on Korea from customers on previous tours

“Most of my friends think I am mad for going to North Korea, but it was an excellent tour. The group was a very interesting collection and I was the least academically qualified which I found really good. It was well organized and flowed very well.”
DJ from New Zealand who travelled to North Korea with Political Tours

“This is a tour for people who are genuinely interested in where they are going. The companionship of Rüdiger Frank (or a comparably knowledgeable person) greatly enhanced the value of the tour. I found the travel companions very interesting and pleasant, and some were very knowledgeable about the history of Korea.”
RH from Norway, who travelled to North Korea with Political Tours

Korea was also discussed at our Experts Weekend in 2018

“In a word, the experts were superlative. Theirs was an even-tempered, analytical approach to their various subject areas, which is much more helpful for non-experts like me than being shrill or taking sides.”
ME from the US, who attended briefings on the Koreas at the Experts Weekend in 2018

“An absolutely wonderful weekend – am really grateful for the experience. It gave a most useful up to date summary of recent key developments with NK, Russia, America and the Middle East.”
LK from the UK, who attended briefings on the Koreas at the Experts Weekend in 2018

“There is an assumption that the reunited Korea would naturally want to reflect the values of the south rather than the north, and speculation as to where Kim Jong-Un might end up. Our North Korean expert – who has been there many times – offered very different perspectives, not least that the united country might end up looking much like China – economically developed but essentially a one-party state, a much more overt rival to Japan and therefore perhaps gravitating towards China rather than the west if there is further polarization between what could be the two great powers.

The whole thing worked extremely well.”
HG from the UK on the analysis at our Experts Weekend

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Population: 51,446,201
GDP: 2.029 trillion
Defense spending: 2.3% of GDP
Government: Presidential republic

Following centuries of its long history as an independent kingdom, the Korean peninsula – today divided into two states – was occupied by an expansionist Japan in 1905. When the war in East Asia ended with Japan’s surrender, the country was split in two, roughly along the 38th parallel, with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, – or North Korea) to the north and the Republic of Korea (ROK, – South Korea) to the south.

Following the escalation of Cold War divisions, with the US backing the South, and the Soviet Union backing the North, war broke out in June 1950 when communist Kim Il Sung sent his troops south, supported by Stalin and later Mao. Over a million Koreans died and no peace treaty was ever signed, leaving the two countries still technically at war despite an armistice in 1953. The demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries – roughly the same line that existed before the war – today remains one of the most heavily fortified frontiers in the world.

Following the April 19th Revolution in 1960 – a student uprising that overthrew the country’s autocratic president Syngman Rhee – the country was thrown into political and civil turmoil, only broken by General Park Chung-hee’s coup in May 1961. While Park oversaw significant growth in what was a stagnant economy, he was regarded has a brutal dictator who stamped down on civil and human rights. He was assassinated in 1979.

South Korea held its first free elections in 1987, and elected the first leader of its modern era without a military background in 1993.

Park’s economic success has continued, albeit with one eye to the north. In 1998, President Kim Dae-jung launched the “sunshine policy”, a diplomatic and economic – though controversial – push to repair relations with the North. The move led to improved relations, shared business ventures, and two historic summits, though was abandoned in 2008 when the North sped up its nuclear weapons programme.

The North’s determination to build miniaturized nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them across the Pacific has rocked an already fragile armistice. Altercations have broken out between the two nations, with the North attacking one of the South’s islands and ships in 2010.

Now, with the Trump administration looking to tear up the playbook and end years of tentative appeasement towards the North’s nuclear ambitions – at various points ramping up the rhetoric of war – and analysts are worried that full-scale conflict could erupt on the peninsula, endangering the lives of millions of Koreans and tens of thousands of US troops. US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis warned that such a war would be “catastrophic,” and the “worst in most people’s lifetimes”.

Internally, the country is currently tackling a corruption crisis that saw President Park Guen-Hye ousted in December 2016 having had aides accused of influence peddling. In an election triggered by Park’s impeachment, Moon Jae-in campaigned on a liberal and anti-corruption ticket, and won, assuming office in May 2017.

However, despite the beating drums of war in Pyongyang and Washington, South Koreans say daily life is unaffected. Residents of Seoul, just 35 miles from the border where the North has placed an estimated 11,000 artillery pieces, travel to work every morning on a metro system that can double as a bomb shelter.

Despite the stoicism, the South had grown more anxious and divided over US-led military exercises and the amping of bellicose rhetoric from their allies and enemies.

Nerves may be calmer now with a thaw in relations between the North and South, and the North and the US. In what just months prior had been thought unthinkable, in June this year, Trump met with Kim Jong-Un for a summit in Singapore. The two leaders who had recently been trading insults smiled and shook hands in front of cameras, while behind closed doors talked denuclearization and the suspension of US-led military exercises.

However, many skeptics worry that the summit was an exercise in pageantry and that neither side is likely to keep up its end of the informal, and largely symbolic, deal. Meanwhile, Moon of South Korea has been pursuing his own diplomatic thaw with Kim, fueling some whispers of the, albeit highly-unlikely, reunification of the Korean peninsula.

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