Sunday, August 30, 2009

Off We Go Travel Expert Sara Leonard Discusses South Korea and the DMZ

Written by:Loraine Alkire
Photography Courtesy of Off We Go Travel

Sara's Leonards Travels

Sara Posing with her birth sign
she's a Rat

Sara Leonard of Off We Go Travel in Redondo Beach, California has toured the world extensively.
LA Hip Chic will be featuring her often with in depth interviews of her many experiences at home and abroad. Here you will learn about all the best places to visit in the world, where to stay, and what to do when you get there. Among other things Sara is a scuba diver with over 500 dives under her weight belt. She's very adventurous and loves to stay at five star Hotels.
This week she discusses her trip to South Korea and her tour of the demilitarized zone. LA Hip Chic found this to be a fascinating and informative discussion, if not eye opening.

South Korea and the DMZ
Sara Leonard’s Travel Dates: June 26 – July 2, 2008

LAhipChic: What cities did you visit during your stay in South Korea?
OWGTravel: Seoul and Daejeon to attend the Korea Convention Fair
LAhipChic: How close did you come to the demilitarized zones and what was it like?
OWGTravel: I was in the demilitarized zone. It is a short drive from Seoul (about 1 hr). Only government sanctioned/authorized tour companies are allowed to take tourist there. The entire tour normally takes 5-6 hours consisting of 1 hr drive there, 2 hours going thru the DMZ zone, lunch and 1 hr back.
This tour company will take the tourists to the entrance of the DMZ zone, at which point, the DMZ police take over. You are transported into another bus (like a school bus) and then you are given instructions in English by a United Nations soldier. The soldiers assigned to this area are highly skilled. When you enter the Joint Security Area (JSA), there is a South Korean MP, guarding the area. Their pose is amazing, you don’t even notice them breathe. They are trained to stand like a stone.
You are given a “Visitors Declaration form” which you need to sign before being allowed into the DMZ area. They also verbally go over the points covered on this form. (See slide show)
LAhipChic: What was your view of the ROKA (Korean Army)?
OWGTravel: This is a very serious and dangerous zone. Thus, soldiers from both sides are very strict and serious. No talking or joking around.
LAhipChic: Was there a high presence of soldiers?
OWGTravel: Yes, they were everywhere.
LAhipChic: What made this tour different in terms of restrictions and attractions?
OWGTravel: It was very different indeed, especially that you are not allowed to make jokes, talk back, point, take pictures of the N. Korea area. It was a somber place but very educational at the same time.
LAhipChic: What did you like best about touring South Korea?
OWGTravel: I was surprised to find out what a cosmopolitan city Seoul was. This is a pretty advanced country. It is one of the most expensive countries to live and travel in Asia. It’s very modern and hip but very traditional at the same time. The people are warm, polite and very proud of their heritage. There are no food street vendors on the streets in Seoul, but rather many restaurants.
Meals are usually quite long and intended for socialization as the courses are small and plentiful. It’s much like some Korean Barbeques here in the States except that there are many more condiments. I heard laughter and long conversations in most of the restaurants; it is truly a social event that lasts sometimes for hours.
LAhipChic: What Hotels did you stay at? Were the accommodations what you expected? How would you rate them with one to five stars?
OWGTravel: I stayed at The Lotte Hotel and The Shilla in Seoul(Hotel photos Courtesy of the Lotte and Shilla in Seoul). These are both 5 stars and fabulous.
LAhipChic: What one place would you recommend a new visitor to this country/area see on their first trip?
OWGTravel: The DMZ zone of course, not to be missed.
LAhipChic: What was the most unusual thing that happened during your stay?
OWGTravel: Going thru the experience of the DMZ zone especially coming from a western country.
LAhipChic: Would you go back there again? Would you stay longer next time?
OWGTravel: Yes, I would like to visit other cities in Korea and spend more time with the local people.

Note: SEOUL (Reuters) Jack Kim reports that on August 25th,2009 [Red Cross officials from North and South Korea begin three days of talks on Wednesday in a rare contact between the rivals to discuss the plight of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. The meeting, in the North Korean resort of Mt. Kumgang on the east coast, is the first such contact in two years and the first meeting to discuss humanitarian issues since conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in the South.]
LAhipChic: Hopefully these talks will be successful, unlike others which have only fallen into a stale mate, so that these families will finally be able to reunite.
To contact Sara Leonard, please visit


  1. Yay- This article made into USAToday- go to:

  2. Wow, this article really makes me want to go to the DMZ. Maybe because I'm a history freak.
    Thanks for posting it. Sheri'

  3. Another excellent report by Loraine Alkire from USAtoday. Anything that Ms Sara Leonard Ching recomends, I am up for it. I have become a disciple of these travel reports. They are extremely informative, and righ to the point. Thank you for allowing us to learn more. I am already packing to go to S. Korea.

  4. Sara from OWG travel is just awesome. I was impresed right form the first time with her knowledge, and advice. I really appreciate her. Thanks to USA today to allow us to learn more.


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