Second Weekend in Seoul

December 06, 2011

The first weekend of December brought my second visit to Seoul!

I headed to the KTX straight from work where I had a lovely dinner of coffee and a bucket-o-donuts.

In just over 3 hours we were in Seoul! We trekked through the subway to Hongdae to find our guesthouse, the Y3llow Submarine (which was pretty close to the place where Patti and I stayed). We had somewhat of a dorm style room to ourselves.

If we had more time, forts would have been in the works.

The atmosphere of the guesthouse is hard to describe. It was essentially just a big house for travellers to live together as the rooms had only beds and the kitchen/livingroom/bathroom were shared. But we felt really comfortable and had an awesome time.

By the time we settled in, it was about midnight so we decided to wander around the neighbourhood in search of food. We found a great place for 삼겹살 (samgyupsal).

I've had samgyupsal quite a bit since I've been in KOrea (it's what they must refer to as 'Korean BBQ' in Canada). They bring ou a plate of pork and you grill it with all the fixings. We got more than enough food and beer for 7,000 won each (~$7).

We met up with our DMZ tour group bright and early on Saturday morning.

In a nutshell, the DMZ is the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea and is the most heavily militarized border in the world (see the map here). The DMZ is 4km wide with a 2km buffer zone on each side of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL; the border).

When WWII ended, North Korea and South Korea were sponsored by the Soviet Union and the United States respectively. Each republic remained dependent on their sponsors until the Korean War in 1950 when North Korea invaded the South. In 1953, international forces intervened to stop the conflict. It was in this year that a ceasefire agreement was implemented, and the DMZ was created.

Once we drove into the DMZ, the area was pretty desolate; there was next to no traffic since practically no people live there (there are some families living in the DMZ who resided there before it was created). There have been many incidents between North and South Korea (including shots fired from the North to a Southern military post in 2010). While on the outside it appears that the situation is hostile, it seems that Koreans in the south genuinely want the situation to be resolved and the country to be unified (although our tour guide dude pointed out that younger generations might be reluctant to unify since a higher population would result in even greater competition to get into university. Priorities.)

Our first stop in the DMZ was the Third Infiltration Tunnel.

Since the DMZ was created, North Korea created at least 4 of these tunnels with the intention of attacking Seoul. This particular tunnel was discovered in 1978 and is the closest to Seoul. North Korea initially denied the creation of the tunnels but a different story was told by the direction of the dynamite markings.

Unfortunately, taking photos was prohibited in the tunnel so I'll do my best to illustrate!
Our journey began with a steep, half kilometre walk down the corridor to the actual tunnel. Once at the end of the corridor, the tunnel's dark, jagged walls were pretty daunting. At most the tunnel was maybe 2 metres in height and 2 metres wide. We started walking through the tunnel, single-file, with water dripping on us from the ceiling. I think I was about 2 minutes in when I realized that I was 73 metres underground and had my first slight case claustrophobia. We were going in this tunnel single-file along with a single-file line of people returning the other way in this 2m x 2m death trap. Once at the end of the tunnel (I think we walked 265 metres), there were numerous barricade walls which separated tourists from the MDL (which was only 170 metres away). We were able to see through the wall, where I suppose we looked upon North Korea. It was at this point we turned around to head out of the tunnel and the corridor.

While waiting for the bus, we took some more pictures around the site of the tunnel.

The DMZ has the highest density of land mines in the world: 2.3 for every square metre.

Our second stop in the DMZ was at the Dora Observatory which was located on Dora mountain. It was here that we were able to look over onto North Korea.

At the observatory there were clear 'photo-taking' lines that we weren't able to cross, but these are some zoomed-in, over-my-head pictures:

This is 'Propaganda Village on the North Korean side of the border. This village is completely uninhabited and was built in the 1950s in order to portray North Korea's apparent prosperity. It's easy to see the border; South Korea has trees while North Korea has been stripped bare both for the purpose of resources and ease of patrolling the area.

In the 1980s, the South Korean government built a 99-metre tall flag. The North Korean government responded by building a taller one at 160 metres. In this picture you can see the North Korean flag.

Our next stop was at Dorasan Station which is the last train station out of South Korea and into the North. It was once operational but has since been restored (in 2000) and used as a tourist destination and symbol of hope for eventual reunification.

This is a huge list of people who donated money toward the restoration of the Dorasan Station. Many families have been separated along the border and have been unable to make contact with family members for over 50 years; The restoration of this train station is one way that these families hope to be reunited.

The tracks that lead to Pyeongyang, the capital city of North Korea.

Our final stop of the DMZ tour was at a Ginseng Centre which was a pretty obvious ploy for us to buy their products. It was pretty much devoid of entertainment except that ginseng roots totally look like mandrakes:

After the tour we were wandering somewhat aimlessly and stumbled right into Myeongdong! As I mentioned in my previous Seoul post, this is the shopping district with many Western stores like Forever 21 and H&M.

Saturday night we headed out to experience the Hongdae night life; First at HO Bar for 3,000 won Budweisers and then at a club that played nothing but K-pop. 

We got back to the guesthouse around 7am (bars in Korea are open sufficiently later than the 2am last call at home!), and we were packed up and out of there at 11am. 

This is a time-lapse video of my train ride back to Mokpo!

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