Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Asia 2014: South Korea - Day 2: Part Two

Catch up with our South Korea trip here: 0, 1, 2.1.

Having visited Imjingak, the Third Tunnel, and the Dora Observatory earlier in the day, our next stop was Dorasan station, which is the most Northern KORAIL station in North Korea. Although trains do not currently run into North Korea, the South Koreans hope that one day the two countries may unite and that the transport link will provide easy connections into countries all over the world.




There are already luggage check points and seating areas all ready in preparation for that hopeful day in the future!



Trains run from Dorasan to Seoul.

 

You could also purchase train tickets from the ticket office for Pyeongyang.


With this ticket, you were granted access onto the platform where trains from Seoul currently terminate.


"How does one take such a terrible photo?" I hear you ask.


^Like that.
(Don't mind my battered bag. Even I was surprised it lasted that long.)




On our way back to the coach, we found a South Korean soldier on duty. As several people asked for photos and he kindly obliged, we hopped into the mini crowd and requested for photos too.


Super derp face, but was nice of him to be up for it despite being on duty!

After that, we boarded the coach and was taken for a quick lunch. I was ravenous. That hotel breakfast had long digested... it was 12.45pm!!


This was so cute :)






Such a hearty meal :)

Unfortunately our tour guide would not be joining us for the last part of the tour. She was such a wonderful, bubbly, tour guide, we decided we needed a photo with her before we parted ways.


Once the new tour guide had arrived, we boarded the new coach according to her new seating plan. However, there were some issues with us having been placed at the back of the bus, since we needed to be at the front. Eventually, we rearranged ourselves accordingly. For some reason, our tour guide thought Kin was the son of this middle aged couple... no idea why...!!

As soon as we started to move, our tour guide explained the risks of visiting the Joint Security Area (JSA) and Camp Bonifas. She listed a number of rules that we should abide by... this included no pointing, gestures, or expressions such as scoffing, which they believed would be used by the North Koreans as propaganda against the United Nations. In fact, there was a whole A4 sheet of instructions set out as a 'Visitor Declaration'. We were asked to sign this at Camp Bonifas after watching a brief presentation on the JSA.

We then walked through the building towards the JSA and conference room, where we encountered two South Korean soldiers; each on the 'North' and 'South' sides of the room.


^South Korean soldier... Apparently posted there to prevent you from entering the North Korean side... even though we already crossed 'the line' when we overstepped past their half of the table... technicalities and all that.


Soldiers are also posted outside the small cabin, facing the North Korean building. The concrete 'line' on the floor divides the area into the North and South Korean land...

After this, we boarded a small bus belonging to the JSA, and were taken around the site in order to see points such as the Bridge of No Return and the spot where the Axe Murder Incident occurred. After returning to Camp Bonifas, we said our farewells and boarded the tour bus we came in, for our return to Seoul.



Everyone was so exhausted, we all spent the whole journey back fast asleep.


We were dropped off just opposite the Seoul City Hall.

As our time in South Korea was just after the Sewol Ferry Disaster, the open space in front of the city hall was filled by gazebos and trees that were covered in yellow ribbons of wishes and condolences. It was quite an emotional and moving sight.

 



We made our way back slowly to Myeongdong. It was refreshing to have some down time to just wander through the streets and absorb the environment.

Once we got back, we freshened up a little at the hotel before splitting up and hitting the shops!

^My hair is so on point... not.

Eventually, we decided to get some dinner.


Isn't it awesome how Asian countries save space and time (why did that make me think of the Doctor :D) by having cutlery and napkins in small drawers under the dinner table?!


We went for a large hot pot between the four of us. I have no idea what it was called, but it was super spicy, and I ended up just having the side dishes and a couple of mushrooms/bits of meat.



Of course, I was still hungry. That didn't stop me from causing more damage to my wallet and shopping though!



When it's late, your're hungry, and you're in the streets of South Korea... Try the street snacks!





If you're ever in South Korea, this is a snack that you HAVE TO TRY! It's SO GOOD! If we hadn't had any of the other snacks earlier, I would have happily/easily chowed down another four or five of these...


It is essentially a fatter version of a cocktail sausage, on the same skewer as a rice cake wrapped inside some fish cake!! HEAVEN ON A STICK!!!


Oh, now I really crave it -.-

And here is our last photo of the day! I look hideous, but I thought it would be a nice photo to end on. Plus, it's not every day that you get to see the man behind the camera! :D


Until my next post, where we head to Incheon China Town, and Eurwangni Beach!

Hope you're all well :)

Priscilla,
Xx

Disclaimer: The amazingly beautiful and professional shots featured in this blog post are not my own. They have been used with kind permission from Kin :) A few of my own photos do appear, but the majority do not belong to me.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Asia 2014: South Korea - Day 2: Part One

You can find Day 1 of our South Korea trip here.


The second day of our trip consisted of a painfully early wake up call in order to wolf down a quick breakfast and make our way over to the nearby Lotte Hotel by 8.30 am. As we had booked a tour of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), we had to locate the office of the tour agency in order to register our attendance. Once we had finally found the right place inside the super swanky hotel, we were given the number plate of our coach and told to quickly make our way over.


Once we had boarded and it was time to leave (around 8.50 am), the majority of the coach pretty much just fell asleep whilst our tour guide introduced points of interest (such as the outline of North Korea across the moggy river). She also explained the history behind the DMZ, including the events that lead up to the Korean War. Eventually, we arrived at Imijingak shortly before 9.30 am.


The village of Imjingak is the most Northern village of South Korea that civilians can freely roam. This location is extremely important to many Koreans - whether originally from the North or South - due largely to the Bridge of Freedom and Mangbaedan.


The Bridge of Freedom/Freedom Bridge plays a very important part in the lives of many Koreans. Many families were separated between the two 'halves' of Korea due to the Korean War. The bridge is probably the closest to the North that South Koreans can get, allowing them to leave messages and wishes for family members in North Korea.


The Freedom Bridge takes its name from the return of 12,773 prisoners of war in 1953 in the first exchange of prisoners after the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War.




The other place of importance at Imjingak was Mangbaedan. It was hard to get a photo straight on since we only had 20 minutes to explore the whole area, and there were a very large number of tour groups. You probably realised from the photo of the buses though, right?


Anyway, the Mangbaedan Memorial Altar is where North Koreans living in South Korea can pay respects to their parents, family members, or even ancestors in the North on new year's day and other holidays such as Chuseok (the Korean thanksgiving).

After a truly rushed browse of Imjingak, we boarded the coach for the Demilitarised Zone. Unfortunately, the whirlwind photo pit-stop type experience meant that we missed out on seeing a train car that came under heavy fire during the Korean War. There was a slight hiccup on our way into the Demilitarised Zone as our tour group did not appear on the registered lists for entry into the DMZ. Luckily, things were quickly resolved and the South Korean soldier left us on our way after quickly checking all of our passports.


On arrival, we were ushered into a lecture hall and shown a video on how the North had built tunnels in attempts to infiltrate the South over the years since the Korean War. It explained how the Third Tunnel was discovered in October 1978 through information provided by a North Korean defector.

Anyone heard Bar Bar Bar by Crayon Pop?... Couldn't help but think of that once we'd donned our hard hats. Unfortunately, we were instructed not to bring any personal belongings including cameras into the tunnel.

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Brief explanation of the Third Tunnel:

The Third Tunnel sits roughly 44 kilometres from Seoul, which was what made the discovery all the more important. At a depth of roughly 73 metres, the tunnel is over 1.6 kilometres long, 2 metres high, and 2 metres wide. The tunnel is said to be capable of moving a full division per hour, plus their weapons; leading to beliefs that it was designed for a surprise attack on Seoul. Even though they have only managed to find four tunnels so far, the South Koreans believe there to be plenty more. It is said that the North Koreans denied building these tunnels. The South Koreans countered that the excavation of the tunnel using dynamite left marks facing towards South Korea, and that the tunnel slopes so that all water drains towards the North to ensure easy extension of the tunnel into the South. According to the explanations we received on the tour, the North then smeared coal along certain parts of the tunnel in order to pass it off as a coal mine. The South deny this to be true, since the tunnel is made up entirely of granite.
___________________________________________________________________

We went into the Third Tunnel via a small monorail trail. With no doors, we relied on our seatbelts to keep us in place whilst we slowly chugged our way down underground. Once we'd arrived, we were left to make our own way down to the other end of the tunnel. How was it? Let's just say if you're claustrophobic, I wouldn't recommend it. The further in towards the end of the tunnel, the lower down the ceiling of the tunnel became. Along the way were small plastic showcases displaying information regarding the tunnels. Once we reached the end, we were faced with a big slab of concrete with a small window to allow us to peer into the other side. A little freaky if you imagine a North Korean posted on the other side with plenty of ammunition, and you with no quick way out of there. As there were a large number of people behind us, we took a quick peek and made our way back.

Once everyone was ready to make our way back up to ground level, we were given a choice between taking the monorail, or walking up the second tunnel. To make the most of it and experience everything, we took the second tunnel and walked up the steep incline. I had never felt so unfit in my life. Luckily there were seats dotted every few hundred metres!


Back on ground level, we were ushered into the main building, which was basically a DMZ museum.






Who says you can't stand inside the DMZ?!



Eventually we set off for the Dora Observatory, where we finally got a little closer to the tension...







Here at the most Northern point on the Western front, we filed into the large lecture hall where we were shown an extremely patriotic video that explained the actions carried out by the North against the South, alongside landmarks of note on the horizon, such as the North Korean flagpole.

I found the story behind the flagpole rather amusing... The South Korean government built a 94.8 metre tall flagpole with a 130 kg flag in the Southern half of the DMZ. In response to this, the North Korean government a 160 metre tall flagpole with a 270 kg flag on their half of the DMZ... People call it the flagpole war, but I just wonder why adults tell children not to fight over the small things... and yet... here we are...


Using the binoculars in the photo above, you were allowed to see the North Korean landscape. For all those who didn't want to pay but wanted to take photos, we were made to stand about 10 metres back and take our chances there. It was at this point that I began to wonder why the DMZ seemed to feel a bit like a money-making scheme...


After this photo, the soldiers drove off in the van, and we set off for the gift shop to see what sorts of things you could find as a DMZ souvenir... There were plenty of DMZ t-shirts, miniature models of guards, North Korean won and liquor... as well as foods produced in the village within South Korean side of the DMZ.

As there was an opportunity to purchase North Korean won, we got some for my Dad... but I can't help but think it's a bit strange that South Koreans have these available all packed up for sale? Who gives them the stock..? Surely they must have some sort of supplier..?!

Anyway. We also went to Dorasan KORAIL station and Camp Bonifas afterwards, but I'm pretty sure you're all exhausted from the endless scrolling and my shoddy outfit (they said no skinny jeans and only t-shirts with collars, okay?!), so I will wrap things up here! Hope you enjoyed the slight glimpse into tour group life/the North-South divide (this sounds so weird coming from England... Watford Gap, anyone?). I digress.

Thank you for reading alllll the way here. Part Two to come hopefully by next week!

Priscilla,
Xx

Disclaimer: The amazingly beautiful and professional shots featured in this blog post are not my own. They have been used with kind permission from Kin :) A few of my own photos do appear, but the majority do not belong to me.
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