We’ve just got back from 3 days in South Korea. I’ve uploaded a few (85!) pictures in the gallery here. [Update: Sorry, the gallery has gone. I’ll try to get around to reposting!]
It was the first time in Korea for the both of us, and with only a limited amount of time we decided we wanted to see day-to-day Seoul, some of the tourist bits, and the De-Militarised Zone [DMZ] between North and South Korea. I’m writing a full travelog to post on the Brightblack site later this week, so I’ll just put the highlights here.
Seoul is a great city – not as intense as Tokyo, but with lots to see and do, and with a lot of cool places to eat and drink. We took in some of the historical buildings, as well as trying the local teas which are excellent (I recommend the plum tea). The underground system was very cheap and efficient, and even though the trains were spacious and modern, the ticket machines were a little less friendly. We also checked out the insanely large and modular shopping district, as we had to buy a few items of clothing to meet the dress code to go to the DMZ.
The DMZ trip is only do-able on an organised tour, and I use the word ‘organised’ very loosely. An hour north of Seoul and you’re pretty much at the DMZ border, after a stop for lunch and a look at Freedom Bridge and the very odd fun park there, and it’s off inside the DMZ itself to the Joint Security Area [JSA] on the actual cease-fire line where North and South meet. We didn’t think we would be let into the meeting room itself, where north and south sit down together, but literally at the last minute we were allowed, under guard and only for a few minutes.
However, I can say that I’ve stood in North Korea! It’s a very quiet and very weird place. Beautiful and yet quite sinister. We were escorted closely by UN/US/Republic of Korea soldiers at all times and told when and where we could take photos. The dress code was enforced – you can’t go near the JSA in jeans, so those people had to wear ‘loaners’ from the troops there.
The guides gave us detailed instructions on where to go, as we were bussed around the 3 linked camps which make up the UN force’s presence in the area. They also detailed the spot where two US soldiers were axed to death by North Koreans in the mid Seventies as they were guarding contractors who were chopping a tree down which was obstructing the view of the observation post from one of the other ones.
It’s an odd place – the DMZ fence, 2km away on either side from the true cease fire line, is all barbed wire, minefields and anti-tank blocks, but the ‘Military Demarcation Line’ is just a line of posts, and some rusted signs on the bridges, so it’s easy to see how someone could stray across, and if you did, as was pointed out, you’d be dead. As you can see in the photos the ROK soldiers look tough, they stand in a TaeKwonDo ready stance at all times, facing off against the North Koreans, who whilst we were there was one guy on the steps, rifle slung over shoulder. All in all, ‘enjoyable’, but quite surreal.
As for Korea, it’s an excellent place, and well worth making the trip to if you’re in the region, and check out real gimchi (spiced cabbage) which is great. The people were very friendly and helpful, and if you speak a little Japanese and English you can pretty much get round everything (most tourists are Japanese from what we could tell). Anyway, go and take a look at the pics!