S.Korea Trip ’12 – Part 1

I was sitting here after doing some house work and other administrative stuff, just about to fire up The Banner Saga: Factions (great game by the way – free too on steam) but then I thought and realised that I never really talked about my S.Korea trip last year.

This one was quite a significant trip because not only was it the first time I traveled alone but it was also the first time I traveled to somewhere other than Taiwan. Oh right, it was because of Hans too kind of, but that’s not that important.

So here we go, I’ll try slice it into hmm 3 parts.. I think that’ll be sufficient. I’ll try not to make it like just a Facebook album because you can see that already if you have me added anyway..  I’ll pick out the more memorable parts of the trip and what I reckon you should do if you ever visit haha.

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Panmunjom

I had a quick layover at Taiwan for a few hours before heading to South Korea. I really didn’t do much research beforehand, just made sure that I had accommodation booked and what not (Kimchi Hostel in Hongdae – quite good). I must say, landing in Incheon International Airport was quite easy. Clearing Customs took awhile because it was the first time I visited a country without the country’s passport (I have dual). So the whole.. address thing, finger printing.. photo taking.. etc etc that was all new to me!

What’s the first thing after getting a phone and luggage? Relax for a bit and get coffee of course:

At least Starbucks is consistent haha.

At least StarBucks is consistent haha.

Incheon Airport had its own metro line which was very handy – simple straight trip to Hongdae where I was staying. Nice and easy.

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First sights exiting the Hongik University Station

At this time it was still a bit surreal – the feeling of wow I’m actually in South Korea was still lingering around.

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One of the department stores.. forgot which one.

I think that was after checking in. I had like 3 or 4 hours to kill before he showed up.. wondered around a bit but I didn’t go too far because I needed to make sure I could retrace steps. My first mistake was that I should have got a prepaid SIM with data or a temporary mobile with data.. the fact I had no GPS really gave me the shits at some points of this trip hahaha.

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Yes.. first meal in Korea wasn’t Korean.. it was like 3pm and I was hungry!

That was in the department store I mentioned earlier. I didn’t really have a look around, pretty much bee-lined for the food. Hongdae-Seoul was quite English friendly although I didn’t really test that with every store, but most chains could handle it.

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Er.. one of the areas in Hongdae.

Apparently Hongdae is known for its nightlife although I personally didn’t really go soak that up.

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Hustle bustle~

So I think I just walked around this area a bit more, hey that guy is wearing house-like slippers, teehee. Oh, notice how clean the streets are? Well kind of. It’s not quite like that at night but it’s like.. wake up in the morning, all clean again, gasp! Magic cleaning folk come out around 3am or something I heard.

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Back in Kimchi Hostel

Kind of funny – I booked for a twin as he was staying with me for the weekend. But they made a mistake on the booking so they ended up giving up a dorm which had fits 6 people with its own bathroom for free – sweeeeeeet. So I just chilled for a bit and had some snacks haha. The second mistake for me was that I didn’t bring shampoo, zzz.

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Heading to the meeting point.

I think at this stage it had been what, 8 months? So was a little excited I guess.

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And there he is – never updated his blog ever again..

We also met up with one of his friends who accompanied us for dinner.

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Fried Chicken Salad – somewhat.. counterproductive I think 😛

That pretty much closed off the first night after we walked around a bit more and chatted. We had to get up early the next morning for a big tour.. to the border! Yep, straight away as I got into the safe part of the Korean Peninsula we were going to be heading to the DMZ haha.

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Very quick and early breakfast while waiting for the shuttle.

The trip up to the first camp was interesting. Actually, the shuttle first picked up a few more tourists (mostly foreigners, I’m pretty sure Hans was the only person there with a local card – which is why they charged him more for it LOL), we did a shuttle to coach swap under a bridge (haha yep) and then went to Camp Bonifas (named after the US Captain who was beheaded after a skirmish with the North Koreans) for a quick introduction and “rules” (I guess?), followed by another bus swap (UN-approved bus).

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Possibility of injury or death – NBD.

So after they all got us to sign our death waivers we got a bit of historical breakdown as to how the border came to be, pretty informative actually. Notice the majority of people there? Actually I think a lot of them are families of the US army folk posted in the US army bases in S.Korea.

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Presentation on the border.

So after this we headed towards the border. I found it interesting that the rule was – take as many photos as you want of the North and north side but DON’T turn the camera around and take photos of ‘our’ side, the South side. The military officer that accompanied us on the bus explained to us that there are 2 villages, 1 on each side of the border which were heavily impacted during the Korean war. As such the South Government have done things like paid for all their education and made their income tax free.

Apparently each side calls the other side “Propaganda Village” and call their own “Freedom Village”. But I also heard that the north side actually is empty, just has propaganda blaring all day for the south side to convince them to run over.

Propaganda broadcasts

Until 2004, massive loudspeakers mounted on several of the buildings continuously delivered DPRK propaganda broadcasts directed towards the south.[11] Originally the content consisted of extolling the North’s virtues in great detail and urging disgruntled soldiers and farmers to simply walk across the border to be received as brothers.[17] Eventually, as its value in inducing defections proved minimal,[18] the content was switched to blaring, condemnatory anti-Western propaganda speeches, Communist agitprop operas, and patriotic marching music at high volume for up to 20 hours a day.[17]

Scary thought huh?

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Left side = north, right side = south.

Yep, at this point I was on the “north” side technically. This was the conference room which you could cross over to the north side but you can’t exit the room of course. Well.. you could try……

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1 of the 4 (visible?) guard posts on the North

I had to zoom in for this one.. but you can kind of see him – back tower.

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The north side’s “Freedom House” – damaged by typhoons.

Notice that they kept a little slit open? 2 guards were taking turns with their binoculars there.

So one of the US tourists asks the officer – “Why are the South Korean soldiers standing where they are?”

In which he responds “Because it gives them some cover in case a firefight breaks out.” The guy then asks ” What about the fella in the middle?” (you can kind of see him behind the guy in camo).

“Oh him? he’s the team leader”. LOL.

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Better view. Oh, blue = UN buildings, grey = north

Afterwards we had lunch at.. er.. forgot where the location was. The tour guide explained we’ll have something light – bibimbap because in case the North invade we need to be able to run away. This guy..

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Fake stone bowl 😦

We had the opportunity to walk around a bit after lunch.

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Ribbons hung on the wall to deliver messages of hope / love.

There were a few of these fences around the area for this purpose.

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Dorasan Station – last station before the North!

I believe this station use to be operational into the North. Now it’s being used sometimes in the South but there’s really not much reason you’d come here.

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How strange huh?

It’s quite a surreal sign.. imagine that!

We also went to a few other places but they prohibited photos, in fact some people even got warned that if they got caught taking photos the army officers will wipe your SD cards / phones and confiscate them. The other places included the lookout and also the Third Infiltration Tunnel – gosh that was narrow!

Damn I think I’m going to need more than 3 parts.. this was just the first and second day! Guess I’ll probably just type less haha. So glad I went on this tour but – for me it was a must-do at least once, not sure I’ll ever go back to the border because it’s not exactly a “fun” tour. The tour was intimidating and a little scary at some points but definitely worth the time, very informative and gets you thinking about how the people over there could be living.. not knowing a world outside the North exists.

Just strange.

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