It’s been a while since I’ve been to a city I instantly fell in love with like Seoul. It reminded me a lot of Tokyo, just smaller and therefore more accessible by foot. Oh, and with tons of street food and vendors, which if you know me, made it all the better.
Our friend from Atlanta had an earlier flight from Shanghai, but we were able to meet up with him in time to walk around and grab some dinner Friday night. We, of course, had Korean BBQ and it was absolutely delish. I have GOT to find a Korean BBQ joint in Atlanta.
Saturday morning we set off for the DMZ, or the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. This 4 kilometer or 2 and half mile wide area was created in 1953 as part of the cease-fire agreement between the North and South Korea governments. Our guide quickly reminded us that these two are still at war. She pointed out the wooded areas behind barbed wire fences, telling us how 700,000 land mines are still laying in wait. She told us how parents cry with worry when finding out their sons are assigned to duty at the DMZ. She explained how the large billboards above the bridges aren’t actually advertisements, but decoy boxes filled with dynamite to be detonated if the North ever decides to invade. It was pretty unnerving.
Although this area is one of great seriousness, South Korea is attempting to change the overall feel. It has made it a tourist destination and you get the feeling that it is being built as a museum to the time of separation and division even though unification has yet to happen…
We were first taken to a memorial park, in the warm months it is actually an amusement park as well, that contains the Peace Bell…
and the Freedom Bridge, where thousands of people were allowed to cross after the cease-fire. It is covered in ribbons of prayers…
We then went to tour one of the four tunnels created in an obvious plot to invade South Korea after the cease-fire. They didn’t allow photos, but it was amazing to see where North Korea had actually painted some of the rocks black in an attempt to justify their story of “looking for coal”.
It was a long way down to the tunnel, 300 meters at a very steep incline, and then a cramped (you know it’s short if I’m having to bend over) walk into the actual tunnel. They don’t regulate how many people can go down there and I may or may not have had a minor freak-out moment about being crammed into this hole deep within the earth with too many pushy tourists (Chinese people push- like physically push you to get ahead in lines, so I mean that quite literally) and made us leave before reaching the first blockade which is as far as tourists can go. 400 meters was enough for me to get the drift.
After the tunnel, we were taken to the observatory where we could actually see into North Korea. Again, no photos. Actually I forgot and took 2, but a soldier kindly asked that I delete them and I kindly obliged.
You can look through the binoculars and see the North Korean soldiers in their lookout and even the propaganda town they built to make South Koreans think life on the other side was glamorous. The houses are just shells and no one has ever lived there, although they said they sometimes had actors there to make it more believable.
We then visited the northern most train station in South Korea, which had been built when North Korea had agreed to trade, but in the last minute changed their mind. It was just a train station, but we did get our pic with some soldiers…
I had expected so much more negativity (totally justifiable negativity) but in truth there is little North Korea bashing on the Southern side of the DMZ. The optimism that South Koreans embrace regarding the certainty of these two countries becoming one again is truly palpable here. For the world’s sake, I hope they’re right.
We arrived back in Seoul too late to go inside any of the palaces, so we spent the rest of the day walking around the city, dipping into shops and sampling the street food. Can I tell you how much I love a city that embraces street food?
We ended the night at a truly local joint where we had to point at pictures on the wall menuto be able to order. Jules made friends with the table next to us and they let us taste the local brew. I think it was some sort of rice wine. We shared some toasts and some laughs and eventually made our way back to our hotel.
Our friend from Atlanta had an early flight back and after saying our groggy goodbyes, Jules and I went back to bed to try to catch some more zzz’s.
We finally got it in gear and made it to the Gyeongbok Palace…
It was a sprawling complex and even though it was pretty cold out, it was a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. After wandering around for a few hours it was time to bid Seoul goodbye and make our way to the airport.
Getting another weekend with JDT was great and we seriously miss him already. I really, really loved Seoul and the little taste I got definitely left me wanting more.
This weekend we’re finally off to see this wall everyone keeps talking about. Can’t wait!
Pics from the weekend…