Some things sound like a great idea at the time…for instance, drinking copious amounts of liquor at an African nightclub the night before a bus tour.
But first things first – after a wonderful last time in Busan, it was off to the capital city, together with H-J’s parents newly arrived in Korea, to explore all Seoul has to offer. Having not been there since we first arrived in Korea, we were excited to explore the city and be a bit less ‘fresh’ than we were the first time round. The KTX was one of our ‘to-do’ things in Korea so on we hopped to be whisked away (quickly) to the big smoke.
We’ll stuff in a little tip/review here: Hotel IP Boutique Hotel in Seoul is pretty awesome. Located smack bang in the middle of Itaewon (a trendy ‘foreigners’ area but basically a really cool, lively bit of the city) it is incredibly central to everything AND provides a rare middle ground between the likes of the super expensive chain hotels (big name hotels in Seoul are much more expensive than many other major cities) and the love motels. This particular hotel provided excellent value for money, was stylish and had really, really comfy beds.
The best bit of all, we discovered quickly upon arrival, is that the hotel is a block away from a branch of Jesters Pie shop!!! Guess what we had for dinner pretty much immediately…While dining on pies (read: stuffing our faces with pastry and feeling gleeful) we noticed a little place across the road called Club Zion. It lured us in with its cranking sounds, the likes of which we hadn’t heard since living in the Caribbean. After a year of full-immersion-K-Pop, we were powerless to resist the pull of booty shaking music and with that H-J pronounced that she was “going inside to dance like a slut” and Dan that he was going to “listen to the beats”. This quickly translated into Dan drinking like a fish and H-J indeed dancing like a skank. A great night was had by all.
In the morning, neither of us could figure out why we woke up with pounding heads. And then we remembered that we had been horribly, horribly drunk the night before. Slowly, things came into focus as Dan pieced together the night, reminding H-J that she had napped (temporarily) in the hallway outside her parents’ hotel room before stumbling back to our room.
Next came the realisation that not only did we have hangovers reminiscent of having dancing scorpions in our heads, we were due on a bus tour to take us to the DMZ. This had been something we had been looking forward to for most of our time in Korea so we downed some painkillers, grabbed some water bottles and set off to experience one of the most unique sights in the world.
The bus ride to the beginning of the tour went remarkably smoothly…or so H-J thought. She was feeling decidedly better by the time they reached the destination and bounded off the bus ready to go. Dan slunk off the bus looking miserable…turns out he had been throwing up during the course of the bus ride. Sucked for him but was even worse for the poor, innocent tourist he had been sitting beside!
Not a great start to the tour.
Onwards and upwards though – actually, no, it was downwards underground into the heart of the 3rd infiltration tunnel. 44 kilometres from Seoul, this tunnel was discovered in October 1978 based on information provided by a defector. It is 1.7km long, 2 metres high, 2 metres wide and runs through bedrock at a depth of about 73 metres below ground. Apparently designed for a surprise attack on Seoul from North Korea it has been labelled by the south as a “tunnel of aggression”. No photography is allowed in the tunnel itself, so, um, we don’t have any!
Upon emerging from the tunnel (through the gift shop, of course) Dan immediately found the nearest stoop for a skulk. Poor poppet.
Next it was off to the Dora Observatory to check out the view over to North Korea. This was our first proper glance of the real hermit kingdom – however, photos can only be taken from behind a yellow line which means you can’t really take great photos of the view but loads of photos of people standing on their tip toes trying gallantly to get a shot.
Following suit, we stood on our tip tops, zoomed in and here we go – North Korea!A few more photos here and there and then it was off to our security briefing before being admitted to the Joint Security Area (JSA), the only part of the Demilitarized Zone where South and North Korean forces stand face to face. Exciting stuff!
The South Korea dudes (otherwise known as soldiers) peer intently at the North Korean dudes across the demarcation line and stand with half their body obscured killing two birds with one stone – first, it presents less of a target to the enemy and second allows them to discreetly signal their back up when needed. Smart cookies, really.
At this point, things got a little more serious which was unfortunate really as Dan was still feeling like crap and H-J was repeatedly dissolving into giggles at Dan’s lack of ability to hold on to his liquor AND due to exhaustion. Drilled repeatedly by the soldier in charge of our tour not to engage in any form of communication with the North Koreans who were peering back at us from their side of the line. This meant no gestures of any kind – no pointing, no pulling faces – which was slightly hard to remember with a pounding head. Certain members of our group were told off more than once…Funny to think that while you are looking at a building in an area that you could be shot for pointing or pulling a face.
The soldiers walk around looking staunch pretty much constantly. Being the elite of the elite, they do it really well.
Inside the conference room is the one place we can actually stand with one foot in each North and South Korea. Each side has their own door to the building allowing them to meet for talks and let their respective tourists say they’ve “been” to the other side. Works for us.
If you get too close to these particularly staunch looking dudes they tap their heels together. We kinda wanted to test it but thought they looked a bit scary so stuck to cheesy pictures instead. No matter how much of a muppet you can be around them they still stay focused. They would win any staring competition going we thinks!!
After the intensity of the central JSA area we jumped back on the bus and cruised to an area which had North Korea surrounding us on three sides. This place showed some closer views of North Korea including Kijŏngdong, North Korea’s ‘Peace Village’ (also know as the propaganda village due to it’s lack of population and the daily broadcasts blasting each day the greatness of the North).
Their giant flag was flying proudly in the sky which apparently is no mean feat as it weighs 270 kilograms so requires quite a blast of wind assistance to get it up. Random fact: its the worlds third-tallest flag pole. But don’t tell Kim Jong Un that, he’ll just try and whack on a few extra hundred metres.Looking out over this vista its weird to think that just past this ‘Peace Village’ lies a country ruled by a dynasty of dictators that would rather put more money and resources into his military than the welfare of his people.
After our year in the bright neon streets of the south it makes you wonder whether one day this divided country could ever be one again. Could South Korea ever be able to integrate the 25 million North Koreans into their modern technology driven capitalist society?
Ps. For those hardy followers of ours, YES, we are currently in India. Internet being what it is here we are working hard to finish up Korea, fill in the gaps and then blog about our recent escapades. Stay tuned!