DMZ Tour

9 04 2010

We were picked up from Mr Sea at 7.15am and taken by tour group to the DMZ- Demilitarized Zone (buffer zone between the North and South Korean border).

We drove past the Han river which flows through both countries. In the south it is surrounded by barbed wire fences and there are ‘anti-boat walls’ of explosives built in the river to stop North Korean spies from entering SK.

Also, along the main highway north are huge advertising billboards across the road that hide explosives as an ‘anti-tank wall’.

We reached Imjingak and saw the Bridge of Freedom where 12773 prisoners walked to freedom in the south in 1953. Also there was an old train that used to run into North Korea that was derailed during the Korean War and riddled with bullets (1020 bullet holes to be exact).

From there we got transferred to a special red tour bus that went to the DMZ border to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel. We walked down into the North Korean built tunnel, under the DMZ. It was quite steep going down into the tunnel, which stretches 1635m in length below the DMZ. There have been 4 tunnels found officially, but unofficially North Kore dug at least 20 tunnels under the DMZ aiming for a surprise attack on Seoul which is about 50km away.

After that we went to Dora Observatory in the DMZ which is the northernmost observatory from which you can see North Korea. We had 90% visibility and could see the South Korean village (and flag pole) and the fake (unoccupied) North Korean village (with flagpole). Photos are only permitted behind the photo line, so of course you can’t take a photo of North Korea!

Then we went to Dorasan train station, the last stop of SK rail, built with the hope that lines to NK will open. So, half the station is ready but currently unused- the sign for the onward tracks to the NK capital and a customs/immigration section ready for when tracks open through NK to China and beyond to Europe.

A sales attempt at an expensive ginseng store ($500 for some ginseng extract?) and we were finished.

We went to Sinchon (no e) and had lunch at Loving Hut (the third one so far) before doing some shopping and walking through Yongsan Electronics Markets,  Dongdaemun markets and walking along the newly built/refurbished stream that used to be a highway.

More from Changdeokgung Palace

9 04 2010

Colourful ceiling detail

Walls around walkways along the Secret Garden path

Visiting the homes of Kings

8 04 2010

We returned to the Insadong area and went to Gyeongbokgung Palace, arriving just in time for the 10am changing of the guard. The background of the mountains behind the palace and the sparse walled courtyards gave a feeling of space and desertedness.

There were many school groups and tours going on, but the grounds were spacious enough that once we passed the front gate it was quiet.

After the palace we walked to Insadong street and bought some metal Korean chopsticks. Then we went to ‘Vegetarian Restaurant’ for lunch. It’s actually another Loving Hut, although not named as one. The meal sizes were large – we had spring rolls, sweet and sour soy protein and fried noodles with Chinese sauce (it was quite spicy) – and were feeling very full at the end of it. The restaurant is down an alley off Insadong-jil and if we hadn’t read a photo-map-directions on the net we probably wouldn’t have found it.

After lunch we needed to walk off the food. We visited another palace, Changgyeonggung Palace. Being a Thursday, only self-guided tours we available for a higher entry fee, but it included entry into Biwon, the Secret Garden. We spent almost 3 hours wandering around the expansive grounds, but since spring hasn’t really reached Seoul yet the gardens were dry and barren (winter is dry season). We did get to see squirrels, early cherry blossoms and a woodpecker. The colourful roofed pavillions reminded us of the Nikko temples.

We needed to our feet a rest so we cooked dinner in the hostel and did a load of washing before watching TV – channel 510 Star Craft channel (watch people play Star Craft games on TV).

Climbing Namsan

7 04 2010

Today we headed for Namsan. Compared to Mt Misen or Nokogiriyama it was not a big mountain at all, so we walked up the stairs to the top. At the top we arrived just in time for a changing of the guard- completely staged and not really guarding anything.

We got our tickets for the elevator to the top of N Seoul Tower (now 8000 won, not 7000) but before finding the elevator we walked around the balcony. All along the fence were hundreds of padlocks- sending messages of love to boyfriends and girlfriends.

Up at the top of the tower the windows needed cleaning, and with mild smog the daytime views will never be perfect…

We walked back down and followed the circuitous path to the Namsang Hanok Village. It was getting late in the afternoon since we only left the hostel around 10.30am and we were getting hungry and tired from walking.

So we went to the closest subway and went to Sinchon looking for a Loving Hut restaurant. We couln’t find it and it was now 3pm. We asked for help and  it turned out that we were in Sincheon, not Sinchon. One letter different and we were in totally the wrong part of Seoul. Oh no!

Not wanting to spend more time on the subway without food, we went straight back to the hostel and made nachos with salsa, cornchips, kidney beans and avocado from the supermarket. Time for a nap!

We decided to go out for dinner instead and after 7pm headed out to New Start vegan buffet. They shut at 8.30 and we had to change subway lines 3 times so we weren’t sure if we would get there in time. But it was easy to find and we had 50 minutes of buffet time left. The food was good, but the selection not as vast as Loving Hut. Benno had a vegan vanilla icecream covered in chocolate for dessert.

After dinner we caught the subway to the Han-river to see if we could find the rainbow bridge. Well, yes, we found it but there was no rainbow light fountain/waterfall display. Turns out the last display is at 8.30 and we were about an hour too late. Oh well, back to the hostel.

Vegan food day

6 04 2010

Today was a day of food.

First to Myeong-dong station and to Shinsegae department store for Sticky Fingers vegan bakery.

Next to Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral.

Finally to Achasan station and the totally awesome vegan buffet at Loving Hut.  A bargain lunch for 9900 won each for a huge selection AND a dessert buffet!

In the evening we watched a totally legit Korean DVD of the X-men prequel, Wolverine. It must have been stolen during production because 3 things were strange

1. All wires during stunts were visible.

2. The soundtrack was poorly mixed, or in some cases missing.

3. The CGI was not complete and a few scenes were just silver figures and pencil outlines or geometric shapes with no layers. The scene were the nuclear reaction explodes was all shapes and triangles on a white background.

Seoul sights- Insadong and Seoul Forest

6 04 2010

Insadong traditional streets with souvenir shops and vegan buffet.

Seoul Forest deer and waterfalls.

Last night in Osaka and farewell Japan

6 04 2010

On Saturday we had pancakes for breakfast with Atsu in Kyoto, before packing our bags and catching the train to Osaka.

Once we had checked into our hotel near the Shin-Osaka station we went to Green Earth restaurant for lunch. Last time we were in Osaka it was closed for O-bon holidays. It was cheap and simple food, but vegan. Unfortunately they have removed soy cheese from the menu so we couldn’t get a vegan pizza. We settled for the lunch set and a spicy hot sand.

We had dinner in the hotel and repacked our suitcases (again) and did a final load of washing in Japan. We watched some TV- the best Japanese TV seems to be in Kansai kingdom. We watched a game show with human curling competitions and stayed up to watch the Sarah Connor Terminator show in English.

Sunday morning we left the hotel early and caught the Shinkansen at 8.02am.  3 hours later (and after using the office seat in the reserved section that had powerpoints for laptop chargers) we were in Hakata. We had to catch a taxi to the International Ferry Terminal since we had only 15 minutes until we had to check in on the ferry.

At the terminal we got our boarding passes, submitted our alien cards, went through customs, immigration and into the duty free shops then onto the little jet foil JR beetle. We left Japan around 12 noon, and arriving at South Korean immigration and customs around 3pm. We think there was a total of 3 white foreigners on board, including us. The rest of the passengers were Koreans and Japanese.

Straight out the exit door and there was the shuttle bus to Busan train station. Tickets were only 900 won (about 90 cents) – Korea is already cheaper than Japan!

From Busan station we had about 4 minutes to find our KTX train to Seoul. We matched up the times (3.50pm departure) with our tickets and ran to platform 6 and boarded just before the doors closed. We put away our suitcases and went into car 9 to find that people were already sitting in seats 13 A and B… huh? Was it double booked? They called a train conductor who spoke English and while the departure time was correct, the train number was different.  Perhaps there had been a booking mistake in Japan when they booked our Nikkan Kyodo Kippu (Japan Korea ticket). So, we got moved to car 17 to where there were 2 free seats. At least we didn’t get kicked off! We almost thought we were in trouble when a passenger boarded at a later stop and stood looking at our seat numbers, but then they went away and we were safe in our seats!

We arrived in Seoul around 7 pm, walked through to the subway and boarded a crowded subway train for our hostel, the funny named Mr Sea. We bought some foods at a local supermarket with a very grumpy checkout-oldwoman and had curry for dinner. Yay! We made it to South Korea!