CONTRIBUTED BY KASSIE O’DRISCOLL
Kassie and her hubby left the tropical climes of Okinawa and for the winter wonderland of Korea. She shares how to do Seoul “Tourist Style”. This is Day Six. Read about Day One HERE, Day Two HERE, Days Three & Four HERE, and Day Five HERE.
The last day that we were in Seoul was the day that Mark looked forward to the most. It was the day we were touring the DMZ, Demilitarized Zone! He was far more excited than I was, but it turned out to be pretty cool. We, initially, were going on a different day and woke up at 5AM on said day only to find out that the trip was cancelled due to weather (using the company that has a counter at the DHL). Then, we called other tours and they were still going, but it was too late for us to join them. We were told that this often happens using this particular company. Our recommendation would be the USO tour because it’s insanely cheaper than the tours out in town. However, we had to do the Lotte Hotel tour because of our time restraint.
We were picked up outside of the Dragon Hill Lodge gate around 8am. Then, we transferred to a tour bus at the hotel. It looked just like the one from the Gangnam Style music video, purple tassels and all!
We chose to do the full day tour that included lunch. We started out at Imjingak, where the Bell of Peace and Bridge of Freedom (built to free 12,773 prisoners in 1953) are. The Bell of Peace represents the peace of mankind and unification of the Korean nation for the new millennium. It weighs 21 tons and has 21 stairs to commemorate the 21st century.
We, literally, only had 15 minutes here. That’s not long! There are a lot of other things to see, but they kind of move you along so that you stick to the schedule, which is very strict. After leaving Imjingak, we headed to the 3rd tunnel. It was discovered only 53 km from Seoul in 1978. It’s 1,635m long, 2m wide, and 2m in height. We wore hard hats and I highly recommend that you do, too! Mark and I are both tall and had to bend over the entire way and I definitely hit my head on the top a lot. We couldn’t take pictures within the tunnel, which is a bummer, but be prepared for a hike because climbing out of the tunnel is no joke!!
After the 3rd Tunnel, we went to the Dora Observatory. It’s the northernmost observatory in South Korea and overlooks North Korea, obviously. We could see Propaganda Village and the North & South Korean Flags from here. We also saw Gaeseong Industrial Complex, which is a factory that North Koreans produce consumer products for South Korea.
We left the observatory and headed to Dorasan Station. Right now, it’s just a symbolic place of unification because it was built with intentions of being the railroad that would connect the two nations. However, it’s never been in operation. It is basically just a place for tourists. There are warehouses that sit empty after being built with intentions to hold goods to import in and out of South Korea. It’s a very sad thing to see, really. Citizens donated to have this beautiful train station built and had high hopes that this would be the beginning of unification, but now it’s just sitting here collecting dust.
We parted with those who were only doing the 1/2 day tours at this point and had lunch. We had traditional Korean food and it was delicious. Well, I’m not a fan of kimchi but, otherwise, I liked it!
After lunch, it was off to the JSA (Joint Security Area). This is the area that is “shared” by North and South Korea and where they gather for important meetings. First, we started at Camp Bonifas. Here we were briefed on the do’s and don’ts of the JSA. Basically, only take pictures when given permission and don’t make gestures that the North Koreans could use against us (including pointing). We were escorted by a South Korean soldier the entire time we were inside the JSA, but I wasn’t mad about it! They were there for our safety!
If you look closely, you can see the North Korean soldier at the top of the steps across the street. That’s the only one that we saw during our time there. However, if you zoom in on some of our pictures you can see the blinds are pulled back slightly on 90% of the windows. Also, in this picture, you can see the border of North and South Korea. It’s the cement slab in the middle of the two buildings.
This was definitely the highlight of our whole trip for Mark. He was like a little kid and was actually ASKING me to take pictures of him.
We were able to go into the conference room, too. So, the “Military Demarcation Line” goes right down the middle of the room. They have it set up so that the table is split in half by that line. So, North Koreans never technically have to go into South Korea and vise versa.
The majority of the end of the tour was from the bus. We saw where the “Axe Murder Incident” happened… the Bridge of No Return… and Freedom House (but I didn’t get a good picture because the bus was moving fast).
After all of that, we headed back to the Lotte Hotel and took the subway home, which was really close and easy to access.
Closing remarks: The day after the DMZ, which was the day were flying back to Oki, is the day that North Korea launched a missile that flew over Okinawa. To be specific, we were in the air at the same time. Whoa!! Also, 2 days after being there, I read an article about an American that was released from North Korea after being held for a month! So, it was great to see but please take the safety regulations seriously and follow the rules. Lastly, you can’t give blood for 2 years if you’ve visited the DMZ… just in case that would change your mind about going.