After visiting the DMZ from North Korea last week, it seemed only right that I go on a tour from the South Korea side as well.
So, with that, I was on my way to do an half-day afternoon tour of the DMZ from Seoul priced at 48,000won ($48).
Sadly, the half day tour doesn’t include a visit to the Joint Security Area (JSA) which is where I was on the other side last week which means my intended video of me waving to myself from one side to the other will never be.
Sigh, wasted footage of me just waving at a building…
I wasn’t able to book the full day tour that included the JSA visit as you had to book it 2 days in advance and I missed the boat on that one.
Oh well, still a visit to the DMZ…
I waffled on going on the morning or afternoon tour with the morning tour picking me up at my hostel at 7:10am and the other one picking me up at 10:40am.
7:10am just a little too early for me…
So, I was on my way at 10:40.
A driver came by and picked me up before stopping at a couple more hotels to pick up 5 more people.
On my tour today was a couple of Americans, a young, quiet Thai couple and a fellow Canadian from Calgary.
One of the Americans was here cheering on his daughter who was in a ski competition and the Calgarian actually was the uncle of one of the silver winning (or is it losing?) women’s hockey team.
After an hour of picking up people, we were finally on our way out of the city just before noon.
Unlike the North Korean side of the DMZ which is a long and bumpy 3 hour ride away, the South Korean side is just an hour out of Seoul.
Apart from the others, this was a unique tour for me as I had the unique perspective of someone who had seen it from the other side and had been so recently immersed in the North Korean propaganda machine.
While the visit from North Korea is all business and the only souvenir shop you see is one selling propaganda posters, the visit from this side is a complete 180.
Imjangek, the starting point where you catch full size shuttle buses with other visiting tourists, was a perfect example.
Not only are there restaurants, an art show and souvenir shops, but there is also an small amusement park.
I kid you not!
An amusement park complete with bumper cars and tilt a whirls.
When I found out we can 40 minutes of free time to explore the area I, of course, v-lined straight for the amusement park.
There were only a handful of kids there but I was gonna ride a ride cause, well, that’s just the kinda person I am.
Ask anyone who knows me…
“Todd rode on an amusement park ride at the DMZ, can you believe it?!?”
“Uh, yeah, I can totally believe that!”
Anyway, I plunked down my 4500won ($4.50) for my ticket and I went on the Music Express ride.
I was the only one on the ride but the ride operator was announcing things in Korean anyway.
He strapped me in and I was on my way (sorry about the gross gum chewing)…
I truly felt like a kid! Most I’ve smiled and laughed in quite a long time! In a word – it was awesome!
Okay, fun is out of the way!
Time to start this tour!
We all boarded a large bus with other tourists and made the ride over the bridge and into the DMZ.
After a quick checkpoint where the guard came on the bus and just basically quickly looked at passports not even looking inside, we were on to our first stop.
Now, I’m not quite sure why it’s been named the “Unification” tunnel other than the fact that it “connects” the North and the South albeit because of devious intentions.
The tunnel was the third of four tunnels built by North Korea and discovered by the South Koreans over the years.
The North Koreans had built them as far back as the 1960s with plans to invade from many fronts at the same time.
In fact, the tunnel we were in had the capability of moving 30,000 troops through per hour which is an astonishing amount when you think about it.
Before we descended into the tunnel we were sat down to watch a video about the South Korean perspective of the DMZ which, not shockingly, was different from the similar video I saw on the other side last week.
I’ll never forget the jingle ending the video – “for unification and until that day arrives, the DMZ will be alive forever!” as it was said triumphantly almost like a battle cry – very weird.
The tunnel itself is 1635m long with the majority of it on the North Korea side.
While it’s only 75m deep we actually had to go down a 350m slanted infiltration tunnel that connects the surface with the tunnel.
That was a long ass walk and even longer on the way back. They did, however, have elevator music playing while you walked which was, um, weird.
Once down below you quickly realize when you have to sport a shiny yellow helmet as even with bending over I still hit my head a few times on the short height of the tunnel.
By the way, this particular tunnel was only found out through intel from a North Korean defector who, obviously are very welcome here in the South.
Sure, they worry they may be a spy but once everything checks out they are actually given a free home for 5 years.
Welcome to South Korea!
Our chance to see North Korea!
Well, not really as it was still 4km away and sadly this would be the closest we would get to it today.
The Observatory has a line of viewscopes you can use to see to the other side.
Now for me who was actually over there a week ago I wasn’t really excited about the whole “See! There’s buildings over there in that village!”
Yeah, I was IN that village last week!
I bought a bottle of booze with a snake in it there!
Dorasan Train Station
At one time this station was part of the rail line that went from Seoul all the way up north to Pyongyong.
That time was the 1950s and now the station acts only as the terminus for visitors coming up to the DMZ from Seoul.
There is actually a direction sign reading “To Pyongyang” which obviously has only been placed there for touristic reasons as the sign didn’t look it was from the 1950s at all.
And sure enough, everyone was taking their photo with the sign.
And I just sat there and watched with a smug look on my face…
Hah! You can point. I’ve been there!
Yeah, I was definitely having a superiority complex today.
Whatever! I did it. I’m proud of it and I don’t mind telling the world about it!
One last stop in the DMZ.
Hey! More souvenirs!
Not like every single stop we went to also had a souvenir shop, but, what the hell, here’s another one!
Actually, sarcasm aside, I’m actually glad we stopped at this particular one because it had something I hadn’t seen yet – a couple of figurines of North and South Korea soldiers.
At 12,000won ($12) a pop, it wasn’t even that pricey.
Now, I just gotta figure out how I’m gonna get all these damn souvenirs home with me!
By 4pm we were on the road back to Seoul.
As the two Americans proceeded to get their drink on with a 6 pack of beer they picked up at the same souvenir shop, I decided to cat nap a little.
“Time to wake up!”
I awoke groggily only to find we actually weren’t back in town yet.
Nope, one last stop.
A tour of the Korean Ginseng Center.
We entered the building and we’re promptly given an thorough tour of everything to do with Ginseng.
As I had absolutely no interest in any of this I just kinda let everything glaze over me and just walked along with our little group waiting for it to end.
The tour ended, of course, in a gift shop where the store clerk now intricately described all the different versions of ginseng you can purchase starting at the low, low price of $130US for a 3 month supply!
Make. It. End.
Naturally, none of us bought anything and after 30 excruicating minutes it was finally over.
Get me home, already!
Soon after I was indeed on the subway back to my hostel.
For the rest of the night it was just some dinner and relaxing back at the hostel.
I have an early day tomorrow as one of the girls who works here at the hostel has put together a little group of people, myself included, to head out to Pyeongchang tomorrow to visit the Olympic city on its’ last day.
We leave at 8:30.
Time for my beauty sleep…