Tag Archives: south korea

The DMZ : A trip to North Korea

15th January 2015

One of the first things you get asked when you mention you live in Korea is ‘North or South?’.

Luckily and like 99.9999% of the people who head to Korea I do live in the South but the North is a beautiful and scary mystery. The rest of the world is terrified by this small unpredictable land. While living here it can sometimes feel like Korea ignores it like an annoying younger sibling that wants to play in their room. During the scares and threats from the North last year it was only parents and families back home that even alerted most teachers to there being a problem. When I asked my co-workers opinions on their neighbor’s threats I was met with blank stares…“It’s just North Korea, they just want food and then they will be quiet for a while”. It was an interesting opinion and not one I think we have in the West.
All this being said, I knew at some point during my stay in Korea I would have to pay a visit to the scary area that is named the DMZ (De Militarised Zone) . Last year when a few of my friends wanted to go we jumped on board.
We headed up to Seoul on the KTX after school, Soju and Beer in hand. Ready for a well needed week of celebration in Seoul before they departed Korea with the added bonus of visiting the DMZ. We arrived at our pleasant enough hostel and decided to get a ‘quiet’ dinner.

Eight hours later, two bars, six buckets and a night club later we were running around the hotel desperately trying to wake ourselves up enough to catch our bus to the DMZ.

We rallied and caught our bus that took us up North.

When we arrived at Panmunjom (the area of the demilitarized zone that brings the guards face to face with each other 24 hours a day) the snow was falling and the area seemed as grim as its past. It was at this moment we all felt horribly guilty for being so blase about this trip. I think as travelers who are use to seeing tourist sights we had allowed ourselves to forget where exactly we were and the gravity of the situation we were walking into.
The American army guards gave us a fantastic tour but it was eerie. I have never been in an area with so much tension. This was a tour but at the same time we were warned that North Korea was taking our pictures to use as propaganda. We could see camera lens poking out behind curtains. We were warned that if they were to give us the finger or try to spit on us that there was nothing we could do. If you approached a guard to closely they would punch you. Even the South Korean ones. They were taking no chances.
The blue buildings you see in the picture below are the mid way points between two sides. All meetings take place here between the two countries. Many decisions have been made in these very rooms. To be stood in a room that has seen so many conversations deciding the fate of millions of lives left me with a really sense of the weight these countries are under. It upset me to think that I live in a country with such a delicate and painful past.
As well as  Panmunjom we were also taken to the location of the 1976 axe murders. This was an incident cause by cutting down a tree. The tree was cutting off all visibility for the only South Korean viewing station. North Korea delayed the confirmed time because of rain but a small team of South Korean and American unarmed guards went to cut the tree down. The N.Koreans watched for 15 minutes without incident but suddenly the North Koreans attacked with over 20 men all carrying crossbows and clubs. The North Koreans got hold of the axes held by the two South Korean and American guard and attacked them. There are horrible photos of the incident in which the guards were brutally murdered.
There is also a photo of another guard Capt. Bonifas who was bludgeoned to death by 5 North Korean guards.
I realise this isn’t a nice story but it shocked me to the core to see the photos and realise that the area we were in was so volatile.
There are many other stories I could tell you but it was all pointing to the forgiveness shown by the South Koreans. Tunnels built by North Korea for miles into areas beyond the DMZ created purely to attack South Korea  which created no reperpussions from South Korea or America,  as well as endless rants and abuse hurled daily from the North Korean guards to the South Korean men.  I would like to think that the UK or America could be as forgiving in the same situations but it’s hard to believe. Ovbiously we only saw a very one sided version of events being on the South Korean side so please don’t take this as fact but it was strange to see.
There is break through, such as the completely deserted and fully built train station to North Korea at the DMZ that is fully functional but full of nothing. It’s incredible to think that one day there will be a link to these two countries via this train.
Being a tourist area as well as the historical sight there was also a shop that let us stock up on North Korean memorabilia. We left with some North Korean Brandy that we aren’t planning on drinking. It will be a weird memento of our time in this country.
It was a fantastic and haunting trip but I’m really glad I did it. I’ve been trying to decide recently whether to visit the killing fields in Cambodia when we visit or the prisoner of war camps in Vietnam. Remembering this trip makes me think it is definitely something we need to do.   I think that sometimes its a way of honoring the country you are in. Showing that little bit of respect and a way to show you do care about the places you are visiting. Obviously the DMZ is very different since it is a working and active area but I think it is still the same as other historic areas in the way that it helped to form the country you are in and deserves tourists to take a second to respect the country they want to be a part of.
I do regret how blase we were before we arrived but this sobering and somber place really hit home.

The one piece of advice I would give to anyone heading on this trip is:

If you are tall then be wary of the tunnels. These tunnels were secretly created by using dynamite. Their purpose was to attack the South Koreans. They are quiet errie when you are walking in them since you understand their purpose but on a practical level….they are small. Watching Lee and our friend, who are extremely tall men, crawl their way through it while shorter Koreans laughed at them was quite funny.Especially when groups of tourists would stop just to point and laugh at their predicement. I had to duck and i’m only 5 foot 5 so you can imagine how a 6 foot 3 man and our even taller friend fared. The comedy was short lived when we all had to walk up the steep 362km hill to get out of the tunnel….my poor legs.
It was a gratifying and interesting trip that expanded my knowledge of a country I like to call home. I once again want to mention that we are in no way experts or even consider ourselves vaguely proficient on the subject of the DMZ but we wanted to share our experience with your all for anyone else thinking of visiting this site.
 Hopefully there can be some peace between the two countries some day but it does seem a very long way away when you are stood at Panmunjom.
Have you been to the  DMZ? What did you think? Would you like to go if you haven’t been or have you been to any other sad locations considered tourist spots? We look forward to hearing from you.

2014 Our Favourite Bits

27th December 2014

Some how when we weren’t looking, the year dissapeared. We have almost been in Korea for two years and sometimes if feels like meer hours. As 2014 gets ready to hang up it’s hat it’s the perfect time to reflect on what a fantastic year it’s been.

There have been many things that I’d love to include but we’ve narrowed it down to some of the top moments from the past year.

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  1. Dumplings in Shanghai

In August this year we went to China. Our first stop was Beijing where we ate our weight in duck and noodles. We thought it couldn’t get better than Beijing, but then we went to Shanghai. If Beijing is the traditional brother then Shanghai is the kooky nephew. In Shanghai the first things we noticed before we checked in was the fantastic smell coming from a small hut next to our hotel. This little booth contained a very hard working woman. She made dough in the morning and filling in the night. She was our dumpling supplier for the rest of the holiday and by jove were they delicious. At 30p a pop we easily lived on them for the entire holiday. You will notice a theme with this list…food will be featured heavily.

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  1. Being in North Korea

When we decided to move to Korea we knew that we wanted to visit this almost mythical mysterious place. The DMZ is the dividing line between North and South Korea and you can visit it on a tour, run by the American Army. I don’t know what I was expecting before I got there but this place utterly shocked me. It was a very jaring and humbling experience and I think there is definitley something to be said for understanding the country you are living in and the hardships it has and is facing. The day we went it was cold, grey and snowy which only added to the somber atmosphere. There isn’t anything I’ve experience as terrifying as coming face to face with a North Korean soilder. Stepping over that dividing line, even for 5 minutes isn’t something I ever thought I’d do but I’m very glad I did.

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  1. Visiting my brother in Scotland

I’ve only ever been to Scotland twice in my life and both have occurred over the last two years. This seems shocking to me now that I live in Asia and travel far and wide. Our home of Wales and Scotland are stupidly close. What’s even more shocking is that up until January this year Lee hadn’t been at all. Luckily My brother is living in Edinburgh so when we traveled home in January we decided to pop up there and celebrate his recent engagement to his beautiful fiance. Edinburgh is one of those cities that just blows me away. The history, architecture, people and food are the best around. Sitting in a resturant eating haggis, drinking hot toddys and laughing with my brother has been one of the best parts of this year.

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  1. The Nightmarkets of Taipei

Taiwan just blew us away. It you sit still for two seconds any where near me I will tell you how Taiwan is just the best place I’ve ever been. One of the lovely things about Taipei was the amazing night markets. The crazy amounts of delicious food, fresh fruit juices, fun games and lovely people are what makes Taipei feel like the perfect mix between traditional China and kooky Japan. I still dream about the cheese sticks and lime juice there. This overlooked city is waiting to be discovered by the masses so get there quick.

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  1. Taroko Gorge , Hualian Taiwan

There are some places you visit that even photos can do justice. This is one of those places. The towering pillars of marble, the clay filled rivers and the bluest seas I’ve ever seen. We were in awe the entire time. We even managed to see a wild monkey which is a first, although I hear when we visit Indonesia next year we will be sick of the little blighters. Everyone should go and you should go now.

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  1. Conquering the Great Wall of China

We did it! It was tough, it was the hottest day of the year and we went to the wrong part of the wall so had to do it twice. It was a big thing to cross off the bucket list and I was so happy to share this moment with Lee since we’ve talked about it for a long time. If you are going to visit, take about twenty bottles of water and a camera to take a million photos.

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  1. Holi Hai in Busan

Hoil Hai is the Indian festival of colour but it is also a big deal in Busan , Korea. When I first heard about it last year we had just missed it so I was stupidly excited to experience it this year. It also happened to fall on the same weekend as Saint Patrick’s day which meant it would have been rude to not celebrate with our Irish friends. We spent the weekend covered in green shamrocks and powder paint. It’s made us move a trip to India up the bucket list because if Busan was fantastic I can only imagine how great the real thing is.

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  1. My Best Friends Wedding

In April this year I had the privilage of being part of my best friends wedding. She has been my friend since I was fifteen and it was an honor to be her bridesmaid. It was the first international flight I’ve taken on my own and it was so bizzare to travel the world on my own. I was only in the UK for four days but it was completely worth it. It also helped that the wedding was on my mum’s birthday so she, my sister and my brother were all there. Traveling the world for a dance party like no other was very worth it. Plus Wales is just beautiful. Any excuse to see these sunsets is worth a twelve hour flight.

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  1. Dancing the night away in Shanghai

When we heard that there was an all you can drink nightclub in Shanghai, situated in a building that is a cross between a Victorian manor house and a eighties music video. To set the scene for you there was a see through grand piano in the bathroom and a stone statue of king Arthur wearing an afro. We danced and laughed all night, that combined with being chatted up by some very beautiful escorts made it a crazy night. Thank you China for the ego boost and good time. There isn’t many things in life I love as much as dancing but dancing with my Lee is one of them.

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  1. Lee’s family learn to Noreabang

I’ve known Lee’s family for as long as I can remember. When they decided to come and visit us in Korea we were over the moon. We took them for Korean bbq, we laughed over Makgolli and showed them the beautiful temples but the memory of us all ina norebang singing our hearts out at three a.m not because we were drunk but just because we were having so much fun we didn’t want to go home. They are my heros and there is nothing better than sharing Korea with people when they come to visit since it makes us fall in love with the place all over again.

 

Well that is just some of the great moments from our year. 2015 is shaping up to be a BIG year. My new diary is embarresingly already filled with flight details and hotel names as we get ready to leave Korea for good. We are reved up and ready to set off on our four month trip around Asia before finding a new home in Australia. There are terrifying yet exciting times ahead.

I hope you have all had a fantastic year and we thank you for also joining us on the new adventrue of starting this blog. It’s only been up and running for a few months but the response has been incredible. I hope we can get to know you all a bit better as well as share more of our adventures.

Happy New Year everybody.

 

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