Internationally-acclaimed ‘Guzzler International Travels’ (GIT) rolled into South Korea last week. A country still technically at war with its northern neighbour, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I was keen to explore and find out more. First stop on day 1, the DMZ:
The Demilitarized Zone is the region on the Korean peninsula that separates North Korea from South Korea. It incorporates territory on both sides of the cease-fire line and is roughly 4km wide. Access into the zone is heavily regulated. The first stop we made was at the Freedom Bridge:
Next we headed to the Third Tunnel where we descended deep underground with dozens of newly recruited South Korean soldiers starting their 21 month compulsory national service:
The view into North Korea from the Dora Observatory. Music blared from a “fake” settlement just over the border:
By now the new recruits were seemingly following us around, enjoying their own DMZ tour and posing for photos and selfies!
The final scheduled stop was Dorasan Station, a beautifully modern station inside the DMZ, that basically is the end of the line. The hope is that, one day, it’ll be the gateway through a reunited Korea and an artery into China and beyond. That day currently seems a long way off:
We did however made a final stop on the tour on the route back into Seoul. We visited a Ginseng vendor selling all sorts of remedial products in various forms: powders, pastes that looked like Marmite, as well as the plants and roots themselves. I think I’m too used to commercial-crazy Japan and was disappointed to find they didn’t sell Ginseng-flavoured KitKats!
The DMZ is supposedly one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Two sides ready for war, with army checkpoints galore and heavily restricted access. It was a surreal experience and it’s mad to think this is actually a tourist hot spot. It was eerily quiet there, apart from the music being blared over the border. It almost had a film set quality to it, where you had the impression that there was (or had been) a significant cast ready to appear at the drop of a hat; a feeling that a frenzy of activity was not a million miles away despite the calmness. A unique experience and one I’d highly recommend.
Like Asian neighbours Tokyo and Shanghai, night represents a neon frenzy as Seoul’s uber-vibrant lights fill every vacant space around you:
The streets can be spectacular to walk down, and the lights almost put close rival Tokyo to shame! The smells from the markets were incredible and everything looked so fresh. The Korean BBQ we had…mmmmmm nom nom nom!
A quirky little place we found is a place called Common Ground. (There you go….I’m a poet yet I didn’t know it!). Common Ground consists of many shipping containers stacked and renovated into a cool indie boutique, brimming with shops, bars restaurants and the like:
There are several Hanok villages inside central Seoul. These consist of the old style traditional Korean housing and make for a great place to wander during the day:
Hanyangdoseong (try deciphering that one with a “Speak Out” mouthpiece in!) is the city wall that surrounds inner Seoul. You can walk about 12km of it nowadays. Sounds easy right, but it goes up and over Seoul’s four inner city mountains. The 4km stretch we covered required a concerted effort and we had to stringently ration our meer 500ml of water! We mainly covered the Baegak Trail – the highest mountain part of the route. A North Korean Special Forces unit infiltrated Seoul here in 1968, so public access to this area is watched heavily. There are manned check points every 100m or so and they’re pretty strict on photos being taken in a certain direction overlooking governmental buildings and palaces (I was told off once and I didn’t try again!). As the photos show, this is definitely not a tourist hotspot, so it’s a great place to go if you like to avoid the crowds and like a good old yomp:
The pine tree above with the red and white markers painted on it bears the traces of about fifteen bullets made during the 1968 gun battle between the South Korean military and the North Korean Special Forces unit.
Markets in Asia are always an amazing place to visit and give an up-close insight into the local cuisines. They also contain lorry loads of tat! You can eat here for next to nothing, yet the food is freshly made from the incredibly wide array of ingredients on offer that day:
Avid Guzzler viewers (both of them) will know by now that I like a bloody big building or two. So, I was pretty disappointed (understatement) to discover on our final day about the newly built Lotte World Tower, a 555m tall super-scraper and the 5th tallest on the planet. Thus, we made do with N Seoul Tower right in the heart of central Seoul. The views from the observation decks were stunning despite the haze (and you can see below the view you have from the heated toilet thrown!):
Which Asian city worth its salt would be complete without a plethora of palaces, temples and cathedrals? Thankfully, Seoul has them in abundance! And despite being slightly templed and palaced out in the last year or so, we couldn’t resist a little wander around Seoul’s offerings:
And that was it: our time in Seoul was up. 4 days and nights isn’t nearly enough to fit everything in. However, it gave us a massive flavour of life in Seoul and left us craving more. I think we’ll be back in Seoul again soon…