Up and out bright and early, today we were heading the the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). People are not allowed to visit the DMZ unaccompanied since it is still considered an active war zone so we opted for a tour with Viator which included an early morning hotel pickup.
The 35 mile journey took about an hour and a half with a few other hotel stops. While there are visitors at every turn, there are frequent reminders that the DMZ is in fact a well monitored war zone.
This scene at Imjingak is probably one of the most well photographed and most poignant scenes at the DMZ. This brightly colored ribbons contain prayers for peace and for families separated by the DMZ.
Mangbaedan Memorial Alter is a location where defected North Koreans come to perform ancestral rites by bowing toward their home country every New Years Day and Chuseok. Chuseok is a major Korean festival.
Kijong-dong is said to be a propaganda village because South Koreans say it has tall buildings without elevators, lights that cycle on and off at set times and no people walking the streets. Kaesong was the site of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint South and North Korean project that was conceived of as a way to bring the two Korea’s together. When tensions started to rise again, the complex was closed in 2016.
No trip to the DMZ is complete without experiencing two things, the Dora observatory and The Third Tunnel at the Dorasan observatory. This observation deck at the Dora observatory allows you to literally look into the North Korean town of Kijong-dong, which is said to be little more than a Propaganda Village, and the city of Kaesong on a clear day.
Like I said, the DMZ is an active war zone and there are South Korean soldiers at every turn.
This was a graduating class from Army Officer Candidate School. All South Korean men are required to give 21-24 months of military service, with the time commitment dependent upon the branch of service. Men serving in the Army and Marines serve 21 months, those in the Navy serve 23 months and those in the Air Force serve 24 month. Women are not required to serve but they can enlist voluntarily if they desire.
After more than 67 years of war, we can all hope that one day the two Koreas will in fact be reunited.
Okay, I had to throw of proof of life pic in there. We were really here.
Dorsan Station, the last stop on a train line that used to connect North Korea and South Korea, was our next stop. For some time during the operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, trains operated on this line between South and North Korea until North Korea closed the link in 2008.
These days there is a single DMZ tour train that utilizes the station, linking central Seoul with the Dorsan station.
Maybe one day we will all be able to actually hop on a train to Pyongyang from this station.
Remember when I said that no trip to the DMZ is complete without a visit to the so called Third Tunnel of Aggression? Well, this is The Third Tunnel of Aggression. Since 1974 the government of South Korea has discovered four tunnels that the North Korean’s dug under the DMZ to reach South Korea undetected. As you might have guessed from the name, The Third Tunnel was the third of the four tunnels that the government of South Korea discovered.
Unfortunately no cameras, phones or recording devices of any type are allowed in The Third Infiltration Tunnel. But take my word for it, the tunnels are not recommended for the claustrophobic and the trip down and especially back up is not recommended for folks with heart problems or poor stamina.
I really wanted to try to get my phone into that tunnel, after all these guys weren’t going to tell. But with multiple warnings to leave all devices in the lockers provided at the point before you enter, the metal detectors and the fact that this is still an active war zone and I thought better of that desire.
I don’t know who captured these pics but here you can see just how tight the tunnel is.
And anyone over five feet tall will have to spend most of his or her time ducking to avoid massive head trauma. On my first visit to the tunnel a few years ago I wondered why they gave everyone a helmet upon entry. Hearing the sounds of helmets colliding with the ceiling every few seconds and the reason quickly became clear.
And this is why I say the trip down and more specifically up is not for the faint of heart. This is not a camera trick, this is how steep and long the ramp is.
The Third Infiltration Tunnel was a great and sweaty way to end out day at the DMZ and we all jumped on the bus and headed back to central Seoul.
Day 2-Exploring Seoul’s K-Pop Culture:
Even if you don’t know K-Pop, and by the way I don’t know K-Pop, you have to know Gangnam Style. That catchy if not irritating 2012 song by South Korea’s Psy.
So, what better place to start our K-Pop adventure than the Gangnam district of Seoul and the Gangnam information center?
Visitors have the option of either bussing it or walking it. We choose the later.
This sign outside of the visitors center sported the names of some of K-Pop’s biggest names. Here you can see my daughter who insisted on wearing these boots despite our walking plans for day. She acknowledged that they were impractical but she just had to look the part for the stroll down K-Pop Star Road. Spoiler alert, the boots came off about halfway through the day.
Gangnam is where the so called K-Pop Star Road starts. K-Pop Star Road is known for it’s themed bears which sport the names and logos of the most famous K-Pop bands. This is the BTS bear.
Gangnam is one of Seoul’s most trendy and up and coming neighborhoods.
So, we hit K-Pop Star Road which if nothing else was quite brightly colored.
There was no mistaking what road you were on or neighborhood you were in with all kinds of brightly colored reminders including these signs and….
roads with their eye catching marker paths.
There were bears a plenty along K-Pop Star Road as you can see looking down the street.
We made a quick stop for a bite to eat at SUM Cafe.
SUM cafe is located in the SM Entertainment building. SM Entertainment is one of South Korea’s largest entertainment companies, operating a record label, talent agency, music production company, event management and concert production company, and music publishing house.
Having walked the full length of K-Pop Star Road, it was now time to head over to the bustling Namdaemun outdoor market.
Stylenanda was out first stop in Namdaemun. Now I’m not a huge fan of shopping and I’m definitely not a huge fan of stores frequented by tween and teen girls but this store was actually kind of interesting. First off, the building is an eye catching pink on the outside but the inside is modeled after a hotel.
Each floor has a different hotel theme, this floor is modeled after the hotel laundry and…
dry cleaner. All display clothing was for sale.
This floor was modeled after a hotel entry level and checkin desk.
While this floor was designed to look like a hallway full of guest rooms.
And what hotel would be complete without a bed? If you sleep in this bed you better not toss or turn!
Back out on the streets of the market there were food vendors everywhere and while I don’t do street food, especially abroad,…
some of it actually looked pretty good.
Okay, I’m also not a fan of inside food when it takes place in a Cat Cafe. Who the heck thought it would be a good idea to have a cafe where diners are surrounded by scores of cats. Nothing say appetizing like the smells of cat spray and dirty litter boxes!
The weather was great and the shopping was good but soon the crowds were getting thicker and….
it was time for us to take our leave.
I have to ask you guys, do these mannequins look a bit asymmetric or is it just me?
As we made our way through the packed streets of Seoul back to our hotel I marveled at this capitol city of more than 10,000,000 and the country as a whole. South Korea is country that while technically still at war has moved effortlessly into the new millinieum and it’s capital city Seoul is a bustling metropolis that really has something for everyone. We had an action packed 72 hours in Seoul but it was now time to head back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep and get ready for the main event, the flight home. Tomorrow we would actually be doing what we came for, saying farewell to The Queen of the Skies.