Published: January 17th 2007August 11th 2006
colourful little guys
Insa-dong shopping street
Originally I had planned to visit Vietnam this week, however because of difficulties with getting a Visa (meaning, my travel agent just didn't get one) I found myself with a week of no job, no house and no committments. I decided to head to South Korea.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip. I noticed some similiarities between South Korea and Japan.....mostly in touristy desintations. It could have been the overwhelming numbers of Japanese tourists that did it for me. After hitting up a few palaces and museums, I took to the streets to find the "everyday" Seoul.
I had intended to take the ferry from Japan to Pusan....although it would have been really cool, and I hope to do it someday, it really cost the same as flying and took way longer. I chose the easy route of flying from Hiroshima to Seoul, which gave me two extra days to explore. My first day I felt like I was walking in circles forever..or maybe I was?...looking for the hostel. In extremely humid Asia, one minute in the sun feels like 20....this did not help the situation. Eventually I made it, dropped my bag on my bunkbed and started to walk.
Insa-dong shopping street
Usually I am one to have a general idea of what I want to see on a trip before
I get to my destination. I went almost completely blind to Seoul! I first conveniently stumbled upon Insadong
, a neighbourhood of galleries, shops and restaurants. I was interviewed by some high school girls about my impressions of Seoul, and they gave me home made desserts has a thank you. I found this great tucked away restaurant where I had my first taste of kimchi pizza. It was delicious
For my first full day, I chose to take a tour to the Demilitarized Zone
between South and North Korea. This is the real reason why I wanted to visit Seoul in the first place....and I'm happy to say that it was fantastic. Disturbing at times...but truly fascinating. The day started with a 50km bus trip north of Seoul. We had to sign a contract stating: "The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action
. At this point, I began to second guess my decision to take this trip....
marched around like soldiers for the day, and had to follow extreme rules. We passed through three check-points before entering the Joint Security Area
, where there is a conference building directly on top of the border. Panmunjeom
is where the armistice was signed in 1953. Now it's the only place where North and South Koreans can come in contact on a daily basis in efforts to make peace. We had to wait about half an hour in the sun to get into this building. There was a group of North Korean tourists inside, and we were not allowed to enter until they had all left the building. When we visited a look-out tower we were instructed never to point a finger over to North Korea, otherwise we might be shot at. What I truly found amazing was how perfectly still and at attention each of the guards appeared to be.....I mean, it was 100 degrees out and they were standing fully flex and ready for hours in the sun! Some of them didn't even look real! It was a fascinating day that I'll never forget.
The rest of my trip included a visit to some art museums and local
this was my favourite ad that i saw plastered throughout many alleyways
palaces and gardens (there are a ton!). One afternoon I longed to be a kid, because I wanted to join the locals running through a fountain downtown to kick the heat! I came across many markets, selling souvenirs, antiques, old clothes, junk, and some questionable food! The found the War Museum
to be extremely interesting and interactive. The shopping was ideal, although I had to watch myself becuase I had no room to pack anything more!
I walked a lot, met some interesting locals and other travelers, enjoyed street food and beer that comes in 2 litre plastic bottles (with a screw cap!), and generally had a great time!
There are more photos below