I have been to Seoul quite a few times since I've been here. It's extremely easy to get to Seoul from Jecheon by train or bus, and really cheap as well (like $18-25 roundtrip!). Getting to Seoul takes a little under two hours from Jecheon, and the route there is quite scenic so it makes for a relaxing ride. It also helps that I have a friend who lives and teaches English in Seoul that lets me crash at her apartment whenever I need to! Her name is Megan, she's from Ohio, and we happened to be roommates during orientation.
My first trip to Seoul was during Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving. I had a 5-day holiday, and Megan and I spent it doing all the typical touristy things in Seoul. Some of the sites we saw included:
- Seoul/Namsan Tower (it resembles the Seattle Space Needle),
- Insadong (the most traditional Korean street market in Seoul),
- a trick-eye and ice museum,
- Seoul Land (an amusement park, and those that know me well know that I never say no to a roller coaster!),
- Banpo Bridge (it has fountain and lights show each night),
- tandem bike riding along the Han River
|Insadong: man making rice cakes|
|Banpo Bridge light/fountain show|
|tandem bike riding along the Han River|
|Seoul Land amusement park|
|At the top of Seoul Tower looking out towards Missouri!|
It was a holiday packed full of exploring Seoul, Korea's largest city and home to 10 million people.
One weekend in October, I went with three friends to tour the Koream DMZ, or demilitarized zone. This is better known as the border of North and South Korea, and is the most heavily armed border in the world. Both Korean and American troops guard the border of S. Korea. Before you freak out (or you might've already..), if it wasn't safe to tour, then the military would obviously not be giving tours in the first place. To get to the border, we had to take an hour long bus ride from Seoul to Camp Barnafas military base. Once on the base, we were shown a short powerpoint and video regarding the long and uneasy history between North Korea and South Korea. Then, our tour group was escorted by a soldier to the building where North and South Korea meet to discuss relations. Technically, one half of the building is N. Korean territory and one half is S. Korean territory. There are always two guards inside the building that do not move (they reminded me of the Buckingham Palace guards). Outside of the that building, the group was heavily monitored and we were told that we could not make any sudden movements, such as raising our hands, because it could be seen as propaganda towards N. Korea. Directly in front of us was a N. Korean building with a N. Korean guard that kept looking at us through his binoculars.
We then took a bus ride to another point of the DMZ to walk through one the tunnels that N. Korea had dug to surprise attack S. Korea in the 1970s. The tunnel was very narrow and short, and I had to duck my head several times while walking through it. After the tunnel, we were again escorted to a look-out point where we could see into N. Korea. When looking over into N. Korea, one the first things you notice is that all the mountains are completely bare. No trees, bushes, or grass in sight. I was also able to get a glimpse of Propaganda Village. Propaganda Village is a town built by N. Korea in the 1950s to lure/trick S. Koreans into defecting into N. Korea. It is made up of schools, apartment buildings, restaurants and other buildings common to a regular town; but, Propaganda Village has never been inhabited, instead, the buildings sit empty. It was used to make S. Koreans believe that they could have a good life in N. Korea.
Also on the DMZ tour, my group went to Dorasan Station. Dorasan Station was set up as a railway system to connect South Korea with North Korea. Dorasan Station was built at a time when both countries were getting along, but before the station could officially open and start running, the countries fell back into their tension-filled relationship. Dorasan Station sits empty, except for the tours that come through.
|The room where North and South Korean officials meet to discuss affairs. The left side is the S. Korean side.|
|The gray building directly in front is N. Korean territory, and a N. Korean soldier was watching our group from his binoculars. The blue building on the left is the outside of the meeting room.|
|The best view of N. Korea that I was able to get. Picture-taking was really restricted. The buildings in the distance make up Propaganda Village.|