Sunday, January 28, 2018

Vietnam via Korea

Our trip starts with three nights in Seoul, South Korea, which is not a lot of time, but it does break up the long flights and allows us to start to explore this neat city. The city streets are very full and at night reminded us of Bladerunner. There was also a weird sound we heard from our airbnb that sounded like a whale being assaulted - we never did figure out the source. Our first day we spent wandering the streets as we usually do when in a new place. We enjoyed the Insa-Dong Art Street area, full of art and antique shops along winding alleys.

We decided we wanted to go to the DMZ - Demilitarized Zone, specifically the JSA - Joint Security Area, between South and North Korea. The JSA is the area of the DMZ where you can see both South and North Korean soldiers standing on opposite sides. As well there is a building where you can technically stand in North Korea. This takes advance booking and requires that color copies of your passport be submitted and you must attend as part of a tour. (For more information on tours see: We were set to go, but then South and North Korea booked Olympic talks for the exact same day and the JSA portion was cancelled. There had also been recent defections of North Korean soldiers and we watched a fascinating, and heart breaking news story about the efforts of the South Korean hospital, that resulted in saving the defector that was shot. You can read more about this case here;

So we couldn’t go the the JSA area but we went to another portion of the DMZ on a small tour bus. 
The guide thought J was Ryan Reynolds so that was pretty fun. Unfortunately I was sick so I had to wear a mask on the bus. It’s a common cultural phenomenon in Korea to wear a mask when sick or as prevention. At least I found a nice one in black that I can use again in case of some sort of outbreak at home. Speaking of outbreaks, I was so impressed with the comprehensive emergency supplies in the metro stations; gas masks, blankets, water, flashlights, etc, sadly in place in case of attack. But I digress... at the DMZ we went to four locations; Imjingak Park, 3rd Infiltration tunnel, the Dora Observatory and Dorasan Station. 

The first stop, Imjingak Park, does not require visitors to go through any security check points so it tends to be more accessible and popular with tourists. “Imjingak Resort, located 7 km from the Military Demarcation Line, is now at the forefront of tourism related to the Korean War. Imjingak was built in 1972 with the hope that someday unification would be possible. The three-storied Imjingak is surrounded by several monuments, Unification Park and North Korea Center.” (Source: This area had a powerful display of ribbons and messages attached to the barbed wire fence as well as the The Stone of Peace Wall sculpture. From the plaque on site; “This sculpture is made from stones collected from battlefields all over the world that have witnessed the suffering and grief of war. It is my sincere wish that the bringing together of these stones collected from 86 battlefields in 64 different countries will be a stepping stone for the reconciliation of the Korean People and mark the beginning of a century of peace and harmony for all mankind.” - Li, Chan-Yeul, Governor of Kyonggi Province (January 1, 2000). 

The 3rd Infilitration Tunnel was an attempt from North Korea to invade South Korea, although North Korea says it was for mining. At the site you descend a very steep, very long walk way under ground to get to a section of the original tunnel. I wanted to take a picture of this, as it was like the pitch of a slide, but photos are not allowed - trust me it was steep. I am not a big fan of steep hikes, being deep under ground, or small spaces, and the constant smashing of my hard hat clad head on the tunnel ceiling did not make me a bigger fan. However, it was very interesting to learn about! Once we hiked out of the depths we watched an informative documentary on the DMZ and the conflict. It was particularly interesting to learn how the wild animals thrive in this area with out human abuse and interference. 

The next stop was the Dora Observatory where you can use the binoculars to peek into North Korea. Although we were quite far we were still able to see buildings. We also went to he Dorasan train station, a station set up in hopes of future South and North reunification. It is the end station of the Gyeongui Line. The station is essentially empty except for tourists, waiting one day to be filled with North and South Koreans freely passing through.

The cancellation of the JSA portion left us with a free afternoon which we used to explore the excellent modern art museum; Arario Museum. In our short trip we found great vegan food using our favorite travel app Happy Cow Veg Directory. To our delight there was an all vegan bakery The Bread Blue with terrific panne au chocolate! Our favorite dining spot was a wee cafe, DalYang - Sweet Kitten, a bit out of the way but accessible by metro, and has amazing burgers. The sweet staff person was concerned for our us finding food for the flight the next morning so she insisted we take two free muffins. A nice way to end a visit! 

You can see photos of the trip and food at

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