Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Crossing the border...almost

The last two days of the trip were probably my favorite because we finally got to see what we came all that way to. First, the DMZ (the area that separates North and South Korea) and second, Seoraksan National Park. To make our way up north we headed up on highway 7 which takes you all along the east coast. The further north you head, the more barricades and barbed wire you see along the waterfront. You can also watch as the water gets clearer, the waves larger, and the beaches more pristine towards the end of the road. We were told that one of the reasons for the barbed wire fences was to stop the North from sneaking in and stealing people from the South. Apparently this was most common in the 1970's, even after the armistice was signed in 1953, but still happened in the 2000's.
We stopped by the Goseong Unification Observatory which unfortunately has no tours like the west-coast observatory but it was definitely still worth the trip. If you go, make sure to stop by the Daejin Education Centre to grab a ticket (about 5,000w or $4.50). Otherwise the nice MP's at the border will make you turn right back around. If you're not driving, you can also catch a shuttle bus from the Education Centre for an extra 2,000w.

This is a view of the South from the observatory. It was the best beach we had seen the entire trip...too bad this one was definitely off limits.

View into the North. If you squint, you can see a rectangular building on top of the mountain on the left which is the North's observatory into the South.

Everyone waiting their turn to get behind the binoculars. I couldn't help but think how bizarre it felt to see so many people trying to peak into the other side, knowing that the other side is doing the same to us. It also made me think about how fortunate and blessed I am to have been born into the country and family that I was. Seldom do we realize how different life would be if we were simply born in a different country. In the case of the North and South, it was often a matter of who your older family members chose to side with.

They had statues from each religion facing the North. I didn't even realize the symbolism until later on when a friend pointed it out. I loved how this action showed that they still have so much compassion towards the North's people and their possibly their separated family members.

One of the very friendly MP's. I couldn't get over just how young these guys were. All Korean men are required to serve in the military for at least two years. Most serve soon after they get out of high school but some are a little later. But for the most part, all the soldiers that we saw were under the age of 24.

rok soldier

The next and final stop was Seoraksan National Park. This is what we originally made the trip for and I'm so glad we did. It's one of the most beautiful places that I've seen in Korea. The only thing that surprised me was how commercialized it was. I've never been to a large national park back in the states but I never thought that there would be so many restaurants, souvenir shops and snack stands, even along the hike. I also never thought that I would see so many people hiking up mountains in dress shoes, but living in Korea, that one was a little less surprising.

We took the cable car to the top. This was a popular choice and if you don't go early in the morning, you can spend hours waiting in line for a ticket. We got some early advice from some travelers the day before so we got in line at 9 and only had to wait 20 minutes for our ride. They give you a scheduled departure but when coming back down, you simply wait in line for your turn. The round trip fare was 9,000w ($8.00) and the views from the top were spectacular.

The view from the top.

This was the beginning of the hike up to Heundeul Bawi and Ulsan Bawi. We thought that we might do another hike after finishing this one but after we finished, we could hardly make it back to the car with our jello-like legs.

This huge rock was called Heundeul Bawi. It was a 16 ton boulder that could supposably be rocked back and forth with the help of enough people.

There was even a temple carved out of the rock.

This was the start of the hike up to Ulsan Bawi. The sign said 808 stairs and silly me, I thought that the 500 steps leading up to this spot  just had to be part of the 808 that they were referring to. Wrong. See why we only did this one hike?

Looking back down.

I'm happy because we hadn't started yet and I had no idea what was to come.

Some of the 'steps'.

We finally made it to the top! If I could go back and do it again, would I? Yes. Would I do it a second time? I would have to be bribed.

Ulsan BawiUlsan BawiUlsan BawiUlsan Bawi

Overall, we had an amazing trip. We were able to see things that we had hoped too since arriving in Korea and even see some that weren't planned. If you're in Korea and have even a four day weekend, I would definitely recommend it.