October 22, 2016
I visited the DMZ and Seorak Mountain National Park with a tour company called Enjoy Korea. The bus ride from Daegu took about 5 hours. During our road trip our tour guide let us vote on a movie to watch. We ended up watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I will now quote my favorite line from that movie: “Oh, the weather outside is weather.”
Anyway, moving on…
After we stopped for lunch, we went to Dutyaeon. It is a place just beyond the Civilian Control Line, and has only been open to visitors since the year 2006. Here’s a quote about it from our tour information packet: “There is a beautiful waterfall and pond, a suspension bridge hanging over the stream, a tank and missile display, a landmine interaction site, and just the general beauty to take in. You are free to walk around the area yourself, exploring as you go, but it is very important to not stray off the marked paths, as some areas have potentially not been fully cleared of landmines.”
Next we visited the War Memorial Museum in Yanggu, which was also a rest stop. There are exhibition halls with remnants of the Korean War on display, such as helmets and amunition shells.
Then we went to the Eulji Observatory. When you get off the bus, the only thing separating you from North Korea is a tall black fence. Well, that and the armed soldiars.
Our tour guide explained the photography is strictly prohibited. But several people still tried to sneak their phones under the fence to take pictures. The soldiars caught all of them of course.
Photography is also prohibited inside the observation room, but there’s a big window through which you can look into North Korea. All you can see are mountains, but still…
One of the soldiars gave us a tour and history lesson of the observatory. He really struggled to speak English, and was probably intimidated by doing so in front of so many native English speakers, so when he finished, everybody applauded him.
After looking past one of the most notoroious borders in the world, we went to the 4th Tunnel. This tunnel was dug by North Korea with the intention of executing a surprise attack on South Korea. It was discovered on March 3, 1990.
This was the most boring part of the trip. You just walk in a straight line to the end of the cold dark tunnel. When you reach the end, you sit in this green cart and go for a ride, which runs perpendicular to the walkway. It’s like a mini rollercoaster. You just go straight. It’s pretty fast. I think it only lasted 20 to 30 seconds. Then you walk back.
That completed our first day, so we moved into our hotel in Sokcho.
All five of my roommates were girls, all of whom I knew. Being the only guy, I was confused how the sleeping arangments would work. Who would share a bed with who?
But it’s Korea, so there are no beds. Everybody slept on the wood floor. Comforters, sheets, and pillows were provided.
October 23, 2016
Given how traditional the rooms are, I was surprised how westernized the breakfast was.
We checked out of our hotel and took the bus to Seoraksan National Park.
Autumn is the best time of year to visit this place because of the beautiful leaves. But I would recommend going earlier in the month if possible because it was freezing. It didn’t rain hard, but it was drizzling when we arrived.
Everybody was given a map with a list of all the hot spots, and a time to meet back at the bus. The time frame only allowed us to choose two activities. My friends Courtnay and Kaitlyn, and I hiked up to the waterfall; then rode the cable car.
Some other options were a fortress wall, cave, and temple.
The trail we took up to Biryong Falls was ranked at an intermediate level of difficulty, which was challenging enough for me. Also… I actually found the views along the way to be even more impressive than the waterfall itself.
The cable car cost 10,000 Won.
When you get off, there’s a great view of the national park. If you walk down, you can see the big Buddha statue. If you’re willing to walk up several steps, the view is incredible. It feels like you’re standing on top of the world.