DMZ

Last Saturday we went on a tour of the DMZ with the USO. Our tickets cost 92,400 won per person, but it was worth it. Our itinerary for the day was:

  • 5:30am – Left for the Dangjin bus terminal
  • 6:00am – Left for Seoul
  • 7:30am – Arrived at the Express Bus Terminal
  • 8:00am – Found the USO and then went to find breakfast
  • 8:30am – Checked in at the USO
  • 9:00 – 10:00am – Rode a bus to the 3rd Tunnel
Before touring the 3rd Tunnel our tour guide took us through a small museum about the area. Tourists cannot take bags into the 3rd tunnel or cameras, but they provide free lockers. We were given yellow hard hats to wear on our 450 meter descent. The tunnel was smaller than I was expecting. Two people could walk side by side through most of the tunnel. The ceiling was low, even I had to duck (with the helmet on I was probably 5’7″).   We walked single file to the 3rd barricade where we could look through a window to see the 2nd barricade, and then we turned around and exited the same way we came.
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  •  11:00am – Left for the Dora Observatory
At the Dora Observatory our tour guide pointed out the only two villages in the DMZ and their flag poles. She told us that when the South Korean village built a new taller flag pole, the North Koreans built an even bigger pole. The tallest building in the North Korean village is mostly empty. It serves to entice South Koreans to defect to the north.
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You can take pictures, but you have to stand behind the yellow line painted on the ground. I learned the reason for this is that there is a military base nearby and they don’t want anyone taking pictures of it.
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  • 11:53am – Arrived at Dorasan Station
Dorasan Station is the last station before the DMZ. It was built as an international train station in hopes that one day the north will allow trains to pass through North Korea. If South Korea could do this, then it would only take 10 days to ship products to/from Europe instead of 30 days by sea. We bought post cards and had them stamped at the station.
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  • 12:30pm – Ate lunch at a Korean restaurant
The restaurant was more like a cafeteria for South Korean workers who work in the DMZ. Hyundai has a factory in the DMZ and employs many North Koreans and about 800 South Koreans.
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  • 1:10 – Left for Camp Bonifas
We were briefed at Camp Bonifas, and we signed a waiver so we could tour the Joint Security Area (JSA). We then boarded a different bus to go to the JSA, and we had a new tour guide who was an Army Private. He did a great job and told us many interesting facts and stories about the JSA. When we arrived we all exited the bus and then went in a building and lined up in two lines. There were about 50 people in our tour group. I imagine the tour guide’s feelings are similar to the feelings that I have when trying to line up my kindergarteners. It’s amazing how some people don’t/can’t listen to simple instructions! Our group was pretty good for the most part thankfully.
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While we waited for our turn in one of the buildings where they conduct meetings, our tour guide told us about the area and the two North Koreans who were taking our pictures and looking at us through binoculars. We were allowed to take as many pictures as we wanted of the North Korean side. I learned that North Koreans go on a similar tour on their side of the line, and foreigners (except for South Koreans for obvious reasons) can go on tours in North Korea too.
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    After awhile we entered the blue building and crossed over the DMZ line into North Korea. There were two South Korean soldiers in the building for our protection. On the table in the middle of the room there were microphones that record 24/7. Our tour guide told us that North Korean tourists stand barefoot on one of the tables and moon South Korea. There was a footprint on the table from someone who had done that earlier that day!
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  • 2:15pm – Left JSA
We stopped at one point where we got off the bus and were surrounded by North Korea on three sides. From that point we could see the building were the armistice was signed, a North Korean museum, and the Bridge of No Return. We got back on the bus and then drove by the spot where North Koreans attacked soldiers who were cutting down a large tree that obstructed South Korea’s view. We also stopped and looked from the bus at the Bridge of No Return. I learned that 4 Americans have defected to North Korea, and one (Joe Dresnok) is still living there.
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  • 3:30pm – Left to go back to the USO in Seoul
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Mr. Toilet House

On Sunday, October 2nd, we started the day like any other day and took a bus to go to church. Our first bus was late to the bus station, which meant we wouldn’t make it to church once again. Sometimes we take the next bus back to Dangjin, but it was a nice day so we took a bus to Pyeongtaek and then took the train to Suwon. We went to Suwon in the spring and we weren’t sure what else there was to see so we stopped by the Tourist Information Center near the train station and found this gem:

We couldn’t believe someone actually made a museum about toilets! We were dressed for church not hiking so we thought the museum would be better and funnier. 


For the first part of the museum we were given a brief tour. It was really hard not to laugh while she was talking. The tour guide said that the bathroom in Mr. Toilet’s house was in the middle of the house. He would read his newspaper in his bathroom and was able to see his family from the door sized window. When privacy was needed, he would push a button to fog the window so no one could see in or out.

The museum had medals and information about Mr. Toilet. He was nicknamed Mr. Toilet because of the work he did to improve public toilets in Korea and around the world. According to a sign in the museum, his interest in toilets began as a baby… He was born in the outhouse at his grandmother’s house!

When we were leaving the museum, the tour guide asked us to fill out a survey and gave us souvenirs, two piles of gold dung.

Hong Kong

I know it has been almost two months since our last post, so I apologize for that. The good news is that we have started a new Page for our trip to Hong Kong. We will have a lot of information posted so we decided to make a new page for it. Right below the picture on the main page you can see tabs for 4 different pages (Home, Hong Kong, Map, and About Us). If you want to read some really good stories and reviews about Hong Kong, then please check out that page. Not all of the pages on the Hong Kong page are finished, so please check back often as we finish writing. We will also be adding picture slideshows so you don’t want to miss those.

So, why no other posts the past 2 months you ask? Well, we have been much busier in the summer than we were in the winter and spring. Now that the weather is nicer we try to travel just about every weekend (mostly day trips on Saturday). Plus our school has added many students the past 3 months and that has opened up more classes and given us more work to do. So overall, the weeks between our trip to Busan and our trip to Hong Kong were not all that exciting. The month of August has actually been less busy as many of our students are on break.

I am not sure how busy things will be going forward, but we are hoping to get many more posts up on our blog.

Busan

A few weekends ago we had a three-day weekend, and we had planned on going to Busan, but we didn’t make any concrete plans in advance. So the week of we were looking for train/bus tickets. We wanted to take the train because it is faster, but it was sold out! We looked for hotels/motels but we didn’t find anything reasonably priced online. So by Friday we had decided just to go somewhere closer. After school on Friday around 5:30 I was talking to our boss’s wife and she was saying that they were going to her mother-in-law’s house that is near Busan. I told her that Peter and I wanted to go to Busan, so we ended up riding down to Chilseo in the yellow school van. In the morning our boss’s wife showed us around her in law’s orchard. Around 11:30am our boss drove us to the nearest bus terminal in Masan. It took about 30 minutes to get to Masan and 40 minutes to get to Busan. Once we got to Busan we started looking for a place to stay. We tried 3 hotels with no luck. The 3rd hotel was Lotte Hotel, and it looked amazing and expensive. Their concierge called another hotel to see if they had any rooms, and thankfully they did. We headed over to the other hotel and dropped off our stuff.

First we went to Haeundae Beach. That weekend a sand festival was going on so there were many sand sculptures. There was a music festival going on too. The first day we walked along the beach and stuck our feet in the cold water. We walked along a pathway along the water to a lighthouse, and then stumbled upon the APEC building. We went inside and looked around, but there wasn’t anything too special. For dinner we went to an international seafood buffet that was down the street from our hotel, and afterwards we went shopping nearby.

The next day we ate breakfast at our hotel and then checked out because there were no open rooms for Sunday night. The breakfast was more traditional Korean style, so we only ate toast and eggs that were filled something that reminded me of the inside of dumplings. After leaving our bags at our new hotel we went to the Aquarium. It’s near Haeundae Beach, and it’s underground. It was only 18,000 won per person, and we had a coupon from our hotel too. They didn’t have any unusual fish, but they did have a shark feeding show. The show was very lively, and most people were pretty excited about it. They had two glass tunnels, which are always fun. After lunch at Outback Steakhouse (because Bennigan’s was closed…), we went on a cruise. It lasted about 2 hours. We went out to four islands, circled them, and then went back. On the way to the islands we stood at the back of the boat and had a great view of the beach and the city. After the cruise we took the subway to the train station to see if there were any tickets available. There weren’t so Peter called our boss and arranged to ride back with them. We saw a sign that said there was a foreigner’s market nearby so we checked it out. It was kind of creepy, and there weren’t many open shops. After that we went to Busan Tower, and after looking around a little we headed back to our hotel.

On Monday morning we had to check out and take our bags with us. We eventually found lockers for our bags in one of the subway stations, and then we headed to the bus station to buy a bus ticket early so we wouldn’t be stuck in Busan. After buying bus tickets we headed up to Geumjeongsan Mountain to see part of the fortress. We didn’t spend much time there because we wanted to get to the beach, but next time we would probably wear hiking shoes! The beach was relaxing. We were only there for about an hour, but it was nice to be able to get a little sun.

Hwaseong Fortress

Last Saturday Rachel and I went to Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon. Suwon is about an hour bus ride from where we live and about an hour south of Seoul. They were having a Cherry Blossom festival for the weekend. We had heard that Hwaseong Fortress was very beautiful so we decided to visit.

We bought bus tickets to go to Suwon and waited for our bus to come. When I saw the Korean name for Suwon (수원) I was pretty excited because the last syllable looked like a table and chairs with food! About ten minutes before our bus was scheduled to leave another bus pulled up at the same platform our bus was supposed to be. Well, that bus did not have the table and chairs syllable but all of the people were getting on that bus so we decided to follow. They guy took our ticket and we got on. When I sat down, the guy next to me looked at my ticket and said “Suwon, no.” I was confused but someone at the front of the bus was saying something about Suwon as well. So we got off the bus. I guess the guy who took our ticket wasn’t bright enough to realize the first time that we wanted Suwon and not that bus. I’m sure we made the Koreans day by being able to laugh at a stupid white person though.

We made it Suwon, wrote down the last 2 or 3 buses’ times back to Dangjin, and then started to walk out of the terminal when we noticed an information center. We stopped and started looking at some of the maps when the Korean behind the desk asked in very good English if he could help us.  We told him where we wanted to go and he explained which buses go there and what else to see in the area. He certainly made our trip much easier.

Hwaseong Fortress (Brilliant Castle) is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of about 10 in Korea. To save you the hassle of Wikipedia-ing it (or you could enlarge the picture of the history of Hwaseong Fortress at the end), the Fortress was built by King Jeongjo to honor and house the remains of his father. For some reason Jeongjo’s grandfather, who was king at the time, killed Jeongjo’s father for not following orders. When Jeongjo became king he had a temple and fortress built where his father was buried so that Jeongjo could have a place to stay when he visited his father’s grave. Jeongjo had very technologically advanced equipment for that day used to build an impressive fortress. King Jeongjo even wanted to move the capital of Korea from Seoul to Suwon but eventually gave up that idea because of a lack of support.

The weather turned out to be gorgeous for out visit. There were not many cherry blossoms out, but the few flowers were pretty. The festival itself was held at the city governmental buildings which were down the hill from the fortress. We certainly got a workout walking up and down the hills of the fortress, but the lookout view of Suwon was gorgeous! We decided not to ring their famous bell of fortune because it cost money. We did take the cool dragon trolley ride! Hwaseong Fortress was definitely worth the visit.

We ended up taking a city bus back to the bus station. The city bus we ended up on was being driven by a guy whom I could swear was trying out for the World’s Worst Bus Driver award. Thankfully we made it alive. Attached to the bus station was a shopping mall with some restaurants. We ended up eating on the 3rd floor at a restaurant named Alaska Family Restaurant Seafood Buffet. We figured combining the Koreans expertise of seafood with Alaska’s delicious seafood would make an amazing meal. Well, we quickly saw those dreams dashed. They had a ton of seafood options in their buffet, but nothing quite hit the spot. It all seemed a bit off. We did get to eat some crab legs and all sorts of other sea creatures. For some reason they did not have plain shrimp. Anyways, we were hoping dessert would salvage our experience, but were disappointed again by dry cookies and mediocre cakes. Thankfully they did not charge us what a high end seafood place could have cost. We thought the second to last bus for Dangjin left at 6:50 but when I checked my notebook I found out it left at 6:40. So we had to leave in a hurry and quickly walk downstairs. Thankfully our bus was at the first platform out the door after buying tickets so we made it just in time.

I would highly recommend visiting Suwon (just be careful of your choice of restaurant). We are hoping to go back and visit more of the sites there. I am sure it will be even pretty when more flowers come out. The slideshow of pictures at the end is definitely worth looking through. There are 80 pictures and a good number of them have captions.

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Fish ate my feet

On Saturday Peter and I finally got out of town. We were going to go to Asan Spavis the weekend after my birthday, but we had been sick since the day after my birthday. So we were finally well enough to go this past weekend. We took a bus to Asan, and we were going to take another bus to the spa, but we weren’t sure how long we would have to wait before the bus would come so we took a taxi. The taxi ride was only 15 minutes, and it only cost 10,900 won. Once we got to the spa we paid and then put our shoes in shoe lockers. They gave us bracelets with a number on them that were keys to our lockers, and with the bracelets we could buy food and anything else from the shops, which was nice because we didn’t need to carry cash on us.

On the bus to Asan, I mentioned to Peter that I should have packed flip flops in our backpack… lol Flip flops weren’t needed. We took our shoes off and walked in our socks and bare feet, which seemed strange in the food court area but everyone else was doing it…

Before going to the spa I had read online about Koreans wearing swimming caps or baseball hats in the pool, but I didn’t remember this fact until we were about ready to get into the pool, and we saw everyone wearing hats! So we went and bought baseball hats 🙂

We tried out most of the hot tubs. The spa was smaller than what we thought it would be, and it was crowded.  We paid 6,000 won to spend 30 minutes in  a  lavender whirlpool, but it was so hot we couldn’t stand to be in there for more than 5 minutes at a time! We also paid 5,000 won each for Dr. Fish. I had read online about it and wanted to try it. Peter didn’t realize until after we had paid and were near the pool that there were real fish in the pool. Some of the kids were sitting in the water, but I only put my feet in like the other adults. The fish eat dead skin, so they exfoliate your feet. At first it was weird, and the fish tickled, but I got used to it.

Overall it was a really good trip. It was nice to sit in the hot water and relax 🙂