08.08.2015 - 14.08.2015 30 °C
On re-reading this, you might want to grab a cuppa before starting!
Well, it took 18 years but Ash finally made it back to Korea (he feels sooo old when we say that). He spent two and half months in Incheon city working at an Oil Terminal (dealing with 7-9 metre tides which drastically changed the ocean/land interface in a relatively short period of time). We were looking forward to coming because Ash had always wanted to come back and to also have the family here too. The new (and very nice) Incheon airport was being built when he was here last, he remembers taking a ferry boat cruise around Incheon Port and saw the ocean between two islands being reclaimed for what would eventually be a 4 runway airport.
We ended up booking 7 days in Korea and decided to base ourselves in Seoul to look around. As usual, the local underground railway system provided us with speedy and efficient travel to wherever we wanted to go.
Ash has been pleasantly surprised at how much of the language he remembers, and loved trying a lot of the foods that he enjoyed previously. One dish dak galbi is a spicy chicken dish that we had on our first night and you can’t get this in Australia – but it was great to have it again.
Our first day of sightseeing took us to the Gyeongbokgung Palace. There are numerous temple complexes to look at in and around Seoul, but after our trip to Japan and ‘Templing/Shrining’ the boys out, we decided to choose only one and make a day of it (even if you love temples it can get too much!). First stop was the Gwanghwamun Gate where we timed it well and saw the hourly changing of the guards.
The grounds of the Gyeongbokgung Palace were huge and actually took us quite a while to walk around. It was pretty hot day but we managed to find shade in the gardens as we moved around. We also managed to find some more lovely ladies dressed in traditional Korean dresses, they looked stunning of course!
The following day we visited Kukkiwon, the world headquarters of Taekwondo. This was too good an opportunity to miss, since Ash is now officially a green-with-blue-stripe belt in Taekwondo! Totally by chance, our visit timed with a grading of blackbelts which was pretty impressive to see.
It also just happened to be located in the suburb of Gangnam, and we couldn’t pass the opportunity for some Gangnam Style action!
Ash describes himself as a war history buff, and our trip through Asia so far has provided an amazing amount of war history. Korea was no exception. None of us knew very much about the Korean War but after Ash visited the Korean War Museum with Lachlan, we got a very good education in a relatively short period of time. We weren’t aware that this was a UN backed campaign (principally lead by the US) that had 15 other countries including Australia that supported it. Other UN member countries provided medical or logistics/financial support. Australia sent over 17,000 personnel and 332 died in the campaign, with around 1200 wounded. There are some moving displays and the South Koreans are extremely thankful for the support of the countries that helped them. Lachlan and Cameron (brought back on a subsequent day) walked around and climbed over the very impressive outdoor military equipment on display. The statues outside the museum were some of the best that we’ve seen, particularly that of the two brothers fighting for either side of the war that were reunited on the battlefield. The emotion was palpable.
The highlight of the trip for Ash would have to be a visit to Panmanjun (or Joint Security Area) which straddles the North-South Demarcation line.
The JSA area used to be open to both countries, however after the ‘tree chopping’ incident in 1976 where two US soldiers were attacked and killed while trying to remove a tree that was restricting the view from a lookout, the area has now been completely divided. As you could imagine, security was extremely tight here and the tour group had military guards everywhere we went. The tour group was limited in which direction and when they could take photos, but it was still great to see. The blue buildings are for the UN, non-blue buildings are the North Koreans.
This is the 'Bridge of no return' where POWs of both sides were exchanged. Once you crossed, you could never go back.
Ash entered the blue building used for meetings between the two countries chaired by a Swiss/Swedish neutral group. They could only stay within the boundary of accompanying guards and there were no photos allowed of the UN building infrastructure looking behind this point. Needless to say, they were very happy for photos of the North Koreans to be taken, unlike the North Korean soldiers who hid behind the building we were in to avoid having their photos taken!
Ash is actually standing on North Korean soil here, the guard is with him in the event that North Korean soldiers come through the door and try to pull the United Nations High Command Guests (aka tourists) through the door.
Here’s Ash straddling the two Koreas (the conference table sits on the demarcation line) and you can see the Demarcation line out the window with the concrete step and different gravels either side.
Here’s a few other shots where Ash tried to capture the soldiers. The blacked out windows of the North Korean building would no doubt have many soldiers with cameras capturing anyone’s movements.
On the way to and from the JSA, you go under 12 of these structures on the highway.
They are actually elevated concrete barriers rigged with explosives which would be detonated to slow a North Korean Army Tank advance by about an hour, should it occur.
Our last big day was at the Seoul Children’s Grand Park, which was, as the name suggests, very large and which included a fantastic range of things to do. One of these was an amusement park where we enjoyed rides for the entire afternoon. With not many people around, we managed to get on every ride with little to no wait. The rollercoaster got quite a work out this time and with Cameron’s growth spurt over the last few months (he’s now 123cm) he could go on a lot of the rides with us much to his delight. He’s an adrenaline junkie!
Being totally honest, we came to Korea because of Ash previously working here, but also because we didn’t consider it to be a holiday destination on its own and that if we didn’t visit as part of this trip then we most likely never would. We were wrong. In hindsight we should have stayed for longer, and we’d recommend it to anyone as a destination to consider. A couple of weeks could easily be spent in Seoul and beyond, the food is great and the people are lovely.
As we type this, we are at 40,000 feet cruising back to Kuala Lumpur. Our four week Japan-Korea trip has been brilliant but has resulted in minimal schoolwork being done. We always knew this would be the case but we will be spending our next 3 weeks doing some catch-up! It will be good to “settle” for a little while and get ourselves sorted before we board our flight to Frankfurt on 2 September and begin our European leg of the adventure.