So, why was Korea on our "to see" list? 3 reasons - it's history, it's shopping, and the fact that I didn't want Matt's only experience there to be of Camp Mujuck in the dead of winter (his last deployment). Our trip to Seoul - South Korea's capital city and one of the largest growing economies in the world - was probably our shortest trip yet as we arrived in the city early Saturday afternoon and left very early Tuesday morning. But, as with every country we visit, I'm an insane planner and try to fit in as much as we can possible experience in one trip. Don't get the wrong idea - I'm still flexible (no itineraries scheduled down to the minute), but most of these countries I am pretty sure we will never get to see again in our lives, and I want to take away the most complete idea of the country as we can.
One aspect of this trip was a little different than our others - the accomodations. Many of you who aren't affiliated much with the US military may not know this, but we have bases all over Korea (much like in Japan). Right in the center of Seoul, there happens to be a US Army base (called Yongsan), and they have the nicest hotel I've ever seen on a military installation before - the Dragon Hill Lodge. This is where Matt and I stayed while in Seoul. It was a little strange being on another US base overseas - all I'm used to are the bases in Okinawa - but it was a really great hotel, and an excellent location for coming and going, which is always something we look for on our trips to big cities.
The restaurant we went to our first night in Seoul - called Tosokchon. There was a bit of a line (as you can see!) but, it came highly recommended!
The inside was really interesting - different indoor rooms all meet in sort of an outdoor courtyard type area that was all part of the restaurant.
Our first taste of Korean food in Seoul - I got their specialty, Ginseng Chicken Soup, which literally has a whole chicken in it. We found out only after I had eaten most of the soup that the chicken was stuffed with rices and ginseng and was meant to be broken open into the soup before eating... This was also my first taste of Kimchi (they serve it at every restaurant here), which really isn't my favorite thing. To me, it seems like the Kimchi is super strong and everything else seemed kind of bland.
After dinner at Tosokchon, Matt and I headed over to the heart of downtown Seoul to see one of the most popular spots in the city for tourists and locals alike - Cheonggyecheon Stream. This is a man-made stream that runs right through the city! It used to be a highway, and back in the 60's, the highway was completely removed and renovated into the stream that sits below the streets that run on either side of it. It eventually runs into the Han River, and it is all lit up at night with tons of places for people to sit by the edge and have a relaxing night in the city. I felt like it was a peaceful place, like a park in the middle of this huge city - loved it!
The following morning, we went on a half-day tour up to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), which is the actual border between North and South Korea. The bus ride from our hotel was only about an hour long - a little scary that their capital city is so close to the border! Our tour guide was a girl about my age. I don't usually enjoy too much history, but I found everything she was saying so interesting - Korea's history is just really fascinating! I'm not sure how much you know about the Korean War and the division between North and South, but I really didn't know too much when we started. I feel like I learned quite a bit on this tour.
Our guide told us that they are taught in school that North Korea is their #1 enemy... not any other country in the world - I thought that was insane! She spoke about the flagpoles, and how both North and South kept building their's higher than the other's near the border. She explained the Propaganda Village that North Korea built (empty buildings that were created to make South Korea believe North Korea was a great place to live), and she even pointed out the white buildings as we drove - they are the only buildings you can see from South Korea. They even used to have speakers relaying messages into South Korea about how the North was a "paradise". I knew that North Korea was a communist country, but I never realized how brainwashed and shut off from the rest of the world their people are! They pretty much have no contact with the rest of the world, and for the most part, they are not allowed to travel outside North Korea. Our tour guide described numerous times that South Korea has tried to reunite the two countries, but North Korea won't have it. She also explained that while South Korea has a booming and advancing economy, North Korea is basically stuck in the same place they were back during the Korean War in the 50's, and they have a very poor economy. Most South Koreans (I can't remember the exact number, but I thought she said about 90%) do NOT want unification with North Korea.
The armed guard houses that were all along the Han River
There are thousands of land mines left over from the Korean War all around the DMZ still today
Freedom Ribbons with Korean messages on them
The wooden Freedom Bridge where prisoners of war where released back into South Korea
South Korea has found 4 infiltration tunnels so far that the North Koreans have dug for invasion. The fourth tunnel was not even complete when they discovered it. On our tour, we got to walk down through the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, which has 3 blockades when it starts to go near the North Korean border. We got to walk up to the first blockade. Behind the second wall, there is a large water tank, and if the North Koreans were to try to invade through the tunnel, the South Koreans would flood it. This is Matt on our way down into the tunnel.
Me inside the actual tunnel - it was crazy to see the holes in the walls where they actually put the dynamite to create this tunnel!
Third Infiltration Tunnel Sculpture
Another sad story was about the brand new train station that they South Koreans built with a train that would run to Pyeongyang (in North Korea) and connect the two countries. Right as they were about to open it, the North Koreans changed their minds and wouldn't allow any South Korean trains to come into their country! The train station still stands there, near the border, unused. Our tour guide said that the South Koreans see the train station as a "hopeful future".
Matt with a ROK (Republic of Korea) Marine
Later that same day, we did some more sightseeing at N Seoul Tower - the landmark of Seoul.
We walked all the way up to the tower - soooo many steps!
A lookout on the way up to the tower
Finally made it!
Me up at the top
Only 10,525.62 km to Chicago, IL
Right outside the tower, they had these "Love Lock Trees" where people wrote love messages on locks and left them.
We came prepared:)
We left part of our heart in Seoul<3
Second half of our trip to South Korea coming soon!
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