Tag Archives: DMZ

Ryan’s Parents Visit: Weekend in Seoul

We had been excited for some time to have Ryan’s parents come out to visit us and it was finally here! One of the most fun parts about it all was that this was their first trip to Asia so there were a lot of first times to be experienced and we couldn’t wait to do that with them! We went to pick them up at the airport – we had signs and everything (I wish I had snagged a picture but I assure you they were cute) and we were so happy to see them! We drove back to our apartment and CeCe and Tim were asking about whether we got snow here or not. Ryan and I told them that it is a very rare occasion on Geoje island, but sure enough, we woke up to several inches of snow on the ground!
View from our front & back windows in our apartment on the snowy morning

View from our front & back windows in our apartment on the snowy morning

As cool and crazy as this was, it complicated our weekend plans a bit because we needed to drive to Busan but we made it there in the end with no worries. We had a few hours to kill until our train, so we got some dinner at a Pho place…this was another first for Ryan’s parents because they had never had Vietnamese food. We took the high speed KTX Train or as Ryan and I call it, the Seoul Train! (to the tune of the song Soul Train - get it?! We’re so clever. ;) . We got on the train to Seoul and of course, I was asleep in minutes (if you’ve read the posts about our trip to Japan, trains lull me to sleep in no time) and woke up once we got there. We maneuvered the subway and made our way to our hotel so that we could get some rest before our early morning trip to the DMZ in the morning. We got up early to head to Camp Kim for the USO DMZ Tour (we have done this before and really wanted to go again with Ryan’s parents). The funny thing about Korea is that there are no restaurants open early – 8 AM is a stretch and most don’t open until  9 AM. No worries on a normal vacation day, but we had to be there ready to go by 7 AM, so we had no choice but to grab some breakfast munchies at the corner store – yet another unique Korean experience. The DMZ tour was great as usual…we all had a wonderful time and can now say that we have stepped foot in North Korea TWICE!
In the JSA on the North Korean side of the building

In the JSA on the North Korean side of the building

The DMZ Tour is almost an all day affair, so we went back to the hotel to rest up;  Tim was still feeling really jetlagged so he continued to rest up and the 3 of us went out to dinner in Itaewon. This is one of our all time favorite spots in Seoul and one of the main reasons we love this city so much. This is the international area and has lots of wonderful restaurants and a great energy about it – it’s a really neat mix of expats and Koreans which is fun. We found a Spanish restaurant – this was another first for Ryan’s mom. Who would have thought that she would try Spanish food for the first time in Korea?! We had some great food and wonderful Sangria!! Then, we hit up an Irish pub for some beers – great end to a wonderful day.
Delicious Spanish food & Sangria in Itaewon!

Delicious Spanish food & Sangria in Itaewon!

The next day, we went back to Itaewon in the morning to go to a breakfast restaurant. Going out to breakfast in the states was one of our favorite things to do and we don’t get the chance very often here in Korea so we took advantage of doing this as a family here. Once we were fully satisfied with eggs benedict and breakfast burritos, we went to one of the palaces.
We walked around the Gyeongbokgung Palace which is the largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. According to the guide books, it’s the best palace to visit if you only have time for one. We had a really nice walk around and then ventured back to the train station to catch a train back to Busan.
Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Two Mrs. Kendricks in Seoul

Two Mrs. Kendricks in Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace with Guards

Gyeongbokgung Palace with Guards

We were so happy that we were able to make it up to Seoul to explore and we had such a great weekend!

DMZ & JSA

We signed up for the USO tour of the DMZ & JSA before planning our trip to Seoul to make sure we would be able to do this during our trip – we were both dying to do this tour. We woke up early on Saturday morning during our weekend in Seoul to check it out.We were unbelievably excited – there is something so intriguing about going to a place like this. Our tour bus drove us out to Camp Bonifas (the military base just outside of the JSA) and our tour began. The history of the North/South Korean tension was really interesting and they made us sign a waiver that we were entering an area where our safety was not guaranteed - it said that by going on the tour, we were putting ourselves in a potentially fatal situation – talk about intimidating!

Our guides took us to the JSA (also called Panmunjon) – there are several buildings where the North & South Koreans meet for peace talks. First, we looked out on the North Korean side while standing on the steps of the South Korean building. There was one Korean guard with his binoculars checking us out. Later on, several other North Koreans came out and it looked like they were taking pictures of themselves with us in the background. It was a very interesting sight, watching the South Koreans stand in martial art ready position (“ROK ready”) at all times in case anything were to happen. Another interesting aspect was that we could take as many pictures of North Korea as we wanted but we were not allowed to turn around and take pictures of South Korea – I didn’t expect that.

This was the view of the North Korean soldier for most of our stay – he was constantly looking at our group through those binoculars…

The line and different in ground color is where North & South Korea split…the darker rocks are the South Korean side and the sand is the North Korean side

Our US military officer guide & the 3 ROK (Republic of Korea) guards always on the lookout

the North Korean soliders came out to take pictures with us in the background

After that, we went into the building that is split down the middle between North & South Korea. At this point, we were able to step foot in North Korea. The whole event was a little surreal – it was wild to be standing in the middle of a place that is so tense and still at war. It was rainy for the whole visit which added to the sadness of the location – there are many Koreans whose families are split between the North & the South and they are forbidden from seeing each other again.

This table bisects Korea (North & South)

If you’ve heard the story about the South Korean guard locking a door & North Koreans opening the door to drag him out – this is that door….the door to the left is a separate room where one soldier now stands and holds the belt buckle of the soldier who actually locks the door to make sure he can be pulled back in quickly if they try that tactic again

Here we are in North Korean being protected by one of the South Korean guards!

They took us to several other spots that were of significance where we got a few more views of North Korea. One of the towns has a huge flag pole with the North Korean flag – they have been building it bigger and taller to make sure that they are always “better” than South Korea. I guess everyone needs a goal and the highest/tallest flagpole is theirs. One of the saddest places was called the “Bridge of No Return” where POWs from the North and the South were allowed to pick which side they wanted to go and live on (the North or the South)…once they crossed the bridge one way or another, they were never allowed back to the other place. I can imagine that would be a hard decision for many people because they likely had family on both sides. Another one of the stories they told us was about an attack by the North Koreans where the South Koreans had gone to cut down a tree so that they could better see one of the North Korean checkpoints and while they were cutting it down, the North Koreans attacked them and killed them with their own axes. The next time they needed to cut down a tree, the South Koreans called it “Operation Paul Bunyon” where they brought in many troops and they had helicopters/planes flying around while they finished the operation – this time all those involved came home safely. (Wikipedia has more if you’re curious: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axe_murder_incident)

The large flag pole in North Korea

Another view of North Korea – it’s hazy because of the rain but that’s okay

The next stop was the “Third Tunnel” – this was a tunnel that the North Koreans had built to infiltrate Seoul – our guide told us that they could get 10,000 North Korean troops through there an hour. It was a long walk down and it was certainly a long tunnel which is now permanently monitored and barricaded to make sure no one can get through from the North. While we were there, we picked up some North Korean liquor – I do not think we will ever be brave enough to drink it but I think it will be pretty cool up on our liquor cabinet.

Finally, we went to a train station that used to take people from South Korea to North Korea. It was a somber place, primarily because you realize just how isolated South Korea is from the rest of the world because of this. If they could travel through North Korea, they could connect to the train systems through China and Russia into Europe. They would have access to a lot more of the world.

The entrance to the train that used to go to Pyeongyang, N. Korea

Ryan & I posing with the South Korean guards at the train station

Walking on the train tracks

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