A Korean Winter Vacation, Day 3 – Army Life Followed by Shopping

The very first thing I booked was our DMZ tour (technically my cousin booked our flights, so yep, very first thing!). Reading through multiple forums on TripAdvisor, I figured it was best to secure our spots on this very popular excursion.

I chose the USO/Koridoor tour from the rave reviews. I also wanted the US military experience. So, was it worth the $80 per person?

Sure, why not? Take a gander at my journey and decide for yourself.

Before this trip, the only thing I associated with Korea was the DMZ. So, you can’t go to Korea without going to the one landmark it’s known for, right?! What else was even in Korea?

Bright and early, my mom and I scurried over to Camp Kim. Camp Kim is located about a 30-45 minute walk from downtown Itaewon (and pretty close to where we were staying). We walked into the office and checked in with the tour. We were given a couple of badges and given instructions to wait until they were ready to take off.

Our total tour filled two buses of people, each accompanied by a tour guide. Strict rules were given about what to expect and the tour guides gave clear directions when you could bring cameras and other items. And… when to leave them on the locked bus.

First, after our arrival, we headed into a nice classroom for a quick orientation at Camp Bonifas, a United Nations command post near the DMZ. Soldiers were abound. Again, strict directions as to what was expected and what could be done…

Yes, totally allowed to take photos during the slideshow.

After the orientation and a quick bathroom break, we hopped on buses again to tour the Joint Security Area.

At the Joint Security Area (JSA), South Korean soldiers stood guard for us while we lined up along the top of the stairs. Our US soldier guide gave us a brief on what photos we could take, what gestures we should avoid and so forth… You could feel the tension as an awkward quiet creep settled amongst the atmosphere.

See that white building beyond the blue ones? That’s North Korea!

After one group went into that middle building, the conference room where North and South Korea held meetings, the groups switched.

Again, South Korean soldiers stood super still on guard while we toured the area. To one side of the soldier is North Korea and the other side, South Korea. So, you could technically say, I was in North Korea for a bit during my trip.

As we left the Freedom House area, we could see a North Korean soldier with binoculars on the steps of the white building carefully monitoring us. Tension is high!

The next stop on our tour was this checkpoint overlooking several sites that were a bit difficult to see during the snow that had set in. Again, many specific directions on proper etiquette for gestures and photos were given.

One last stop before leaving the JSA was this museum.

It detailed the axe murder incident, where two American soldiers were killed. It also had many artifacts and other information regarding the DMZ as well as the soldiers that served in the area.

Before we broke for lunch, we stopped at Dorasan Station.

This is the northernmost railway station in South Korea, about 200 km from Pyeongyang, North Korea’s capital.

The station hosts a small gift shop and entrance where you can buy a souvenir ticket to see the actual rails.

Overhead, there’s an interesting map showing how the Trans-Siberian Railway connects in conjunction with Korea.

After Dorasan Station, we headed to lunch!

We ate where all the other workers nearby ate…. the Inter-Korea Transit Office. it was cafeteria style, either bibimbap or beef (I forget the exact dish).

It wasn’t bad. The bibimbap was the best part, of course. After the break, we headed out. The Dorasan Observatory was closed unfortunately due to the consistent snow we received, so the tunnel we went!

The third tunnel was one of four tunnels that the North Koreans attempted to use to infiltrate South Korea. The South Koreans discovered it before this could happen.

It was a little over a mile long and 2 meters high by 2 meters wide on average. Think of all the digging!

Unfortunately, we couldn’t bring cameras down into the tunnel. It was a decent walk down to look at the walls South Korea built up. A quick peek (so you didn’t hold up the line) and back up. There are several benches built in the tunnel for tourists so you could rest on the uphill.

Of course, at the tunnel, we had to take the obligatory DMZ sign photo. After that, back on the bus where I pretty much passed out as the tour guide put on the very appropriate, “J.S.A.: Joint Security Area” film.

When we got back to Seoul, my mom and I hung out at the War Memorial of Korea while waiting for my friend, Sora. It was just around the corner from Camp Kim.

It was a free museum with some great history and decent browsing. It was actually quite large.

Then when we finally spotted Sora, we went off to Namdaemun for some shopping.

We browsed around a bit…

Then I found chijimi (jeon, in Korean)! And that’s when I decided to eat…

It was fairly packed downstairs on the main floor, so we got the upstairs all to ourselves.

The typical long metal Korean spoons…

And of course, my favorite, haemul pajeon (해물파전)! Seafood green onion pancakes! So oily, greasy and crispy delicious! I think this was about $15.

Of course, you have your banchan.

And I got looking on the menu… also ordered some mochi ramyeon (Korean ramen)! This was about $6 if I remember correctly.

Hot soup was great on this blistering cold, snowy day. And so is makgeolli – a Korean fermented rice wine, with bubbles.

That you traditionally drink with a bowl!

In the end, this became our dinner. So much for a quick “snack.” But what better way to end the day? I miss the food already!

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