Our last day in Seoul began with a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). We headed off to the USO, just a short trek from our hotel, signed in with our passports, and then hopped on a bus to take us to the DMZ. It’s about an hour-long ride, and our wonderful tour guide Clara “briefed” us on our DMZ tour, as well as handed out prizes for guessing the number of bridges in Seoul (31) and the name of the US general (MacArthur) integral to the US involvement in the Korean War (congrats to Karina and Dr. Campbell.) As we got closer to the first stop on our tour the barbed wire fences and pillboxes with young, armed Korean soldiers became more frequent reminding us that although the tour buses outnumbered the camouflaged jeeps we were heading to an area closely watched by the world’s military leaders.
The first stop on our began tour with a visit to Imjingak Park (the last point where civilians can travel without permission) and the “Unification Bridge”. The park was built to console Koreans from both sides of the DMZ who are unable to return to their homelands. While a very moving place many of us were surprised at just how many tourists were there (hundreds and mostly Chinese), and how commercialized the area seemed to be – Viking boat ride anyone? Next, the bus took us to the 3rd infiltration tunnel – a tunnel built by the North Koreans in order to infiltrate South Korea and stage a possible attack on Seoul – no photo’s allowed, sorry! Maneuvering the tunnel was no walk in the park, especially for the taller members of the group. It runs about 1.7 km long, 2 m high and 2 m wide, and sits approximately 73 m below ground. Also, in order to get to the tunnel, we had to walk down (and back up!) the entry tunnel, which is 500m long and is on a downward slope of 11°. After some of Fiacre’s bootcamp workouts though, it seemed like a breeze.
The Dora observatory was next. This site sits on the South Korean side of the 38th parallel and provides visitors a direct look into North Korea, including views of the statue of Kim-Il Sung built to entice South Koreans north, the two peace villages of Kijong-Dong (North) and Daeseong-dong (South), and the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Some of us even saw North Koreans riding bicycles! All of us were honored at the opportunity to get views of the most closed off country in the world and were surprised at how pretty and peaceful it seemed. Lastly, we visited Dorasan train station, the last station in South Korea.
After the DMZ tour, we went back to the hotel, and most of us packed to be ready to leave in the morning. We then attended a cooking class to learn how to make traditional Korean dishes. We split between making bulgogi (beef in soy sauce) and japchae (rice noodles in sesame oil), and we all got to make our own bibimbap. It was absolutely delicious, and all of us left with a certificate that officially shows off our new skills!
The rest of the night was free time- some of us enjoyed the nightlife in Seoul while others had a quiet evening at the hotel, packing and getting ready to leave. What a fantastic last day!!!
This trip has been such an experience for all of us, and we have made some (hopefully) life long friends here. There are already plans to see each other again in the works!
Alex and Hilary