Seoul: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Seoul: What You Need to Know Before You Go

An-nyeong-ha-se-yo!

Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a dazzling metropolis with over two thousand years of history. Miraculously, the past and present of Seoul do not clash but rather adds to the city’s allure–relics of Seoul’s history interspersed among swanky buildings and stylish neighbourhood.

Seoul is also synonymous with cutting-edge technology and boasts the fastest internet speeds in the world, and has been often described as the city of the future sporting neon-lit signs, steel-and-glass skyscrapers that housed tech behemoths like Samsung and LG Electronics.

Home to architecture marvels of the world like Dongdaemun Design Park & Plaza (DDP), Samsung Museum of Art Complex and Kring Kumho Culture Complex, just to a name a few, the South Korean Capital was accorded the UNESCO City of Design during 2010–2017. So, charge your phone, check your data and embark on an Instagram journey.

Ultimately, to truly experience Seoul, one must start with its food, and it’s none other than the tangy, spicy, pungent fermented vegetable dish called Kimchi. The culinary scene in Seoul is diverse, ranging from traditional dishes like Samgyetang (Ginseng Chicken Soup) to international imports that will appeal to both discerning eaters and curious taste-testers.

“Of centuries-old palaces and traditions to bustling food streets, breathtaking mountain trails and addictive K-pop hits, the high-energy capital city is never dull and is always up to sparkle-and-shine.”

Best Time to Visit

Seoul is favourable to visit all-year round depending on what you want to see and do. There are four distinct seasons in Seoul, and each offers a gamut of activities to match your mood and outfit.

 

Spring begins in April which is the high season as the weather is at its best, featuring streetscape teeming with blooming cherry blossom trees and clear blue skies.

 

The summer months falls between June and August, the daily temperature can go up to 38°C, which is truly hot and humid and has inspired us to create this hashtag #seouldamnhot.

 

September to November is the autumn foliage season where a horde of tourists will be in Nami Island to relive their favourite Korean drama scenes.

Winter months are from December to February and can be bitterly cold. It is ideal for skiing and indulging in winter sports. Ski resorts are usually fully booked during this season, so it is advisable to plan in advance.

Typical Travel Costs

  • Dorm Bed: KRW 20,000 to 40 000 (SGD$24 to $48)
  • Mid-range accommodation (Double room in a hotel or Guesthouse): KRW 70,000 (SGD$80)
  • Luxury hotel: KRW 200,000 (SGD$240)
  • Street Food: KRW 1,000 – 5,000 (SGD$1 to $6)
  • Subway ticket: KRW 1,300 (SGD$1.55)
  • The average price of food for one day is KRW 20,000 to 30,000 (SGD$23 to $36)

Other Notes:

Tipping is generally not expected.

ATMs with a ‘Global’ sign work with internationally issued cards; very few are open 24 hours. Major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are accepted in most hotels and restaurants. Streetside food stalls only accept cash.

Getting into the City (From Incheon Airport)

Seoul has a reliable and efficient public transit system and these are the different ways to travel from Incheon Airport to downtown Seoul.

By Airport Express (AREX)

This is the fastest way to get to the city from the airport. AREX travels non-stop directly from the airport to Seoul Station in exactly 43 minutes. The trains are comfortable with free wifi onboard. You can purchase your ticket in advanced here.

By All-Stop Train

The All-Stop Train will make a stop at all stations. If you’re not pressed for time, get a T-money card and you’re all set to explore the city.

By Airport Bus

There are bus ticketing counters at the Arrivals Hall. The cost of a bus ticket is around KRW 8,000-16,000 (Approx. SGD$10 to $20) depending on the bus routes. Details of the routes and bus stops are provided at the counter.

By Taxi

The most convenient option but it can be costly. A taxi will get you into the city in about an hour and will cost you around KRW 55,000-75,000 (Approx. SGD$65 to $90). This is preferable if you’re travelling in a group (3 or 4 persons at least). If you wish to book a taxi, please exit the airport through Gates 4 to 8, located in Arrivals, first level, and cross the street in order to approach the taxi stands (4D to 8C).

You can also check out this link for more information on how to get to Seoul from Incheon.

Useful Facts

  • Country Code: +82
  • Currency: Korean Won
  • Time Zone: GMT+9 hours (1 hour ahead of Singapore)
  • Language: Korean
  • AC Socket Type: Types C & F – 220V 60Hz
  • Transport Card: Tmoney
  • Four Seasons: Yes
  • Tourist App: VisitKorea

Getting Around Seoul

Seoul has an advanced and efficient public transportation system. The city is well-connected and easy to get around via subway trains. Tip: For first-timers, we recommend getting the Discover Seoul Pass, which also works like a T-money card (public transport card) to help you get around the city! Plus, the Discover Seoul Pass allows you to visit over 35 attractions for free as well as attractions at a discounted price!

Seoul is a safe and easy place to travel with children, and most places are happy to welcome kids.

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Kimchi: The Korean Way of Life

Kimchi: The Korean Way of Life

“What is this?” I asked as I picked up a reddish cabbage with my chopsticks and stared at it.

“It’s nice, give it a try. No harm anyway,” replied my parents, smiling.

Famous last words if you’d ask me. I took a bite and a sour tang just exploded in my mouth. My face cringed and that pretty much summed up my first experience with kimchi.

Kimchi is synonymous with Korea and Korean culture, right there beside the Kpop tsunami that has swept across the world. At almost every single meal, and I mean every, you’ll spot a small dish of Kimchi amongst the sea of banchan (small side dishes).

Unlike the modern wave of Kpop fandom though, kimchi has a long-standing tradition and position in the Korean culinary world, seeing many iterations and variations pop up over the years.

The signature red colour you associate with the tangy, searing dish with began with the introduction of chilli peppers during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Brought over by the West, the commercialisation of the chilli peppers resulted in a crafting of an ideal type of kimchi, one that is eaten throughout Korean society today.

What is Kimchi?

At its core, kimchi is a spicy, fermented vegetable usually comprising of cabbage and radishes. Made with a paste consisting of chilli powder, garlic, ginger, red pepper, and sugar, the inclusion of fish sauce gives it that tangy punch.

Part of the reason kimchi has remained a mainstay in Korean cuisine is due to the health benefits it brings to the table. Being low in calories and high in dietary fibre, kimchi is tailor-made for the health junkies of today. One serving of kimchi can also provide you with more than half the required daily intake of vitamins to boot.

 

The most common version of kimchi we are exposed to, Paechu Kimchi, made with napa cabbages, is but one of 100 varieties of kimchi that includes Kkakdugi (cubed radish), to Oi Sobagi (cucumber) and Gat (mustard leaf).

In the 21st Century, kimchi has evolved from a simple side dish made to combat the health impact of ever-changing weather, to being the central ingredient of very wholesome dishes ranging from Kimchi Fried Rice to Kimchi Stew.

Paechu Kimchi

Image by cegoh via Pixabay.

Kkakdugi

Image by bangjunki via Instagram.

Oi Sobagi

Image by foreveryoungmi1 via Instagram.

Gat Kimchi

Image by thelonious22 via Instagram.

Image by hong kim from Pixabay

Battling the Seasons

The concept of fermenting food, and in this case kimchi, harkens back to our intrinsic human need of food for survival. This plays out especially during winter where it can get quite harsh in Korea. It hence necessitated a way to preserve food for consumption when farming becomes impossible.

Kimchi was initially dipped in salt in a pottery jar before being placed underground to ferment further. Its durability and nutritional benefits made the making and storing kimchi a common practice for all families and businesses.

 

This process of fermenting kimchi has been passed down from generation to generation and has seeped into the blood of many Koreans. Every November is pickling season, and Koreans set out to prepare a brine for kimchi fermentation. This tradition has netted Korea a coveted spot on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List.

If that wasn’t enough, there are countless festivals such as the Seoul Kimchi Making and Sharing Festival. There’s even a museum, Museum Kimchikan, which is dedicated solely to all things kimchi.

Such a deceptively simple vegetable dish has its roots dating back to a bygone era, with an enduring legacy and influence that stretches across all strata of Korean society, and even the world.

So the next time you’re taking a photo in Korea, say “kimchi” instead of “cheese”, because kimchi isn’t a mere side dish or ingredient in Korea, it’s a way of life.

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Experience Old Seoul in Bukchon Hanok Village

Experience Old Seoul in Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon Hanok Village is a collection of traditional Korean houses that date back 600 years. It is also a popular tourist attraction, drawing throngs of visitors with the lure of providing a glimpse into the traditional Korean way of life.

What’s unique about Bukchon (lit. Northern VIllage) is that this is a genuine residential neighbourhood in Seoul. Many of the houses here are privately owned family homes (hanoks). Perhaps because of the historic surroundings, it is not uncommon to see residents here carrying on with centuries old practices, such as running errands within the neighbourhood while dressed in hanboks – traditional Korean garb.

Today, Bukchon is a fascinating mix of cultural centres, guesthouses, restaurants, gift shops and cafes, intermingled with residential homes. This imbues the area with a vivid  authenticity that is hard to find anywhere else.

Understandably, it is tempting to want to capture a piece of living history and make it your own. While you’re visiting and enjoying this rustic gem of a village, do remember to be mindful and respectful of the residents who live here.

Here’re our top recommendations to fully enjoy Bukchon.

NOTE: Due to excessive crowds and their attendant problems, the government has restricted visiting hours to Bukchon. Visitors are only allowed from 9am to 5pm, Mondays to Saturdays.  

 

Hanbok rental

Image by vickyl1003 via Instagram.

Han Sangsu Embroidery Museum

Image by _susanna_yeongran_kim via Instagram.

Han Sangsu Embroidery Museum

Image by iamesunk via Instagram.

What to See & Do

An easy and fun way to enhance your immersion in this delightful village is by dressing the part. Head over to any of the hanbok rental shops to get fitted and dressed for the day. Now you’re ready to truly enjoy Bukchon.

The Han Sangsu Embroidery Museum offers classes where you can learn to embroider handkerchiefs for the perfect souvenirs. The two halls filled with Korean embroidery exhibits and garments should provide plenty of inspiration.

Another option for craftsy folks is kum bak yeon, traditional gold printing on silk, which will garner you some truly unique and personalised keepsakes.

Bokchon Son Mandu

Image by guang_b16 via Instagram.

Doore Yoo

Image by cityfoodsters via Instagram.

Baengnyeon Samgyetang

Image by tonialvarez8 via Instagram.

What to Eat & Drink

Korea’s cuisine is delicious, and their traditional fare – emphasising fresh ingredients – even more so. Have a bite of history at Bukchon Son Mandu, a nationally beloved dumpling chain said to have its beginnings right here in Bukchon Hanok Village.

Another unique option is the Michelin-starred Doore Yoo, which serves up a rendition of Korean vegetarian incorporating original recipes from Korea’s Buddhist temples. There’s even a foraging menu available, if you book in advance.

If you’re in a need of a pick-me-up, head over to Baengnyeon Samgyetang, conveniently located at the entrance of the village. Tender and flavourful whole chicken, boiled with ginseng and herbs, is a popular folk remedy to revive vitality.

Besides delicious home-style cooking, there are also plenty of modern cafes to indulge your sweet tooth.

The Coffee Mill is a converted hanok that now houses a cosy cafe, run by an artistically inclined owner that likes to draw headshots of customers. Come by to pick up a coffee and chat, and you might walk away with a handdrawn headshot. Its slightly secluded location makes it the ideal rest stop for crowd-weary travellers.

Tea lovers should make a visit to Cha Masineun Tteul, which is said to have some of the best teas in the area. Set in a hanok, the cafe features floor-seating and commanding views of the nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace

If it’s cake and pastries you’re after, you’ll want to head over to Layered. The popular bakery serves up English-style treats such as scones, pound cake and bread.

The Coffee Mill

Image by thecoffeemill_official via Instagram.

Cha Masineun Tteul

Image by mari.yah via Instagram.

Layered

Image by comaru_08 via Instagram.

Top image courtesy of Korea Tourism Organisation.

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How to Explore Seoul Like a Hipster

How to Explore Seoul Like a Hipster

Myeongdong, Itaewon, Insadong? Yes, I know, you’re so over them, and only visitors new to glitzy Seoul think they are must-see destinations. Oh, stop rolling your eyes already and tell me, where do stylish Seoullites like you hang out?  

Determined to find out the answer, on my last vacation in Seoul, I chose to immerse myself in this energetic city, wandering off the popular tourist paths in a bid to truly get to know the locals. Here’s a list which I have canvassed from my sources which will appeal to your hipster ego.

Ok fine, you’re not a hipster. But check the list out anyway because these personality-packed hangouts will appeal whether you wear Converses ironically or not.

(The truth is: hipsters hardly acknowledge that they are one, but it is evident on their Instagrams.)

Image by seasaltandbun via Instagram

Seongsu-dong

To be honest, I am reluctant to write about Seongsu-dong. Why? Because it has been receiving a lot of attention and its ‘not-so-mainstream’ vibes are diminishing. And that– is against the hipster’s code. (Right, Korea’s ultra-famous boyband Big Bang shot their ‘FXXK IT’  music video here. So, there’s nothing obscure about this district anymore.)

Image by no.00093 via Instagram

Perhaps.

But for those who have never seen the music video, this unassuming locale, turns out to be where the young, stylish crowd spend their weekend afternoons.

Seongsu-dong used to be a district for craftsmen, especially the shoemakers. There is a permanent exhibition in the subway station which chronicles the neighbourhood’s history of shoemaking.

And what cemented its reputation as the ‘Hipster Neighbourhood of Seoul’ in recent years was the opening of the industrial-chic Cafe Onion and the bourgeoning street art murals in the back alleys.

Image by bee_8hs8 via Instagram
Image by _kly95 via Instagram

The decrepit warehouse-turned-bakery, Cafe Onion is worth making a pit stop for – freshly baked artisanal pastries, good coffee, and local chatters at the communal tables.

What I like most about this cafe is how unpretentious it seems, nothing over-the-top, Cafe Onion wants merely to serve delectable baked goods and coffee, and cultivate a sense of community in the neighbourhood.

The spacious cafe and bakery not only appeals to the younger crowd, the ahjussi (uncle) from the auto repair shop in the vicinity frequent this bakery too. I particularly enjoyed my afternoon at their rooftop terrace, here is where you can see their bakers at work on the same floor.

Is Seongsu-dong a gritty neighbourhood? More like a nondescript neighbourhood that has preserved its industrial beginning – taking cues from old factories and auto repair shops, taking on a unique charm of its own. >

Cafe ONION

Address: 277-135 Seongsu-dong 2(i)-ga, Seongdong-gu

Tel: 070-7816-2710

Opening Hours:

Mon-Fri 08:00AM to 22:00PM

Sat-Sun 10:00AM to 22:00PM

Image by b_ddesign via Instagram
Image by by_glitterglitter via Instagram.

Image by somjeed_m via Instagram.

Seongsu-dong is also known as Seoul’s up-and-coming art district, and it is worth exploring on foot. Factories, artists studio, and residences line the streets in an easy cohabitation that will make your senses tingle with “hipster vibes”.

Local tip: Recognise this location? That’s right, this is one of the filming locations for the Korean drama – Goblin

Location: 310-63 Seongsu 2(i)-ga 1(il)-dong, Seongdong-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Directions: Walking distance from Seongsu Station on Line 2 (Exit 4)

Mangwon Market

When it comes to food markets in Seoul, chances are you’ll find yourself in one of those crowded, oldest, largest traditional markets such as Namdaemun market or Gwangjang traditional market.

But true hipsters won’t be caught dead squeezing with the crowds. Instead, they will be hanging out at the one market that is less crowded, less explored but well patronized by the locals. And that is the discreet charm of Mangwon Market.

It is a smaller traditional market located in the western end of Seoul. Here you can pick up fresh produce and eat your fill from the mind boggling variety of street food. Don’t leave without trying one of the famous fried doughnuts!  

Mangwon Sijang

486-8 Mangwon-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul

Nearest station: Mangwon Station (망원역) on Line 6 (Exit 2)

Opening hours: Daily from 10:00AM to 20:30PM

German House

Finally, where to unwind with a pint of beer after a day of exploration?

Leave the university bars out of the hipster’s itinerary, they are typically located in Hongdae and Konkuk university areas.

Enter German House, a bar that serves exotic craft beers from around the world. What makes this drinking place exotic is that it is housed in a renovated hanok (traditional Korean house). 

As a result, drinking here feels appropriately remote, away from the vibrant city centre and distinct from well-known Itaewon, the go-to nightlife destination for most.Adding to its appeal, German House is located in traditional alleyways lined with hanoks, nicely scratching the hipster’s itch for novelty and offbeat experiences as you find your way there.

German House

16-4, Daemyeong 1-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Tel: 02−742−1933

Nearest station: Hyehwa Station on Line 4 (Exit 4)

Opening hours: Daily from 12:00PM to 02:00AM

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5 Reasons Why Daejeon Should be Your Next Korea Stopover

5 Reasons Why Daejeon Should be Your Next Korea Stopover

Daejeon is South Korea’s fifth-largest city with a population of approximately 1.5 million. Located at the central region of South Korea, Daejeon city serves as a major transit hub as it is at the crossroad of national rail routes and major expressways. It is 50-minutes away from Seoul via the KTX high-speed train.

This city has a different buzz compared to Seoul, a fusion between technology and nature. The locals call it the ‘City of Science and Technology.’

Given its prime location, Daejeon has attracted more than 200 research institutes and is reputed to be the ‘Silicon Valley of South Korea’, the cradle of South Korea’s innovative science sector.

But it’s not just all work and no play. This cutting-edge city hosted matches during the FIFA World Cup in 2002.

This 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of Daejeon as a metropolitan city and 70 years since its formation. It is also gaining popularity among locals and visitors, thanks to its refreshing environs and bustling nature.

All these means Daejeon is a perfect candidate if you’re looking to include a day trip in your Seoul vacation. Here are our top 5 reasons why.

1. Lush & Abundant Nature

If you enjoy Nami Island, you must check out Mount Jangtaesan in Daejeon. The recreational forest park has a scenic bridge that leads to the Sky Tower, which is an observation deck that overlooks the bridge. Revel in the elevation and gaze upon the enchanting redwood forest, reminiscent of Russian painter Issac Levitan’s masterpiece.

Besides the Sky Tower, there is also an idyllic garden perfect for a meditative stroll. Gaze upon its stately trees and serene stream, and you’ll soon see it deserves it reputation as one of the most instagrammable spots in Daejeon.

 

2. Iconic Architecture

Expo Bridge is the architectural icon of Daejeon and a scenic waterfront promenade perfect for soaking up views of the city skyline.

Ask the locals for the best night views and they will no doubt point to this bridge, a well-known landmark illuminated by a series of lights after dark.

3. Relaxation, as Nature Intended

Communal bath and sauna houses are aplenty in South Korea. But what about hot springs? Good news – you’re in for a treat!

There is an outdoor hot spring in the heart of Yuseong Spa district. After a day of exploration, relax by soaking your feet in the soothing 39°C spring water.

Local folklore point to the hot spring as therapeutic for all sorts of ailments!

4. Soul Food Fit for a King

The local signature dish Daecheongho Maeuntang is a variation of spicy fish stew with shrimp and mushroom.

The main ingredient here is ssogari (Mandarin fish) a species of perch which was, by imperial decree, reserved as food for the kings during the Joseon dynasty, probably because of their flashy markings that resemble precious metals.

Fantastic origins notwithstanding, this rich, spicy and comforting stew is the very definition of soul food. 

5. A Peek into the Future

No trip to Daejeon city would be complete without visiting the major attraction that is the Expo Science Park.

Today, it is a futuristic theme park with 13 pavilions showcasing a variety of thematic exhibitions with a focus on science and technology.

An ideal attraction for the Silicon Valley of Korea, wouldn’t you say? 

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On Visiting The World’s Most Militarized Border

On Visiting The World’s Most Militarized Border

Barbed wire fences, landmine markings, soldiers reviewing our passports… just what did I get myself into after a 1.5hour drive from Seoul?

Before we got off from our tour bus, our guide instructed repeatedly ‘Please do not wander off on your own. Even though it is the Demilitarized zone, it is heavily guarded by military forces. There are landmines around this zone, stay away from the forest. Follow me closely.’

We arrived at somewhere remote, deprived of the energy and bustle of modern South Korea, on a strip of land that separates North and South Korea. And I, finally see why the former President of United States Bill Clinton once described it as ‘the scariest place on Earth’.

Barbed wire fences, landmine markings, soldiers reviewing our passports… just what did I get myself into after a 1.5 hour drive from Seoul?

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was established on July 27, 1953, when the Armistice Agreement was signed during the Korean War. It is a no-man’s-land fringed with barbed wires, tank traps and landmines between North and South Korea. Since a peace treaty was never formalised to end the war, combat troops massed along the borders of the 2km-wide stretch of land in a tense military standoff.

Technically speaking, both countries are still at war.

What an ominous fact.

Out of fear, I asked my English-speaking Korean tour guide, Lisa, on our geographic location and she reassured us that ‘We are still standing on the Southern soil, Paju city. But they (North Korea) can see us.’

 

And so, a quest was born: I need to complete this tour alive.

The briefing I received before the trip is a set of rules to observe; when visiting the DMZ, the tourist must always carry his/her passport and adhered to a specified dress code that is: no military print and provocative text.

 

After how My first stop at Paju city, Imjingak Resort features a park with monuments and artefacts about the Korean War, and a vantage point overlooking the Freedom Bridge.

The aptly named Freedom bridge is a place for prisoner repatriation. At the end of the three-year Korean War in 1953, 13,000 prisoners of war were freed to cross over to South Korea.

The estranged relationship between the North and South has resulted in millions of displaced families since the 1950s. Multi-coloured prayer ribbons strung on the fences are words of longings from separated families, in hope that one day, they can reunite with their family members in the north. At that moment, I felt the everlasting, intangible losses of war, and how the peace we have made today should never be taken for granted.

After half an hour had passed, Lisa shepherded all of us onto the bus to depart for the next site. We are required to follow our tour operator’s schedule as visiting the DMZ is a controlled tourism operation.

We arrived at the Third Infiltration Tunnel, one of the key tourist attractions which comprise a DMZ video hall, gift shop and an entry into the tunnel.

‘Please leave all your belongings in the locker, grab a helmet and form a line. We are going to trek down the third infiltration tunnel.’

 

Image from Wikipedia

‘Please leave all your belongings in the locker, grab a helmet and form a line. We are going to trek down the third infiltration tunnel.’

My spirit of adventure was piqued. Little did I know this would be the most physically demanding walk in my lifetime and I wouldn’t want to do it again. I warn you, this tunnel is not made for the faint-hearted, tall or the claustrophobic. The tunnel lies 73 meters underground which is equivalent to a 25-storey building.

North Korea has dug a total of four tunnels under the DMZ to launch a sneak attack on South Korea. The Third Infiltration Tunnel discovered in 1978 runs 1,635 meters long, with a height and width of approximately 2 meters. It is estimated that over 3,000 soldiers would have been able to trek through the tunnel per hour.

‘They denied the fact that they plan to invade South Korea. Instead, they claimed that this was a coal mine. In fact, this area doesn’t contain coal, it is a granite formation.’

As we descended into the tunnel, the stale and mouldy smell threw me off – this experience has since made it to my list of misadventures abroad.

The entire journey of descending and ascending the third infiltration tunnel took us almost an hour.

The tunnel slopes downwards at 11 degrees, it was easy to walk down but making the way up was a nightmare. Imagine climbing up the stairs of a 25-story building! I was grasping for fresh air and drenched in sweat as I trudged up from the tunnel. It burnt all the calories I had for breakfast. And I must give props to our guide, Lisa, she has probably trekked up and down this steep, narrow and damp tunnel umpteen times

 

‘Did you enjoy this tunnel exploration? This must have been a very good exercise.

Ah, I shook my head. Exercise indeed. I looked around and everyone was exhausted. It was a sort of travel milestone worth remembering, like completing a race. I posed for a photo and made my way to the gift shop and pick out a memento. Guess what. I bought a shirt.

We got back on the tour bus again and made our way to the dormant railway station with tracks that connect to North Korea. I never knew it was possible to take a train to North Korea.

Dorasan Station is one of the northernmost railway stations on the Gyeongui Line.

In 2000, Dorasan station was introduced by South Korea and North Korea as an endeavour of Korean unification. Later in 2003, the railway tracks were finally connected at the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) within the DMZ, which is also known as the Armistice Line that divides the Korean Peninsula into two halves.

Dorasan station is modern and fully equipped with train schedule board, ticketing counters, a full custom and immigration area and arrivals hall. It now serves as a tourist attraction rather than a functional transit as no trains run between the two states.

 

I was impressed by the facility’s readiness, I entered the gantry and walked into the lonely platform.

I always remembered the railway platform as a place full of hustle and bustle, passengers eagerly waiting for the arrival of the train, a few pacing up and down the platform, some were sitting on the bench reading newspaper… but I felt none of that here. It was eerily quiet, and I felt the lingering presence of a few military soldiers in sunglasses observing my conduct.

I came across a large map embedded on one section of the platform – Trans Eurasian Railway Network.

There is a possibility of moving people from South Korea all the way to Europe by rail. Well, if and only if, the relations between North and South improve.

We left the train station and drove up to the Dora Observatory deck which to my surprise was bustling with crowd.

‘This is our final stop at Dora Observatory the star attraction of DMZ tour,’ exclaimed Lisa.

The Dora Observatory takes our eyes to North Korea mountainscape. Here we were able to take a closer peek into the Hermit Kingdom through a row of coin-operated binoculars. As expected, tourists hoarded the binoculars, giving up coins generously to spy on North Korea.

‘This is our final stop at Dora Observatory the star attraction of DMZ tour,’

I paid 200 won to get a fleeting 30 seconds glimpse of North Korea’s flag. Rumour has it that the North Koreans raised the structure higher to show off their flag.

On the bus ride back to civilisation, I thought about where I’d been five hours before: the world’s most militarised border, a dangerous world away. The question that bubbled up was not so much, ‘Is this trip worthwhile?’ But rather, what did I seek to discover and learn?

It occurred to me that life’s moments seem to be provisional and the perception we carry with us are readily thrown over by the next epiphany. Having completed the DMZ tour safely, I can’t help but feel anxious for South Korea, who must contend with an unpredictably aggressive neighbour next door.

Look, the North Koreans have dug four tunnels under the DMZ to spy on the South, who knows if there are more tunnels to be discovered?

On a lighter note, those who have watched the hit Korean drama Descendants of the Sun, this is certainly the place to keep your eyes peeled for handsome South Korean military men.

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