JSA, Panmunjom, (Almost) North Korea

Photos from the Joint Security Area (JSA) from the Southern side of  the infamous North/South Korean border.

Technically you can ‘cross over’ to the North by hovering down the middle of the JSA conference room Military Demarcation Line (like you can by jump through air  east to west on the equator.) Venture any further than that however and you’re guarantees to be snipered within seconds. (No joke, there have been several tragic incidents including the famous 1970’s Axe Murder.)

Panmunjom is the furthest point civilians can venture from the Republic of Korea, and only on a pre -arranged tour booked at least 3 days before. The 9am – 5pm tours are all padded out with visits to Camp Bonifas, The War Memorial & The Freedom Bridge at Imjingag Park. I booked via Seoul City Tour.

The JSA itself (minus all security faffing) is literally only 10 mins.  Yes it’s a little over-scripted, photos are limited, & everyone’s facebook pics look the same.  However at the same time it’s  unique, surreal, and particularly interesting if you get a bit of ad lib chit chat from the USA solders.  (He fully admitted the North can hear everything that’s said, with their bugs 800 meters away.) The whole North/South guard patrol face off  is almost comedic – if it’ wasn’t one of the most armed places on earth!

Probably the most fascinating 10 secs of the day are the  glimpses of Kijongdong; The Propaganda Village 1km away on the Northern side.  Again it verges on the ridiculous with their ‘our flagpole is bigger than your flagpole’ contest (the North rebuild theres to double the height.) Shame it’s a sham and no-one lives there to see it.  Chillingly creepy!

 

 

 

72 hours in Seoul, Korea…

Here are the top 6 fun/crazy/beautiful things I saw with 3 days in Seoul:

1) A bad-ass tattooed couple in their 20’s paying to cuddle a kitten….

Cat cafe’s are increasingly popular in Asia.  Not just with 10 year old girls, but because young couples often live in tiny, pet-free apartments.  Plus the National obsession  Hello Kitty probably helps.  I visited Toms Cat  where for 8000 Won (the price of a tea/coffee)  you can stay as long as you want and hang out like a crazy cat lady.  It’s surprisingly therapeutic.

2) Socks, socks & more socks…..

Forget Gangnam.  Hogndae Street is the new fashionable area. Weirdly it reminds me of an alpine ski village with all it’s second/third story  alfresco  coffee chains, or maybe it’s just the cool March air.  It’s close to Hongkok University so has a ton of  graffiti, clubs & funky boutiques nearby. One question though Korea; What’s with all the sock shops?!

3) I’m gonna pop some tags, I got 20 Won in my pocket…

Outside of  Ewha Women’s University is the warren of vintage flee market stores also know as ‘that street you want to visit.’ Correct. There’s rows of  shoe shops that remind me of UK 90’s chain Garage (with a 60,000 won price range.) Plus your usual Asian-esq slogan tees and rails thrift shop jumpers. It’s also waay better than the oddly popular Namdaemun Market.

4) The Bukchon ‘Observatory’ (some guy’s 3rd floor balcony)…

Bukchon & Insa-dong areas are both worth a little meander for arts & crafts. The maze of alleyways around Buchon Hanok Village are full of galleries & teeny tiny tea cafes. An enterprising guy has done a sterling job pinning flyers to lampposts to advertise  his 3rd floor balcony as a ‘private observatory.’ For 3000 Won you can get some nice get some nice shots of the Seongbuk-dong mountains and Gyeonbokgung palace rooftop. Plus he throws in a free orange juice.

5) Businessmen in suits hopping over stepping stones…

Cheonggyecheong is a 6km stream running through the center of the city. It’s definitely worth a spot of people watching as the city workers take their lunch break, just to see guys in suits with briefcases skip over the stepping stones like little girls in a woodland :)

6) Cheery blossoms come early….

I thought these were a Tokyo thing, so what a nice surprise!

Getting there: $350 SGD Singapore to Seoul (via Taipei) with Scoot Air

Where I stayed: $25 SGD shared dorm at The Closest Hostel (1 min from Hongik Uni MRT)

Where I ate:  BistroRE just off Yanghwa-ro 18 gil, Hongik University. (Home of the freshest mozzarella in Asia!)

 

 

 

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

Blasts From The Past…

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