Winding Down

For our very last day of this fantastic trip we treat ourselves to a late morning. Looking at the map we decide to go Anguk, which the guide book describes as a “more upscale neighborhood”. It turns out to be a bit of a disappointment though, not much to look at and not very upscale at all.

We stop for a coffee at a cozy place and are served latte in a cappuccino cup (Sanna, our Barista from the Japan group, would’ve had a hizzy fit). Turning to the map once again we find a little park that looks nice and decide go there. Navigating the Seoul streets isn’t easy and every now and then you’re forced to take a detour but eventually we find our way to the park – only to find out that it’s more or less crap, a couple of dusty patches of grass and a gazebo. So we quickly move on and find ourselves down by the small stream going through the center of town with very nice walkways on each side. I’m told that in the evenings there’s also a rather tasteful laser show to enjoy. Here and there there are some stepping stones strewn in so that you can cross over if you want. A stroll along the stream is highly recommended if you find yourself in Seoul.

For lunch we find ourselves at a steakhouse, reflecting over the fact that none of us has seen a single McDonald’s restaurant in Seoul even though we’ve seen several Burger Kings. Weird.

Post-lunch we continue spelunking in the same aimless manner as before and end up in some kind of market quarters where lots of locals seem to hang out. Despite this the prices are outrageous (a bag of dried mangoes is 13k!) and the stuff they’re selling is mostly crap. So Kimberly and I decide to go back to the more fun quarters where we got our foot massage to do some present shopping before leaving.

The evening winds down with a final dinner at an Indian restaurant where I actually win the gift certificate of 2000 sek in the end-of-trip lottery! I guess I have more than one incentive to do this again… =)

DMZ Deja Vu

Today we’re going to the DMZ from the south side and Kimberly and I start out a wee bit tired (of which our gracious travel mates aren’t slow to take advantage…) A bus takes us there and a guide tells us a thing or two about the DMZ; for instance about the time when the boss of Hyundai (being a former North Korean) gave away 1001 cows to North Korea. Or that the people who live in the DMZ, yes there actually are people living there, earn from $80k to $100k a year just to live there and farm the land. But then again, you do run the risk of stepping on a mine or being axed down by crazed soldiers

Entering the DMZ we come across the South Korean version of tank traps which consists of cement “portals” sort of like the ones at Stonehenge. When you need to stop something, the top part is blown off using explosives, falling down on the road and blocking it.

As we get to the actual Joint Security Area, where the blue barracks are, we get surprisingly strict instructions. There is to be absolutely no pointing, no stopping unless told so or even looking in the wrong direction. The North Koreans were much more laid back! The South Korean soldiers on duty were also very constipated, all wearing pilot glasses, helmets and standing with closed fists in front of their bodies. There was also a peculiar sound about them that took me a while to figure out what it was. It seems like they have steel balls sewn into the hem of their pants in order for them to fall just right! And when they walk around, those balls roll around and clatter against each other, hilarious! =D

Then again I guess they do have reason to be a bit more jumpy what with the North Koreans and their less than stellar track record of predictability… On the way out we stop by the usual souvenir shop and I buy a couple of trinkets. The place seems to be mostly staffed by Americans, interestingly enough.

Next stop is the “Third Tunnel of Aggression” where the North Koreans tried digging an invasion tunnel under the DMZ and nearly succeeded. If it wasn’t for the South Koreans capturing a spy that told them about its location. The North Koreans of course denied it being an invasion tunnel and claimed that it was a coal mine, pointing to black patches on the tunnel walls. (patches soon to be found being paint since the kind of rock that’s in this region never contains coal…) We did get to go down into the tunnel itself as well, wearing yellow hardhats. Which was fortunate since I bumped my head in the ceiling more than five times going back and forth.

Back up top we get to see a propaganda movie that is only slightly more balanced than the North Korean ones. There is also a little museum covering larger DMZ incidents. Interestingly enough the entry about the Pueblo (the captured spy ship) is rather tiny here and hardly mentioned… Outside the building are a few monuments, but the coolest thing I find is the “Mine” warning sign off to the side. I guess stepping out into the forest to pee is out of the question!

We hop on the bus again and arrive at some sort of watch tower with a view of North Korea and a joint factory venture between North and South Korea. The place is actually rather silly with a line some 10 meters from the actual view after which you weren’t allowed to take pictures. The view wasn’t all that special, especially since we’d just been in North Korea, I feel that they could’ve skipped this bit and gone straight for the train station which is the last stop on the tour.

What makes this train station special is its role as a symbol for the reunification effort, one day you’re supposed to be able to board a train to Pyongyang on this station. But right now it’s just shipping the workers at the joint venture factory to and fro.

On the way back to Seoul we’re herded into one of those crappy crystal shops you always end up in on tours like this. We manage to escape unscathed and spend the rest of the evening spelunking around the less touristy parts of Seoul and finishing off the evening with some excellent Indian food.

Going to Never-Ever Land

We’re up early to go a theme park just outside of Seoul called Everland. Kimberly had seen in the Vagabond travel magazine that this park had one of the world’s best wooden roller coasters and since I’m a serious roller coaster fanatic nowadays, I decided to tag along. It’s me, Kimberly and Henrik that hop on the subway that morning heading for the bus station. On the subway I spot a guy with a Bon Jovi tattoo spelled like “Liv’in on a Prayer”, poor guy. (on the other hand, I bet there are sizable amount of westerners walking around with nonsense Kanji on their skin)

After a lot of asking around we find the right bus stop (there are like 15 to choose from) and start waiting for our bus. There are an abundance of buses here, on average there is probably one bus every 20 seconds stopping just at our stop. The ride to Everland is about 45 minutes and Kimberly isn’t feeling to hot, probably has something to do with the Tequila race she initiated last night.

Entry fee to Everland is 35k (about 220 sek or $30) and then you get to ride everything for free. The park looks more or less like Liseberg but is decked in a Halloween outfit. It feels a bit weird walking around there in shorts when the place is covered in pumpkins and witches. The wooden roller coaster is over at the end of the park and since we heard from the others who were there the day before that the place was packed we headed right over there. We seem to have picked a better day though since the place is all but deserted, mostly it’s just the cleaning crew swooshing around on inlines sweeping up the odd piece of trash. We arrive at the roller coaster only to find out that it doesn’t open for another half hour. Finding not much else to do we plant ourselves first in line and wait for it to open.

Rushing through the queuing labyrinth we seat ourselves in the very first cart and are on our way up the first incline. The first drop is an awesome 77° and it certainly delivers when you’re up front! The rest of the ride is kind of a disappointment though and I actually think Balder at Liseberg is better. Sure, it twists and turns well enough but I miss those humps that Balder has that makes you feel weightless. We decide to give it another go though while there’s still relatively few people in line and aim for the last cart this time. It’s almost an entirely different ride this time with great G-forces and high speed turns. Satisfied we stumble out of the ride, through the little store that’s on the way out. We’d noticed that almost all the Koreans we’ve met here have some sort of headgear, be it cat ears, bunny ears or something similar. So I pick up a pair of Giraffe antennae, to you know, blend in with the locals…

Anyways, we go looking for something else to ride and find one of those raft rides where you sit in a round raft and get water squirted all over you. Here you get some sort of cover to hide behind though, so you’re not getting very wet. The ride itself is not very exciting and we’re realizing that we’ve probably done the best part of the park already. There is another roller coaster, but it’s closed for repairs so we go for a flume ride before calling it quits. On the way out we see a Comanche helicopter passing overhead. There seems to be some sort of military base nearby since there have been passing helicopters and planes the entire morning.

We get back to central Seoul in the afternoon and Henrik heads off to see the War museum. I remember Anna saying she was going for the kind of foot massage where little fishes nibble at your feet taking off dead skin. Sounded awesome so Kimberly and I head over to Stay Korea to hook up with her, turns out she had some other plans and wasn’t there. Peter had also tried the fishes though and tried to describe the way there. Full of confidence Kimberly and I headed off in search of Myeong-dong station where we should take a right and two lefts and look for a foot sign. Right-o, how hard could it be?

Turns out it can be pretty hard, we don’t really mind though since the area is jam packed with one great store after another. There’s just so much cool stuff that I can’t get enough. After a lot of asking around though we finally find the place, called “The Foot Shop” (Peter actually wasn’t that far off, it’s right, left, right and then on the left hand side).

The place has insane opening hours, from 10 am to 3 am so there’s no problem getting a midnight massage I guess. Fish nibbling followed by a foot and leg-massage is something like 120 sek if I remember correctly and takes about an hour. We both go for that alternative and after some initial confusion change into the clothes the staff wants us to. The fishes are a very ticklish experience, after a while I manage to control myself but Kimberly just can’t stop laughing. After ten minutes or so it’s time for the massage, a shame really, since I’d liked more time with the fishes. Not that they seem to make that much of a difference, but I’d still warmly recommend it for the experience alone.

The massage is taken care of by two very capable Chinese women that don’t speak much English. The massage is pretty rough and our poor feet gets what’s coming to them, not that I’m complaining, but with the pleasure comes a bit of pain. We attempt some conversation but they’re not very well versed in English so we don’t get far. Walking away on little clouds we go around the block and just look at stuff before returning home to the hostel.

Tonight is the farewell dinner for the Japan crowd who are leaving for the boat tomorrow morning. Anna and Karina have had some troublems finding a place willing to serve 36 people on short notice but had eventually found a nice Italian place. Across the road from it there is a Lomography shop and Jacob and I head over there whilst waiting for the food. Lomography is a cool company selling cheap old school plastic cameras that uses old chemical film and Jacob has a Fisheye camera from them. I’m really keen on getting one but decide this isn’t the time.

Dinner is great and afterward we’re all in the mood for some karaoke. Hunting down a place isn’t as easy as we’d thought though and the first one is a really fancy non-alcoholic place. That obviously won’t do, but the guy in the door suggests a place across the street under his breath. It’s down a cellar and there’s a guy behind a counter hooking us up with a room and some, probably illegal, lukewarm beer. The room hardly fits all of us, the giant screen and the even gianter remote control. Everything is in Korean of course so it takes us a good while to figure out how to get English text and all. After a few false starts and Johnny buying a Jack Daniel’s to brighten the mood we’re off singing ABBA for king and country. Jacob puts on Bull on Parade for me to sing, thanks man… I do get to put on a smoldering rendition of Creep later on though, so I’m happy.

Anna goes out on another beer run but suddenly comes back and grabs me; “you gotta come see this!” Over in the next room are a bunch of thoroughly inebriated Koreans delighted to have some new best friends come over and sing with them! We do our best to sing along with the awful Korean pop music, all the while being “filmed” by one of the guys using the fire extinguisher as a video camera… Ah, good times!

After a while the others find us and we all party with the Koreans. When we’ve had our fill of karaoke for the night we find ourselves a nice bar with a nice drink selection where we spend the rest of the evening drinking fancy umbrella drinks.

Knives aplenty!

Up early with another fantastic breakfast buffet, hotels just aren’t that expensive in China which explains our luxurious accommodations. Shenyang airport is tiny and we’re flying with Korean Air bound for Incheon just outside of Seoul. The service is excellent with comfy seats and beautiful hostesses.

During the transfer to our hostel Karina lets us know that if we’re interested there are a few tickets left for “a show where they are drumming with knives”. Staying true to my more yes-oriented lifestyle I of course go for the offer. We’re staying at Ann Guesthouse right at the subway station Hongik University, a very good location within mere crawling distance of what seems like a thousand bars. The rooms are fine but the manager leaves us to figure out basically everything by ourselves (and being impossible to get ahold of). Us regular travelers didn’t notice too much of hassle though, but tour leader Karina wasn’t happy at all (that’s why I don’t mind paying a little extra for someone who just deals with crap like this =P).

Anyways, as soon as we’ve settled in we head over to Stay Korea where the Japan-group lives (a place that both Anna and Karina recommends highly). It’s just a ten minute walk but right now only Anna is there, the others are out exploring Seoul. We don’t mind that much though and head down to the convenience store for some beer and snacks. The weather is fabulous, something like 20°C and sunny and we just bask on the balcony for a while. Kimberly and I find some wine coolers at the store at 10% alcohol making us more than a little silly as evening approaches.

Eventually it’s time to move on to see the knife show and me, Karina and Anna head out to grab some dinner on the way. By this time we’ve more or less had it with the Asian kitchen and go for some excellent Italian. I’m pretty much hammered at this point and is made appropriately fun of by my escorts. Fortunately the show is a ways off and I’m sober enough to really appreciate the show once we get there. The show was Nanta, actually a very famous musical comedy style show that’s been running non-stop ever since 1997! And it was great! Really funny and talented performers juggling and drumming with knives and any other kitchen appliance you can think of. This yes-policy is really paying off!

After the show we join the rest of the gang at Ho bar for a very happy (and wet) reunion celebration.