In November 2008 I went to South Korea to travel around the Northern, Southern and Eastern coasts of the country and visit both the Western and Eastern De-Militarized Zones (DMZ) separating North Korea and South Korea (resulting from the armistice agreement from the Korean War 1950-1953). I have kept my travel emails from that trip, so I thought it might be fun to repost them here and add a few photos and some extra information. This blog is Part 2 of that journey (Samcheok and Jeongdongjin).
November 10th, 2008
The last couple of days have been interesting, interspersed with necessary travel to get further up the coast. I had flashbacks to the family trip back from Queensland in 1984 where dad decided to take the coast road – we kids had travel sickness nearly all the way (took about 2 days of driving to return Victoria in southern Australia where we lived!), this time it was in a bus on a very winding coastal road, the driver had the heater on a “comfortable” 1000 degrees celsius!! Luckily he turned it down eventually – but not before I felt like I had done a few revolutions in a clothes dryer – have felt better!
I then arrived in Samcheok, a small city famous for the massive limestone caves (Hwanseon Donggul) up in the nearby mountains. I arrived too late to go there on the first day, but I went to a cave museum, and by chance came across some kind of festival – no idea what it was about, but they had scantily clad dancing girls – so entertainment was satisfactory! The museum had a cool Imax movie where you sat in these reclined chairs and the film was shown on a domed ceiling – it was all about the caves. Ended up in a little restaurant later that night – watching Japanese baseball (with South Koreans playing) with some locals.
The next morning I went to the Hwanseon Donggul – the biggest caves in Asia apparently. And they are big! Huge caverns – really impressive! You have to walk 1.2km up this mountain via stairs etc to get to it, but the walk is worth it. The mountain scenery around it was fantastic too – as it is the end of autumn here many of the tree leaves are red and yellow. A great sight.
You walk for over 1km inside the caves – along walkways, bridges etc. Everything is well-lit so you get a full appreciation of the scale of the caves.
Had some issues with the bus out there and back to Samcheok – missed both of them and there is a 2 hour gap between the next one…anyway a potential disaster turned out to be something good! I met a lot of Koreans whilst waiting – they all wanted to chat, look at my photos, share their food (Gimbap – the local version of Japanese california rolls) – one guy even got me a hot coffee as it was getting really cold up there. Great people – really friendly.
Anyway I am now in Jeongdongjin (arrived tonight by train) a resort town right on the beach – you can tell you are closer to North Korea when the majority of the coastline has barbed wire and guard towers – but luckily not the beach here – there is a train station right on it though – and what appears to be a cruise ship up on a hill (I think it’s a hotel?)!
Apart from the scenery, I have come to this town to see a captured North Korean spy submarine that ran aground in 1996, they tried to set fire to it and escape. Not a happy ending for the crew though I am afraid to say as they were all shot or captured (they did manage to do a fair bit of damage to the local population before hand though)! Crazy place! I will check the sub out tomorrow morning (you can go inside it). Then I am off further north to a port town called Sokcho to go to a nearby national park for some hiking – it is called Seoraksan National Park, and is meant to be one of the most impressive in South Korea.
A quick update on the curious moments of travel in Asia…..
I just ate dinner in a BBQ seafood place near the beach – grilled prawns, calamari salad, seaweed and sweet potatoes (all separate dishes) – sounds strange – but good. By the way I had no idea what I ordered! They could only speak Korean, and there were no pictures on the menu! So I picked something worth W30,000 (about $35) from the menu – ha! luckily it worked out ok! Was really good – although it turns out I was meant to shell them and eat the meat only – I ate Japanese style and ate the tail shell also (not the head though) – oh well – they just laughed! Who knows what I could have ended up eating?? Lucky dip dining is not necessarily recommended – but it makes for an interesting evening!
Then I went for a walk along the beach – they have all these interesting statues of animals (along the lines of the Chinese horoscope from what I can gather). Then I ate the strangest and hardest to eat ice cream I have ever had (I just grabbed it out of the freezer of a shop near the beach, and walked back to my hotel) – it ended up being chocolate ice cream in this weird plastic tube thing (it looked like a turd to be honest) – you squeeze it and suck out the ice cream (I really should have looked at the wrapper and taken note of the cartoon instructions on the back – this would have warned me it was going to be complicated and best left in the freezer where it is safer for all non Koreans)! Looks quite disgusting but tasted ok – ah the joys of unusual Asian snack foods!