Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) – At the Border of Korea

It’s our last day in South Korea and because we just had less than 24 hours, what we planned before the night of our return flight to Manila was a tour in the most heavily militarized border in the world which is the border between North Korea and South Korea called Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

As I am aware that security is the most important factor for me for this tour, I booked the one and only tour we had during our trip in South Korea. For me even I knew that we can go to the said border by just jumping to the KORAIL train, I still planned it with a tour guide because of the main reason that we must at least knew someone who knows how to speak English and who will guide us in one of the tourist friendly but heavily guarded area and maybe dangerous place in the world. There are lots of travel company that offers DMZ tour and I just selected one of them. We got the half-day tour of DMZ as we still need to go to the market to shop a little so we can bring something when we return from our 9 days trip abroad.

The night before Saturday, we arranged all of our things in our luggage as it was our last night in the hotel. We decided to leave our stuff at the hotel before our tour the next morning so we were hands free while traveling to Korean border. And then we will return to the hotel then straight to the airport.

Even we were tired from the past days of adventures, we still woke up early because the tour was time-sensitive and we do not want to miss our tour.

From our hotel, we jumped-in again to our favorite and nearest train station which was Non-hyeon. And then, we took train going to Bupyeong-gu and went out at Isu (Chongshin University) station. From Isu, we took Line 4 going to Seoul station.

We arrived at Seoul station 10 minutes before 8AM. We met our tour guide after some difficulties of understanding where to meet at the station because Seoul Station is one of the busiest station as it is centralized to metro and provincial trains. Our tour guide bought the ticket for our train and we waited until we go down to the platform to board the train.

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When the time has arrived, we go down and walked straight to DMZ train. At the back of my mind, I knew that our trip was safe but still I guarded myself as I was with my youngest sister and with my mom. As we mount the train, I was amazed at the ambiance inside the train, because outside, train color are plain white and black and some people potrait, which is opposite of what is inside. The wall color inside the train was so warm that made the passengers feels relaxing and joyful, the wall displays flowers, ceilings colorful heart shapes and the floor painted with lively color of water-lily leaves. The seat covers were flashy and vibrant flower shapes.

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Our ticket has seat number and one of our ticket has gaps with the other two tickets, but our guide told us that if the seats were empty, we can seat together which what happened as the train started to desert the platform.

At the time we were waiting inside the train, I already felt the tour was quite exclusive as I can sense that the crew were most likely part of South Korean military which guarded the train with its strict implementation, one requirement on the tour is the passport, without it, you will not be able to join the tour. Within our trip, the crew that we saw inside the train, checks our passport and tickets.

It was the first train that I experienced where you can see the front or back view of the railway of the train. And while we were on our way, most of the views that I saw after we left metro area were farms in between. So I can imagine that most likely the place near DMZ are agriculture oriented places which I understand because how a government plan to developed a place which near in most threatening place in their country which is their border.

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Along the way we saw few stations before we arrived at the Dorasan (tour destination station), the nearest station where the border is and the last station of South Korea, because the train line (Gyeonggi) is connected to the next station that already belong to North Korea. The following stations in Gyeongui line in Southern Korea are: Neunggok, Munsan, Uncheon, Imjingang and Dorasan.

Before the Dorasan station, we had been told to leave the train at Imjingang station for our identity check. All the passengers left the train and queued for the passport verification. After our passport validated, we returned to the train and went to the last station. Before arriving at the last station, there were some military personnel jumped-in to the train and some of them talked with tourist. One of the officer went to our table and sit together with us. I was glad he knows how to speak English. He was friendly and he asked some information in amiable way until he realized we are Filipinos. He seems happy that some foreigners are curious to their border. He actually took pictures of our passport cover and told us that was his souvenir that we came from Philippines.

After leaving Imjingang Station, we passed Imjingang Bridge and Imjin River. Here I saw structure but I was not sure during the trip but when I searched internet for DMZ, I realised that the one that I saw were the ruins of the bridge that had been destroyed because of war as Imjingang Bridge was two-way bridge before, but now it just only one way.

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At Dorasan Station, we already felt the military presence as we enter the station. There were Korean soldiers assiting visitors when entering the station. At the station we waited a little as our guide arranged our seats for the bus to the DMZ. And in few minutes we hopped on the bus that will bring us to the border. At the bus, some checks has been done as well and then we hit the road to the border.

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I cannot explain what I felt while we were in the road and awaiting to arrived in our destination, I thought things about the separation of Korea, as I saw its historical drama, both part of Korean peninsula contributed to its development as one country. I am familiar of their dynasties and kingdoms, even aware how it became one country. While watching historical dramas and reading historical notes of Korea, I learned how it was divided. I remembered that there is another country with similar case with North and South Korea before, I am referring to Germany. Germany had been divided into two during World War II, but now it is a united country and in our time, it is one of the country that considered progressed country. I thought Korea divided because of the same war and my mind flew of thinking what if Korea has been united like Germany? Maybe, it will be the same as Germany which is rich and fully developed country. As I saw the side of South Korea and how it is at the moment, though I am not aware about the North Korea as the news are the only medium to know about that country. I am quite sad of division happened to the peninsula.

We had two stops in our DMZ Tour: First, was the “Third Tunnel – Third North Korean Infiltration Tunnel” and last, the Dora Observatory.

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There are two ways to go inside the Third Tunnel: One is using a sled rails (blue caps) and the other one is from the lobby (yellow caps) where people will walk all the way to the tunnel. Our guide led us to the group that used the sled which was really cool for us since we were just sitting in the sled until we reached the end of the rails. Then we continued walking to the tunnel which quite easy. We knew it’s not allowed to take photos but we did a little snapshots at the end of the sled rail as the tunnel trail was too narrow to be able to take photos and because the flow of people coming in and out of the tunnel was non-stop.

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Dora Observatory is located at the top of Dorasan (Mount Dora) where you had a chance to see North Korea border from a distance using telescope and binoculars.

With the two places we stopped, there were lots of tourist like us that visited DMZ, I can say that most likely the reason of coming to that places were curiosity and experiencing the atmosphere of being in Korean Border.

After buying postcards which I usually does in every travel I was in, we returned to the bus and came back to Dorasan station where our train to Seoul was already waiting.

I knew that there were more to see in DMZ but because of limited time we had, the half-day tour we had in the border was really worth the time.

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Petite France – A French Village In Korean Peninsula

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–First thing to see at Petite France from the Entrance

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–Petite France village

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–Petite France village

Petite France was the another drama site that we visited. I heard the name of the drama but I haven’t watched it. The drama title in English is “My Love From Another Star” and as per my sister it was a love story of an alien and human (with that idea we can think of the story that it is fantasy drama, right?). The Korean actors who played in the drama, I am not yet familiar as well. In my country, the drama was quite famous specially for the teens and young adult. My youngest sister was the one forced me to convince to visit the place since she’s watching the drama and the site was near in Nami Island.

Since we were in the area of Gapyeong after we visited Nami Island, I agreed to visit Petite France. The name is interesting and the brochure of photo regarding the small French village seems to be unique and beautiful. From Gapyeong Wharf after we crossed the river when we left Nami island, we took a cab straight to Petite France. We took this path as we need to be back in Seoul before or exactly 7PM that day. The travel time from the wharf to the village was estimated of 30 minutes drive.

We arrived at the village and my first impression, the location has french ambiance as it showcase its colourful buildings which stand out in the area as Petite France is located at the hill-side near in Hoban-ro road at Cheongpyeong-myeon in Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do province. My sister was really excited and I felt the same thing as I was in a place which first time and unique for me.

We walked to the ticket booth at the entrance and we bought tickets so we can enter the village. After we enter Petite France my sister first thing to notice is the human like stand which shows the two main character of the drama “My Love From Another Star” with the hole on its face as it serve as photo booth to replace the face of the main character(s) by the person that will stand at the back and post their face for photo shots.

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As we have limited time, we tried our best that at least within an hour we see as much as we can.

Here are the following buildings and other areas we saw inside Petite France

A. Ticket Booth (Entrance)

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–Snapshot from Outside of the Village

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Ticket Booth Entrance

–Snapshot from Inside of the Village

The entrance of Petite France is colorful and with lively colorful, I felt that it invites people outside to come in and discover the village.

B. Europe Puppet House

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Orgel House and Europe Puppet House

C. Fountain Square

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E. Puppet House

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F. Accommodation

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–Accommodation Vicinity

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–Scenery captured at the Butterfly Park near the Accommodation Vicinity (top most area in the village)

The scenery above at the Butterfly Park was one of my favorite part in the village because I found a scenic view which is the natural beauty of Gapyeong River that made me stood there for sometime  appreciating its was wonderful vista.

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Butterfly Park
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Near Butterfly Park

G. Outdoor Theatre

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H. Kang MA-E Cafe

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Inside Kang Ma-E Cafe
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View from Kang MA-E Cafe
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Kang Ma-E Cafe and France Traditional Playroom which physically one unit of building

I. Beethoven Virus Film Location

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–Inside Beethoven Virus Film Location

J. France Traditional Playroom

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K. France Traditional House Exhibit Hall

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–Inside France Traditional Exhibit Hall

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L. Bistro

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M. Beethoven Virus Film Location, Outdoor Cafe and Waterworks / Medieval Costume Experience

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The scenery from the Observatory was next of my favorite because of the overlooking view I had while I was there which allowed me to peek the whole village itself.

N. Petite France (Some parts of the village)

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O. Antique Exhibit Hall

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Antique Exhibit Hall (Yellow) House
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Antique Exhibit Hall (Yellow) and Studio

P. Studio

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We did walked around the village because we wanted to see as much as we can with so little time that we had, we still bought the ticket even we knew most of the shows were finished.

R. Observatory

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Observatory
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Observatory and Petite Terrace
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Observatory and Petite Terrace

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–Inside Observatory

Before reaching the top most area of Observatory, we have to climb a little so we got a chance to observed what the village look like from the top.

In summary, all of us enjoyed the village because of its colorful place that offered visitors with great atmosphere, fun and exciting experience. We were aware that other buildings offers a lot of things that we still haven’t seen yet but because the village is closing, we never witness other exciting stuff. As for what we had seen so far, we were already satisfied in the village. If I will be given another chance to come back to this village I will spend one day of it so I can watch other shows and see other exhibits available in the place.

Remembering Winter Sonata at Nami Island

When South Korean drama entitled Winter Sonata was aired in my country, more than 10 years ago, the drama has been hit to the TV viewers maybe because Filipinos can relate to the story as it depicts love and life story which can happen to anyone. I never watched Korean Drama before but when Winter Sonata started airing in my country, I was curious why a lot of my countrymen watch it. I tried to tune once and I watched it again and again. The said drama is one of the non-historical drama that I knew by heart, main reason  aside from the story was because of the main actor Bae Yong Joon. I was a fan of him.

Aside from historical places that I wanted to visit in South Korea, we did a side trip in few places where some of the famous drama was held. One of the place was Nami Island (or Namiseom) where some of remarkable scenes of Winter Sonata series which remembered by the viewers. For what I learned, the island become a tourist destination in South Korea because of the said drama.

When we arrived in the island, I never expect historical information to discover, but I did learned something. The island was named after General Nami, who died because he was falsely accused of treason during the reign of King Sejo. At the island, I read some information about the said General and it seems that the treason case against him was removed  during King Sunjo (son of King Jeongjo / Yi San). That piece of history is quite interesting to know.

From our hotel we took Line 7 again and started our journey from Nonh-yeon station to Sangbong. There was a comedy experience we did, as we understood instructions incorrectly and from Sangbong, we went out in Mangu station as we thought we need to transfer the train going to Gyeongchun, but to our discovery, the train in Sangbong also goes to the station we intended to do, we did an unnecessary switching of train. Well that was one of our moments of experience to laugh at while touring in South Korea.

After we took train in Mangu station, it was almost an hour before we reached Gapyeong station. During that travel, I just realised how far the scope of Seoul Metro Train. Because for me Gapyeong station distance is really far from metro. And I also witnessed along the train line the residential buildings besides hills and mountains which made me feel awe for what I saw. I can sense Seoul was not enough to accommodate South Korean metropolis that is why residential buildings are nowadays can be seen even its far in Seoul.

We went out in Gapyeong station and from there I found some tourist brochure to know more about how we can go to Nami Island. There is a regular bus that goes through all tourist spot in Gapyeong area. But we still decided to take a cab as we have limited time to visit all the places that the bus is offering. After taking a cab, we just surprised that terminal to Nami Island was just nearby, since it is near from the train station, the fee was minimal and we had saved time.

We walked to the terminal and some people probably recognised that we are Filipinos and they greeted us in our language which made us feel at home. We bought our ticket and then walked to the docking area or what they call Gapyeong Wharf where the ferry that will bring us to the island was waiting.

While waiting for the ferry to leave the terminal, we saw a zip line tower (Zip Wire Tower) which is another option to go to the island instead of a boat. Since we already bought tickets, we don’t have a choice to cancel the trip even my sister and I wanted to try zip line.

Nami Island from a far
Nami Island from a far

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We enjoyed the trip and in few minutes we arrived at Nami Wharf is Nami Island. People started to disembark the ferry and we did the same. Near the entrance gate, there were information centre, restaurants and other stores to enjoy. We started our walk in the island park. First, we passed the Tourism Bureau. Next thing we saw was the Tomb of General Nami. We walked along the famous Central Korean Pine Lane where there are lanterns hang on one side. Along the lane we also found different flags and we found my country’s own flag.

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IMG_3655Korean Central Pine Tree Lane

Korean Central Pine Tree Lane

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South Korea and Philippine Flag, The Song Museum (Behind)

And from the said lane, we either turn left or right to see more of different things in the island park. First stop was at the Ostrich Fence. Then, the nearby site of Yeoncheon Jeongok-ri Site.

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-Ostrich

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Next thing we saw was the famous Winter Sonata First Kiss site which showcase the bench used of the main character of the drama where the first kiss happened. Then it was followed by the First Kiss Bridge where you can see the Glass Sequoia, Eco Farm and Yeonryeon Pond.

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First Kiss Bridge

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— First Kiss Bridge

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We continued our wandering in the island park until we were back in Korean Central Pine Lane. Then we saw the UNICEF Sharing Stage and UNICEF Hall. Next to the area were restaurants, galleries and stores. Next stage we saw was Youth Stage Belgrade.

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–UNICEF Sharing Stage

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Restaurant
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Gallery

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— Restaurant

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–Youth Stage Belgrade

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We stopped for a while to take a break near at the playground. Then after the lunch, we walked to the famous film site of Winter Sonata which called the Metasequoia Lane. Here we saw different stuff related to the drama such as the huge photo of the main character along the Metasequoia Lane, their statues, bicycle used in the shooting and event the woods were also displayed. There is Winter Sonata store as well. Every romantic moments in the drama has been showcased.

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Meta Pond

 

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— Winter Sonata Stuff

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Meta Pond

 

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After enjoying the Winter Sonata Site, we started to walked back from where we came from as we still plan to visit another drama site near the island. We walked in the same lane that we took while enjoying the island park.

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Riverside Walking Course
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View From Nami Island

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Nami Island Information Center

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–View While Leaving Nami Island

 

Name Of The Place : United States of America

Name Of The Place (Post#2) : United States of America

I had this photo when I got a chance to visit White Rock in British Columbia last June 2008. Then we went a bit in Surrey. This was my chance to be in US without visa for a quick cross border. The place is called Peach Arch Provincial Park. The park is in Surrey, British Columbia if its Canada, it is in Blaine City, Washington if its USA.

At US (Washington, USA)