It was between Yakushima in Kagoshima or the Korean capital.
The decision was made all the more straightforward by the outrageously strong yen which makes domestic travel costlier than a trip overseas. While the journey to southern Kyushu would have easily taken more than half a day; from Fukuoka, all it took was a little over an hour and we landed ourselves into the welcoming arms of Incheon International Airport.
Insa-dong (仁寺洞). A neighbourhood lined with shops selling traditional folk crafts, paintings, calligraphic materials, pottery, antique stores, art galleries, traditional tearooms and cafes, Insadong makes for an interesting albeit rather touristy area to stroll and take in the pleasing mix of traditional and contemporary Korean culture and arts. A good spot for some colourful photographic opportunities as well as to unearth some treasures if you have the time to search and browse. My current love affair with plates and bowls meant that I had to exercise plenty of self-restraint here.
The War Memorial of Korea.Setting the tone for the afternoon’s visit are aforementioned tribute and three corridors of floor-to-ceiling tablets listing the names of 300,000 Allied dead from all 21 nations that participated in the 1950-1953 Korean War as part of the United Nations Command. The statue of two brothers, the elder a South Korean soldier and the younger a North Korean soldier, embracing on the battlefield serves as a poignant reminder of Korea’s present divided status.
Aside from the Korean War, the memorial also depicts all the wars and invasions ever fought in the country from a South Korean perspective. Its impressive collections and displays of war memorabilia, artillery pieces, small arms and oddly, one of Kim Il-Sung’s personal limousine, offers visitors an educational and emotional experience. The extensive display of tanks, aircraft, submarine, missiles on the grounds is every military buff’s dream come true. All these, absolutely free. Yes, admission to this place is FREE.
The day we spent four hours or so soaking up the country’s turbulent past was also the day Seoul rained buckets, flooding roads and halting trains.
DMZ.The war never officially ended and the Demilitarized Zone is a product of the ceasefire. 2km away from the truce line on each side of the border, it serves as a buffer between North and South Korea.
Judging from the bus loads of visitors, both home and foreign, it is hard to imagine that we are anywhere near the most heavily armed border in the world. As one of the last relics of the Cold War, the DMZ understandably attracts a great deal of public interest. On a good day, one can for 500 kwon, catch glimpses of life in one of the world’s most reclusive state using one of the many ultra long range binoculars found at Dora observatory. By a strange twist of fate, the 3rd infiltration tunnel– dug by the North Koreans for the purpose of launching a surprise attack on Seoul and was discovered in October 1978– has since been raking in much tourist dollars for the South.
It was just as well that tours to Panmunjeom were not in operation that day. A good excuse to plan for a return trip to finish up this part of the DMZ tour.