- United Business Class Denver to Chicago & United First Class to Toronto
- Hyatt Regency Toronto
- Air Canada Executive First Toronto to Tokyo, & Delta Business Tokyo to Seoul
- Park Hyatt Seoul
- Tour of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)
- Thai Business Class, Seoul to Hong Kong
- Grand Hyatt Hong Kong
- Cathay Pacific First Class, Hong Kong to Tokyo/Haneda
- Grand Hyatt Tokyo
- Park Hyatt Tokyo
- Swiss First Class, Tokyo to Zurich, Swiss EU Business, Zurich to London/Heathrow
- Andaz Liverpool Street
- Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill
- Lufthansa Business Class London/Heathrow to Frankfurt
- Lufthansa First Class Terminal & LH First Class, Frankfurt to Denver
By the time I had gotten up to my room, checked my email, taken some pictures, and gotten ready for bed, it was already past 1am. The DMZ Tour was scheduled to depart the hotel at 7:15am, so I wasted no additional time in getting to sleep.
The alarm sounded at 6:00am, and I was on my way downstairs in no time. At the Park Hyatt, Diamond members are offered complimentary breakfast in the Cornerstone Resturant, which features an extensive selection of pastries, eggs cooked to order, fruit, smoothies, juices, meats, and much, much more. I apologize for the quality of the following photos. As I was walking out of the restaurant, I pulled out my iPhone and took some quick snaps. Still a bit tired from the time change/lack of sleep, or I'd have pulled out my SLR.
At 7:15am, I was joined by two other families, both from the United States, and we were introduced to the person in charge of the DMZ Tours. He advised us that we would stop at two other hotels, including the Grand Hyatt, and then head to the So-Gong-Dong LOTTE Hotel where we would be "processed", and loaded on to busses bound for the DMZ.
Arranged through the Park Hyatt Concierge, the tour cost 137,000KRW per person, or roughly $120 US. Considering the fact that we had a rather lengthy itinerary, I felt that the tour was well worth it. In addition, there are tours offered for as low as 46,000KRW, or roughly $41 US. Below, you will see the schedule for the tour that I took.
Depart from Hotel ->Imjingak Park ->ID check at Unification Bridge -> DMZ theather & Exhibition Hall -> The 3rd Tunnel -> Dorasan Observatory -> Dorasan Station ->Lunch -> ID check at Unification Bridge -> Advance Camp -> Joint Security Area -> Freedom House -> Conference Room -> UN Guard Post 3 -> Bridge of no Return ->Imjingak Park -> Amethyst Center -> Lotte Hotel ( downtown in Seoul ) or Itewon
At the hotel, our passports were checked and we were sorted onto busses again according to the tour that we were taking. I was pleased to see that the couple I had met on the ride to the hotel would be on the same bus, so we spent a good amount of time talking about our lives in the US, as well as mileage runs and earning elite status. Unknown to me at the beginning of the day, the husband was a lurker on MilePoint, and the wife had a bunch of friends that had gone on the last Star MegaDO!
About an hour later, we arrived at the first of many checkpoints. The bus was carefully checked for explosives (outside), and a Republic of Korea (ROK) soldier came aboard to check our passports. From there, we continued on to the DMZ Theater, where a thirty minute presentation was given on the state of affairs between the North & the South, as well as a brief lesson about the DMZ. Although informative, I noticed a couple people sleeping in the theater.. Oops!
As the presentation concluded, we were ushered into the gift shop, and then asked to board a UN bus, which would transport us throughout the DMZ.
Theater / Gift Shop
Once aboard the U.N. bus, we were joined by two soldiers, one from the ROK, and one from the US. For those that don't know, the United States maintains a fairly large military presense in Seoul, with almost 30,000 soldiers assisting with patrols along the border. Although I did not get a chance to speak with any of the US soldiers, they seemed pretty happy in their interactions with other tourists and the ROK soldiers.
As the busses pulled up, we were organized into two lines, and told to walk quickly and quietly. Once lined up on the steps, we were not supposed to point, yell, or interact with the guards in any way. A person standing nearby started to point out the North Korean guard staring at us with his binoculars, but they were quickly asked to stop by the ROK soldier standing to my left.
This North Korean soldier kept a careful watch over our group.
The blue buildings that go from left > right belong to the United Nations, and are open to tours from the North and the South. When the South is hosting a tour, two ROK guards will enter the room, lock the door to the North Korean side, and then stand guard while the visitors look around. The same process occurs when the North Koreans are hosting their own tours. Our tour guide continued to mention that the South requires at least two soldiers to be in the room, while it's under the control of the South. Apparentely, the North Koreans abducted a single ROK soldier standing guard, several years ago.
About half-way in between the building, our tour guide mentioned that we were now standing on North Korean soil, which frightened a couple people on the tour. I was kind of hoping that they would let us walk out to the North Korean side, but that hope was quickly shot down. Oh well, at least I got a picture of North Korea! (above)
Visitors on the South Korean side.
Although I had hoped that we would be spending more time touring the UN Buildings, our tour guide informed us that it was time to move onto the site of the 1976 Axe Murder, as well as a trip past the Bridge of No Return.
As the bus came to a stop, the tour guide started to explaint the turn of events that led to the murder of Captain Arthur Bonifas, Lieutenant Mark T. Barrett, and four South Korean soldiers. Basically, it all started out when a tree was blocking the view of North Korea from the South Korean side. Captain Bonifas had been dispatched with a small group of soldiers to cut down the tree, much to the disapproval of the North Koreans.
Despite two "warnings" from the North Koreans, Captain Bonifas instructed the soldiers to continue cutting down the tree, when the North Koreans suddenly began to attack the group with the axes being used by the tree trimmers. Captain Bonifas was killed instantly, and Lieutenant Barrett, and the four South Korean soldiers died a short while later. The photos below should given you an idea of the situation that the soldiers faced.
image courtesy; www.lifeinkorea.com
image courtesy; www.lifeinkorea.com
Despite the photographic evidence, the North Koreans polished off a propoganda article about the attack, falsely accusing the Americans of attacking the soldiers from North Korea. Of course, both sides had their own version of the story, although the South was telling the truth, while the North was obviously telling a lie.
With tensions growing between the North & the South/United States, Operation Paul Bunyan was commissioned. The goal was to cut down all trees along the border, in the hopes that there would be no chance of soldiers from either side sneaking across to launch a surprise attack.
Two days later, all of the trees had been cut down.
The tour guide then motioned for us to look off to the right, as we drove past the "Bridge of No Return". Originally used for prisoner exchanges, the bridge is no longer used, although it is continiously guarded.
After the last few photos were taken of the bridge, our bus got back onto the main road, and we drove over to Imjinjak.
Freedom Bridge in the background
Railroad that once connected the North & the South
Looking into North Korea - The concrete pillars on the right are the only remnants of the rail connection that used to exist between North & South Korea.
After spending almost four hours driving around the DMZ, and then touring Imjingak, the tour guide announced that it was time for lunch! At the restaurant, each table featured it's own gas powered burner, as well as a healthy service of meat or chicken, along with veggies of our choosing. This dish was called "Bulgogi" Once cooked, the meal was quite delicious, and just what we need to warm up.
North Korean Infiltration Tunnels
Behind the observatory, there were several pairs of binoculars against the railing, which allowed for an up close view of North Korea's "Propoganda Village" (not to be confused with TSA's Blog). While we weren't allowed to take photos of the village, there are several photos on Wikipedia, Google, etc, that offer some detail into the buildings that are in the village. Unknown to many, the buildings don't have any windows in them, which our tour guide was quick to point out.
Dorasan is the northernmost station in South Korea, and was opened in the fall of 2001. Starting in December of 2007, a daily train ran from Dorasan to North Korea, loaded with manufacured goods. This service continued until one year later, at which point the North Koreans accused the South of a "confrotational policy", and shut down the train service.
The station is also setup for customs and immigrations clearance for people taking trains from China and Russia, should there ever be commercial service.
Tonggeun Commuter Train
South Korean soldiers posing for photos
Drinks available in the gift shop
The tour of Dorasan Station concluded, and we were given a few minutes to walk around. The only restricted area was the half of the station that was dedicated to train service between North & South Korea. With this in mind, the tour guide mentoined that it was now time to re-board the bus to Seoul.
A little over an hour later, the bus pulled into Itaewon, an area well known for it's shops and restaurants. Although the area had plenty of good restaurants to sample, I was quite tired after the IRROPS on my Air Canada flight from Toronto caused me to arrive in Seoul several hours later than I had planned. The subway ride back to the Park Hyatt took less than twenty minutes, at which point I grabbed a Starbucks, and decided to order room service. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing in my room, as well as getting ready for my flight to Hong Kong the very next day.