I researched and booked a trip to the DMZ to continue my solo travel plans. I was proud of myself for figuring out I could take the DMZ train and then join a tour once I arrived. Getting to the station was easy, I was going to Seoul Station. I had been there before when I first arrived and I knew how to go again without any problems.
But I didn’t know where I could pick up a hard copy of the ticket I purchased. I walked over to the Korail Ticket line and prayed the ticket counter agent would be able to give me directions. Walking up to the ticket counter I asked for a copy of my DMZ train ticket. The ticket agent then informed me that I had only purchased only a one-way ticket to Baengmagoji for $12,800 won for reserved seats on the 9:27 a.m train. After purchasing my return ticket for another $12,800 won, she gave me directions on where to board the DMZ train. While I waited for the train I enjoyed a coffee and a pastry from Paris Baguette.
Finally, the announcement was made for the DMZ train departure. I had purchased snacks and a bottle of water for my journey since it would take over two hours to get to the location. The train was bright with colorful seats. I loved the interior decor, the word “Welcome” was written in different languages from around the world. It was my first experience besides my flight on Korean Air, where the stewardess stopped in every doorway and completed a slight bow before walking into the next train compartment. It’s the small details that make me smile with the beauty and grace of the Korean culture.
Instead of writing or listening to music I gazed out the window at the green scenery and rolling hills landscape of the Korean peninsula.
Once I arrived at the final stop I followed other passengers and purchased a Cheorwon one day tour. I didn’t realize then that the entire tour was going to be spoken in Korean. I decided to go with the flow and realized this could be a great language practice session. The cashier wrote down on a piece of paper the price of the tour. After paying and boarding the bus, I realized I was the only foreigner on board and the only person who was African-American.
The tour guide made an announcement that caused the whole bus to cheer. I didn’t understand the announcement but filed out of the bus with the rest of the tour passengers. I realized that a free lunch was provided as part of the tour package. I don’t know if the rest of the group were surprised to see me select a portion of rice, beef and onions, soup and banchan, but just as a point of reference, I love Korean food.
After lunch, we visited The Site of Baengma Hill Battle. I was happy to discover because it was a tourist location the plaques were written in both Hangul and English.
As the teacher spoke to the tour group, I was able to read the English signs and understand the fierce battle that occurred during the Korean War. The field represented a major milestone in Korean history. The hillside had been transformed by bullets and bombshells yet remained, demonstrating the survival and sheer tenacity of the Korean people.
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We continued on the tour to the Cheorwon Country road sign, the first and or last stop and central place for the residents of the city and transportation. Next, we went to the Labor Party Building pictured below. The Labor Party and the Site of the Cheorwon Police Office building were locations that inhumane interrogations took place during the Korean War.
Next, we visited the military zone where we could see the last mountain in North Korea. I asked the armed soldier if I could take a picture? He informed me the view was only for my eyes and not for pictures. The cold wind chill brought me back to reality and I realized he wasn’t on vacation, he was protecting the country.
Lastly, we visited a mini frozen waterfall at the Kumkang (Diamond Mtn.) Electrical Railway Bridge. The bridge was used to haul military supplies back and forth during the war.
Finally, back on the DMZ train, I was happy that I had chosen to go on this trip and that I had chosen to go alone. I didn’t have to keep up a conversation and describe how I felt about the locations and monuments.
I was able to internalize my thoughts without feeling the need to speak.
One lesson that I can truly say traveling alone helped me with, is putting myself first in certain situations. Something that you rarely get to do when you’re on a group trip or back at home. It’s amazing how much more energy you can devote to yourself, when you’re not there for the day-to-day family drama of the people who you love, but can mentally drain you with their trails and tribulations. When you only have yourself to take care of, you tend to do just that, nurture your spirit, body, and mind.
If you would like to read about other popular tourist attractions in Seoul, South Korea check out my travel diary.
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Story by koreanconvenience.com