A look into North Korea- Odusan Unification Observatory

We are all guilty of taking what we have for granted. We ignore what is on our own doorstep in favour of what is further afield. For four years I have been living in Paju, home of the DMZ.  Apart from the major attractions like Heyri Art Village and the DMZ itself, I have simply passed by the tourist signs and ignored all other attractions on my way to the Premium Outlets.

Slightly ashamed of this behavior, my friends and I decided to rectify the situation by dedicating our entire free day to truly discovering Paju. What we expected was a fortress and a few tombs. What we didn’t expect was to find ourselves standing just 2km’s from North Korea.

 Odusan Unification Observatory was first on our list.   According to the internet this was a fortress but it soon became apparent that it was an observatory we were looking for. It’s pretty well sign posted coming from Geumchon and we found that the GPS in my car was pretty much useless in getting us there.   The car park (2,000won) for the observatory is the same one as for Kart Land and the drive-in movie theater, a little away from the entrance itself.  

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Statue of Jo Min-sik

From there, we took a free shuttle bus on a mere 5 minute ride to the top. The day couldn’t have been any more perfect. Sunny with a nice breeze, the sky was clear and the landscape was breath-taking. The entry was a mere 3,000won and for the lack of crowds alone, it was totally worth it. The Peace statue and Unification Drum are two of the first things to be seen.

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This observatory is the place where the Han and Imjin rivers meet and flow into the West Sea. It’s also the place where the Goguryeo and Baekje Dynasty fought in the time of the three states. Built on the ruins of the fortress it is a place of great history and  impressing from the outset. This is the Unification Wishing Drum, a hard find behind all the buses but none the less beautiful.

 

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The centre provides information in many languages and there are plenty of exhibitions and pictures explaining the Korean war and significant historical events.A short movie on the Observatory and it’s location in relation to North Korea is shown in Korean on the 3rd floor and English, Japanese and Chinese on the 4th. Usually not very entertained by these sorts of things, I found myself glued to the screen with interest. Not surprising, we were the only ones in the theater!

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Where to sit? Janet and Pratishka enjoying the show.

Between the observatory and North Korea was a mere 2km stretch of water. It’s 2 km’s at the furthers point and less than 500 metres at the closest. The water at high tide is around 5 metres but during low tide the distance is almost walkable.

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What is most fascinating from the observation post if the sheer difference between the two countries. On one side you see and hear hundreds of cars travelling along the Jayuro and the high-rise apartment buildings lined up like lego pieces. On the other side, propaganda houses, mountains and fields. No noise, no signs of life to the naked eye, almost as if you were staring at a picture.

 

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Using the binoculars, it was clear that the unfinished and run down propaganda houses were very much in use. Luckily, I spotted two people walking along a country lane. Both wearing black, they were the only signs of life. No vehicles, idle or otherwise, no animals apart a bird or two. Quiet, eerie, incredible.

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North Korea

Looking out at what is undoubtedly the most secluded country in the world, I was filled with the realisation that this was as close as I am ever going to get. To stand just 2km’s from North Korea brought it home to me how close I really do live to this fascinating country. This observation post, that is ignored by so many and indeed by myself for so long is one of the finest destinations I have been to in Korea. And it was right on my door step. To get here took less than 20 minutes from my apartment.  An educational and eye-opening day, the small crowds make any visit here enjoyable and one to remember!

How to get there?

From Seoul; Take bus number 2200 or 200 at exit 2 of Hapjeong station. Get off at Seongdong Sageori, walk for 10 minutes and take the shuttle bus.

From Paju; Take the Gyeongui Line to Geumchon Station. On the opposite side of the road to the station, catch the 900 bus which brings you to the shuttle bus pick up. 

I had the pleasure of sharing this great day with my good friends Pratishka and Janet. To read about Janet’s thoughts of the day, check out her blog here, http://janetnewenham.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/stunning-views-of-north-korea/

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My 5 favourite shopping areas in Korea.

I’ve always loved shopping.  I can’t help it, one mention of the word and I’m there.  But, in Korea it’s more challenging that at home.  Because, although I’m a normal person, some of the clothes here wouldn’t fit my left leg let alone my entire body, “free size” my eye.  So here is my top 5 places to go shopping in Korea;

5. Myeongdong; I literally almost got into a fight with my friend when I refused to put his higher up.  It’s a great place to find clothes to fit us normal people.  Especially Forever 21.  This store is the business.  Clothes that fit and shoes that fit.  I have american size 10 feet and it’s almost impossible to find shoes, but Forever 21 has them.  In Myeongdong you can find everything from your brand labels, Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, Hilfiger, to the fakes.  You should be prepared to fight your way through the always present crowd and shopping here cannot be done in a hurry, hence the number 5 spot. 

4. Shinsegae Centrum City- Busan; If you’re in Busan you MUST go here. This place is 14 stories of heaven.  It’s the largest department store in the world (don’t know if that record still exists).  It’s got everything and it’s a one stop shop.  It’s go every label you can think of and there isn’t anything that you couldn’t find here.Even the food stalls had are great! If you hate shopping there’s so many other things to keep you entertained like screen golf and ice skating and a cinema and it goes on and on. I love this place.  Fact. 

3.  Insadong; Whenever I ask my mother what she wants as a gift she usually replies “something Korea”.  Excellent, that narrows it down.  So off I head to Insadong and I come home all pleased and feeling slightly like a tourist.  Insadong has every gift you could hope for.  If you spend long enough here you’ll find anything you’re looking for.  You must be prepared to spend the day though, there are some quality little independent stalls and shops in the alleys and back streets so you should always spend times here. 

2. Westerdom and La Festa- Ilsan; Ilsan is forgotten about if you live in Seoul.  And it’s such a shame too because the shopping here is great.  It’s on the Orange Subway line at Jeongbalsan station.  Lining the Westerdom shopping area are all those great little shops with the usual/unusual clothes and accessories.  There are also a ton of cafes and the shooting place and department stores and so much more.  Definately worth spending the day exploring. 

1. Paju Premium Outlets; I had to give first place to my own doorstep.  The premium outlets here are nothing short of brilliant.  These days I rarely shop anywhere else.  I’m not rich by any standards and that’s the beauty of these outlets, you can get really nice clothes at really affordable prices.  Just to be clear Paju has 2 outlets.  One is Shinsegae and the other is Lotte.  They are within 10km or so of each other so if you have a car it would be really easy to do the two in the one day.  They have stores like GAP, Hilfiger, Lacoste, Club Monaco, Banana Republic, Juicy Couture, Elie Tehari, DKNY, and the list goes on and on to the more expensive brands like Michael Kors, Coach, Hunter, Kate Spade and TODS.  I find that the sports brands like Adidas, Puma and Nike here are dirt cheap.  Nike also have shoes that fit size 10 feet.

Eating here is great and the place (especially the Shinsegae one) is very entertaining with a band playing at the weekends and the grounds are really beautiful and well-kept.  Also really close to the Shinsegae outlets is Heyri Art village and Paju English Village.  Heyri is where artists, musicians and architects come together to display their work so there are cafes and restaurants and displays there.  If you have children or if you just want to take a look yourself Paju English village is also close by and it’s open on weekends. 

 Can’t help myself must add a 6th. but it also shares number 1 spot;

D- Cube City Plaza  ; If you’ve never been shopping here then get over there quick! This place is a mecca.  It’s got all the Western brands that we love and more.  It also has one of the only Charles and Keith stores in Korea.  What is Charles and Keith you might ask? It’s a handbag and shoe store.  But the shoes are generally a big enough size to fit normal people.  D-Cube also has a Frank & Frank store (apologies if the name is wrong) which is the only place to buy the coolest houshold items at a great price.  It’s also got loads of things to keep the children entertained and there are plenty of restaurants if you get hungry.  To get there, just hop on the subway,Shindorim station on lines 1 & 2

As I mentioned, if anyone ever needs a shopping assistant, I’m sure I could find the time to help you out…………