Ingwansan is a 338 metres tall mountain located in the heart of Seoul. A short walk away from the nearest subway station, a brief 15 minute hike will see you encountering Buddhist temples, citywide vistas and a shamanist shrine to boot.
Be sure to pick up some kimbap (김밥 in Korean script) from one of the many small restaurants nearby to devour as a snack upon reaching the summit. Made of white rice and various other ingredients, wrapped together in dried laver seaweed, a kimbap is the perfect reward after a short and sharp climb.
Oh, and don't be surprised if you're offered a soju pick-me-up by one of Korea's numerous elderly hikers!
From Dongnimmum Subway station (Line 3), leave through Exit 2 and take an immediate left. Follow the winding road and you will, after 2-3 minutes walking, come across some steps on the right handside. Climb the steps and you'll find yourself at Ingwansan.
Google map: bit.ly/ziF6hT
The DMZ is the line of demarcation between North and South Korea on the 49th parallel. It is patrolled and managed by the South Korean and American forces on the South, with the North Koreans guarding the Northern side.
Tours are available with a number of travel companies, but I recommend arranging a trip with the US army travel corps at Yongsan. They run regular tours and their tours visit a number of sites not available to all operators. Prices include travel to and from the zone, lunch and all travel around the site, (which includes travel amongst an armed convoy at the DMZ).
The atmosphere at the DMZ is one of tension and palatable eeriness. Arriving as part of a convoy of buses, with armoured cars leading and tailing, you are taken to the central observation tower and to various sites of importance. A US Army spokesman explains their side of the story, which for me gave a personal insight into the propaganda of war, bearing in mind that the North will have its own version of events.
The highlight for me was the DMZ meeting hall, a UN-blue building which straddles the 49th parallel and has been the location for inter-Korean dialogue since the end of hostilities. North Korean guards, in tired looking uniforms, stare from their side of the line, with their South Korean counterparts assuming a more aggressive stance, (taken from the martial art of Tae Kwon Do), complete with US Army-issue Raybans.
A great full-day trip, and an essential one in my opinion. The reality of the situation, considering the two countries are technically still at war and the real and desperate poverty in the North, is worth reflecting on, as you arrive back in the modern metropolis of bustling Seoul.
It's a "secret" garden (biwon can be translated literally as secret garden) attached to Changdeog-gung palace in central Seoul. The garden used to be strictly off limits for the non-royals, but now it is open to the public to enjoy. The scenery is breathtaking all the year round, but in the autumn, the leaves turn to spectacular colours to the delight of visitors. The place is not too crowded if you time your visit well and can be a great place for quiet thoughts and reflections in the middle of one of the most hectic cities in the world.
www.lifeinkorea.com/Travel2/76; Underground (Subway) line 3, Anguk Station, exit 3, 5 minutes walking
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