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Rafting near the DMZ

Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.: Rafting near the DMZ

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rafting near the DMZ

If I was reading my own blog prior to moving over here I'd be taken aback by the stupidity present in this post's title, but I'm not. I'm writing my blog after doing exactly what the title says. This weekend we went rafting in the northern part of the country, and it was absolutely beautiful. We even had a surprise drive by the DMZ, more on that in a few paragraphs. First, I must tell my story.

Friday was a busy, busy day. I normally have between 2 and 5 classes a day, with at least one break of an hour or more at some point during the day. Friday I had 6 straight classes and no breaks other than lunch. I also did a bit more talking than usual because we were doing speaking tests and I had to pull answers out of some of the kids. I was already worn out when we got off of work, quickly packed our bags, and made our way across town to Daegu station to catch the 6:10pm Saemaul train to Seoul. The train was about a 4 hour ride, but the Saemaul train is a bit larger and has more comfortable seats than the KTX, so it was okay. We arrived at Seoul station and made our way to the Hongdae Guesthouse in Hongdae for the night.

The Hongdae Guesthouse is owned by a very nice lady named Mary who would give you the shoes off of her feet if you said you liked them, and was a nice enough place to get a night's sleep. If you're over about 5'6" tall though you should be very careful, as you'll hit your head on the ceiling in any of the stairwells. I found that out myself. We slept a few hours and got up at about 6:00am to get ready to make our way to the bus that was going to take us rafting.

We met the bus at Hongik University subway station and loaded up. There was music playing from the mid-late 1990's (but it was in English so it was kinda fun) and we headed for the northeastern reaches of the country. Gangwando is a beautifully green province with a ton of mountains (the whole country is mountainous) and beautiful emerald green rice paddies. The bus ride was smooth and the driver did a great job of not making me queasy.  About 3 hours later (including a stop to pick more people up at the bus terminal and a rest area) we were at the Hantan river in the town of Cherwon.

We met a few Canadians and a Brit who we shared a raft with and hiked our 10 person raft down to the water. The water wasn't cold, but it was refreshing, probably around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. As soon as the boats were in the water the splashing commenced. I love how a group of 22-35 year old people turn into children as soon as you give them the ability to sling water at each other. The river wasn't running too high or too fast, so the rapids weren't so exciting, but the trip was a ton of fun. We had a chance to hop into the river to swim a bit and jump off about a 20' cliff.

After we finished the trip we had a meal, took a shower, and headed off to find a bridge for people to jump off of...with bungee cords of course. I wanted no part of bungee jumping but it's fun enough to watch and there was a small store with ice cream. The surroundings were so beautiful and quiet compared to the city too. Here's a look at what was across the street from those who chose to jump, bounce, and dangle...pretty dang serene!

After the last jumper jumped, we loaded back on the buses for the long ride back to Seoul. They said that traffic would be too heavy to go back the way we came, so we went  along a different highway and all of the sudden the landscape became very barren. Then I noticed a barbed wire fence. I said to Carolyn, "Do you think that's the DMZ?" and she responded uncertainly. Then, across the street from the fence I noticed dozens of South Korean Army Artillery pieces pointed towards the fence. The tour guide confirmed a couple of minutes later that we were in fact next to the DMZ, and that the small buildings we could see on the other side, just 3 kilometers away were North Korean bunkers. It's so strange to see it so well developed on the South side, and so barren in the North, and it's also quite the experience to peer into a closed country with your own eyes. 

Now, a word about the DMZ. I think the big thing that people know about it is that it's a border. It's a border that sometimes journalists seem to "accidentally" cross. There's no freaking way you could accidentally cross it. Exhibit A: Huge guard towers. Do you think the South Korean soldiers are going to let you cross the DMZ and cause an international incident? Hell no. Exhibit B: It's 3 kilometers wide. If you "accidentally" started to cross it, you'd have some time to figure out your mistake, right? Unless your stride is SUPER long. Exhibit C: To "accidentally" cross the DMZ, you would have to "accidentally" sneak through or climb over a 15-20' tall barbed wire topped fence. Good luck with that. I always suspected that the reporters who got themselves in trouble weren't as innocent as they portrayed themselves to be, and when I saw the actual DMZ, I kinda believe it to be a fact, not just my supposition.

Anyhow, about a half hour after turning away from the DMZ we were in Seoul again, and not long after we were at Hongik University subway station. We headed back to Seoul Station, picked up a quick to-go meal at the Burger King, got our butts onto the earliest KTX we could, and headed home. 3 hours later we stumbled into the apartment and went straight to sleep until noon on Sunday, and just kinda stayed home after that.

After this small adventure I'd recommend Adventure Korea Tours for the rafting trip for sure. It was a ton of fun and a lot of great scenery, and you know what, it was fun to hang out with other 왜국인 (waygooks...foreigners) for a while :).

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