Sunday, June 10, 2007


Sunday was a trip that I've wanted to take for some time now. That was to venture as close to the DMZ as I could. To the north of Incheon, the Han River forms the border between North and South Korea, and I was hoping to get a glimpse across it. So we loaded up our bikes onto the subway and headed to the end of the line, Gyeyang station. It's an impressive new station that serves as the transfer point between the Incheon line and the airport line. From there, we headed north through Gimpo, and then northwest towards Ganghwa. The traffic was pretty busy, so I guess a lot of people were headed there for the day.

There were a couple of roads that headed up to the Han, so we took the first one we reached. All was going smoothly until we reached a town a couple kilometers from the river. Just past the town, we hit a marine checkpoint that wouldn't let us past. So we asked them about going to another spot on our map, a little red dot that was labeled 애기봉전망대 (aegibongjeonmangdae, whatever that means), and they seemed to suggest that it would be okay. So we back tracked a little and began heading west. A few kilometers of that, and we espied a body of water. The Han, we were guessing. So we headed north, a little leery of being stopped again. But fortunately, we are able to bike right up to the fence running alongside the river. Since it completely obstructed the view, we looked for higher ground. Unfortunately, that higher ground was occupied by a bunker. But since it didn't appear that anyone was occupying the bunker, we decided to test our luck. And what do you know, the two of us managed to capture the bunker and assume a position over looking the Han. I guess they're not expecting an invasion to come from the south.

From our position on top of the bunker. This is the fence that is keeping the North Koreans at bay. That, and a mile of river to cross and a couple of 20-something Korean marines.

Still not satisfied with the view, and spurred on by the little red dot on my map, we decided to continue onward. So we headed back down the hill, along the fence, and towards the hill where the little red dot beckoned us. The road, which is more like a driveway than a road, headed back into the hills. Still not sure if we we're supposed to be there, we continued along, passing by bunkers, a small marine post, and more bunkers. To the right, there was a dirt road heading up the hill with the red dot. So we took that road, which soon turned to a dirt path. Off the bikes we went, as we continued by hiking. Soon, the path reached a cul-de-sac, surrounded by the hill. But we could hear vehicles nearby. We soon noticed cars and vans driving overhead in front of us, and then discovered steps leading upwards. We took the steps, and discovered a nice, two-lane paved road heading towards the sought after red dot. Along the road we hiked for about one kilometer, and then, much to our surprise, discovered the red dot. Aegibong.

It was almost a let down, as it was more of a tourist trap then a hidden discovery. The parking lot was filled with cars and buses. There was a store selling all kinds of things. Mainly junky souvenirs, but they did have some North Korean liquor. While a bottle of DPRK Cognac would certainly be a nice conversation piece, $40 seemed a bit excessive. There was a large crowd that was being greatly entertained by a man telling stories. We're not sure what about, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it. After wondering around the area for a while, we finally found the vantage point that we came for. High on the hill, looking directly into North Korean territory.

Koreans taking a peak at the North

The contrast between North and South is quite stark. While South Korea has reforested the hills, the North remains bleak and bare. There's a small village for the South Koreans to look at as well. Apparently, people even live there as well. How it is suppose to entice the South Koreans is beyond me. The buildings are even more unappealing than the South Korean apartment buildings. And there's no sign of cars, nor any type of super market or norae bang (singing room), which are both basic staples of any Korean village. If that's the window display, I'd hate to see what the inside of the store looks like.

A couple views of North Korea

After getting our fill of North Korea, we headed back down to our bikes. Knowing that there was a road to be had, we went back to the little drive, and soon found the main road. After traveling a short way down the road, we came across another marine checkpoint. They looked rather surprised to see us, especially since we hadn't passed through the checkpoint on the way up. After a brief consultation with another guard, we were saluted and waved through. I'm still not sure if we were supposed to be up there though. It looked like the Koreans passing through the checkpoint had to produce some papers and the guard had a stack of ID cards that he was holding on to. But hey, playing the clueless foreigner card pays off sometimes.

From there, is was just the simple matter of following the roads back to the subway station. The overall trip was around 62 km.

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