A Travellerspoint blog

The Great Wall of China

And no you can't see it from space.......

sunny 34 °C

Well I returned to Beijing from Seoul so I could start my travels around the rest of this huge country. Before I did so I had two major sites still to cover while I was in Beijing, namely the Forbidden City and a visit to the great wall of China.

I was quite looking forward to visiting the Forbidden City as I had watch a very interesting documentary on the design and construction of the city prior to travelling and it gave some fascinating insights into all the symbolism behind every detail of its intricate design. It also gave some spectacular shots of the palace along with very impressive recreations of what it was like back in its heyday at the height of the Ming and Qing dynasties. However I'm afraid I was severely overwhelmed on visiting the palace in person. It could well have been the oppressive heat or the crowds but the palace had little to no impact on my. It was just ornate gate after ornate gate in concrete courtyards with the obligatory oriental ornamentations. The actual living quarters weren't that impressive and to be honest I'd seen it all before in other palaces in China and Korea. It really was a case of the TV representation being enough (probably because they gave much more info into the background detail and reason behind various design features.)

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What was truly breathtaking and a "have to experience in person " was my visit to the Great Wall of China. This wall was built and expanded by various Chinese dynasties in order to keep the "barbarian" hordes out of Chinese lands. The most famous of these hordes were those "crazy Mongols" aiming to tear down the "shitty wall" ;-).

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I travelled about 2 hours north west of Beijing to the Mutianyu section of the wall where I hiked up to the wall and then walked about 3km along the ramparts of the wall. It was a spectacular sight and one that really made an impact on me, I kept on stopping and looking out across the vista and reminding myself that I actually was on the Great Wall of China.

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The section I visited was particularly impressive as the wall covers a very mountainous region at Mutiayu. As you climb you get you look at the wall snake its way across the undulating forest landscape until it disappears into the horizon. I was very impressive with my visit to the wall and it certainly will stand out as one of the more unforgettable sights of my travels thus far!

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So goodbye to Beijing and next stop is a trip to Xian to see the famous Terracotta Warriors!

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Posted by ronanm32 08:06 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Hair today......

The experiment is over

sunny 30 °C

Well I've ended my facial hair experiment and have shaved the beard off.

The first week was due to forgetfulness, the second to laziness, the third to curiosity and after that I veered into grim determination. It was grand to try it out for the Trans Siberian rail journey but it was time to get rid of it.

Did I have tremendous fun going from unkempt beard to styled facial hair, to goatee, to 70's style porno tache (Tomas, your Movember tache was still more impressive ;-) ), to full moustache culminating in a Hitleresque styled moustache - Yes, Yes I did.

Did I take photos of the various styles for my own amusement - Yes, Yes I did!

Will I post these photos on the web so I may be ridiculed by the masses - Hell no! :-)

Posted by ronanm32 17:28 Archived in China Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

DMZ - The De-Militarized Zone

The most fortified border in the world

sunny 22 °C

Well I'm back from the DMZ where North Korean and South Korean soldiers stand face to face in a constant state on war and I survived.

This visit was the main reason I hopped over from China to South Korea. I wanted to continue on my historical tour with an inspection of the infamous De-Militarized Zone (although after visiting it I can't think of a less apt name). I went on a tour with the USO (basically an entertainments wing of the US army) rather than some of the tours on offer at the hostel. It proved to a wise despite the difficulty in booking and arranging it as it offered much much more and for a much lower price (50% less).

So I started the tour from the US Camp Kim in downtown Seoul. The first sign that this isn't an ordinary tour is the fact that there is a dress code (no jeans, shorts, skirts, open toed sandals etc.) and that you sign a long waiver of your rights saying the UN, US and ROK (Republic of Korea) are not responsible in the case of your death from "enemy action". You also state clearly that you will have no interaction with anyone from the north, right down to not waving or pointing at anyone or anything on the northern side. They are also very strict on where you can and cannot take photos, by the looks of it you can't take photos anywhere the KPA (Korean People's Army (the North)) can't see for themselves.

Our first stop was the third infiltration tunnel. This tunnel was dug by the North and was discovered in 1974 by the South using intelligence from a defector. The tunnel is 384 metres below the surface and was large enough so that 10,000 infantry troops could pass through in an hour. The other interesting fact is that the North Korean army had smeared all the walls with a light coal surface and insisted when the tunnel was found that it was an abandoned coal mine. The fact that the entire surrounding area consisted of granite made the story less plausible. The tunnel did cross under the DMZ and extend into the south so it was a viable threat. The south still routinely test for new tunnels. Although perhaps the north side has stopped digging once they realised how much tourist revenue this stuff generates for the south :-).

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We also quickly stopped at the most northerly train station in the south, Dorasan Station. It is here that the north south train tracks meet. No trains have passed through it for the last 2/3 years due to soured relations with the new elected ROK government and the north. The one funny thing about the place was the rail sleepers signed by GW Bush and the ROK president. All the Americans were snapping away as I couldn't help but point out the fact that Bush had the pen the wrong way up. He just cracked me up sometimes ;-) and I'm sure we'll all miss him in many ways!

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Now it was on to the main event, a visit to Camp Bonifas and onward to the JSA (Joint Security Area) i.e. the actual border were soldiers from the two sides are feet apart. There was a check of all of our passports before we entered Camp Bonifas. (Bonifas was one of the guys who were axed to death in 1976 while trying to trim a tree that was blocking the US and ROK army’s between two of their guard towers. Because of this incident they rename the camp after him.) 2 days after this incursion by the KPA the most expensive tree pruning exercise was carried out. The USS carrier Midway was on full alert in the Yellow Sea, two B52 patrolled the skies along with a fighter squadron and a full armoured division was poised to blow Panmuncheon back to the stone age if the KPA so much as picked its nose. Under this protected an engineers corps surrounded by a full infantry platoon cut down the popular tree that was blocking the line of vision between the guard towers. Overkill or adequate security - I'm not sure!

From here we visited the conference room where all armistice related talks are held. The room straddles the border so that one side is in the north and one side is in the south. The line of microphones in the centre of that table marks the border.

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All the ROK soldiers here are an elite guard who are trained to kill in four different martial arts. Outside this door is North Korea proper and one step more and that guard is fully within his rights to take me down - hence the lack of any smile.

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I'm taking a photo across the border from the South of the North Korean HQ.
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This is the North Korean HQ which was constantly taking photos of us.
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The last stop was a look out post were we were surrounded on three sides by communist North Korea. From this vantage point we could look at "Propaganda Village". It was so called as it often broadcasts radio propaganda about how great life is in the North trying to get southerners to defect to the north. If anyone did defect across the DMZ (without being shot) and made it to this village, they'd be a little lonely. It's a fraud, no one lives there and is only built to look impressive and try lure southerners to the north. Periodically some goes around and turns on/off the lights etc. but no one actually lives there. The other interesting fact about this village is that it has the world's largest flat at 160metres tall. The flag itself weights over 300 kilos dry and needs a near hurricane level wind to get it to fly. It was erected the day after a 100 metre flag went up on the south of the DMZ. Talk about your one up man ship!

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Anyway, that was my trip to the DMZ ( the 4.5km wide division that runs for the entire 250km width of the Korean peninsula). It was a fascinating and surreal visit to a live war zone ceasefire. It at times did seem a bit showy but you always knew the place was for real and that this was a volatile zone between two armies that despise each other (did anyone know that during the 2002 world cup a short naval encounter between the two armies left 6 dead?? I heard nothing about it at the time!)

Posted by ronanm32 11:25 Archived in South Korea Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Seoul

Soul of Asia??

sunny 22 °C

Well I've been in Seoul a few days now to be honest the city hasn't really blown me away. It's nice and some lovely things to see and do but as a whole the place is kind of meh :-)

I've been to both Gyeonbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces where the Joseon dynasty ruled Korea (early 1100s to 1910 when Japan invaded and took control of the Korean peninsula). Both are quite impressive places with some beautiful gardens and quite serene places amid the hustle and bustle of the modern Seoul.

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I also visited the War Memorial Museum of Korea. This was a huge museum dedicated to Korea's war history and all elements of war. It was a fascinating look at the war history of Korea from the earliest records to modern warfare. The museum was very well laid out and had some fascinating displays from the huge models of ancient battles to the very interactive displays of modern weapons (there was even a simulation shooting range and areas where you could use night vision goggles!). There was obviously a huge section dedicated to the Korean war of 1950-1953 (or 2009 as the war is still ongoing the North and South are still only on a ceasefire!) which enveloped over 20 countries, turned the cold war hot and was the 1st time the UN ever gave authorisation for military action. Outside this museum was a huge display of tanks, planes, helicopters, missiles and various guns. You sit into and walk around nearly all of the large military vehicles which was quite cool. I don't have any photos of the War Museum as I left my camera memory card in my netbook and so couldn't take many photos. I have a few on the internal memory of my camera but I won't be able to get at them until I get home to where my camera's USB cable is!

If only the National Museum of Korea that I visited today was as impressive. It was opened in 2005 after eight years of construction. The building its self is spectacular as is the park and ponds surrounding it
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but to be honest most of the 3 floors of exhibitions I would regard as pure filler. The first floor which dealt with Korean history from the Palaeolithic era through to the Bronze and Iron age was excellent though. I always like looking at this era in other countries and comparing it to Ireland and seeing how similar it all was at the start and how various cultural, geographic and climate factors (among many others) caused the various civilisations to diverge. The upper floors were boring galleries dealing with maps, calligraphy, pottery, some Buddhist sculpture and various collections donated by private collectors.

Tomorrow I'm off to the DMZ, the most fortified border in the world, where south and north korean soldiers are at a constant state of readiness for war! Let's hope I make it back without causing an incident!

Posted by ronanm32 17:34 Archived in South Korea Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Ow my head

Why pay for a nights accommodation when you don't even use the bed

overcast 18 °C

Whose ever idea it was to keep out drinking until 04:00 when I had my taxi picking me up at my hostel at 05:00 was a fool with poor judgement skills.....................................

Oh how I rue that decision (well not really :-) ) but I was a pretty miserable camper navigating from Incheon airport and around Seoul trying to get to my hostel. Ah I'd do it again in a heartbeat :-)

Posted by ronanm32 19:38 Archived in South Korea Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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