No, I haven't abandoned this Photo TR! I just left my job and went to Orlando for a couple of weeks -- just as I was about to post my next update, actually. But I got to take my time and enjoy ALL of the parks in the area, plus two bonus fairs with 8 extra unplanned credits! And I had lunch with Robb and Elissa one day. And I even finally did the cheesey Kennedy Space Center tour. (Houston's version was way better!)
The next update will be coming very soon, with the Korean DMZ tour, followed by a return to Everland, some more Korean sightseeing, and then at long last the TPR China tour!
So, this update is going to be a very different type of trip report. When I started planning this trip, a couple of people suggested that a tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone was a don’t-miss experience. For those who don’t know, after the Korean War, North and South Korea were separated by an agreed upon border. There is a Demarcation Line that is the actual border. But there’s also an area 2 KM (or about a mile) on each side, with a northern and southern boundary line. And that area in between is the Demilitarized Zone, aka the DMZ. Going anywhere in the zone can be very dangerous. But the US military sponsors private tours of an area close to Seoul called Panmunjom, which hosts the United Nations command on the southern side. Those tours are organized by various different private companies. Within that area is a small section called the Joint Security Area right on the border. There are various offices and headquarters immediately on either side of the border in this area, as well. And there are a few buildings right on the border, with indoor sections on either side of the border. Some of the tours take you to the JSA and into one of those buildings.
Backing up a bit, one of the problems with planning a big amusement park tour is that you can’t count on the weather. And if you schedule too tightly, you might end up getting rained out of one or more important parks. It would really suck to go to another country and miss out on the most important parks or coasters because of rain. The main way I dealt with this problem on this trip was scheduling several touristy days on the trip, so that if I got rained out on the planned park days, I could reschedule as necessary. This also meant that I couldn’t really book a DMZ tour until fairly close to the last minute, since I wasn’t sure which days I’d be free. Luckily (well, luckily for me, at least; not so lucky for the locals!), it turned out that a major typhoon came through the area a few days before I did and managed to suck out most of the moisture from the air. So, for pretty much my entire time in Korea, I only ran into a small smattering of rain here and there, (most of which was actually NOT predicted by the forecasts, actually!) mostly at night and not in any way that would impact on my plans! So, when I arrived in Seoul on Tuesday night, I asked the man at my hotel desk, if he had any advice as to which of the many DMZ tours to book, and he was about as helpful as you might expect the desk clerk at a love motel to be: not terribly. He pointed at the advertising magazine on the rack and told me to look there – which contained ads for one of the more expensive of the DMZ tours.
So, I was off to the internet to research the tours. In fact, it was mostly this endeavor that kept me in the hotel longer on Wednesday, instead of leaving earlier for Seoul Land and Lotte World. What I discovered was that there are a whole bunch of companies who run various different DMZ tours that include several or all of the various possible components at a wide variety of prices. There were two points that almost everyone online agreed on: first, the JSA was easily the most interesting part of the tour, where you’re right on the border, and even in North Korea, briefly, with soldiers from both sides looking at each other tensely. Strangely enough, a large number of the tours don’t even go to this area, even though everyone says that it’s the highlight and indeed the only don’t-miss part of the tour. I’m assuming it’s the most expensive part of the tour for the agencies, which is probably why they often skip it. But it seems pretty stupid to drive an hour each way for a tour of the DMZ that skips the most important part of it! The second thing everyone agrees on is that the tour that’s arranged by a partnership between the non-profit USO that works with the US military to entertain the troops and a private company called Koridoor is by far the cheapest – as well as one of the best and most comprehensive. A little research showed this certainly turned out to be true, with their tour being a bit under $100, while the other companies charged up to twice that amount, and often gave you half the tour for it – often skipping the JSA. So, I tried to book the USO’s tour online for Friday, the ONLY day during my stay that I was free and that they hosted the tour, only to find that it was SOLD OUT! CRAP! So, I called them, in the hopes of maybe begging for a spot, only to find the happy phone agent excited to hear from me, because someone had apparently JUST dropped out of Friday’s tour, and she was actually just about to send the final list of names to the US military and UN office for final approval – presumably to keep any trouble-makers away. Since I was willing and able to give her my credit card info right away (though I had to do it via e-mail, for some weird reason), she was able to secure my spot! Phew! They also warned me not to forget my passport and about strict dress codes, but said that they were also relaxing them a bit.
So, flash back forward to Friday. I got up very early (for me, anyways) and took a cheap Korean taxi to the nearby US military base called Camp Kim and went in USO headquarters. Note that this military base is the entire reason that the Itaewon area I was staying in got started, to serve the soldiers stationed there. Now that I think about it, this might actually have been the first time I've ever actually been on a working military base. They checked everyone in and checked our passports carefully and gave us our official badges, which we’d have to wear at all times on the tour. Almost everyone on the tour was white, from either the US or Europe, which was actually the first time on the whole trip where I wasn’t an ethnic minority. Even in very western Itaewon, Koreans were the large majority. Apparently, the UN only allows people from certain countries to take the DMZ tour, and the local Koreans are generally not allowed. It was refreshing for most of a day to be able to speak to people without any difficulty or translation issues for the first time in nearly two weeks. Over the course of the day, I’d talk to people from the US, England, Holland Australia, and other countries, including a group who worked on the Asian tour of Wicked – and had worked on the production of the show at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan, which I'd be visiting in another month, although the Wicked show wasn't there any more.
Eventually, the tour began and we loaded onto the bus to the base where we’d meet our two US military escorts, who gave us a briefing of the history of the DMZ area from the Korean War to the present. It’s kind of funny that they make such a big deal about security in the area, since there haven’t really been any major incidents in the area since the 1976 axe murder incident. I mean, realistically, if either country wanted to start an invasion of the other, I’d imagine that they wouldn’t start with the most heavily guarded section of the entire border, right? But they also warn us to be very careful not to make any funny faces or rude gestures towards the North Korean side because the entire area is filmed and the North Koreans have been known to use footage of western tourists being disrespectful in anti-western propaganda. A lot of what goes on between the Koreas seems to be a lot of childish chest pumping, like when the South Koreans put up a flagpole that was 100 meters tall, and the North Koreans responded by putting up a nearby flagpole that was 160 meters tall. Overcompensating for something? And supposedly the North Korean soldiers will sometimes make faces and gestures at the South Korean and UN soldiers to try to make them break formation. Is this what international diplomacy has come to?
After the briefing, we reboarded the busses and headed through United Nations Command Security Battalion to the JSA. This was probably the most security I’ve been through in my entire life, with gated checkpoints, barriers on the road and armed soldiers all over. All of this security may be mostly for show, but they take it very seriously. I don’t think anyone had any doubt that if we even moved towards somewhere we weren’t supposed to be (especially towards the actual border), there was a serious chance of getting shot! More serious than any airport, this is not a place to make jokes!
So, after driving through the security area, we got to the main JSA tourist complex. From this point forward, it was very clear that we were just one of a whole slew of tour busses coming and going at every location. First up was the actual JSA tour. That’s the actual border, where you start outside several small buildings that were built right on the border for peace negotiations. On one side is a big UN/South Korean building, and on the other side is a big building run by the North Korean government. Outside, there were armed South Korean soldiers on this side of the border, standing in what they told us was a traditional Tae Kwon Do pose, with fists at their sides. Two of the three guards stood halfway behind the sides of each building, presumably so they could duck quickly if they got shot at. But one stood in the middle, in the line of fire. You have to wonder if they draw straws for that position, or what! There are often armed guards on the North Korean side, as well, but there was only one, way back guarding the entrance to the main building on the other side of the border. There were also various troops inside the building, as well, and cameras trained on the whole area from both sides. When the guards are on both sides staring at each other, it’s supposedly quite tense, but we didn’t get that intense of an experience!
They actually huddled us into the UN Command Military Armistice Commission Conference Building first to keep the traffic of tour groups going. Inside the building was a meeting room, with a meeting table that straddles the border. There were also two South Korean troops in there, for our safety, we were told. We were free to walk around the room and take pictures with the table and the guards, although they didn’t break their Tae Kwon Do poses, or their serious faces. But that made for good pictures! And on the far side of the room, we were actually technically in North Korea, which was pretty cool. Everyone wanted pictures there, next to the guard. Afterwards, we spent more time outside, taking pictures of the border and the guards on both sides.
From there, we went to the JSA Visitor’s Center, which had lots of displays of items from the area’s history. They had everything from mock-ups of various battles, to bullet casings, guns, helmets, wheels, maps, uniforms, flags, and lots of other stuff to take pictures of. And of course, lots of stuff to buy, too! Almost every stop on the tour had a gift shop, selling all of the usual items from t-shirts to magnets to little figurines of the guards in their Tae Kwon Do poses. They also sell gifts supposedly from North Korea, including clothes, candies, nuts and liquors. I wonder how that works when the country is being embargoed by the UN?
From there we went to the second most interesting part of the tour: the Third Tunnel, aka the Third Infiltration Tunnel. Apparently some time ago, the South Koreans discovered three different tunnels that the North Koreans had dug under the border. The North Koreans claimed that they were just digging for coal, and “accidentally” went under the boarder. Three times. Uh huh. Right! The North Koreans even scattered coal dust around the tunnel to try to bolster their claim! So, now the South Koreans have opened up the third of these tunnels as a tourist trap. There’s a tram down there that some of the more expensive tour groups use, but we had to walk. And the security is so tight that they make you put EVERYTHING -- including phones and cameras -- in fluffy, fluffy bunnies filled with medicine and goo, so you can’t take any pictures. Sorry guys. (I felt like I was about to ride a coaster in Japan!) The access tunnel is actually quite deep and quite steep. It goes 73 meters – or 240 feet -- deep! The walking path is 358 meters (1175 feet, or 4 football fields) long. And most of the tunnel itself is only 2 meters (6.5 feet) tall by 2 meters wide. It’s a tiring walk (especially back up!), slippery at times, and I hit my head a couple of times, but luckily, they made us wear helmets. However, I did the walk with a hot Dutch guy from our group, so it was ok! At the bottom are three blockades and a water tank to keep anyone from crossing the border. It’s not so much that there was anything spectacular to see down there, but there is something really cool about being in an actual spy infiltration tunnel –- I mean, a coal mine!
There was another stop on the tour that we had to miss because the road had been washed out by the recent typhoon, but it didn’t sound like we missed too much. From there, they took us to this observation overlook area, where you could see North Korea. Apparently, you weren’t supposed to go right up to the edge and take pictures of North Korea unless you paid extra to use the coin operated binoculars, but they didn’t tell me this until I’d taken nearly 3 dozen pictures! Oops! From up there, you could see the North Korean countryside and mountains. And if you used the binoculars – or your camera’s zoom – you could see several North Korean towns and a city (probably Kaesong) from a distance. It was easy to imagine how many people were living in those cities, and what conditions they were living in -- and how close they were to freedom.
From there, we stopped for lunch. Given that we only had one more stop on the tour, a lot of us wished that they could have just skipped it and gotten us back early, but that wasn’t going to happen. Too bad, because I could have used the time at Everland! Strangely enough, for a place that is actually off limits to South Koreans and who gets mostly white westerners, it’s odd that the only restaurant in the entire DMZ only serves traditional Korean food that the tour guides admit isn’t even all that good. There were two choices of a beef or veggie dish. The beef one was traditional Korean barbeque, much like my meal in Gyeongju, complete with many, many sides dishes of mysterious veggies. I remember it all being pretty bland, but the fried dough dessert was yummy.
The last stop on the trip was to the Dorasan train station. Back in 2000, North and South Korea agreed to reconnect the Gyeongui railroad line that was broken during the Korean War. In 2002 the Dorasan station opened, and the line was officially reconnected at the Military Demarcation Line in 2003. However, they don’t actually run any trains between the two countries yet, so the station is mainly only used for occasional trains from Seoul. And it’s also a major tourist trap. You can even buy a “train ticket”, which they’ll stamp with the same stamp you get at the border, and the ticket also lets you tour the platform. There are signs all over about how the station is a symbol of the dream of Korean Unification. In fact, there are signs about unification all over the DMZ, as if it’s a goal that both sides are working toward. The reality, though, is that it’s not likely to happen any time soon, because the North Koreans are never going to give up their government, and the South Koreans are never going to give up their freedom. So all the talk of unification ringy dingy ding-a-ling dings especially hollow, like some naive fairy tale. Also, it was really weird how proud they seemed to be that President George W Bush had been at the station for some ceremony.
From there, we headed back to the military base, and I took the subway back to my hotel to change, relax a bit and drop off my passport. I probably took a bit too long relaxing, as I’d soon discover when I got to Everland later than I’d expected!
Next up: a return to Everland, for more T-Express, some Halloween mazes, and exploring more of the park -- including an It's a Small World ripoff.
For the USO's DMZ tour, you have to go to the USO station at Camp Kim in Seoul. The other, more expensive (and usually shorter) tours meet at Seoul Station or other central points, or even pick you up at your hotel. However, Camp Kim is pretty easy to get to, and was fairly close to my hotel.
First, we got our briefing of the history of the DMZ by our two US military guides.
The Military Demarcation Line goes all the way across the country for 2 km (about a mile) on either side of the border.
After taking a bus to the DMZ from Seoul, we'd start at Camp Bonifas on the right, then make our way to the Joint Security Area (JSA) in the middle, followed by other stops all around the DMZ.
Now, it really starts. We head therough the heavily fortified UN Command Security Battalion.
This is the briefing room in the JSA. The Korean border goes right through this room and right through this table. The flag sits on the border. Note that these young women were some of the only people of Asian origin on the entire tour who didn't work there.
I'm actually in North Korea! I'm not really sure why that's so cool, but it is! This South Korean guard in his Tae Kwon Do pose was there to protect us.
I'm standing on the border of two countries!
Outside on the border. The Conference building we were just in is the one on the left. The concrete line on the ground between the buildings is the actual border. It's a shame that the North Koreans had that tarp up for renovations. Didn't they know that we wanted good pictures?
We're here to protect you. Do you think they take turns being the sitting duck target, while the other two can simply step to one side to avoid gunfire?
Remember, don't make any funny gestures, or the North Koreans might film it and use it in anti-western propoganda or make an international incident out of it! Seriously.
Damn you, tarp, for ruining my pictures! On another note, doesn't that North Korean guard look lonely way over there by himself, so close to freedom?
Some of the many, many tour busses that go through the DMZ. Guarding the peace is a big money racket!
The JSA Visitor Center -- aka museum and gift shop!
A representation of the Axe Murder Incient of 1974, in which two US military captains were murdered by North Korean troops with axes while they were trimming a tree that was blocking visibility, sparking an international incident. The UN Camp Bonifas is named after one of the victims. Yes, we almost went back to war over a tree.
Military stuff in the musem.
A representation of the North Koreans digging one of the infiltration tunnels -- I mean coal mines.
This is all I can show you of the third tunnel, since cameras and phones aren't allowed.
Such a weird statue, eh? I guess they're pushing the world -- and Korea -- back together. Because nothing says "peace" quite like a spy tunnel -- I mean, a coal mine.
I have no idea who this tourist is, but doesn't he look so sassy?
Pretend that there are actual pictures of the tunnel here, instead of a drawing of it.
Yes, both sides truly want reunification -- as long as the other side bows to their way of life, and government!
From the observation area, you can see North Korea.
More North Korea. Not exactly the clearest day for taking pictures!
That's the flagpole that the South Koreans put on their side of the border. Of course, the North Koreans had to put up a taller one! Overcompensating, much?
That might be the North Korean's taller flagpole. Or it might be a power tower. It's hard to tell from that distance.
A North Korean city, probably Kaesong. So many people, so close to freedom, yet so far.
The largely unused -- except for tourism -- Dorasan Train Station. The last stop in South Korea, if trains ever do run between the two countries.
The South Koreans really, REALLY want the railway to operate some day between the countries. Becuase it would connect them with the rest of Asia and Europe. For now, if they want to leave the country, they have to take a boat or plane.
Some history of the station.
The departure board, for the few trains that run to and from this station, mostly carrying workers.
For an extra small fee, you can buy a ticket that lets you onto the platforms of the station. This really shouldn't be that exciting, but it kind of feels like it is when you're there.
Hmmm, should I go to Pyeongyang or Seoul? Well, Seoul's closer. And T-Express is calling....
They're really proud that President George W Bush visited this station!
It's weird being in a mostly unused train station!
So, after the DMZ tour, and a break at the hotel that was probably longer than it should have been, I headed back towards Everland. Originally, I’d planned to do some sightseeing this night. But I also had left this leg of the trip pretty open, to allow for unplanned changes for weather or other conditions. And I’d managed to do a LOT of sightseeing in Gyeongju a few days earlier, which along with the DMZ tour was already more than most westerners had probably seen of Korea. And I still had the next day, too. So, as soon as I got to the park the night before and realized that their Halloween & Horror Night event was starting the next day, I’d already been looking for an excuse to come back. T-Express closing two hours before park closing (because of the fireworks) was the excuse I’d needed, since I’d only managed to get a few rides in. And for a world-class woodie like T-Express, I definitely wanted more rides! After all, it was the main reason I was in Korea at all! As an added bonus, their haunted shooting dark ride would be open today as well, unlike on the day before, so that just sealed the deal!
So, I got to the Jamsil station, only to discover that the bus had just left, and the next one was like 50 minutes away. Every other bus was every 10 minutes or less, but that one. Damn! There was nothing I could do, so rather that sit at the bus stop and stew, I walked around the area and took some pictures, including of the Lotte World sign. Eventually the bus arrived, and by the time we got to the park, I was getting worried that it was already too late, since I’d asked for tickets for the haunted walkthroughs at that time, and T-Express was closing soon, too!
I went to guest relations, and the two very nice ladies I’d talked to the night before were relieved to see me, since they had my tickets for the walkthroughs. I told them that I was worried I wouldn’t make to over there for the official times on the tickets and that I really wanted to ride T-Express, one of the best coasters in the world. They told me that they’d call over to the mazes and tell them to make sure to let me in at any time! Talk about customer service!
I immediately took the chair lift over to T-Express and rode as much as I could before it closed. I also got good news that it was open a half hour later than the previous night, because the park was open later. Strangely enough, the fireworks show wasn’t actually later, though, and that was the supposed reason they closed T-Express early. But whatever, I wasn’t going to complain about more time to ride, especially with the line a bit shorter than the previous night at probably around 15-20 minutes. The line jumpers were still out, but were less prevalent than the previous night. When I got into the station, a ride op came right over to me and asked me if I was “Mister David”! Apparently, the guest relations ladies had called over to T-Express for me, to make sure I got on! Damn! It was still as crazy as the night before, definitely a top 5 wood coaster! I think I ended up liking the front slightly more than the back, but it was great in both places! I managed to get in the queue just before it closed for one last ride.
From there, I went right to the two Horror Mazes, which were conveniently right next door to T-Express. I didn’t have any problem getting right in, despite my tickets being for earlier, although this was more because there were hardly any people going through the maze than due to any calls from guest relations. Despite their concerns that the mazes would be sold out, there was hardly anyone over there, although I bet that that was because everyone was getting ready for the nightly laser and fireworks show “Dream of Laciun” (Laciun is one of the park mascots.) Or maybe September 7th is just a bit early for Halloween? Unfortunately, no cameras were allowed, so I can only share pictures from the general haunt area. And there wasn’t much to see from the mazes on the outside, since they both had pre-show rooms. The mazes were well done though, and managed to give me a few scares, which is harder to do, with all of them I’ve been through. One was themed after a hospital, with experiments and zombies and such. The other one was more traditional horror. There was also a lot of scarier Halloween theming in this area of the park. After the mazes, to keep the theme, I hopped a ride on the Mystery Mansion haunted shooting dark ride.
Since the fireworks show was over, I headed over to that part of the park next. This whole section of the park is all theming and scenery, with no rides. Behind it are several on-site hotels, restaurants and stores. I found it amazing that they had this HUGE section of the park that was bigger than most whole parks just devoted to theming. I’m not sure what all of the theming was during the rest of the year, but they had a lot of Halloween theming up, most of it more whimsical. There was also a lot of Rome/Italy theming back there, including fountains, statues (including Venus de Milo), and lots more.
I made my way back up to the main section of the park with the actual rides, and tool a bunch of pictures of various flat rides, a carousel, log flume and more. I took a walk through the park’s fun house, and then rode the park’s “Global Village” dark boat ride – which is basically a blatant “It’s a Small World” knockoff. But it was surprisingly well done, and a VERY long and extensive ride. Not only did they have TONS of countries, but they had a few unique sections, like one in space. America was represented by Broadway, the Golden Gate Bridge and more.
And that was pretty much it for Everland. I actually managed to get a lot more done than I’d originally feared! Everland is a REALLY big park, but over the two days, I managed to get to the entire park, except for the zoo section, which had some rides, but closed early. I’d actually wanted to get to the zoo section, but there would be many zoos on the trip! On the way out, I made sure to stop in guest relations to thank the two young ladies who’d been so helpful!
From there, I took the shuttle to the bus area. And there I made a big mistake. There are three busses which head back to various train stations in Seoul, so I took the first one that arrived. But I only had two of them on my list, because one of them takes a LOT longer to get back to Seoul, something I completely forgot about. So, guess which bus was the first one to arrive? Yep. And, unlike the others, which take the highway and only stop a few times, this one went through small town areas and stopped seemingly everywhere. What should have been a 30-40 minute bus ride ended up taking nearly 90 minutes! Oops! And I had no idea where I was when I got off the bus. Luckily, people helped me find the train station, which wasn’t all that close, actually.
It was at that point that the heavens opened up with what was probably the worst rain that I encountered on the entire trip. And the forecast had been for minimal chance of rain, too. At least it was after I left Everland! Luckily, just as it started pouring I ran into some street vendor who was selling cheap umbrellas for the equivalent of about $3-4, which saved the day!
When I got back to the Itaewon neighborhood where my hotel was, I grabbed a supposedly gourmet burger at some place nearby and then walked around the neighborhood, mostly checking out the bar and club scene. I’m still a club kid at heart, and this was Friday night after all! But my sneakers and socks were absolutely soaked and my shorts were somewhat wet too. So, I figured that now would be the best time to decide which club I’d want to park at, because if the rain stayed this bad, I wasn’t going to be wanting to bar hop! I figured I’d decide which club had the best music and scene, then go back to my nearby hotel to change out of the wet stuff before heading back out. After bouncing around to a few clubs, I went into Queen, a small club that was playing a lot of fun pop music. I stayed a few minutes and danced a little, and was about to head out to change and head back, when I started talking to a hot guy originally from Florida at the bar. The next thing I know, we were kissing. And let’s just say that shortly my love hotel room got used for its usual purpose! I never did quite get back to Queen that night, although I did finally shed my sopping wet sneakers! They were still wet three days later in China!
First, a little bit of the Jamsil/Lotte World area. I think this is the Lotte Hotel.
There was a lot of construction going on here. The Lotte World Tower was going up.
At least you can see the whole sign from the sidewalk. It's kind of strange that you can't see much of it from the street, though!
At least this chair lift has a bar to hold you in!
I'm back, T-Express!
The lighting on the cars looks really cool at night.
The info board, which has park times and stuff on the other side, tells some sort of story in comics form on it. They should put this in the queue, so that people could read it while they wait for the ride.
I have no idea why they have the entrance themed as a house, since the ride is named after its sponsor T World, a mobile phone company!
It's Halloween Time... on September 7th!
In the Horror Village area next to T-Express. Unfortunately, they didn't allow any pictures inside the mazes.
The Mystery Mansion is open today!
Zombies with laser guns are much scarier!
This was another one of those shooting dark rides with seating around the car. I've only ever seen them in Asia, but thery were all over, in parks in Japan, Korea and China.
David Hamburger at the Burgercafe!
The park mascots getting into the Halloween spirit.
Then I walked over to the back of the park, with mostly theming and the stage for their night show.
This is the stage where they put on their big nighttime show. Imagine lights and lasers projected on the screen, and fireworks coming out from all sides.
There are Jack o lanterns EVERYWHWERE in this section of the park!
And lots of cutesy ghosts and monsters. The scarier stuff is in the horror village section.
They also have some amazing landscaping back here, near the hotels.
There is also a lot of Italian/Roman theming.
Venus is just one of many statues back here.
Heading back to the park.
The park has a nice carousel, which looks much better at night.
And a traditional style fun house.
And this weird ride -- called Flash Pang Pang. I couldn't figure out what it did, other than spinning on the ground.
Ah, it spins in the AIR instead. You actually control the spinning with a lever. I eventually rode one of these in China. It wasn't anything all that special.
I skipped the flume ride to stay dry, not knowing that in a couple of hours mother nature would get me wet anyways!
Global Village -- not even remotely resmbling an "It's a Small World" knockoff.
See, it has a cow!
And French people with really big heads! OFF with their heads!
I think I saw more of Italy on this trip than I did in Italy!
Global Village is automatically better than Small World becuase it has a GAY section!
And astronauts. Before you ask, yes, it's 100% real!
Broadway and the Golden Gate bridge. It's always interesting to see what other countries see as the symbols of America.
Bye to Everland. Really, this time! But I can't wait to get back there some day!
It still amazes me how everyone lines up for the trains in Korea. And everyone is on their phones on the trains, either playing games or watching TV.
A lot of people have antennas on their phones when they're watching TV. On another note, Koreans don't seem so obsessed with western ideas of masculinity. My gaydar was completely useless here, since about 70% of the guys triggered it! And guys here aren't so afraid of being close or showing affection, even if they're straight. It's very possible that these guys are actually straight, although PDA's among gay kids are becoming increasingly common.
Last edited by David H on Fri Mar 01, 2013 7:13 pm.
More great stuff, especially the very in-depth look at the DMZ! I had no idea tours and all that were available. And the Third Tunnel, wow. The DMZ just went onto my bucket list. Thanks again for all the write-ups!
Thanks, guys! I wasn't sure if I'd lost everyone here with my wordiness (and the delays). But my intention here is to give more of the story of the vacation and the experience of it, rather than just some highlights out of context.
The DMZ tour was really a unique experience. It's listed in all the Frommer's guides and online guides about Seoul, and there are brochures in almost every hotel lobby in Seoul, so it does get some attention. And there were definitely hundreds of people there on the day I went. But it was nothing compared to the thousands of people who visit more well-known sites like the Eiffel Tower or the Collosseum or the White House each day. For most of my "culture"/sightseeing on this trip, I did museums and towers and the like, but this was a really unique stop.
The next 3 updates will be mostly culture, But once the TPR China trip really gets underway, there will be parks and coasters galore, with some culture interspersed. Just one more day in Seoul, and then I'm off to China!
I've had tons of fun reading your Trip Report and simply cannot wait to see the rest! I am actually planning a trip to both Korea +Japan during the month of September, which is around the same period that you went last year?
Correct me if I am wrong haha. So was wondering if I could drop you an email with a list of questions pertaining to both places? Do let me know!
Pretty much. I was in Japan from August 27 to the morning of September 3. Then I was in South Korea from September 3 to the morning of the 9th. Then China and Taiwan. I got back in Japan on October 6th and stayed until the morning of the 12th. On those last days, I hit Universal, Parque Espana, Nagashima Spaland and both Disney parks, which won't be shown in this thread probably for a few months, since I still have all of TPR China, plus Taiwan to write about! Also, remember that I've already been to Japan once, and hit a LOT of parks. While most of those parks I didn't feel any need to return to for various reasons, many of them I'm very glad that I did visit at least once.
I don't mind offering any help at all. It's one of the reasons that I included information in here about how to get to all of the parks I went to outside of China. Hopefully, this report will help some people make their way through Japan, Korea and Taiwan. I certainly got lots of help from here and elsewhere, both from other trip reports from official TPR trips in Japan and Korea and especially from less visited places, like Martin's TR of his Taiwan trip, but also from people who'd been there.Without the help of a bunch of people, I'd never have been able to do this trip as successfully as I did. So, it's only fair to return the favor to the community.
Offhand, though, the 4 biggest pieces of advice I can give you are:
-- NEVER trust the English versions of Asian websites, without backing the info up on the original language version. This advice came from Elissa, and was especially true. The English websites were usually very less detailed and often hadn't been updated in years! (The bus schedule that the Foamasan Aboriginal Cultural Village in Taiwan linked to on their English website was from 1999!)
-- Allow some room for leeway, in case weather messes up your plans. I got extremely lucky with almost no rain on this trip, but there were periods that it looked like days or even a whole leg of the trip (Fukuoka, especially) would get rained out.
-- Don't just go to parks. There's so much more to see and do in Japan and Korea! And culture days can help provide the wiggle room in case of bad weather.
-- GET FASTPASSES FOR FUJI-Q!!! Seriously!
When and if you need more specifics, or even general advice, e-mail me.
I've actually covered the following parks in Japan during two separate trips over the past 6 months, and they are:
1) Tokyo Disneyland 2) Tokyo DisenySea 3) Hakkeijima Sea Paradise 4)Tobu Zoo 5)Sega Joypolis 6)Universal Studios Japan 7)Parque Espana
Wish I had the time to cover more places but I could not be away from work for too long so there you have it. Like you mentioned, I did have some culture and even shopping days because my girlfriend's a real shoppaholic?
I've never been to Fukuoka though and I realize that it's not exactly the first place people think of when visiting Japan. But they've got Space World, Mitsui Greenland and Kijima Kogen, so I knew I'd have to get out there someday? Plus since I was doing Seoul, I thought to myself, "Why not?"
I've never been to Korea though so it's going to be an entirely new experience for me? Not sure if I can expect the same as in Japan? I know about the infamous line skipping and like you I get annoyed easily when that happens to me?
Still, the thought of riding T-Express and Atlantis Adventure are hard to resist!
^ Depending on your schedule, it sounds like the best plan for you would be to do pretty much exactly what I did -- or the reverse.
The best plan for you would probably depend most on how much time you have and what your interests are. Such as how many parks you want to visit and what other things you want to do. I was mainly just looking to do the most notable parks with the most notable coasters. If you want to credit whore, there are a lot more parks you can hit, particularly several between Seoul and Gyeongju. I'd allow a day each for Everland and Lotte World, although you could easily add a quick stop at Seoul Land as long as Lotte World isn't on a weekend. If you're at all a fan of Halloween events and haunted houses, then I'd recommend trying to hit Everland on the Friday, since they do it on weekends in September, but you probably don't want to be there on a busy Saturday, where the lines will be long and the line-jumping even worse!
Honestly, I REALLY enjoyed Korea, far more than I expected to. As I mentioned several times, the people there were super nice and helpful, even when I didn't need them to be!
Are you just looking to do Seoul, or are you going to take the train and ferry to Fukuoka? If so, Gyeongju World is sort of on the way down to Busan for the ferry, and has the excellently themed Phaethon B&M inverted coaster. It's only a half day park, but remember that the coasters sometimes don't open until the afternoon, and also that you might have to wait for enough people to ride before they'll send a train out, since it's slow in September. And if you are at all into culture and history, be sure to allow an extra day for Gyeongju. Otherwise, one day (or less) should more than suffice. There are also a couple of mid-sized parks between Seoul and Gyeongju that TPR visited on their trip there, but they didn't have enough for me to justify taking the time to go there.
Note that the ferry between Busan and Hakata isn't cheap (around the equivalent of $150 US), and it's a very good idea to book your ticket in advance, since it can sell out, but it's really cool. The JR Kyushu Jet Ferry (aka the Beetle) is significantly faster than any of the others, unless you want to take the overnight ferry to save on a hotel, though you won't get much sleep.
As for Fukuoka, it's really easy to do just as I did (and TPR does when in the area.) Just use Hakata as your home base and take the train out to each of the three areas on different days. It would be very difficult to pair up any of the three main parks, due to the distance between them, but you can easily add Kashikaen Yuenchi and/or Wonder Rakutenchi as I did. 3 days is all that's really needed, although you might want to allow an extra day for weather leeway. And if you want to credit whore, there are certainly lots of other parks in Fukuoka and the area.
These pages are in no way affiliated with nor endorsed by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Cedar Fair, Legoland, Merlin Entertainment, Blackstone, Tussaud's Group, Six Flags, Universal Theme Parks, the Walt Disney Company or any other theme park company.
photos and videos on this website were taken with the permission of the park by
a professional ride photographer.
For yours and others safety, please do not attempt to take photos or videos at
parks without proper permission.
You need a sense of humor to view our site,
if you don't have a sense of humor, or are easily offended, please turn back
Most of the content on this forum is suitable for all ages. HOWEVER! There may be some content that would be considered rated "PG-13." Theme Park Review is NOT recommended for ages under 13 years of age.