Saturday, January 5, 2013

Kangneung Reunification Park

Back sometime in December my historian friend and I decided to enjoy the winter scenes of the east coast and visit Jeongdongjin beach and particularly the Gangneung Reunification Park nearby. The Gangneung Reunification Park contains three vessels of particular interest to us: a decommissioned South Korean naval ship, a North Korean submarine, and a North Korean refugee boat.

The early morning bus from Express Bus Terminal in Seoul took slightly less than three hours. The trip there was uneventful except for the last 10 minutes or so when the skies turned white and it started to snow in earnest. We arrived in Kangneung in the middle of a very heavy and very wet snow. Thankfully my historian friend was more suitably dressed than I. He looked slightly cold, but I was freezing, and my feet in my canvas shoes just soaked up the snow that we had to walk through and the snow that clouded down on us for a whole hour as we waited for the (very delayed) local bus to the reunification park.
The first thing we did when we got there was to wade through the thick wet snow to the ticketing office and ask if there was a coffee shop or somewhere where we could warm up nearby. All we saw was a convenience store and we were hoping for a place to sit and drink hot tea. Yup, a corner in the the top floor of the ship had been remodeled into a coffee shop. We slipped and slid up the snow-on-slippery-paint stairs to find the coffee shop. My shoes were so wet I could almost wring them out, except they wouldn't wring. We huddled over tea and cookies. Sigh! 

Thankfully when we emerged a good 45 minutes later, the storm had almost passed. From the deck of the ship the gray angry sea was glorious to see though, still storming against the beach with tumultuous blacks, grays and icy whites. We wandered through the belly of the ship and then went to check out the North Korean submarine nearby.
The North Korean submarine is displayed near the site where it was stranded while trying to infiltrate the South on September 18, 1996. It was spotted after infiltrating Aninjin-ri, Gangneung, and was armed with 26 guerrillas.
Citing from the tourism brochure: "This park was created near the site where the submarine was spotted to inform people about the North's violation of the armistice agreement and its desire to communize the entire Korean Peninsula. The park consists of three sections: the Warship Pavilion, which displays a wooden boat used by North Koreans to defect to the South, and the South Korean naval ship Jeonbuk. Also the park has a Unification Security pavilion, which provides information on the Korean War, the submarine which infiltrated the South, and the armed guerrillas' escape route. Also, there is an Outdoor Exhibition Hall, which displays the presidential airplane used by Korea's first President Rhee Syng-man, and various items of military equipment of the army, navy, and air force of Korea. This is also the site where 1,800 North Korean troops launched an all-out attack on the South at 3:30am on June 25, 1950, signaling the outbreak of the Korean War."
After a couple of hours wandering around the park, where my friend met a naval captain, much to his delight, we then got a bus to Jeongdongjin for lunch, and made sure to get a restaurant that had a warm floor to sit on while eating. We walked around a little outside but our planes of hiking some of the scenic trails branching around Jeongdongjin were frozen with the chill. We unanimously decided not to stay overnight and experience another chilling day the next day, so we caught a late train back to Seoul. Shorter weekend plan than expected, but it sure was a great day!

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