Squid Sundae and the DMZ

Sunday, 1 Oct, 2017


Our taxi driver arrived punctually at 9.30am. the guesthouse manager, Judith, advised that he didn't speak any English, and gave us her number at the guesthouse in case of emergency.

As we passed by Hwajinpo Beach, the driver started talking to us quite animatedly. We weren't sure what he was asking so he rang Judith who told us that he was suggesting that we detour to visit the summer house and recommended that we do so.

First stop was the summer home of the first North Korean dictator, Kim Ilsung, also known as the castle of Hwajinpo due to its fortress-like exterior. It was used by the Kim family and high level members of the Communist party in the late 1940s. Whilst all in Korean, the interior included personal items of the Kim family. The views across to the lake and beach were stunning.

View from Kim Ilsung's summer house

Hwajinpo Beach from Kim Ilsung's summer house

Another view from Kim Ilsung's summer house

Just down the road, and our next stop, was the summer house of Rhee Seung Man, the first president of South Korea. With a very simple set-up, it also enjoyed stunning views.

Summer house of Rhee Seung Man

We then stopped at a busy centre, and the driver got out and motioned for us to follow. We went up to the counter, indicated that we were a group of four, and paid 4,000 won for a form. This required us to complete our name and ages, then take it to another counter where we paid 9,000 won to have it stamped and given to the driver.

Back on the road, we stopped in a queue of vehicles waiting to pass through a checkpoint. Soldiers were checking the paperwork and the boot of each vehicle. We had to wait while a car in the lane beside us was made to turn around. Driven by a non Korean, it would appear that the correct paperwork had not been submitted. Finally we were able to proceed.

We drove on for a little further, and pulled up in a large carpark. There was quite a festive atmosphere as vehicles disgorged their passengers who then meandered up the road to the observation point. We followed them for our first view of North Korea.

We could see roads and a railway line heading north, and the exact location of the border was not clear. However, the hills in the distance were largely bare of trees, having been cut down by the North Koreans for firewood. The beach below was still and islands dotted the coastline.

Our first view of North Korea

As we looked through binoculars, Simon spotted the red flags of North Korea fluttering outside an observation post, clearly on North Korean land. We queued at a lookout point, taking one family's photo and they, in return, took ours. There was a real feeling of co-operation as we took family group photos from different vantage points and had ours taken in turn.

Searching through binoculars to North Korea

Family photo overlooking North Korea

We stopped at a bench with a great view of North Korea behind us to enjoy a cup of tea and a morning snack. A most surreal experience. All around us people were relaxed and enjoying their Sunday outing. Yet reading the papers paints a whole different picture.....

Morning tea spot

Next stop was the DMZ museum. This was a fairly new structure with a well-planned layout and lots of information in English to accompany photos outlining the Korean war, the armistice agreement, and the current state of the DMZ. At one point you walk across a floor where it appears that landmines are going off around you. We found it the museum most informative.

Entry to the DMZ Museum

Approaching the exit checkpoint

Made it out!

It was a quick drive back to Sokcho. We snacked on our muesli bars, and gave one to the driver which he seemed to enjoy. By the time we returned it was about 2.30, and we were ready for something more substantial for lunch.

We decided to try the markets again, and they were bustling. We ordered our first squid Sundae, which consists of squid stuffed with noodles, vegetables and other goodies. We ate it freshly cooked in a little dining area behind the market stall, and it was delicious.

Dried fish at the markets

Jonno wanted to try a different variant of the fried chicken, and we also tried some mung bean pancakes. We bought some more of the squid shaped buns and seafood and meat dumplings for our lunch on the road tomorrow.

Steamed squid shaped buns

Getting into the swing of our market experience we decided to purchase dinner supplies. We had some chicken skewers meant for today's lunch, so bought some veggies to stir fry as an accompaniment. Lacking any sauce for the veggies, we bought some marinated squid after testing the marinated whitebait (which was delicious). The shopkeeper threw in some extra whitebait for dinner as well.

Buying tonight's marinated squid

Jonno wanted to try the twisted donuts again, and en route to the stall, we found some corn that Georgia was keen to try. Dinner was complete, and much more fun than buying at the supermarket. We all enjoyed a donut as we wandered back to the guesthouse with our supplies.

After an hour or so of wi-fi, we headed off to Abai Island, originally populated by North Koreans who remained after the border closed. It was made famous for its squid Sundae which is now available throughout Sokcho.

The island is accessible by road, but the more tourist route is to travel by the gatbae boat, whereby a cable is pulled by a steel hook, and the passengers are able to assist. It is only about 50 metres across, and two boats plied the route with queues of people waiting to cross.

The gatbae boat

The gatbae boat heading to the other side

On the gatbae boat

The island had a few houses and heaps of cafes and restaurants, seemingly serving the same fare available in the markets. We wandered around and enjoyed the late afternoon ambience with Koreans hanging out on the beach.

Some houses on Abai Island

The beach at Abai Island

On the boat back, the ferryman asked where we were from, and then ordered Georgia to assist. She obliged, and Simon helped out as well.

Simon doing ferry duty

Georgia doing ferry duty

Back in the guesthouse, we started our dinner preparations. However, it appears that it is just not done to cook the fermented raw squid. To do so would have caused great offence. We were instructed by a fellow traveller and the owner to eat it raw and with rice. We cooked up some veggies and Jonno was happy with cooked chicken skewers. No raw squid for him. The veggies were fresh and delicious and the additional dried fermented Pollack (not white bait) was quite tasty. There was lots of squid left, and we passed it on to the owner, Mr Lee, knowing that we were not going to eat it.

We chatted a while with Mr Lee telling us some of the local history, including his delight that the taxi driver had taken us to the summer houses. He also let us know that the local chicken and squid is basically mass produced in local factories, so it doesn't really matter where you buy it.