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Seoraksan is considered Korea’s greatest mountain range- both north and south of the border- and it certainly didn’t dissapoint. This peak lacked the vastness of the Hwang Shan mountains of eastern China, but retained all of their stark geological presence, with sheer bluffs falling off into the forests below, treacherously steep hiking trails and sets of worn, rusting staircases hammered into the mountain rocks. One false move and you could plummet to your death below, while at the top a short metal barrier was all that separated you from the open air and sky.

Climbing up this mountain was particularly treacherous considering we didn’t have any shoe spikes, but fortunately we were able to buy some off a lady at the top (otherwise I really don’t know if we’d have made it down in one piece). The views from the top were truly amazing- the sky was crystal clear and the snow-capped peaks stretched off into the distance, while on the other side we could see the deep blue waters of the Sea of Japan/East Sea.

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After climbing in Seoraksan, the next day we caught a bus up the east cost from Sokcho to the border with North Korea. Having already seen the border once (north of Seoul), I was interested to see how this side would compare. There were a few differences- far less tourists, an absence of flags and buildings, and a seamless transitional of landscape marked only with numerous barbed wire fences (and unseen land mines I presume).  In fact seeing the coastal shot above (North Korea begins just before the green rocky outcrop into the sea about half way back in the picture) its hard to believe that there are such monumental differences either side of those few kilometres.The coast was lined for several miles south of the border with barbed wire, to prevent North Koreans sneaking in. As if they could- a few years ago, when a North Korean submarine was captured, the crew killed themselves, or were killed by their commanding officer before he turned the gun on himself. There were also a number of “road blocks”, boulders that could easily be toppled to slow the advance of a North Korean invading force.

It was an interesting trip up the coast yet also quite strange- a border representing such unnecessary separation turned into a tourist outing, people rushing to buy bottles of North Korean soju from the “souvenir” section and posing in front of the border for a family snap. It’s said that there is a growing indifference toward the issue of reunification in Korea’s younger generations, while mention of Japan stirs up more hostility than the mention of the North’s “Great Leader” Kim Jung-Il.

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