It went so horribly wrong.

I returned to Seoul with one mission in mind : The DMZ tour. I signed up for it, paid $80 in advance for it, and all I had to do was show up.

After a night of drinking with hostel mates, I shook off my slight hangover, woke up early, wrote some directions down on a scrap of paper on how to reach Camp Kim USO, got to the correct subway stop, then exited and this is where it went all wrong.

I was under the impression that like most numbered exits in subway stations, there would only be one direction leading out. This station’s exit presented me with an intersection. I didn’t know which one to take. I only had 15 minutes to make the meeting point or the bus would leave without me. I had to find “Holly’s Coffee”, which was about 2-3 minutes walk, hook a right, walk straight another 3-4 mins and I’ll be at Camp Kim.

So I picked “LEFT”. I had asked several people around me where “Holly’s Coffee” was but they all couldn’t speak English and didn’t know what I was saying. So I walked, found a traffic cop, told him where I wanted to go, then he told me to continue going for 5 minutes and I would be there. WRONG. I didn’t see “Holly’s Coffee” nor Camp Kim USO, just bare deserted road and empty buildings. At that point, I SHOULD have retraced my steps, ran all the way back to the station and see where “RIGHT” took me.

Instead, I saw a taxi at the side of the road with a sleeping driver. I woke him up, then beckoned him to drive me. He didn’t know where he was going, just following any directions I gave him. As time was running out, I took him down the road and instead of going back to the station, I told him to take yet another wrong turn. Worst decision ever.

We ended up going for a few minutes and Holly’s Coffee was nowhere. It was 7:30 am. The bus would be leaving now. My heart sank. I stopped the taxi, paid my fare, ran to the nearest PC cafe, frantically got on the net, found the GRAPHIC MAP and PHONE NUMBER, begged several ppl around me to let me use their cell-phones (at which the PC cafe owner let me use her cell-phone when she saw how desperate I was), called the tour company up. It was 7:40 am. They said the bus had left. I was too late. I pleaded but there was nothing I could do.

So feeling crushed, I walked outside, hailed the nearest taxi, asked the driver if he knew where Camp Kim USO was, and he DID. Why didn’t I have this taxi driver before? I would’ve been on that bus to the DMZ already. The guy spoke English, was real nice, took me there without a hitch. When I saw where I made the wrong turn and how close I was, I felt so sick.

I went into the tour company office, pleaded my case again, but to no avail. The bus was riding a highway, there was no way it would stop for me when it had 80 other passengers on it. The tour ladies felt sorry for me and I had hoped to get some sort of partial refund. No deal. It was all my fault and I admitted it. Sure, they gave some shit directions but if I had looked at the GRAPHIC MAP they sent, I would’ve been home free.

The only “consolation” I got was that I paid my tour fee AGAIN but in USD. While in Busan, I had no choice but to pay my tour fee with a credit card over the phone. With a CC, they would charge me in Korean Won; 92400 Won to be exact, which was $85. If I paid in USD, it would be $77. So in the end, I saved $8 but at the cost of my tour, the cost of taxi fees and PC cafe fee, $8. And most of all, the chance to see the DMZ. I leave Korea in two days, no chance to getting another tour anytime soon unless I return to Korea again one day.

The walk back to the subway station was the longest 5 minutes in my life. I couldn’t believe how close I was, yet so far. If I had went “RIGHT”, I would’ve seen Holly’s Coffee almost immediately. Why did I choose “LEFT”? Was there some sort of lesson I should be learning here, maybe about how ill-prepared I was, or how I didn’t think logically enough when I first encountered directional problems? There were THREE PC cafes right in front of the subway station. If I had been feeling lost the moment I stepped out, I could’ve walked into any one of them, got the map, verified my bearings, then made my way there with 10 minutes to spare. It was as if every single decision-making bone in me FAILED at the moment I needed it most. I pride myself on good decision making and this moment was so low. There were 80 ppl who went on that tour, and I was the only one to miss it.

I got back to my hostel, decided to catch up on sleep. My dorm-mate had drunk too much last night and apparently threw up all over her wall and bed. The room smelled of vomit. But I felt too crushed to care as I wrapped myself up in my blanket and tried to dream of taking “RIGHT” turns, literally and figuratively.

10 Replies to “Missed the DMZ tour.”

    1. Some ppl running the hostel ended up taking me and some other guy out to near the border of North Korea but of course, it’s not the same as the DMZ tour but I’ll get over it. There are much worse things that could happen in life.

    1. Wish I had a GPS then. The taxi did but it wouldn’t have helped because I typed in “Holly’s” and “Camp Kim”…nada.

  1. I’ve had many such moments, so I can totally relate. I just tell myself that these places aren’t going anywhere, and have preplanned trips if/when I ever do go back.

    In your case, you will probably find it more fun to visit from the North Korean side, which you can combine with a China trip.

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