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PTR:David's EPIC Asia trip! TPR China +Japan, Korea, Taiwan!


David H
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No, I haven't abandoned this PTR! 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!

 

Stay tuned!

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Day 12, part 1. North and South Korea DMZ 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 lockers, 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 rings 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.

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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.

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First, we got our briefing of the history of the DMZ by our two US military guides.

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The Military Demarcation Line goes all the way across the country for 2 km (about a mile) on either side of the border.

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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.

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Now, it really starts. We head therough the heavily fortified UN Command Security Battalion.

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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.

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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.

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I'm standing on the border of two countries!

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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?

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Some of the many, many tour busses that go through the DMZ. Guarding the peace is a big money racket!

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The JSA Visitor Center -- aka museum and gift shop!

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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.

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Military stuff in the musem.

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More stuff.

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A representation of the North Koreans digging one of the infiltration tunnels -- I mean coal mines.

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This is all I can show you of the third tunnel, since cameras and phones aren't allowed.

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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.

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I have no idea who this tourist is, but doesn't he look so sassy?

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Pretend that there are actual pictures of the tunnel here, instead of a drawing of it.

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Yes, both sides truly want reunification -- as long as the other side bows to their way of life, and government!

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From the observation area, you can see North Korea.

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More North Korea.

Not exactly the clearest day for taking pictures!

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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?

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That might be the North Korean's taller flagpole. Or it might be a power tower. It's hard to tell from that distance.

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A North Korean city, probably Kaesong.

So many people, so close to freedom, yet so far.

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The largely unused -- except for tourism -- Dorasan Train Station. The last stop in South Korea, if trains ever do run between the two countries.

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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.

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Some history of the station.

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The departure board, for the few trains that run to and from this station, mostly carrying workers.

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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.

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Hmmm, should I go to Pyeongyang or Seoul? Well, Seoul's closer. And T-Express is calling....

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They're really proud that President George W Bush visited this station!

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It's weird being in a mostly unused train station!

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Some nice scenery on the bus ride back to Seoul.

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Day 12, part 2: Seoul. Return to Everland.

 

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!

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First, a little bit of the Jamsil/Lotte World area. I think this is the Lotte Hotel.

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There was a lot of construction going on here. The Lotte World Tower was going up.

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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!

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Culture.

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At least this chair lift has a bar to hold you in!

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I'm back, T-Express!

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The lighting on the cars looks really cool at night.

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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.

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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!

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It's Halloween Time... on September 7th!

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In the Horror Village area next to T-Express. Unfortunately, they didn't allow any pictures inside the mazes.

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The Mystery Mansion is open today!

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Zombies with laser guns are much scarier!

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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.

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David Hamburger at the Burgercafe!

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The park mascots getting into the Halloween spirit.

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Then I walked over to the back of the park, with mostly theming and the stage for their night show.

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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.

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There are Jack o lanterns EVERYWHWERE in this section of the park!

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See!

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And lots of cutesy ghosts and monsters. The scarier stuff is in the horror village section.

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They also have some amazing landscaping back here, near the hotels.

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There is also a lot of Italian/Roman theming.

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Venus is just one of many statues back here.

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Heading back to the park.

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The park has a nice carousel, which looks much better at night.

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And a traditional style fun house.

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And this weird ride -- called Flash Pang Pang. I couldn't figure out what it did, other than spinning on the ground.

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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.

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I skipped the flume ride to stay dry, not knowing that in a couple of hours mother nature would get me wet anyways!

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Global Village -- not even remotely resmbling an "It's a Small World" knockoff.

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See, it has a cow!

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And French people with really big heads!

OFF with their heads!

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I think I saw more of Italy on this trip than I did in Italy!

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Global Village is automatically better than Small World becuase it has a GAY section!

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And astronauts.

Before you ask, yes, it's 100% real!

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Broadway and the Golden Gate bridge. It's always interesting to see what other countries see as the symbols of America.

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No comment.

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Bye to Everland. Really, this time!

But I can't wait to get back there some day!

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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.

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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.

Edited by David H
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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!

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Hi David,

 

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!

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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.

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Thanks David!

 

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!

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^ 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.

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I am heading up from Singapore so I guess it makes more sense to do Fukuoka first followed by Seoul?

 

To be frank, aside from Gyeongju World which has Phatheon, none of the parks in Korea apart from Everland and Lotte World have any stand-out credits which I think is worth me making a special trip down just for? Speaking of which, can Gyeongju World be done as a day trip from Seoul? Because I do not think I am really interested in any of the culture stuff at Gyeongju haha. Plus accommodation choices in the area do seem to be quite limited when compared to Seoul.

 

I'll be damned if I went all the way down and Phatheon was closed! Is it common practice for them to open the coasters at noon? Even on a busy day? So a day each is sufficient for Lotte World and Everland? I've not heard of any Korean parks offering express passes which I think would come real handy in the face of all that line jumping.

 

On the topic of Fukuoka, Kijima Kogen does seem like a fair distance away from Hakata? I know Space World's pretty accessible but I cannot seem to find any bus schedules for Mitsui Greenland, which has me rather worried I admit?

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It probably doesn't really matter in which order you do the trip. The deciding factors will be on what your schedule will look like and when you can get the best/cheapest flights.

 

For Korea, I went to pretty much all of the most notable parks and credits. Like I said, Seoul Land is very easy to get to, and easily done in an hour or two before Lotte World. It's not essential at all, but it does have 5 ok credits, including a rather unique mouse. I wouldn't expand the trip for it, but it's worth a quick stop. Children's Grand Park is also close, but won't reopen until 2013.

 

Lotte World does have a fastpass type system, but I didn't see it being sold or really being used. There were signs for return times, and there was info about it in the brochures, though, so sometimes it's presumably used. And yes, a day for each park is probably fine, as long as that day isn't a weekend, particularly a Saturday! I did most of the rides at Lotte World, and Atlantis Express 4-5 times, and I didn't get there until later in the day. I only went back to Everland for a second day because I'd gotten a late start on my first day and because I wanted to get back for the Halloween mazes and shooting dark ride. All of the parks I visited on the trip before China were very slow, in their off-season, except for Fuji-Q. Many of the parks were nearly deserted. Not Lotte World or Everland, but they were nowhere near as busy as they can get,

 

As for Gyeongju World, are you planning to fly between Hakata and Seoul, or take the ferry and train? If you're taking the ferry and train, Gyeongju is pretty much on the way. The city has a high-speed rail station called SinGyeongju (Gyeongju station is the one downtown in the city, but you definitely do NOT want to take the train there from Seoul, because it will take many hours longer!) right on the route from Busan to Seoul, although you'll have to take a bus to get to the main city, and then another bus to the park. Otherwise, if you're flying to Seoul, you'll take the same high-speed rail from there to Gyeongju. And yes, if you're not doing the touristy stuff, you can make a day trip of it. Honestly, even if you ARE doing some of the touristy stuff, you can still make a day trip of it. Just get everything done at G. World before 1, hit whichever coasters opens at 1 right away, then get out of there and catch a taxi to Bulguksa Temple and/or Seokguram Grotto You can also take busses to both sites, but they're much slower, and taxis are cheap in Korea. Mine even waited for me at the Grotto and took me to the temple for not much more. (They'd rather have a guaranteed fare!) I've heard you can rent a taxi for the entire day for around the equivalent of $100 US.

 

As for the park itself, unless you go on a weekend, the park will most likely NOT be busy in September. There weren't even 100 people in the park when I went. I was warned that the indoor Space Tour didn't open until 1PM by an enthusiast who'd been there on his own, and was prepared for that. But with that coaster down for maintenance, they ended up not opening Space 2000 until 1PM instead. While it's not a great coaster or anything, it would be a shame to miss it while you're already in the park. And remember, they don't like to run Phaethon for only a few people. They certainly weren't as bad about it as other parks I've seen where they'd hold a train for 20 minutes for one last person! But it can be frustrating sitting in the station for 10-15 minutes for no good reason. If it weren't for this policy, I'd say that most do the park could probably be done in 2 hours, with multiple rides on Phaethon. Also, don't expect the Tagada to be open if the park isn't busy, unfortunately.

 

Yes, Kijima Kogen is a pretty good haul from Hakata. Have no fear that there IS a bus, but I couldn't find any information about it in English on the web on my own. All of the bus schedules in the area were in graphic form, which made them nearly impossible to translate and search for the right bus. I e-mailed the park at park@kijimakogen.jp, and the PR rep was very helpful and provided me with the complete bus schedule. He also wanted me to make sure to let everyone at TPR know that we were very welcome at the park, so I'm sure he'd give you the same level of help he gave me.

 

That said, don't make all of your plans based on the park hours that are out there now. I copied down that information early in the year last year, assuming that it wouldn't change, and never checked back until nearly the last minute. It turned out that two of the three major parks in the Fukuoka area had actually changed their hours for that weekend at some point during the year! (Luckily, in both cases, it was for the better.) So, I'd wait until at least the summer before making more specific plans about the parks and getting the bus and train schedules.

 

By the way, for Mitsui Greenland, I'd recommend that you do pretty much the exact opposite of what I did for rides, if you get there at opening time. Head straight for Gao, which as the biggest ride in the park, will get the longest lines. Then go to the SLC and the Ultratwister. If you can knock those off early, you'll hit the rides with the longest waits in the park (except maybe the alpine slide, but that's way in the back of the park) before the crowds get there. I didn't do this plan because I got there a bit late, and all three rides already had 1+ hour queues. So I saved them for last, when I'd done everything else and the park was slower.

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Right now I am still in the midst of working out how my schedule will look like and am still looking at how I could get the best/cheapest flights? So yes many factors are still to be decided before I can do more specific planning, especially when it comes to knowing which days I'd be hitting the parks on and in what order. I hope the weather's cooperative because I'd hate to be rained out of any park?

 

The way things are going I'll probably hit just the notable parks in Korea because time will be a constraint. Could add Seoul Land if time permits I guess? Low crowds are what's best about hitting them during the off season! Was just wondering if October's still considered the off season? Apart from Disney and Universal, practically all of the other parks I visited in Japan were deserted, so I am hoping for more of the same this time round? Will certainly check on that fastpass type system at Lotte World!

 

Now that you mention it, I am actually planning to take a flight between Hakata and Seoul because it's alot cheaper compared to the JR Beetle, and faster too? This way I could travel directly between both cities without having to make a detour. Wow are the cabbies in Korea seriously that friendly and patient? I'd be worried about the language barrier though.

Or did you have translator convey instructions for ya? Would love to get out to Gyeonju World regardless!

 

I've had the same issues trying to get accurate bus time-tables as like you mentioned, for the Japanese sites which have them listed, it's almost always in graphic form? And even when it's not, Google Translate does struggle to get the message across at times? But thanks for providing me with the email address for Kijima Kogen because I honestly never thought of doing such a thing? I suppose I could do that for the rest of the parks too So the PR person there actually welcomed you at the park entrance?

 

Yeah I too am aware that park plans can suddenly change at the very last mintue which is why I make it a point to check back every so often? Are there days in Sept/Oct where the park's totally not open? I know Space World's open pretty much every day throughout the year but not too sure about the rest?

 

So hit the big ones at Mitsui Greenland first before covering the rest I suppose?

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I'll answer these questions here, since they're of general concern and could help others who might want to plan a similar trip. As we get more specific, though, we should probably take this to e-mail, since most people won't care about the specific details.

 

I found that flights between Hakata and Seoul were only cheaper if you bought a round trip ticket, which I didn't need, and you might not need if you take an open-jaw trip. (In fact, I was just looking, and the price of a one-way was basically the same as the round trip, right now, at least!) When figuring the time and expense differences between the plane and the boat, remember a few other factors. Seoul's airports are 30 and 60 minutes from downtown, so add that time and expense into the calculations. Plus, you'll have to get to the airport an hour or two early for an international flight. But most importantly, remember that you'll be taking the train 2/3 of the way back down the country to get to Gyeongju, which is significantly closer (and cheaper) from Busan. There are supposedly lockers at SinGyeongju station, where you can leave your bags on the way, although I didn't need them, since I stayed in a hotel there. However, one advantage of going to Seoul's airports is that they are the only place you can get a sim card or portable wifi device If you want one for your phone because roaming charges are too expensive. But I managed just fine in Korea without access to my phone.

 

Yes, the park rep at Kijima surprised me at the park entrance while I was waiting for it to open. I was probably easy to find, as the only white person at the park! Still, it was a very nice welcoming gesture! Most of the parks I contacted didn't reply, probably because no one there could read English.

 

Most people in Seoul seemed to speak at least a little English. I didn't take many taxis because their subway system is so good, but I didn't have any real problems when I did. But the taxis were cheap, and a godsend in Gyeongju, where I was trying to do too many things in one day. In Gyeongju, the driver was more than happy to take me anywhere I wanted and wait for me, because I imagine that what was a cheap fare for me was possibly food for his family for a week! He didn't speak much English, but enough to get me where I needed to go.

 

For park schedules, I can only go by what they posted on their websites, but I think they were all open all month. In Japan particularly, they don't really have much in the way of seasonal help, so they have to have the employees there anyways.

 

I hit Mitsui Greenland on a very busy day for the park, certainly busier than on any day that TPR has been there. But that was because it was the last Saturday of the Summer, and they were having a fireworks show that night. Even then, nothing had a wait of more than 40 minutes to an hour, and mostly only the three coasters in question, plus the alpine slide. I deliberately chose that park for the busy Saturday because they were open VERY late, until 11 PM, so the extra hours there made up for any time lost in line.

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Day 13: Seoul sightseeing.

 

Today was going to be a more relaxed and casual day than just about any other day on the trip. I originally had planned to rush around and see a whole bunch of touristy sights in Seoul, but honestly, I’d already done a whole lot of sightseeing with 2 days in Gyeongju and the awesome DMZ tour. So, I honestly didn’t care if I saw too much today. I used the opportunity to sleep later than I probably did on any day of the trip, since I didn’t have any parks to go to, and with the an early flight to Beijing the next day for the TPR China trip, I knew I could use the sleep now, while I can get it! I also used the opportunity to catch up on some e-mail and to do some late planning for later in the trip. By the time I actually got out of the hotel, it was actually late afternoon, which meant that my plans were somewhat foiled, because many of the big sights in town closed at 5 or 6 PM on a Saturday. But whatever. I figured I’d go to some of the larger palaces in the city. At the very least, I could take pictures outside of them, which was fine with me.

 

So, I took the subway to the station closest to the Palace District, home to several of the Five Grand Palaces of the Joseun Dynasty, built in the 14th and 15th centuries. However, most of the building have been destroyed, burnt down or otherwise damaged over the years, particularly during many wars with the Japanese, and have been rebuilt and restored several times over the centuries. On reflection, I probably should have gone to the Gyeongbokgung Palace first, since it was open an hour later and I might have actually gotten in for a bit. But I was stubborn and tried to get in everything. And honestly, with the layout of the area, it would make more sense to go the way I did. So I headed to this huge park complex that included Changdeokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace and the Jongmyo Royal Shrine, intending to at least get pictures of them all from outside. On the way, there was a park that was actually up a flight of stairs that had been hosting some music event which was wrapping up. I headed up there for whatever long shots of the palace area I could get. It’s a good thing that I did, because those would be the best and pretty much only pictures I’d get of any of those sites. It turned out that the entire area was walled up with tall stone walls – this area was one of the back gates, and it was closed. Oops! I'm not sure if these ways were ancient, or were added more recently. So, I took what pictures I could, and walked a LONG was around the wall, in the hopes that maybe I could see more from the other side of the park – with no luck. I did, however, get some pictures of a very nice gate at the main entrance for my troubles. Even the Jomono Royal Shrine across the street was completely surrounded by tall walls. I’d foolishly assumed that publicly owned parks would be open all night (or at least in the early evening), and that I’d get to at least see the palaces and take some pictures, but it’s wasn’t to be.

 

So, I headed back towards the nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace -- the Palace of Shining Virtue -- to see if I could have any better luck there. But it was closed and walled up too. I saw a whole lot of people going down the street next to the palace, so I decided to follow them and see what was back there. It turned out to be a whole market area, with lots of street vendors and stores and restaurants. I got several different kinds of meat on sticks, which were very tasty! When I headed back to the palace, I saw that one of the side entrance areas was open, with only a guard at the drive-up gate. He let me go in to the grounds to try to take some pictures, which was very nice of him. I couldn’t get too far, but I was at least able to get some pictures of the outside of the throne hall building. The front entrance gates were also very photogenic.

 

I walked around the area a bit, looking for some of the other sites from the maps, and eventually decided to give up and head over to the N Seoul Tower before it too was closed! But when I went down into the Gyeongbokgung Palace subway station, I came across the free Seoul Metro Art Center, an underground gallery of modern art. I stopped in for a bit and actually really liked a lot of the art there. There were also a lot of old statues and other art all over the station. What a nice way for the city to give tourists heading to the palaces as well as locals a nice taste of both historic and modern art.

 

Next up was one of those weird situations that happen when travelling that wasn’t expected, but turned out to be one of the coolest moments of the trip. On the train, I started talking with this really hot and very friendly guy from South Africa. He happened to be getting off at one of the two closest stops to the tower. I’d actually planned to get off at the next stop after it, because the massive Namdaemon street market was nearby. But the stop he was getting off at also had the popular and trendy Myeong-dong shopping area right there. So, it was a nice stop too, though I’ll admit that I got off there to spend a bit more time with the hunky guy! So, we were outside the station, chatting and he was inviting me to go out drinking with him. I admit I was torn, but I really wanted to get to the N Seoul Tower, which was closing soon. Suddenly hundreds of college age kids came down the street, all dancing with headphones on. They had signs that said “We are Silent Disco. We dance with YOU!!!” Apparently, everyone had rented the headphones, which were playing dance music sent to them all wirelessly. The next thing we knew, two hot college girls put their headphones on our heads, and we were dancing in the middle of the street! And there you had my Facebook profile picture for the next week!

 

After the Silent Disco passed, I reluctantly decided to ditch the hunky South African, because I really did want to see the N Seoul Tower and make it to at least ONE of the sites I’d planned to visit that day! I walked around the crowded shopping area for a little bit on the way to the tower, and ran into the Silent Disco again at the end of their journey, where they had a big stage set up with DJ’s that weren’t quite so silent. After dancing a bit, I moved on.

 

N Seoul Tower is built on Namsan Park on a mountain in the middle of the city. To get up there, you can take a long, winding road by car or bus. But the best way is to take the cable car up there. It was a good thing I got there when I did, because there was quite a long line for the cable car. Eventually, I got on the cable car and headed up the mountain. When I got there, I went right for the tower, because it would be closing soon. While waiting for the elevator, I saw the Teddy Bear museum, which would have been nice to visit, but time was running short. They also had a display of many of the world’s tallest towers and buildings, which I thought was odd, since the N Seoul Tower was one of the smallest ones they profiled! Admittedly, those others weren't built on a mountain, like this one was, but you would they would have highlighted that fact. The elevator was at one time the fastest in the world and made my ears pop. It was a pretty typical big tourist tower, with gorgeous views of the city, nicely lit up on a Saturday night. For those keeping track, this was my third tower of the trip and my second cable car. There would be more!

 

When I got back down from the tower, I took some pictures of the park and the city from the elevated park, and then took the cable car back down to the city. I walked to the Namdaemon Market, which was supposed to be open all night. But only about 5-10% of it was actually open. Still, that left a whole bunch of eating opportunities. I decided to get a stir fry pork dish with some onions and kimchee in it, but took it home to eat while I packed. Strangely enough, the pork turned out to be basically bacon. I also bought some strange looking sausage from another vendor, but honestly, when I threw it in the microwave in the hotel it smelled vile, and I ended up only having a tiny taste of it before throwing it out. I took a cab back to my hotel and ate the tasty stir-fry.

 

I had planned to try to get over to the Hongdae college area, where the cities best bars and nightclubs were supposed to be. But at this time it was after midnight, and I had to pack and leave early in the morning. So, I packed and had everything ready to go, then had to decide whether to try to sleep for a bit or to just stay up and hit the clubs on Homo Hill. Screw sleep. I’d done that all morning! It was Saturday night and time to boogie! So, I headed over to Homo Hill, and ended up spending time in almost every bar and club and chatting with lots of people from all over the world. But I started at Queen, which I’d left the previous night, with plans to come back that got a little delayed. It was definitely my favorite club of the night, smaller and packed, with everyone singing along to lots of pop songs, both in English and in Korean. Shakira and Kylie sure are more popular in Asia (and most of the rest of the world) than they are in the US! I had quite a few drinks, but not so many as to make me pass out and miss my flight! (A lesson I learned with nearly disastrous consequences in Ibiza, Spain a few years prior.) I ended up staying out until just before I had to leave for the airport. I showered, and headed out on no sleep to catch a cab to Seoul Station for the train to the airport.

 

And that’s all she wrote for South Korea. It really was an amazing week. I’d gone there with the intention of probably never going back. It was more of a checkoff kind of thing, mainly to finally get to Everland and Lotte World. And I ended up having a great time. There was so much to see and do, and the people were so nice. There’s no question in my mind that I’ll eventually end up back in Seoul at least, if only for Everland and Lotte World – and Itaewon!

 

Next up, two weeks into the trip, David finally gets to Beijing for the TPR Best of China Tour!

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From my hotel, you could see the N Seoul Tower (with a little help from the zoom!) I'll get there eventually.

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The Popeye's Chicken places in Seoul actually have Popeye in their logos.

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Seoul is such a mix of old and modern styles. Right across the street were big hotels.

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From the hilly park, this was the best view of the palaces I was going to get, since they were now closed. I believe this was part of the Changdeokgung Palace

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You could also see the rear gate of Changgyeonggung Palace from here.

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A closer view of the rear gate, which is very closed!

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From here, I could at least see the tops of parts of the palace complex!

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The main gate of the palace.

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Here's what I missed! I started up at the rear gate, right under the word "Map" and walked all the around to the main gate at the bottom of the map. And then back.

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A neat building.

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The street market area I happened to run into by following all of the people heading there.

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Some historic shrine or something that they built a roundabout around!

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I really liked the architecture of this neat trio of buildings.

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The throne hall building at Gyeongbokgung Palace. Much of this lighting actually came from a nearby VERY bright LED billboard!

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The main gate of the Gyeongbokgung Palace. The pair of lions guarding it aren't in most of the pictures I've seen of the palace gate online. I'm not sure if they're new, or were moved here, or if they were being restored and are now back.

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Down in the Gyeongbokgung Palace Station, there's a really nice free modern are museum.

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Some neat modern art at the museum.

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A Silla-era statue in the train station. There's ancient art all over the station.

The Korean government actually numbers all of their "National Treasures," and proudly displays their numbers on all of them. This is #91.

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They're everywhere! They even have sodas in Korea.

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Many of the subway stations are integrated into underground shopping malls.

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We are Silent Disco. We dance with YOU!!!

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They danced with me and the hunky South African.

Facebook profile picture!

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Afterwards, I ran into the Silent Disco again, after most of them turned into their headphones, and they had a regular stage with DJ's for the crowd to dance to.

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The Myeong-dong shopping are, packed on a Saturday night.

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There were lots of weird characters selling all sorts of things.

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I have no idea what he was selling!

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Some kids climbing on a statue of kids playing on a seesaw.

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Who recognizes the logo on the shop on the right?

T-World is the sponsor of the T-Express roller coaster!

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In line to take the cable car up to Namsan Park and the N Seoul Tower.

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The cable car.

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Even if you don't go up the tower, the view from Namsan Park is really nice, especially with the city's lights at night.

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A pagoda in Namsan Park

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The N Seoul Tower from underneath in the park.

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"Haechi, Seoul's symbol, is an imaginary creature that helps realize justice and enhance safety and happiness."

And sells merchandise!

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At the base of the tower is a mall with stores and restaurants... and the Teddy Bear Museum!

Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to stop in.

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Seoul, all lit up on a Saturday night.

The dark area in the picture is the park below, which is on a mountain far above the city.

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Obligatory shot ruined by bad reflections.

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Using the zoom.

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While waiting in line for the elevator down, I saw this cowboy.

Seriously, dude, you wore your cowboy hat to Korea?!?

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The view from the park again.

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So, I get to Namdaemon Market, which I was told never closes.

This doesn't look good!

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Luckily, a few stores were open, and a bunch of eateries.

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These dishes of food were actually all plastic, giving me flashbacks to Japan!

The plastic version of the dish I ordered actually looked nothing like the much nicer looking photograph of it!

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The sign for my motel, which was down the alley and up some stairs from here.

Despite staying there for five nights, I only just noticed that this was a transgender club next door while going through the photos for this update, believe it or not!

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Culture in the hotel lobby. Kind of nice for a love motel, eh? ;-)

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My pork stir fry. Yes, that's bacon. Bacon counts as pork!

Edited by David H
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I don't remember all of the details about the funhouse at Everland, but I did walk through it quickly and I think everything was working. It was in the back of the Magic Land area, to the right of the park, between the Helicycle and the Magic Swing. Just in front of the gardens in the back of the park. I had to pull out the downloadable park map to remember exactly where it was. I noted with amusement that the spinny ride with the cars that just go up and spin is called Flash Pang Pang.

 

Everland really was a huge park. I didn't ride or even take pictures of at least a half dozen medium sized or larger rides, not to mention a bunch of kiddie rides. And I didn't even get near the rapids ride or safari ride in the zoo section, since that area closed early.

 

A funny side note on the return to Everland: I was in such a hurry that I think I completely forgot to show my foreign ID for the $8 discount. I don't remember If they had a twilight discount. But honestly, it was worth the admission price just for a few rides on T-Express. It's THAT good!

 

Speaking of park maps, one thing I forgot to mention in my write-ups was that I downloaded park maps from the park websites (and sometimes from the TPR Park Index, whenever possible. I pretty much only had time to find the ones from the parks in Japan and Korea. Many of the parks in Asia don't have English maps easily available, so it was helpful to have these already printed up and ready. In the case of both Everland and Lotte World, they DID have English park maps/guides, which were what they had on their websites, as well.

 

Larry, would you want my 2012 English park map I downloaded from Everland's web site? It's in pdf form and 1.76 MB. You might not want my Lotte World brochure and map, since it's strangely 102 MB! Maybe a bit big for the site, though I guess you could extract the maps from it. I also have maps from a bunch of the parks in Japan, though I'd have to figure out which ones I got from the TPR Park Index that you obviously already have! Most of them are a megabyte or two or less.

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This may seem like a silly change, but in case anyone rereads this and is wondering if the hunky Aussie changed to a hunky South African, or if they're imagining it, you're not. I just remembered it wrong. I've been updating my Facebook profile pictures with pictures from my latest PTR update. When I changed it back to that picture, I noticed that I'd said he was South African at the time. So, I guess I'd forgotten where he was from. Or maybe he actually was Aussie, and I got it wrong back then? Eh, who really cares, actually!

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TPR Best of China Tour overview.

 

This is going to be a different type of update. Candice Fu of the Chinese Roller Coaster Dream club asked me to write up an article for their online newsletter about the TPR China trip. I wrote an overview that touched on the highlights of the trip. I think it makes a nice preview of the trip, so I decided to post it here, along with some pictures of the best parks and coasters of the trip. This should give you a good idea of some of the awesomeness that was this trip. Read the rest of my updates as they come in for a more detailed look at the trip and the parks. It's gonna be epic!

 

 

Last September, I visited China with Theme Park Review for a crazy tour to much of the country to visit the best amusement parks and roller coasters China had to offer. It was a wild, crazy, exhausting trip, but I am very glad I went. We really got a sample of the best that Chinese parks had to offer. In addition to all of the big parks, we also visited a large number of small parks, just so that we could add the roller coasters to our lists of ones that we had ridden, a process we tactlessly call “credit whoring,” if you’ll pardon the crude language. While those weren’t really the highlights of the trip for me, I did find it fascinating how many small amusement parks China has, often tucked away in city parks or zoos, or similar places.

 

The first leg of the trip was Beijing. I was glad that we got the chance to visit historic sights like the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Olympic Bird’s Nest and Water Cube. We did some “credit whoring” at Shijingshan and Sun Parks, which had a surprising number of coasters, several of which I was too fat to ride! That was the first time I had ever been denied a coaster ride due to weight, and it was depressing. But our main goal in Beijing was to get to Happy Valley. Crystal Wing may be typical B&M flying coaster, and a clone of the Superman: Ultimate Flight coasters in the US, but we all agreed that the very extensive theming really made it a much better ride, especially with all the near-misses with the scenery! Unfortunately, Extreme Rusher was broken down, so we missed the first S&S launched coaster of the trip. Victory Kingdom was also a highlight, mainly due to its nice theming and it’s really good flat rides. Most of them may have been what we jokingly call “Chinese knockoffs”, but the flat rides were a lot better than the “Chinese knockoff” roller coasters!

 

Our next leg was in Chengdu. Probably the most fun ride of the entire trip (and probably my life!) was our rides on the Tagada ride at Floraland. The ride operator clearly was having a lot of fun giving these crazy Americans a wild ride, unlike any that we’d ever get to ride in the US, with our overzealous lawyers! Check out Robb’s video on youtube to see the craziness! Chengdu’s Happy Valley had what I thought was the best of the four Intamin Mega-Lite’s with its Fly Over Mediterranean coaster. I’m not sure why, but I felt that it was the most powerful of them all, and I rode three of them on my Asian trip. The middle section of the coaster with its ejector airtime and fast directional changes was intense. Our last stop in Chengdu was to the panda sanctuary, where most of us paid to briefly hold a panda, which was an amazing experience!

 

From there, we went to Wuhan, which has quickly become famous among coaster enthusiasts worldwide for Happy Valley’s misspelled Gravity Group Dauling Dragons coasters, with the first ever high-five element, which lets riders of both coasters almost touch hands over their heads as the trains turn sideways. It may be a gimmick, but it’s an impressive and fun one. And the coasters themselves were as crazy and intense as you’d expect from the Gravity Group. Unfortunately, OCT Thrust wasn’t yet finished, so we missed yet another S&S launched coaster!

 

Shanghai was probably my favorite city in China. Luckily, we got to explore the city, visiting the China Pearl Tower (and its coaster inside!) and with a boat cruise on the river, which let us see the gorgeous skyline at night. Many of us would also explore the city at night, especially since our hotel was so close to the Nanjing Road shopping area. Jin Jiang Park surprised us with a nice coaster assortment, including Mountain Peak, which was a standard Vekoma Giant Inverted Boomerang, but was somehow much smoother than any of others in the world, all of which I’ve ridden. Most of us thought that it was the best GIB anywhere, and not just because some of us got a rollback on it. Shanghai’s Happy Valley probably had the best collection of coasters in the country, with the Intamin Mega-Lite, the B&M Diving Coaster, and the awesome Gravity Group wooden coaster Fireball. Plus, I got to meet kindred coaster spirit Roller Coaster Dream’s president Candice Fu, who I spent some time with at the park, getting in one last ride on Fireball, as we rushed back to meet the group to leave the park. We just had time to get in a ride on the great compact Vekoma flying coaster Stingray, which the park was nice enough to let use rid just before the park was exclusively for a group that had paid to have the park to themselves.

 

We only visited two parks in one day in Changzhou, but both of them were excellent, with extremely good theming. World Joyland is known around the world for having knockoff World of Warcraft theming. And while the theming is amazing, the B&M flying coaster that seems to have two different names – Starry Sky Ripper and Sky Scrapper – was even more amazing. I thought it was the most intense coaster B&M has built in years, with a unique and creative design, and absolutely full of the positive G forces I love. It was easily my favorite steel coaster of the whole trip! Later, we met up with Candice again at China Dinosaur Park, a park I wish we’d had more time at. And not just because Dinoconda is one of the world’s only S&S 4D coasters, but because of all of the great theming, too. But we had to rush out to catch a flight that ironically ended up being cancelled!

 

Once we got a rescheduled flight to Guangzhou the next day, we visited the huge Chimelong Paradise park, home to two big cloned coasters in the accurately named Dive Coaster and 10 Inversion Coaster (which we all counted out as we went through them!) and the surprisingly good Motobike Launch Coaster. The park also has a Half Pipe coaster named Half Pipe and a Young Star coaster called YoungStar. Clearly the park spent a lot of time coming up with original names! Later that day, we headed to the very strange, but also very charming Chuanlord Holiday Manor park. Their coasters may not have been all that special, but their Ghost Ship Gothenburg was excellent, and the people in the ride were very effective and genuinely scaring this group of jaded park enthusiasts, often with nothing more than a t-shirt on a stick!

 

In Shenzhen, we started at Knight Valley, which was this huge, sprawling park on the mountainside, on multiple levels, with stairways and escalators between the levels. It seemed like a really nice park, but unfortunately a large number of the rides weren’t open when we tried to ride them (although some people said that some of them opened later.) Luckily, they had the excellent Wood Coaster by GCI, which was one of their best. And the view from the top of the mountain was spectacular. Ironically, our last Happy Valley of the trip in Shenzhen was the company’s first While none of the other coasters were all that great, we finally got on an S&S launched coaster, the excellent – if a little rough -- Bullet Coaster.

 

We crossed the border into Hong Kong, where we stayed on Disney property at Disney’s awesome Hollywood Hotel. But first, we went to Ocean Park, which has what has to be one of the most spectacular settings of any park, on the mountainsides of Hong Kong, which you take an underground train or an amazing cable car ride to get up to. It also had a great new B&M floorless coaster called Hair Raiser, appropriately named because of the several moments of unexpected airtime. I ended up liking the park so much that I would go back two nights later after the TPR trip was over to check out their Halloween event, which was absolutely world-class, with a bunch of uniquely themed mazes and monsters roaming the entire huge, sprawling park. But in between, we first did some sightseeing up to Victoria Peak and on a sampan on the harbor, and checked out the nighttime laser show. Then we enjoyed Hong Kong Disneyland, with its great new Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars coaster (a cross between the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad coasters and Expedition Everest) and Space Mountain, which had Halloween theming in it!

 

And that was it for the official trip. I stayed in Hong Kong for an extra two days, doing some more sightseeing, going back to Ocean Park, hitting the nightclubs, and taking a day trip to Macau to see the amazing House of Dancing Waters show and to take the terrifying Skyjump off the Macau Tower.

 

Overall, it was an incredible trip. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy China as much as I did. I was planning this trip as a sort of “checkoff” so that I could say that I’ve been there and to its coasters and parks and not need to go back. But I really enjoyed myself and am sure I’ll return some day.

 

The parks certainly weren’t perfect. Ride operations were often horribly slow. Rides were closed for seemingly no reason, even when the parks were busy. (They opened Golden Wings in Snowfield for our filming session at Happy Valley Beijing, then closed it and never opened it again that day to the public, even though Extreme Rusher was broken down!) And there were certainly a lot of cloned and knockoff coasters, where I would have liked to have seen a lot more creativity. The knockoff coasters were often even rougher than the originals, although I actually enjoyed a lot of the knockoff flat rides. And a lot of the parks, particularly the Happy Valley parks deserve a lot of credit for some really nice theming that was usually better than most of the theming at US parks, outside of Disney or Universal. They definitely had theming that was a lot better than anything you’d find at any Six Flags or Cedar Fair park. And I’ll give credit to Chinese parks for really embracing creative dark rides and haunted houses, rides that we don’t see as often in the US.

 

It was also nice to see that even with all the knockoff coasters, there were also a bunch of really creative new coaster designs going into Chinese parks. All of the wooden coasters were great, especially the Gravity Group ones. Sky Scrapper was one of the most intense and creative B&M coasters ever. Dinoconda was rough, but exciting. Stingray was a surprisingly intense, yet compact design. Disney even tried something new with Big Grizzly Mountain. And some of the clones they did have were among the best of their clones, like Crystal Wings, Mountain Peak and absolutely the two Intamin mega-lites, not to mention the various B&M dive coasters.

 

That said, what made the trip unforgettable was being able to do it with a bunch of great people from Theme Park Review. Robb and Elissa Alvey’s incredible planning made everything go as smoothly as possible. And there’s no question that we would never have gotten as many rides as we did without Robb getting the parks to do filming sessions with us on the rides. And it’s always great to travel with a group of crazy coaster nuts to keep up the energy and enthusiasm, seeing old friends and making new ones, including a new friend in Roller Coaster Dream China!

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Before the official trip began, while some people were credit whoring, a few of us headed out to the Forbidden City in Beijing.

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The Great Wall of China. It's not every day you visit one of the world's great wonders!

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Crystal Wings at Happy Valley Beijing. It may be a Superman Ultimate Flight clone, but it's awesome theming makes all the difference, when you nearly collide with a manmade mountain!

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Probably the most insane moment of the whole trip! The Tagada ride at Floraland in Chengdu.

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Happy Valley in Chengdu offers a study in contrasts. The awesome Fly Over Mediterranean Intamin mega-lite, next to a Vekoma SLC. At least it was a real SLC, and not a knockoff.

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Yes, there will be BOOBS in my PTR! That should bring some of you back!

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And lots of silliness with random Chinese girls, who wanted to take pictures with white people!

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We got to hold a panda!

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The newest Happy Valley in Wuhan has the awesome misspelled Gravity Group dueling coasters Dauling Dragons.

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In Shanghai, we took a maglev train that goes over 300 km/hour (that's over 185 mph.)

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We took a boat cruise on Shanghai's river, to enjoy the city's amazing skyline at night. Would you believe there's a coaster in the bottom ball of the China Pearl Tower?

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Some Chinese knockoffs, like this one at Fisherman Wharf, were so horrible and painful that they made us wear padded helmets!

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Some of the Chinese versions of clones were actually way better than their US counterparts, like the Mountain Peak Deja Vu clone at Jin Jiang park in Shanghai.

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Happy Valley Shanghai probably had the best collection of coasters overall, including the B&M Diving Coaster, a SheiKra clone.

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But the real star of this Happy Valley park was the awesome Gravity Group woodie Fireball.

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Robb managed to get us on the great Vekoma compact flyer Stingray, even though the park was closing for a buyout!

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Changzhou's World Joyland park is known most for it's appropriating of World of Warcraft imagery without permission, but its very intense B&M Flying Coaster with two names (Sky Scrapper and Starry Sky Ripper) was easily my favorite steel coaster of the trip!

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China Dinosaur park also had awesome theming, plus Dinoconda, one of the world's only S&S 4D coasters.

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Guangzhou's Chimelong Paradise were really creative with naming their coasters, like this dive coaster called "Dive Coaster." And guess how many inversions that "10 Inversion Coaster" has?

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Chinese parks had lots of dark rides and haunted walkthroughs, from the really cheap and ghetto to the very modern. But most of us agreed that Chuanlord Holiday Manor Park's Ghost Ship Gothenburg was easily the best and scariest!

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Shenzhen's Knight valley made really good use of their mountainside terrain with the awesome (if not creatively named) Wood Coaster.

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We finally got on a S&S launhed coaster (after missing two of them) at Happy Valley in Shenzhen on their Bullet Coaster.

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What a place to build a park and coasters! One of my favorite parks of the trip was Hong Kong's Ocean Park. Here's their new B&M floorless coaster Hair Raiser, with several surprising spots of airtime to raise your hair.

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We took lots of group photos, like this one at Hong Kong Disneyland.

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Hong Kong's Disneyland got a much needed expansion with the recently opened Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars coaster.

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All good things must come to an end. Our last meal together featured an appearance by Chef Mickey!

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But my trip didn't end there! I went back to Ocean Park for their awesome Halloween event. You'll be rewarded for waiting out the updates with pictures from the park that no one else was able to get!

Then after that, it's another two weeks in Macau, Taiwan and back to Japan!

Edited by David H
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When I said Mountain Peak was Chinese, I meant that it was IN china. It's not a knockoff.

 

Just like if I said that I thought that Montu was the best American steel coaster, even though it was made by B&M, who are Swiss.

 

Mountain Peak is an ACTUAL Vekoma Giant Inverted Boomerang. And a damn good one, too! Let's see if it STAYS good, though!

 

I actually now have one less than an hour and a half from my house at SFNE, but I haven't ridden it there yet.

 

And yes, I'll be doing day-by-day updates, too. I only posted this since I'd already written it up for the Roller Coaster Dream Chinese coaster group. So I though I might as well make use of it, since I only had to pick out some pictures for it. I thought it would also give a nice overview of the highlights of the trip for those who don't want to read the more detailed updates. And whet the appetites of those of you who do!

 

Plus, it gave me a chance to post the pic of Bill and the hat and Chinese girls early!

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With tensions getting worse between North and South Korea, and with North Korea today threatening a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the US, I wonder how much longer DMZ tours, like the one I showed a few updates back, will be available.

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  • 1 month later...

Just so people know, I haven't abandoned this TR. I've been really busy with some personal stuff.

 

But if there is anything that being in a terrorist attack (I'm only 6 blocks away and directly on the marathon route) has done, it's made me want to finish my unfinished business.

 

I was actually going to get this going, but this week has been a bit crazy here in Boston, as I write this from lockdown.

 

Next up is Beijing sightseeing, pre-TPR tour day (with some TPR people.) Then the official TPR trip begins with more sightseeing, and a bonus maybe-credit that I still haven't decided if I want to count it. Two updates for culture fans!

 

Then we'll get to some real parks again.

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