While exploring Paju yesterday, we came across s sign in Korean that pointed us in the direction of some the Samneung Royal Tombs. We had already admired views of North Korea from the Odusan Unification Observatory, payed our respects at the tomb of Jeong Yeon, and enjoyed a delicious Dak-Galbi lunch so we were up for some more adventure!
On arrival we were impressed to see a stone plaque that revealed the tombs as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and were keen to explore this somewhat secluded and rarely visited tourist location. However as we tried to enter we discovered the entrance gate was closed and there was pad lock hanging from it. Perseverance can go a long way sometimes, so I check to see if the lock was in fact LOCKED. Much to our delight it wan’t so we decided there would be no harm opening the gate and taking a stroll through the wooden farm land that lay ahead.
The first thing that hit us was how beautiful this whole area was. There were fields or incredible green rice paddies to our left and dense forrest to our right. There was no traffic, no multi story apartment buildings and no noise to interrupt the peace bar the incessant buzzing of hundreds of Cicadas.
After a 5-10 minute walk we turned to the right and saw what looked like the Samneung tombs. However it was lear they were all under construction and there really wasn’t a whole lot to see. As we were aware that we were not really supposed to be in here, and the construction workers were giving us funny looks, we turned back a little disappointed. However just around the corner, less than a 5 minute walk, we discovered something 10 times better than the Samneung Tombs!
We had stumbled across something truly amazing…. Royal Tombs from the Joseon Dynasty! The whole area was immaculate, with an area the size of a football pitch covered in perfectly manicured grass. In the middle stood a tall, red, spiked entrance arch, the same arch which Royalty on horseback would have walked through 100’s of years ago! At the end of the “worship road” there was a T-shaped Shrine surrounded by some other huts which would have been the royal kitchen and a guard house.
Excited to get a little closer to take some photographs, we stepped on to the grass and took a few steps forward until suddenly loads of alarm bells starting ringing, scaring the life out of us. It wasn’t until we back tracked a few steps that the alarms stopped and we caught our breath. We looked around the perimeter to discover cameras everywhere. Every entrance, exit, tunnel, grass, tree and archway was covered by CCTV.
We couldn’t understand why a top tourist attraction would want to detract attention and visitors but not wanting to get in trouble we took some pictures from a distance and headed back to the car, making sure to leave the gate closed behind us.
When I get home I did a little research on the tombs and and came across this notice, “For preservation reasons, this royal tomb is not open to the general public. This is the mausoleum of King Injo (1595-1649, reign 1623-1649), the 16th ruler of the Joseon Dynasty, and Queen Illyeol. “
Whoops…breaking and entering into a tourist site is one thing but breaking and entering into site of the Mausoleum of King Injo is something else! I’m looking forward to where my next Korean adventure will take me.