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back to Seoul…

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

I decided to stay another day in Busan partly because I liked it and partly because it made getting the high speed train to Seoul the next morning easier.  I went to the beomosa temple complex with slightly low expectations due to the amount of temple I’ve been seeing and the crowds that are usually at them.  I was pleasantly surprised to find it practically deserted, one of the nicer temples I’ve been to and the location where it’s perched on the hillside has good views of the surrounding area. 


Next it was back to Seoul for my last night in Korea before my flight.  The high speed train here is less flashy than the Japanese one but has the same top speed, unfortunately they haven’t put the high speed track the whole way from Seoul to Busan yet.  Even without that it still only takes 2:45 to get from one end of the country to the other. 

I found out by mere chance that South Korea were playing a world cup qualifier at the world cup (2002) stadium in Seoul on the very day I was back in Seoul.  Tickets were $15, so after one last meal of dolsot bibimbap I headed over there.  The stadium wasn’t very full, but the fans that went were really into it.  It was vs the UAE, hardly a top class opposition, but I did get to see Park Ji-Sung in action for his country and score.  The Koreans won 4-1, quite easily and I can’t imagine what that place would sound like if it was full up in a top class game.   

Right now I’m sitting at the really nice airport in Seoul waiting for my flight to Taiwan, had to catch the 5:30 bus this morning to get here in enough time.  Not something I hope to repeat many times this trip.  

Busan and Geoje

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

I had no real plans after Gyeongju, so at the last minute I decided to go to Busan despite several people telling me it wasn’t worth a stop.  I’m glad I went.  Busan is the 2nd largest city in South Korea, and in a great setting between the mountains and the bay.  It’s a huge fishing port, and my first stop was the fish market, largest in Korea.  Not on the level of Tokyo I don’t think but still quite large with all kinds of live fish and shellfish.  Nice smell in there too…


Busan fish market

The area around the fish market is one of the main districts for shopping and nitelife, with more BBQ restaurants in one area than I’ve ever seen.  There’s also a huge market in the area selling pretty much anything you can think of.  I went up the Busan tower, for a great view of the whole city, the most attractive looking from above of any Korean place I’ve been.  Ended up in the same dorm again with the same guy who I keep meeting up with through Korea, it’s remarkable how our trip plans have coincided so exactly for the last 2 weeks.  A few of us from the hostel went back downtown and picked one of the BBQ places, which became the latest place to be the best Korean-BBQ I’ve had, it just keeps getting better.  



Second day in Busan I decided to catch a ferry to one of the small Islands off the coast here, just 50 minutes from Busan gets you to Geoji, and from there I took a smaller ferry tour of Oedo Island and around another Island that you can’t land on.  It’s all really cool rocks coast line, looks like it came straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean.  Palm trees and lots of little rocky coves, no pirates though.. 



Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Next morning it was off to the cave.  An hour out of town in the mountains with a 2km hike to get to the cave entrance.  Inside they have walkways and platforms going quite deep into the cave, some pretty cool rock formations in there.  



inside the caveLeft Samcheok and 4 hours on the bus to Gyeongju, home of many temples and some burial mounds.  The mounds are a ho-hum sight, so I left the town and went to the biggest temple complex in the area.  A nice temple, but the crowds there were insane so I took some pictures and caught a bus to the Namsan park South of town.  Lots of trails here, I decided to try a loop, going up to one small peak and then back down ending up at a different bus stop.  The first part of the hike, up to the peak was steep and rocky but well travelled.  However once at the top, the signs became very confusing and I was guessing based on my compass and not much else what trail to take for the loop.  I ended up on a very rarely used trail brushing through pine trees down the mountain and it ended on the road halfway between the bus stops.  I still have no idea what the right trail would’ve been, but there were good views from the top and the hike up was great!



NamsanThe hostel I was staying at in Gyeongju was less than great but I did run into someone who I met at the hostel in Seoul (3rd time, I bumped into him in Sokcho too..).  Made being at the hostel much more tolerable, just hanging out.  1st night there we tried to order Korean BBQ somewhere, apparently using the wrong term, and got a whole table full of stuff, a huge feast and it was really good.  Not BBQ though.  The 2nd night we did manage to successfully order BBQ and it was best I’d had so far.






Korean food

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Korean food is usually spicy, in at least some strength.  They have this red chili sauce/paste that is used in lots of things.  I’ve also seen these red chilis growing in a bunch of places.

The classic Korean meal is the BBQ.  A very social experience.  Everyone in the group sits around the BBQ which is in the middle of the table, they bring the meat, a whole host of cold side dishes and you cook the meat and roast garlic while you eat the sides.  Then, one bitesized piece at a time you wrap the meat after dipping it in whatever sauce you want, in a leaf of lettuce with garlic and anything of the other veg served with it.

Korean BBQ:
Korean BBQ in Seoul

The main side dish, which accompanies just about everything is Kimchi, fermented spicy cabbage.  I don’t really care for it, too spicy most of the time, but the spicy level does vary and if it’s low then I do like it.

They have noodle bowls here, similar to Japanese or Chinese noodles, all kinds are available.  Instant noodles at the convenience store is very popular, most of them have little tables and chairs for people to eat their instant noodles at.

One dish I like a lot is bibimbap, specifically, dolsot bibimbap.  It’s rice, in a stone hotpot, with egg, vegetables, sometimes meat and some sauce on top.  It’s not mixed when you get it, you do that yourself and add as little or as much chili sauce as you want.  Quite tasty.

Dolsot Bibimbap:
dolsot bibimbap

Gimbap is basically Korean sushi.  Seaweed rolls with different veg in them and a small amount of some kind of fish, I had tuna.  It’s good, but nothing compared to Japanese sushi.
Raw fish is really big here, everywhere I’ve been has many “raw fish restaurants” and squid is probably the most popular fish I’ve seen, in all sorts of ways, the dried stuff is pretty good.  Eaten like popcorn or peanuts here.

Those are the foods here that I’ve had experience with.

One other note, rice is usually eaten with a spoon not chopsticks.  Also the Korean chopsticks are not rounded like most, they are flat and metal.  The flat makes it harder to use, and the metal heats up with really hot things, like the BBQ…

Seoraksan park/Ulsan bawi

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

The weather had improved to a reasonable level this morning, so I went back to the park and this time no rain so I actually hiked.  Made it up to the peak of Ulsan Bawi, a really cool looking rock. 


The hike was moderate to easy for me, 5 miles round trip, the summit is 2900 feet and you go up about 2000 feet on the hike, through some small crevices in the rock and then up nearly 900 steep stairs to reach the peak.  The whole thing took about 4 hours  After I hiked back down I took the cable car up on the other side of the valley for some different views.  It was still mostly cloudy, but the clouds were just high enough that I could see a lot of the mountains in that part of the park.

view from top of cable car ride

Next I was on a bus to Samcheok, home of one of the largest caves in Asia, got that to look forward to tomorrow.  I met another English teacher when I was eating dinner in town here tonight, this guy was from Ohio.  Seriously, these teachers are everywhere here! ;)

Another note, I got a motel in Samcheok, nicest room I’ve stayed in for ages, very fast internet, a fridge, a computer, all sorts of little extras, sensor activated lights…  all for $25 a night, a good dinner in town cost $4 today.  I like the prices in S.Korea.

Seoul to Sokcho

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Seoul city wall

I left Seoul on day five, but not before I did the strangest thing on the trip so far.  Some Korean thing in a chain of coffee shops called “dr fish”.  People at the hostel were talking about it and a couple of us went.  Basically it’s like a foot spa, with fish in it that attack your feat.  Strangest sensation EVER and it cost like 7 bucks.  After that and my futile search to find the new Oasis album at a cd shop in Seoul I got the  bus station and caught the next express bus to Sokcho with about 20 seconds to spare, it started moving as soon as my bag was on and I boarded…  Here’s a shout out to all the people I met in Seoul that made it such a great weekend!

Sokcho is on the East coast of South Korea, about 25 miles from the 38th parallel very close to Seoraksan National park, meant to be one of the best in S.Korea.  When I was in Seoul, one of the people I met at the hostel had some friends teaching English in Korea, and when I met them at a baseball game in Seoul and they found out I was headed their way they very kindly offered their spare room to me.  So the last two nights I’ve been staying in Sokcho with Scott and Megan, thanks so much again guys it’s been great!  I had a couple of great nights with you!  Canadians rock!

I was going to hike in the park today, but it was pissing down rain when I got there with no visibility so I spent the day checking out Sokcho in the rain.  The barbed wire on the beaches makes you remember where you are in the world…
Hopefully in the morning the weather has cleared and I can get some hiking in before I move on from here.

P.S. I put some more videos of the Tae Kwon Do demo on youtube, just checkout my page…


Monday, October 6th, 2008

I’ve spent the last 4 nights in Seoul, had a great time here.  Second day, I went to the Gyeongbokgung palace, and saw the changing of the guard, a very colourful affair with lots of Korean music being played.  Much more elaborate that in London.  Also walked around the area around the hostel I’m staying at, quite a big shopping/restaurant district.

Third day was fantastic.  Found out from someone staying at the hostel that there was a taekwondo demonstration not far from the hostel, we went to that and it was amazing.  One hour long, free demonstration of pretty much everything they do in tkd.  Sparring, self defense, forms and a LOT of board breaking.  They also kicked apples held in the air while blindfolded, and even off of people heads.  The agility is absolutely amazing.  I took lots of videos.

After the taekwondo I headed of to a baseball game, it’s really big in Korea, with someone from the hostel and a group of Canadians who are teaching English in Korea.  After the game we hit the main night area of Seoul.  The bars here make you order food with drinks, everywhere, mainly expensive snacks but when it’s split up with a group it’s cheap.  Everything is cheap here.  The entire evening, which went until 3, I spent about the same as a hostel bed costs in Japan. Crazy.

Last full day in Seoul I climbed up one of the hills on the edge of town, very steep climb past a bunch of shrines with people banging drums and making strange kind of singing noises.  Fantastic view of Seoul from the top, just very hazy.  Later on I walked through the biggest market here, and one of the biggest in Asia.  Ate a huge bowl of noodles for $4, had another good evening.

Seoul city wall

Met so many cool people at this hostel, from all over the world.  Great times in Seoul.


Saturday, October 4th, 2008

I spent 9 hours in transit to Seoul, and several trains, a plane and a bus.  The flight part was only 90 minutes, getting to and from what have to be 2 of the farthest airports from cities was time consuming though.

Seoul is big and busy, sort of like Tokyo but a little less orderly.  First night I went out with a group from the hostel (including someone who spoke Korean) for some traditional Korean BBQ, not bad, but not as good as the Japanese BBQ.  The food here is spicy in general, one of the staples is a pickled cabbage.

The hostel here is a good place to meet people, and I’m getting lots of recommendations of things to do here and the rest of Korea.  I’ll put up a longer entry on Seoul later.

changing of the guard