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  • Day37

    Goodbye South Korea

    November 3, 2017 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    I checkout of the hotel and wait for the 7 or 7-1 bus back to Sokcho. A fellow hotel patron is also headed to the bus station. He's from the Philippines, in South Korea for a fortnight. We continue to chat at the back of the 7 bus, where my megaluggage won't impede/kill other people.

    We disembark and I farewell him at the bus terminal. I have 40 minutes to kill before my bus leaves so I roll to a nearby cafe for a quiet cafe. Back later to the bus terminal, I walk on to the bus bound for Dong Seoul bus terminal and we arrive there without incident.

    I take the green line metro from Dong Seoul bus terminal to Hongik University station, where I have a reservation for a place called "Deborah House". I'm supposed to contact their staff before I arrive, but I haven't done that. So it turns out that Deborah House is more of a concept than a physical location. I enlist the help of a local to call them, and I'm directed into a tower building called Magellan. The manager comes walking in out of the rain (which enhances the experience) and takes me upstairs to my room (406). Which hasn't been cleaned, even though it's after 2 and checkin is from 1.

    I reviewed this place in, so won't reiterate the other problems. Fortunately it has stopped raining so I decide to go back to "Gustan Taco" for old time's sake. It's around a 15 minute walk, I chat to the owner once again and have a pork burrito bowl.

    I am flying out of Gimpo airport the next day. It is on the Airport line along with the main airport (Incheon). It is a convenient way to travel, although it is a fair hike from the train station to the International terminal. At least it is all under cover and well signed.

    I have made a boo-boo and left my Swiss Army knife in my carry-on luggage. This is picked up in security screening so I have to go back to the check-in counter. My knife goes in a small box that will go on board with all other checked baggage. It's only an inconvenience as I have plenty of time.

    The flight itself to Tokyo's Haneda airport is less than 2 hours. Not much point in watching a movie on-board. We will get fed, which is a good thing as it will take quite some time to clear immigration and customs at Haneda.

    The plane takes off at 12:20, and I wave goodbye to South Korea. Thanks for having me ☺
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  • Day35

    Seoraksan Day 2

    November 1, 2017 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    This day would be a contender for my favourite day so far. It starts with a buffet breakfast in the 2nd floor restaurant. All the good stuff - coffee, bacon, eggs, fruit etc. This will set me up for the day.

    But then I'll need lunch, so a quick dash to the nearby 7-11. That's all sorted, so it's time to hit the park for a long hike!

    My plan is to head for Daecheongbong peak. At 1700+ metres it is the highest peak in the park. Unfortunately it is also a 22 km round trip from the park entrance, with difficult hiking sections close to the peak. Doable if I hadn't spent so much time stuffing my face at breakfast. But the coffee ... 🤑

    Anyway I'll play it by ear and see how it goes. The weather isn't that great when I start out, a fair bit of cloud about. The trail takes me past Bisondae rock. There are hikers coming the other way loaded up with backpacks. I suspect that they have stayed overnight in the park so as to ascend Daecheongbong peak at sunrise. Good for them! Some say hello to me, some don't.

    One thing I notice about the trail is that I hear running water pretty much the whole time. This adds another dimension to the hike as the water and the gorges it runs through makes a great backdrop to the view.

    Most of the trail comprises rock stairs, I have difficulty at times seeing where the trail goes. At one point I'm just looking at a pile of rocks ahead of me. I lose some time here making bad decisions. Eventually I ask a lady hiker coming the other way where the trail leads. She gestures to the right and I'm back on track.

    Losing that time definitely takes Daecheongbong peak out of the equation. Instead I stop at at Yangpok shelter, which is 4.5 km short of the peak. There are a number of other hikers here, sitting at tables and eating. It's a perfect place for lunch.

    There is another shelter 2 km further along the trail. I contemplate whether to head there, but decide against it as it will add at least 90 minutes to the day.

    So it's around 6.5 km back to the park entrance. This will take me at least 2.5 hours but I have plenty of time. As I backtrack I see more people, just hope it's not massively crowded at the park entrance. The weather has brightened over the day so the beauty of the scenery is in full view.

    Eventually I reach "civilisation" and walk into a cafe. As my time in the ROK is coming to an end, I splurge on the most expensive coffee I've ever had - a latte that sets me back 6500 KRW (over 7 AUD). Still, it's a nice setting and the music playing is not unappealing. And I get to sit down.

    Back at the hotel, there's a crisis as the 2nd floor restaurant is booked out for a private function. I'm blithely told that the 9th floor bar/restaurant is available ... but not for me as it serves pasta and pizza only. This is the biggest problem staying in isolated areas. Fortunately there are pre-packaged meals available from the 7-11 store, so that will have to do.
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  • Day34

    Kensington Stars Hotel

    October 31, 2017 in South Korea ⋅ ☀️ 12 °C

    It's unusual for me to stay so close to a national park. The isolation is limiting for meal options as I'm an hour's bus ride from town.

    The Kensington Stars hotel is not the place to stay if you hate The Beatles. In fact, there is a total indulgence in English memorabilia that starts with the 2 double-decker buses that are placed (?) just outside the hotel. The faded Old World charm extends throughout the hotel. Room photos are attached.

    Once I've checked in I go to the bar restaurant on the top (9th) floor. It takes some doing to obtain a glass of house red wine, the barman is intent on selling me wine by the bottle. Most of these are over 100 AUD, probably wasted on me.

    I take my wine and sit outside to enjoy the late afternoon ... for a while. It cools down as evening approaches so I move back inside. Two glasses and it's time for dinner. Unfortunately this restaurant only provides pasta and pizza so it's off limits to me. I head down to the main restaurant on the 2nd floor.

    This restaurant provides both Western and Korean dishes. I bite the bullet and opt for the snow crab bibimbap. This is a regional speciality of Jeonju but I chickened out then (and it was Chuseok as well). See photo of the bibimbap, the idea is to use the chopsticks to mix up the egg with the rest of the dish.

    The banchan (side dishes) are the usual kimchi plus soup that contains snow crab as well. The soup is my favourite, the bibimbap ... less so. As it's a quiet night in the restaurant I'm not concerned about my usual chopsticks atrocities ...
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  • Day34

    Seoraksan Day 1

    October 31, 2017 in South Korea ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    The entrance to the park is about 200 metres up the road. There's a 7-11 convenience store close by the hotel, that will come in handy. I walk towards the park and note how many coaches are parked in the adjacent parking lot. There's a few people in today!

    It costs 3500 KRW (just under 4 AUD) to enter the park. There are a number of shops, restaurants and cafes at the front of the park - natural habitat of those with unsuitable footwear. There's also a very popular cable car close by, not sure if I can squeeze in a round trip.

    I have an hour before checkin starts so I'm not going on a long hike. It's a round trip of 4.6 km to Biryong falls and I also need to have some lunch. The start of the trail winds through some pretty forest, but after a kilometre or so the trail turns upwards in a series of crosswalks across the falls catchment area. I had no high expectations (especially given Cheonjeyeon falls in Jungmun) but it was quite impressive.

    I was also distracted at times by squirrels running over the rocks. I find them irresistibly cute. The round trip and photos around the park entrance end up consuming over 2 hours, so it's close to 4:30 by the time I check in.
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  • Day33

    Daegu to Sokcho via Seoul

    October 30, 2017 in South Korea ⋅ ☀️ 10 °C

    I have a ticket for the express KTX service to Seoul. A stopover in Seoul is the easiest (and quickest) way to travel between Daegu and Sokcho. The train leaves from the Dongdaegu train station, made famous in the 2016 ROK box office smash movie "Train to Busan" (which I've seen). Zombies on a train, whaaat???

    The train leaves around 11:45 and I have a reserved seat in car 6. The train comes, it looks a bit short and only has 4 cars. It's further up the platform so I roll up in a hurry, as do other people. I show the guard my ticket, and he tells me to get on another train coming in behind this train. So I roll back down and can see the next train pulling in behind the first train. I've done a lot of overseas train travel but have never seen this. People are frantically running along the platform in both directions, so I'm not the only one not knowing what's going on. Essentially it's an 8 car service split into 2, perhaps for safety reasons.

    Anyway I board car 6 and find my seat without further incident. There's decent free Wi-Fi on board so I watch "4 Corners" on ABC iView. It's a bit under 2 hours to Seoul, where I transfer to the metro to check in at Hotel Atrium.

    I have to pick up a data SIM card from the KT shop near Hongik University. Back on the metro heading west, find the shop, insert the 5-day SIM card and I'm back online!

    I take the same line back east to the stop next to Dong Seul bus terminal. Here I buy a ticket to go to Sokcho tomorrow. Then back to the hotel, stopping in at Starbucks next door for a take-away coffee.

    Next morning, I partake/gorge once again in the hotel's breakfast buffet. Everything I need to sit on a bus for 2 1/2 hours! Check out, then roll my luggage back to the metro to go to the bus terminal. No issue in boarding, but as always there's heavy traffic to negotiate before exiting Seoul. We cross the river and the slowness of our progress allows me to take some photos. As I have unlimited data I watch the latest "Q&A" on ABC iView. KRudd and Alan Jones together? Irresistible TV - if only KRudd was still PM 🤗

    We arrive in Sokcho and I buy a Seoul return ticket for 2 days time. The lady at the information booth gives me details about travelling to Seoraksan National Park. It takes an hour by the 7-1 bus as it travels down the coastline for some distance before heading west to the National Park.

    We close in on the National Park. I can see my destination (Kensington Stars Hotel) on the right. I attempt a quick exit, well as quick as it can be trying to haul my luggage off the bus. I'm early to the hotel by an hour, so they store my luggage while I go inside the National Park. Firstly I take photos in the vicinity.
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  • Day32

    Haein-sa Temple

    October 29, 2017 in South Korea ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    This was a big day, with many photos taken. Choosing six won't be easy.

    The day starts with a short walk down the street. I take a local bus to Seobu Bus Terminal, where I buy a ticket for Haein-sa. What troubles me is coming back, as the buses have no numbers or English signage. And I have no internet access. That's a problem for later in the day though.

    We hit the road, travelling west towards the Gayasan National Park. It's around 90 minutes in all to get there. When we reach the national park, the road winds around as we ascend. Around 7 km before the temple the bus stops at the Tripitaka Koreana Theme Park. The tripitaka comprises ancient Buddhist scriptures that are incredibly well preserved. I'm not sure what a theme park named after them would be like, hopefully it's not like Disneyland!

    The drop off point for the temple is around 500 metres before the bus terminal, saving some time and energy. It's still an uphill walk to the temple complex, par for the course really. The autumn scenery is stunning here, I think it's probably the best time of year to come.

    There is a crowd here, being a Sunday, but it becomes even busier later on. Not surprising as Koreans aren't morning people and it takes some time to get here. I notice a roped area that people walk through. It's a practice by which they pray or meditate as they walk.

    I have no information on the complex so can't identify the individual buildings. Once again I look at the artwork in the eaves and marvel at how well preserved they are.

    Once I've done a full lap of the complex, I take a look at the adjacent forest. There is some good hiking here. Although I'm wearing hiking pants and boots I'm not really equipped for a serious hike. Nevertheless I head off towards the Sangwangbong peak, which is 4 km away.

    The hike goes through some pretty terrain in the lower reaches. As the trail ascends, I notice a more wintry appearance to the trees as leaves are scarce on them. There are plenty of leaves on the trail though.

    The views I was hoping for don't come to fruition as it becomes hazier, windier and colder as I ascend. After midday I come to the final scramble over rocks to get to the peak. Yeah, no, not doing that. The wind would make it too uncomfortable to spend more than a minute there. Instead I find a windbreak in some rocks and have my lunch.

    It's now after 1pm and it's a long way back to my Daegu hotel. The weather also looks like it's deteriorating. In spite of my usual descending concerns, I rush back to the temple complex. Even from there, it still takes time to get back to the main road as there is a crowd of people coming the other way.

    Back on the road, I start walking towards the bus terminal. I pass a bus stop and notice a German couple who were on my bus in the morning. At the bus terminal I buy a ticket back to Daegu but have no idea which bus to take at the various platforms. Fortunately I find help from a man who may have been a bus coordinator. He takes me to a platform where a bus is waiting and confirms with the driver that it is bound for Seobu bus terminal.

    So we board in a few minutes and I have a window seat. There's still some time until the 3:20 pm departure so the bus fills up. Eventually people have to stand in the aisle. We depart and make our first stop at the bus stop 500 metres down the road. Quite a few people board and then have to stand, including the German couple. The wife is not happy at this, but she does get a seat around 30 minutes later.

    It's slow going on the road due to traffic congestion. This eases when we pass the theme park and a number of people depart the bus. Slow progress still back to Daegu, it's around 5 when we reach Seobu bus terminal. I'm not sure where the bus stop would be to return to the hotel, but a metro stop is nearby. It's the less direct way back home, but at least I know where I'm going.
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  • Day31

    Gyeongju to Daegu

    October 28, 2017 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    It's been a tiring couple of days in Gyeongju, I'm a little bit footsore. Today is mostly a travelling day so the walking will be limited.

    On checkout, the hotel receptionist tells me that their car has a problem so she calls a taxi for me (and pays!). My only free dropoff in S Korea. My train leaves Gyeongju station at 9:36 and arrives at Dongdaegu station at 10:50.

    My data SIM expired yesterday so I can't use Google Maps from Dongdaegu station to reach my destination (the AR motel in Daegu). A bus is the quickest and most direct way to reach the motel, but I won't know when to get off. There is a metro adjacent to Dongdaegu station, and I can use it, transfer to another line in a few stops, ride a couple of stops and then roll my luggage for a bit over a km to the motel. There is greater certainty in this approach.

    It pans out this way and I have no problems finding the motel. The receptionist here speaks no English and is quite disorganised. No matter, I'm able to check in to room 510. It's one of the cheapest places in my Korean trip but quite serviceable (apart from the bi-polar shower).

    I realize that I will need information about the bus to take to Haein-sa temple tomorrow so I walk into town. Although I could take a bus, the traffic is clogged so walking is probably quicker.

    When I reach the city centre I realize why the traffic is congested. There's a big protest march taking place down some of the streets. It's chaotic as there are a huge number of bystanders, police trying to control the traffic and the marchers themselves.

    So I don't find the tourist information kiosk that I was looking for. The next closest one is at Daegu station. This is a bit of a walk, particularly as I try to bypass the marching route. I find the kiosk and the lady there is primarily for Japanese tourists, but she speaks serviceable English and gives me useful information.

    I walk back to the motel to check the information. Then later I go back into town for a meal. I take a bus this time as the march is long over. I go to a Thai restaurant for a chicken penang curry and a bottle of Bundaberg Ginger Beer (I've missed you, old friend). Very nice. My server speaks good English so I thank him for the meal. Later I wait at the bus stop amongst some bright young things for a bus back to the motel. Good night!
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  • Day30

    Gyeongju Day 2 afternoon

    October 27, 2017 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    The #10 bus coming back from Bulguk-sa drops me close to the bus terminal. I decide to have a salad at a nearby eatery called Nordic. And what a salad it is - 2 sausages, grilled bacon, avocado slices, onion, tomato, banana, apple, orange and a lot of leafy greens. I forget to ask them to hold the salad dressing, but I have no later ill effects.

    The remainder of the day will be spent walking locally around the Daereungwon Ancient Tomb Complex. I won't need the travelcard but I will need good walking shoes!

    I have a tourist map with 2 recommended routes. Both start at the tourist information kiosk down the street, which is convenient.

    The first stop is the Geunwangchong tomb complex, then I duck across the road to see the Bonghwangdae pavilion. I walk clockwise to the area that is the limit of my walking.

    This is Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond. It costs to get in, but I do like a good pond stroll. I see some storks at a distance in the pond, and there are carp in the pond as well. I'm fascinated watching some of them feeding around the water lillies (or should I say hoovering?)

    I start walking back to the hotel, which takes me past the Daereungwon ancient tombs and the Cheonmachong ancient tomb. There are ongoing excavations happening in some tombs so history is still unfolding. Its fascinating to think that all this history is at least 1100 years old.
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  • Day30

    Bulguk-sa Temple, Gyeongju

    October 27, 2017 in South Korea ⋅ ☀️ 12 °C

    Bulguk-sa temple is on the Unesco World Cultural Heritage list and is considered by some to be the crowning glory of Silla architecture. It's a fair way out of town (south east) so I will need to take a bus from the same bus stop as yesterday. Either number 10 or 11 will do, the 10 comes but I wait for the 11 as I think it's quicker.

    On arrival at the temple bus stop there's an uphill walk to the ticket office. It's crowded here today, same deal as the museum (school kids and tour groups). This is a working temple, I feel for the monks having to chant their rituals. The sound of shoes crunching on gravel and kids shouting must be a distraction, but I suppose the revenue brought in by tourists is essential.

    The temples are well preserved especially considering their 7th century origin. I take special note of the eaves' artwork, photo attached.

    I think that it's the best time of year to visit because of the autumnal setting. Some schoolkids are playing amidst the falling leaves, I shoot some video because it's pretty. As seems to be universal in Korean temple complexes, there's an adjacent forest setting with a stream. Good for contemplation (where did I go wrong in my life 😥).

    On the way out of the complex, I buy a cob of grilled corn from a vendor. It was dry, chewy and rubbery, the exact opposite of how I like my corn 😑. But it didn't kill me 😁
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  • Day29

    Busan to Gyeongju

    October 26, 2017 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    I have bought train tickets online for the next 3 destinations, and printed them to PDF. This is a convenient and time-saving way to go. Gyeongju is the first destination.

    Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla kingdom, which endured from 57 BC to 935 AD. Given the volatility of the region over that millenium, that is serious longevity.

    There are 2 separate train stations in Busan; Busan Station for the express KTX service and Bujeon station for the slower services. It is Bujeon where I'm headed today. My train will stop at Gyeongju Station, which is in town and not far from my hotel. The KTX station is quite a long way out of town.

    At Gyeongju station I look for tourist information - nothing in English, no staff so no point. I roll my megaluggage down the road towards my destination, which is Sugar Hotel. On the way I have to navigate around a street market, I've found it's easiest to use the road!

    I reach the hotel and a young lady who speaks excellent English checks me in, even though I'm an hour early. There are a number of "love motels" in the area, but this hotel is not one of them. It seems to cater to families and business travellers.

    I'm told where to go for tourist information. Turns out it's down the road near the bus terminal. I notice a number of scooter rental places in the vicinity. There's a reason for this - Gyeongju can be considered an "open air" museum. If you're not on a tour and you don't have a car, you end up doing a LOT of walking to get around. Hence the scooter rental places.

    The lady at tourist information tells me which buses to take to get to the National Museum and where the stop is. I duly follow her guidance and take bus 600 to the museum.

    Walking into the museum, it is quickly evident that this city is very much on the tourist trail. Plenty of schoolkids and tour groups. It's FREE to enter the museum, my favourite 4-letter word after **** and 😯😯😯😲.

    It has a very good collection of Silla artifacts with consistent English translations. I especially like the history of how the Silla kingdom came to be, it's regional alliances and its demise. I make sure to stand out of the way when a tour group comes through, will get bumped out of the way otherwise.

    Outside the museum I take some photos, it is located in quite an attractive setting and has some outdoor artifacts. I then walk around 25 minutes east to Bunhwang-sa temple. That's 1500 KRW for entry. The temple area dates back to 634 AD and features a well-maintained brick pagoda. Later I follow the crowd along a path to the Hwangnyongsa Temple Site, dating back to 553 AD and featuring burial mounds out in the open. There's an interpretation centre nearby, but time is passing so I take bus 10 back to the bus terminal.
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