August - September 2019
  • Day21

    Last Days - Winding Up the Trip

    September 20, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    We took the express train from Busan to Seoul. It only took two and a half hours from the south eastern corner of the country to the north western corner. Once again, there were lots of tunnels but also spots of agriculture and more huge clusters of apartment buildings. We changed to the metro in Seoul for the trip out to Incheon and our final night in South Korea. The hotel was located right across the road from the metro station and in a complex with a number of eating places around. We had chicken and beer as a late lunch and then later that evening found a dumpling place around the corner for a snack.

    Our flight next morning was at 10:15 which meant getting the 7:00 shuttle. Breakfast started at 6:30 and we were first in line when the doors opened. We checked in to discover that we would not be able to re-enter Vietnam as our visa was only for single entry. Damn! I mis-interpreted "valid for thirty days" to also mean "multiple entry". I would need to cancel our accommodation which was only a $30 short-stay (yeah, I know, sounds real dodgy right? Rooms by the hour??) We would just have to utilise the sleeping pods and lounge chairs at Ho Chi Minh instead.

    It started to rain when we arrived at Ho Chi Minh until several hours later we were watching a full-blown tropical storm from the safety of the airport terminal. I decided to have a massage which I had been knocking back since the Sri Lanka trip but it was a good way to spend some transit time. Richard made use of the sleeping pod which was more than a pod as in there was standing room and floor space.

    We landed in sydney an hour earlier than expected and with an easy run through customs and immigration we were home by 10:00.
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  • Day20

    There's Something Fishy About This Place

    September 19, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    We returned the car this morning and got hit with a bill for damage. Strangely though it was a couple of scratches under the front not the ones along the side that caused the bother. Ah well, in all the years we have hired cars and all the kilometres we've traveled in them this is the first issue we've ever had. So next stop is Busan station to book our train tickets back to Seoul tomorrow. Once that is taken care of we hop the Metro and head for Jagalchi Fish Markets, just three stops from our hotel.

    Apparently Jagalchi Fish Markets is the largest in Korea and there is an incredible array of all manner of seafood, most of which I recognise. We get talking to a stallholder about his menu and agree to return later for lunch. Not only is Jagalchi the largest fish market in Korea, it's also right alongside streets and streets of homewares markets, toursit markets and art and craft markets, as well as stores. Still haven't found a horse. Lots of elephants the presence of which in Korea is dubious I'm sure, but no horses. I manage to pick up a few gifts for the family though so all good.

    We return to "Lucky's, An Honest Restaurant", as claimed by his business card, and treat ourselves by electing to have the lobster. Richard chooses his victim and then we wait while soaking up the sights and sounds around us, for it to be delivered to our table ready to eat.
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  • Day19

    Getting Chilled and Getting High

    September 18, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ☁️ 26 °C

    This our last day with the car. I have established that it is 30 minutes by car or an hour by train to get to Spaland, and it's on our list. One or two other items look like being left off though. Spaland is in a shopping centre which makes it all seem a bit weird right off. We get our key and locker number, proceed to the first set of lockers which are just for our shoes and then it is off to the separate change rooms and bath areas. We are given a set of pyjamas, shorts and shirt which are for the mixed gender areas, as well as two towels, then instructed on what to do and where to go. The ladies side has about a dozen baths of varying temperatures, some with water jets and some still. There is also an area with two saunas and a massage room which I did not discover until we were almost done.

    The mixed gender area has a whole bunch of steam rooms all of different themes and temperatures as well as areas to just lie down rest and an outdoor foot bath. There is also a restaurant and we decide to have lunch here. I have the "Hangover Soup" which has chunks of beef with veg in a tasty broth, while Richard has a seafood stew with abalone and mussels.

    After three hours here we are feeling very relaxed.

    On our way there in the car we came across a radio station with English speaking presenters. One was describing what he did on the weekend and mentioned the Songdo cable car. We decide to check it out. As it turns out it just happens to be located at one of the two beaches I had ear-marked as possibles and located only a few kilometres from our hotel. Perfect.

    The Busan Air Cruise is amazing. The base station is at the northern end of Songdo Beach while the top station is a mere 1.6km away at the top of a hilltop at the southern end. It takes you over the water for its entire length. We are rewarded with Chupa Chups when purchasing our tickets. We choose the cabin with the glass floor for optimal viewing. At the top station is a viewing platform as well as observation deck and a small sculpture park with, in addition to some cute fun characters, animated dinosaurs. The whole experience is a bit quirky and definitely fun.
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  • Day18

    On the Road to Busan

    September 17, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Today we are heading for our final destination before heading home. We have three nights booked in Busan, Korea's second largest city.

    We stop by the National Museum of Gyeongju first, our final attempt to find a horse. Entry to the museum is free and it is a worthwhile diversion but no horses here either.

    The trip from Gyeongju to Busan is only about an hour so I plot a course to Haedong Yonggung Temple in the Sat Nav as it is only a short detour and will be easier to reach on the way than setting out as a day trip once we get there. The temple is set right amongst the rocky cliff-face above a jagged rocky inlet with a small blow-hole. Prayer bowls have been placed in the water for people to throw coins watched on by various deities. There is also a submerged grotto dug out of the rock beneath the temple where worshippers can light candles.

    Leaving the temple and heading for the hotel we are grateful for the Sat Nav but still need the assistance of at least two phone apps to locate it successfully. What the hell did we do before technology? And I'm actually okay at reading maps. We settle in to our room, which is fairly small and basic, before heading out to find something to eat. We choose a place with a well-priced menu that appears to do dumplings and noodles, and have yet another new dining experience. Cold noodles. Apparently this is a thing. They are very tasty but of course I do prefer my noodles with some level of heat so I may not be rushing out to have it again.
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  • Day17

    In Search of a Horse

    September 16, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    My walk this morning takes me past the covered bridge. Yes! There is a covered bridge. I have only ever seen the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and am only aware of the covered bridges in the US so I am keen to see it. I arrive early enough to capture it as a silhouette against the eastern sky.

    Today we decide to go further afield. Our host has given us a couple of suggestions so we head out with our maps and sat nav to find them. The first is described on the map as Holy Ground. We head up the valley for about 10 kilometres and after parking, set out on foot through gently ascending gardens alongside a running stream. We are about to turn back as my legs are starting to protest when we spot a small bridge ahead through the trees. Only a little further on there is a pavilion set against the forest backdrop. Such a tranquil place.

    The next spot on the map our host had said is beautiful. Her lack of English and my lack of Korean had limited the description to this solitary comment so we thought we'd check it out since it was nearby. We had no idea what we were looking for apart from "three-storey pagoda" and once again were about to turn back when I spot a sign directing towards exactly that. We turn into a very narrow street in a village that quickly takes us out the other side along an impossibly narrower road. At this point we are having serious doubta but there is simply nowhere to turn around. We are committed. It is only a few kilometres of nailbiting road, worrying whther our wheelbase is narrow enough not to land one side or other into a pond. We seriously scrape one side of the car along some fallen branches. At the end of the road we find thankfully a muddy, grassy patch large enough to turn the car around. As for the pagoda, there must be some cultural or relious significance that is completely lost on us. I have seen more impressive examples in garden centres. On our way back out I get out of the car to attempt to move the dead branches out of the way. These are evil branches with thorns along their length and in between the thorns is covered in small prickles. With Richard's help we shilft the branches enough to get the car through.

    Our next destination is an ancient village about half an hour away. Described as historically significant we envisioned something picturesque and huddled together. We found a large spread out site of mainly thatched and mud daub cottages intermingled with the now familiar hanok style dwellings. The heat of the the day combined with our lack of information or a guide of any kind led to our jaded interest. We stopped for cool drinks before I went off to take some photos but we found it difficult to muster much enthusiasm.

    We return to the same place as yesterday for the same lunch because we loved it so much then Richard heads off for a sieasta and I go in search of a horse. I walk up into the retail district and find nothing before stumbling on a small gift shop where the only items I find are a key ring and a fridge magnet. I am disappointed as it is such a spectacular horse and would be a wonderful addition to my other horses!

    Later in the afternoon we return to the bridge to see it in the glow of sunset. Across the road is a nice spot to have a couple of beers.
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  • Day16

    Walking Where Kings Lay

    September 15, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ☁️ 25 °C

    I am up before sunrise and take off with my camera to explore. We are located across the road from a number of large mounds which are ancient burial tombs now set in park-like grounds. My walk takes me into a small forest and out the other side onto the street further along from our guest house.

    After breakfast Richard and I repeat my walk of this morning and this time also dive in to the old laneways that weave between the traditional houses. I have discovered that one of the symbols of the town is a horse figure so I am on the lookout for this as a figurine to add to my horse collection. So far no joy but I sure I'll find it somewhere.

    We find a lunch spot across the road from the Tombs Park. This is up there as possibly the best meal of the trip. A dish of fried thin pork strips along with a broth, possibly miso but this one is actually quite nice, and 16 side dishes plus rice. Absolutely delicious!

    Richard heads back to the room and I go in to see the Tombs Park, a large park with around 20 burial mounds, one of which has been excavated and restored so that you can enter and view the burial chamber. I approach a window to pick up a guide and end up with my own personal tour guide.
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  • Day15

    More Coast

    September 14, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    I am waking much earlier than Richard most mornings and today I decide to go for a walk before he wakes. The hotel overlooks a large lotus pond with an easy path surrounding it. There are a small number of lingering blooms clinging to the last warm days. On the far side there is a small war memorial containing three small planes next to a children's playground. A little further on is a small hill topped with pines encircling a pavillion. I take a short detour returning to the hotel to see if there is anywahere nearby for breakfast. Answer: not much. Richard and I return a bit later and end up with convenience store pastries and coffee.

    Today will take a bit longer to reach our destination but should still only take about two hours. We plan to take a meandering route hugging the coastline and if the opportunity allows, Richard will test swimmability.

    Our destination is Gyeongju, a historical town which was once the centre of the Silla empire and is now World Heritage listed. We are staying in a traditional hanok house very close to some of the many historical sites. What we don't realise is that there is a festival happening and traffic on our street is at a total standstill. We park where we can and will retrieve the car later.
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  • Day14

    Overnight in Crab Territory

    September 13, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Yesterday was the first day of Chuseok which runs through until Sunday. It is supposed to be a time where korean families return to their homes to spend time together. So I figure the best days to travel are the days in the middle when traffic theoretically should be at its lightest. We don't need to check out until 11:00 so Richard heads foe the beach and we meet up for coffee before heading off.

    We head for a seaside hotel resort that is so insane we must check it out. This is built in the shape of a cruise ship and situated on a headland in an otherwise very pretty township. We stroll around the beachside park ond over to the beach then decide to head on up to the Sun Cruise Resort. First you pay to park, then you pay to enter so we plan to spend a bit of time here. There is an observation deck on the 9th floor and a revolving restaurant on the 10th. We decide to chill with a couple of iced teas while watching the outside literally go by. This is a "cruise" I could do! Not stuck at sea for days on end and you can come and go as you please.

    Returning outdoors we explore the small sculpture park before investigating a small cliff-top lookout. This looks down onto a glass deck extending out over the sea. There are steep steps down to reach it and a queue of people waiting to go out onto it as it is only one or two people at a time, so we decide we are happy to observe from above.

    We return to the village to check out lunch options. We think that we may be prepared to splurge and try the crab the region is famous for. One look at the menus and we know this place is way out of our price range and we decide to head down the road to somewhere a bit less touristy.

    The next town we find exactly what we are looking for. Simgok is a small fishing port village with one claim to fame. A man-made cliff-side waterfall marks the start of a scenic coastal trail. There are two or three eateries and all are traditional style seating, so we princesses are forced to suck it up. We order a fish stew which comes to the table in a cast iron pot and placed over a burner. Again, as before, one meal with rice and accompaniments is plenty for the two of us.
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  • Day13

    Beach and Bikes

    September 12, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    The hotel we are in is simple but basic. Breakfast is included but consists of bread and a toaster, cold hard-boiled eggs and strawberry jam. No butter. With that you can have orange juice and filter coffee, no sugar. It will do.

    We then head off for a walk along the beach towards the massive twin tower hotel we have seen from a distance. The entire length of the beach is edged with a boardwalk which makes walking very comfortable and pleasant. As we get nearer to the main section of beachfront we see eight women spread across the width of the sand walking north with a long pair of tongs and a large plastic bag, picking up rubbish as they go. The beach is pleasant, there are a number of the photo spots seen every in Korea, frames against a backdrop of some sort. Two of these appear to feature what we guess are local celebrities, perhaps TV soap opera actors, to have your pic taken alongside.

    We venture inside the Sky Bay hotel for a sticky and head on up to the top floor where there is an infinity pool alongside a bar and restaurant. After sitting for a while no-one comes to take a coffee order so we leave. Across the road is a large lake and alongside is a huddle of bike hire shops offering everything from the canopied four-seater family option through to scooters, regular bikes and electric assisted models. We find a place to have coffee attached to one of these and while happily relaxing with our cuppas talk to the lady about rental rates. We decide to return later in the day. First off lunch and siesta.

    We find a great place for lunch just around the corner from where we had dinner last night. We choose the pork bulgogi stew and with the accompnaying rice and side dishes find that one meal shared is plenty.

    At the arranged time we front up at the bike hire place and collect two electric-assisted bikes. The lake circuit is really lovely. There are sculptures along the way at some places, bird-watching hides at others and a huge lotus pond with a series of boardwalks meandering through the middle. All bar a few of the flowers are finished leaving the large seed pods in their place.

    For dinner tonight we find one of the famous but elusive chicken and beer haunts I have heard so much about. It was nice, it was too much and now that we have had it we probably don't need to have it again.
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  • Day12

    On the Road Again. Heading South

    September 11, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    We have chosen the rainiest day we have had so far to leave Sokcho and start heading south, but we don't have far to go. I was aware there is a national holiday around this time, what I wasn't sure of was which days to travel and which to stay off the roads but I think I have it sorted. Basically Chuseok, which is a likened to Thanksgiving, is a time when Koreans return to their families. Tomorrow is likely to be the day when most people will be traveling so I have organised it so that we won't be. We will travel a little way down the coast and spend 2 nights then travel a bit further down right in the middle of the four day break when hopefully no-one will be on the roads.

    The road follows the coast most of the way and we pull in to take a look at one of the beaches. We walk along the promenade towards the lighthouse in light drizzle. Barely ten minutes or so south of Sokcho is a temple site I have earmarked. I am expecting to see a small temple, a pavilion and a buddha. We walk up the hill from the carpark through Korean red pine forest in the steady light rain to the entrance gate. At this point we begin to get a sense of the size of the site. A gravel path leads up a slight incline towards a hilltop compound where among other pavillions and structures the bell pavillion sits. Beautifully ornate it houses a huge drum and two large bells which are roped off from public access.

    At this point a slight detour leads to a small memorial to forest fires that decimated many of the original structures (most have been rebuilt) including three mounds built solely from the roof tiles.

    Continuing along the path leads to the large standing Buddha. Here there is a smaller bell that for a small donation you can ring. Descending beneath the lip of the hilltop there is a submerged temple where when kneeling you can look up at a 45 degree angle through a glass ceiling to see the full figure of the Buddha above.

    We are now making our way down towards the cliff edge but first the pavillion housing six seated golden Buddhas, three either side of the centre-piece, a radiant, standing, multi-limbed being. There seems to be almost a hint of Hinduism about this temple from the swastika on the outside of the building to the carved stone plinths surrounding the outside with elephants at the base. None of these symbols seem very Korean to me but what would I know. A few more pavillions and a lotus pond later and we reach the small pavillion on the cliff edge. An absolutely stunning site, I'm glad we made the effort to visit.

    We are on the look-out for somewhere to have lunch when I ask Richard to count up how much cash we have left. Not enough for lunch, we search for an ATM. Find one, doesn't work. Find another, doesn't work. Ask someone who says we need a bigger town. ! Huh?

    Ok, we are headed for Gangneung so we will try there, otherwise we are going to be living off the credit card. We find a group of shops with American brands and ask. No ATMs around here. A helpful customer with a few words of English sends us 10km further on and instructs us to look for an E-mart. We spot an ATM booth on the same block as an E-mart. The ATM again does not work. The E-mart has no ATM. I go into the bank branch attached to the ATM and the young woman sends me across the road to another convenience store. Success! Thank god! We can eat, yay!

    We decide to find the hotel and check in first. We are located in a beachside area with a bunch of small hotels in a strip much like any Aussie coastal resort town. Down the road there are a bunch of eateries and we find one doing the similar noodle dishes that we had a couple of days ago, this time the seafood one is all in the shell, mussels, clams and octopus. So delicious.
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