South Korea

South Korea

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  • Day16

    So this is my second day on Jeju Island. The first day comprised the ferry trip (nothing special), the taxi ride from the ferry terminal to the hotel (usual cockup) and browsing around Jeju City. I went to a Mexican place for dinner and ordered a drink that included Somersby apple cider! So they CAN be found.

    Today I'll be taking 7 buses, giving my travelcard a thorough working over. The first bus takes me to the bus terminal. From outside the terminal I take a bus that takes me clockwise around the island about 90 degrees. After one of the stops (Gimnyeong) I notice a sandy beach so plan to stop off here on the way back.

    I disembark at Goseong-ri junction and walk to the bus stop across the road. This is where I take a local bus that goes to near Seongsan port. The weather is excellent today, the best that I'll experience on the island. I walk around some of the coastline as far as The Cloud Hotel (so THAT'S where it is, IT humour 😁). There's a good place nearby, overlooking the water, for a spot of lunch.

    After lunch I take a small trail to the base of Ichilbung, where I buy a ticket and join the masses for the walk up to the 180 metre summit. Simply spectacular views on a fine day, as my photos show. At the summit I drink in the view, it's Rio-esque on a smaller scale.

    On the way down there are some great views of the local area and Mt Hallasan, which is a volcanic peak and S Korea's highest mountain. Further on it's possible to detour down to the beach, which I do. Just rocks, no sand. There's a stall selling live seafood, octopus anyone? I wander around the rockpools for a while before heading back to the bus stop.

    Soon there's a local bus that takes me back to Goseong-ri junction. Surprisingly the intercity bus arrives within 5 minutes, I usually assume that I've just missed the bus. Lucky as there is a 50 minute interval between these buses. It drops me off at Gimnyeong and I walk to the beach.

    Weather's still decent, so I take off my hiking boots and paddle barefoot in the water for around 15 minutes. Noone else does this, ofc, but I find it very therapeutic. A photographer is nearby shooting either a fashion spread or a commercial. His model is wearing a robe and walks into the water (no disrobing) until her head is fully submerged. Then she walks out a minute later (freezing). The things we do for art (or money) 😦

    Back to the bus stop, I backtrack to Jeju Bus Terminal and then the hotel. It's been a LONG day.
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  • Day3

    Each year around a million Seoul residents gather to watch fireworks from Yeouinaru Park. There are numerous family-oriented activities that run during the day but after 7pm the fireworks are the main draw. Sort of like Riverfire without the aircraft ...

    I take the subway to Gongdeok, where I change lines for the line going to Yeouinaru Park (2 stops). I'm standing at the end of the platform to maximize my chances. The first train comes and ... it's full, or near enough so I don't get on board. The 2nd train comes and ... it's the same as the first. I sense a pattern.

    So I exit the station and walk to the Mapo Bridge, as do many, many others. Many people set up on both sides of the bridge to watch the fireworks. I stand behind the pram of a family so I have a good view (discounting the tree that's in the way!)

    Take some photos and the first session of fireworks are done. I don't stay for the next set, but it's very slow trying to push through the crowd. Once I'm off the bridge it's much easier going. Easy to take trains now!
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  • Day6

    This was a fun morning. So it's the Chuseok holiday and lots of places are closed. The weather's great so I decide to do some hiking.

    Seoul is blessed with numerous hiking trails given it's built around 4 mountains. The trail I want to follow is in the Bukhansan National Park, to the NW of my hotel.

    This entails taking the subway to Dokbawi station and proceeding from there. There are a few fellow hikers in the area when I disembark. They're all kitted out similarly, hiking boots, long hiking pants, colourful hiking jacket and 2 hiking poles. I look nothing like this, of course, the only thing I have in common are the boots.

    I reach the start of the hiking trail (1st photo). The trail I choose is the red arrowed one, bottom left signpost. The "peaks" are Jokduribong and Bibong. It starts off fine but soon becomes more "scrambly", if I can say that. Three men my age or older are following me. They power up the rocks with their hiking poles. However the views over Seoul are epic so I take photos when the trail reaches a clearing. All 5 subsequent photos were taken at this time.

    There is a camaraderie amongst hikers, so I receive (and give) more greetings than would be the case just walking in a park. One hiker talks to me for some time in Korean, while he catches his breath. We're both enjoying the view at the time.

    As I have no hiking poles it does limit me to less difficult ascents. The poles aren't a huge asset ascending but I find them invaluable in descending as they reduce the weight going through the knees. I considered buying poles to bring with me but they would have been too difficult to pack. So I rented 2 for the Mt Fuji hike, none since. I reach the point at which I know it will be painful descending ...

    I backtrack to the signposts shown in the first photo and take the Seoul trail. This seems to run along the southern edge of the park and through some of suburbia before going back into the park. People of all ages are enjoying the trail. It's not as strenuous as the first trail, until I decide to take one uphill that I subsequently find also leads to Jokduribong.

    Back down to thd road there is a park where you can stretch (outdoor gym) as well as clean your boots. From there it is a trudge back to Dokbawi station, tired but well exercised.
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  • Day3

    I'll admit that this is the number 1 reason I've come to the ROK. It costs 46,000 won (51 AUD) for a half day tour but it's worth it. I'm picked up at 8:30 by Seoul City Tours and pay the tour guide Gemma (her Western name, she's a local).

    We pick up more people so around 10 of us are travelling in a minibus. We all bring passports to make sure no spies are on board. I try to match my expression to my passport photo, but that scowling hurts my face if I do it for too long ☹

    The first stop is the Imjingak Peace Park. It has a pretty park, souvenir shops of course and some views. I think we have around 25 minutes here, Gemma keeps us to a tight schedule. There are a number of monuments and statues here, see first 3 photos.

    What comes through from the day is the desire for reunification within the ROK. However, relations between the two countries aren't great at the moment. The ROK started investing in a PRK industrial complex around 20 years ago but have discontinued that as the PRK were spending the revenue from the complex on their nuclear program.

    There's also a lot of propaganda. We sit in a cinema and a video presentation takes us through the event timeline after WWII that leads to the Korean War. The video shows representations of 3 tunnels dug by the PRK into the ROK and discovered by the ROK in the 1970s.

    We stop at a viewpoint that overlooks the border. A soldier comes on board the minibus to do a passport check. At the disembarkation point, there are viewers that allow a closer look at North Korea. I've taken some video as the PRK are broadcasting propaganda music (an antidote to KPop). I take a photo for a Peruvian couple and they reciprocate.

    Part of the tour includes walking down tunnel 3, which is our next port of call. This apparently will take us down 25 stories (which we then have to walk up) so it takes some time. A ramp takes us down, then there is a reasonably level walk through the tunnel. We're wearing safety helmets as the tunnel roof is quite low in parts. I bump my head once - general mirth from tourists coming the other way. Also, no phones or cameras allowed!

    I power back up the ramp, it's a good cardio workout. This buys me some time to walk around some pretty gardens in the vicinity.

    Our final DMZ stop is Dorasan station. Its of interest because it is the only INTERNATIONAL train station in the ROK. It is connected to the PRK train network but currently runs services to Seoul only. Should reunification take place, it will be part of the network that runs through Asia and Europe.

    For sponsorship reasons, the tour makes a trip to a Ginseng Centre on the way back. It's all hard sell now! I used to take Korean Ginseng tablets back in the 90s but I have no idea if they were effective. So I don't purchase and head for the exit, which means going through the shop. Big entrance, little exit.

    Finally some of us are dropped off at City Hall. We drive past a venue advertising the Fever Festival (broadcast by V Live). A huge queue of Kpop young folk are gathered. Its 2pm and I'm hungry 😩
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  • Day4

    Seoul is very quiet on a Sunday morning. There's also drizzle around so it won't be a good day for outdoors. I'm an early riser, I figure I should visit a museum that opens around 9am. The War Memorial of Korea fits the bill nicely.

    There are a couple of statues and monuments at the front of the complex. There's a display discussing the genesis of the modern ROK armed forces (all after 1948) and displays discussing the battles fought by various battalions. All very compelling.

    Closer to the entrance is a "United Nations" commemoration of all countries that contributed troops and/or medical staff to the war. Far flung countries such as the Philippines and Colombia were contributors as well as the usual suspects (I'm not being critical here, it's just a saying).

    Inside I'm able to join an English guided tour, much detail about the background to the Korean War and how countries lined up behind the protagonists.

    There's so much to see but I'm extremely hungry so I make tracks for a Mexican restaurant called Gusto Taco. The owner (Aaron) is a 50 year old New Yorker who understands GF and recommends a bowl of slow cooked pork burritos. I duly comply and he comes over for more conversation while I'm eating. Turns out he spent 20 years in IT on Wall Street and is still interested in the field. We chat about quantum computing and blockchain, as you do. He tells me a lot of Westerners struggle with Korean food because they want to try everything. Really enjoyable experience.
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  • Day5

    It's the beginning of 8 days of public holidays. Normally it costs 3,000 won ($3.30) to enter the royal palaces, but it's free on public holidays. Downside is that there are no English guided tours, so I'm on my own.

    There are performances reenacting traditional palace rituals. I take some video as one is going on and then a photo of the protagonists at the end.

    There are of course some gardens in the palace vicinity. I watch the activities of some squirrels (irresistibly cute) and take a photo of a Korean magpie. They are the dominant bird species in Seoul and are much smaller than their Australian cousins. Their birdcall is an endearing chuckling noise, making a refreshing change from the crows in Hokkaido.Read more

  • Day5

    The day has warmed up nicely. The sky is mostly cloudless unlike yesterday with its occasional drizzle. I want to take advantage of the weather by going to the N Seoul Tower observatory.

    The tower is in Namsan Park, which in itself has some elevation. Some people walk uphill to the park from lower Namsan, but owing to the heat I opt to take the cable car up and walk back down later.

    Anyway it looks like half of Seoul have a similar idea. I'm in a queue for the ticket line. Fortunately there's shade and a place to rest my daypack, albeit a tad close to the electrified fence, as the queue moves from outside the building to inside. Then I pay 6000 won ($6.50) for the one way trip and walk upstairs to the boarding area, also known as queue number 2.

    Eventually we all cram into a cable car. As I'm not one of the first to board I don't have any photo ops going up. We disembark, it has taken at least an hour from go to whoa. I walk over to the Tower Observatory ticket booth and see that it's another half hour wait to go up to the observatory. I'm all queued out for the time being, maybe another day.

    So I walk around Namsan Park for a while, then go inside the shopping area for some refreshment. There's a cafe selling frappucinos and I'm lucky enough to find a seat nearby. First rest I've taken since walking to Gyeongbokgung Palace earlier this morning. I take my time enjoying the frappucino.

    After half an hour or so I decide to walk back down. There are a number of people walking both up and down, I'm sort of envious of those walking up as they've avoided the queuing experience. On the downside, some of them look absolutely knackered.

    There's a mother and young son walking down, the boy is counting the steps in English (as far as 10 anyway, after that he's back to 1). I compliment him on his English.

    It's a fair way downhill to get back to the subway. There's more shopping around this area (both Hoehyeon and Myeongdong underground) than where I'm staying.
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  • Day7

    It's my last day in Seoul. I have a ticket for the 12:45 train to Suwon - bought online and kindly printed by hotel reception. This means that I have some hours to go before I leave for Seoul station.

    The Namsangol Hanok Village is around 2km due south of my hotel so it's a reasonable walk to get to it. Still Chuseok, plenty of tourists in the village (why are they not at home with their families?). Lots of hanbok out today, shops like the one in the last photo must do a roaring trade!

    There are stalls set up selling souvenirs, also traditional Chuseok activities. A person might wield a large hammer and pound dough on a wooden board. There's also a type of hacky sack involving a tinsel-like object and spinning tops by using a whip to generate rotation.

    I'm taking the subway to Seoul Station so I need to give myself enough time to navigate the maze that connects the subway station to the main train station.
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  • Day7

    So I'm at Seoul Station. I need to find my train on the departure board, no problem. My destination, Suwon, is only 30 minutes by train and can be reached by subway. It's much easier to store my luggage on the train and I have a guaranteed seat.

    The departure information is shown and I head for the platform. I pass through no machines to check my ticket. On the train, nobody asks to look at my ticket. I exit at Suwon after 30 minutes, once again no ticket check. Bit of an "honour" system in play, it costs less to administer if everyone plays the same game.

    It is an absolute crush exiting at Suwon with a horde trying to board. As far as I know, my megaluggage didn't crush anyone, although it got a bit crazy there. Travelling during Chuseok is apparently like that.

    Suwon has a subway system that connects with the train network. This is where I make a big mistake, as will be apparent later. My Pop card (travelcard) can be used on the subway and buses here. I find the subway track and go 2 stops to get close to where I'm staying.

    Exiting the subway station, I unfortunately don't spy the lift that would take me to street level. So I take the stairs ... with over 20 kg of luggage (see photos, taken halfway). If it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger, right? Anyway I take the lift on subsequent days 😀
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  • Day7

    I'm staying at the Hotel Bon, which is a curious combination of 1950s furniture and state of the art furniture. There is one (Korean language) remote control, to work the lights, A/C and TV. No light switches except for the bathroom. The key is also from the 1950s, being pretty chunky, but has a chip in it meaning it has to be inserted into a controller (like modern hotel cards).

    Anyway it all gets sorted out and I head out for an afternoon stroll. There are 2 parks close by that I pass through. The first (northern) park is a family park that is well patronized (being Chuseok) and has some outdoor gym equipment. Even chin up bars, one which I use. The first 3 photos come from this park, I found the animal hedges cute.

    The second park houses an Arts complex including an outdoor stage. It is a more "artsy" park, as shown by the last 3 photos.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

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