Breaksian Travel Blog Career break traveling in Asia

Cheonjiyeon and Jeonbang waterfalls in Jeju Island.

Jeju is an oval shaped island with the Mount Halla in the middle. In the northern part of the Island, Jeju city is the most important city, while in the Southern part Seogwipo is the biggest one. I spent the second night of my trip in Seogwipo because I read there were some interesting waterfalls nearby.

Due to its volcanic origin origin Jeju possesses not only a fair amount of volcanic rock formations and lava caves (such as the ones I was describing in the Hallim park), but also some majestic waterfalls. I had the opportunity to visit the closest ones to Seogwipo: Cheonjiyeon and Jeonbang.

They were both beautiful and different, but I particularly enjoyed Jeonbang. This is the only waterfall in Asia that falls directly into the sea. The water falls from a high cliff into a rock formation near the ocean. As soon as you get closer you hear the roar of the water crashing into the stones. I spent almost an hour at this place because it was relaxing to see the ocean at one side and the waterfalls on the other side, listening to the sound of the waterfall and feeling the tiny drops of water in the skin:


24-Oct-2014 08:50, SONY DSC-RX100, 6.3, 16.78mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
24-Oct-2014 08:53, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
24-Oct-2014 08:53, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
 
24-Oct-2014 08:53, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
24-Oct-2014 09:03, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 125
24-Oct-2014 09:10, SONY DSC-RX100, 11.0, 13.75mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
 
24-Oct-2014 09:12, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
24-Oct-2014 09:12, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 19.98mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
24-Oct-2014 09:23, SONY DSC-RX100, 11.0, 10.4mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
 
24-Oct-2014 09:30, SONY DSC-RX100, 11.0, 23.27mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 125
24-Oct-2014 09:30, SONY DSC-RX100, 11.0, 12.62mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 125
24-Oct-2014 09:34, SONY DSC-RX100, 11.0, 10.4mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 250
 
24-Oct-2014 09:41, SONY DSC-RX100, 11.0, 10.4mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 125
24-Oct-2014 09:44, SONY DSC-RX100, 11.0, 10.4mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 125
24-Oct-2014 10:46, SONY DSC-RX100, 11.0, 10.4mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 125
 
24-Oct-2014 11:00, SONY DSC-RX100, 8.0, 37.1mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
24-Oct-2014 11:04, SONY DSC-RX100, 6.3, 17.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
24-Oct-2014 11:13, SONY DSC-RX100, 6.3, 14.23mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
 


Jeju Hyepjae Beach and Hallim Park

After I finished visiting Jeju Loveland, I grabbed a small snack in a convenience store nearby and I searched for the closest bus station to get back to the intercity bus terminal in Jeju city. Once I got there, I found a tourist information center and I was lucky because there was a Korean employee with an excellent English who explained me how the system works: In a nutshell you can pay with the Seoul T-Money card for the intercity bus routes, but you have to tell the driver what station are you going to so he can enter the money owed and then you can swipe your card.

I looked at the points of interest in my map and I decided to start touring the Island going west. I boarded the Bus 702 and told the driver "Hyepjae Beach" and as usual I had to show in the paper what I was trying to pronounce. I started my bus ride and quickly I realized the trip was going to take a while since those coastlines stop quite frequently. They announce in Korean every single stop, but the most touristic ones are announced in English as well.

The road around the coast had a very nice view, but it was getting late and it became pitch black in no-time so there was not much to see. After an hour and a half the bus arrived to the Hyepjae Beach and I looked for a guest house. Once I checked-in, I attempted to walk a little bit but the town was tiny and the roads not very well lit, so I decided to rather go back. I went to bed looking forward for the next day.

The morning after I woke up, got a quick breakfast, left the guesthouse and after walking 50 meters I found the blue sea with different hues, the white shelled sand, the rocks, the blue sky and a small island (Biyangdo) in the background. An amazing view!



I spent easily a couple of hour staring at the sea, walking around the shore and taking many pictures including this panoramic one that summarizes well the picturesque view of this area:

There is another beach next to Hyeopjae called Geumneung that has an equally beautiful scenery and without noticing I visited this beach as well. When I got tired of hanging around this area I checked my map to see where I would go next. I spotted that the Hallim Park was very close.

I remembered that I had read somewhere that if you only had time for visiting a single attraction in Jeju, Hallim Park should be the one. I was curious by this tagline and decided to go.


Hallim Park:

This park was created by Bong-gyu Song in the 70s who accurately saw the tourism potential of Jeju Island and was himself a botanical enthusiast. He planted different species of flowers and trees, creating some of the gardens that today are an integral part of the exhibition. Apparently he also spent some efforts in preserving the lava caves available on the hallim park.

Currently it has 9 different sections including the watergarden you see above. I think I visited most of the sections:

 

Wild grass and flower garden:


Hyeopjae lava cave


Stone and bosai garden


Traditional folk village


Subtropical garden


Bird garden


The park was in conclusion a lovely place to walk around and see different plants, trees, caves and animals. I spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon exploring Hallim. In my opinion the highlight was the volcanic caves because they are not only well preserved, but y also have plenty of information to understand how they were formed.

When I finished visiting the park I climbed again into the bus 702 to continue my Jeju trip.



Jeju Loveland

As I was describing in my last Jeju post I woke up with a hangover after having a really nice dinner & party with some Korean guys who were staying at the same guesthouse as myself. I forgot to mention that the night before after a couple of glasses of rice wine and a couple of songs, one of the guest who love Jeju and had visited the island many times, pointed out in the tourist paper map I got at the airport her favorite places.

I realized that the nice spots were spread around the Island and to get a glimpse on them I would have to travel a lot and sleep anywhere on the way. So I came back to the airport packed a couple of clothes changes and left my backpack in the left luggage place (the price was not too bad, 21000 KRW for the 3 days).

I felt free with my tiny black bag ready to beat the road and travel the Island but when I was about to take a ride to go to the bus terminal I stared at the sky and it was quite grayish and rainy. I thought maybe a museum or an indoors attraction would be a good plan for the first day.

I entered in my phone “What to do in Jeju” and the second result was "Jeju Loveland", I started to read what this place was about and I got really curious. They describe themselves as ".… a place where sexually oriented art and eroticism meet … the visitor can appreciate the natural beauty of sexuality …"

I kept reading and I found out a very interesting historic fact about the Island: Jeju traditionally has been the honeymoon destination for the newly weds in Korea, particularly after the war when the travel abroad was quite restricted. Most of the marriages back then were arranged and the honeymooners inexperienced, so the island became the place to offer “sex ice breakers” for those couples to get started (I guess parks such as loveland were built following this tradition).

Currently the Island has 3 of those different parks including: The museum of Sex and Health, World Eros Museum and Loveland. As I was mentioning before I decided to visit loveland because it was relatively close the airport and it was recommended in most of the sites I reviewed. The park can be accessed by either public transportation or a taxi (this option is quicker to get in).



Love Land is basically an outdoor sex-themed sculpture park featuring 140 different pieces representing men, women and couples in multiple sexual positions, plus some phalluses, labia, etc. The sculptures were created by 20 different artists, mainly from the Seoul Hongik University. There were quite some visitors when I went to the park, particularly a couple of groups of elderly women giggling at every exhibition :).

I found the place quite interesting because it opens a window on the Korean view on sexuality. If you want to see what the park look like, you can the picture gallery below or browse the Jeju Loveland album directly in the breaksian google+ page.



The giant rubber duck and the world is a handkerchief

Yesterday I arrived back to Seoul where I will spend the last couple of days in Korea before heading off to Japan. I wrote to J, the Korean friend who helped me a lot during the first days of the trip and asked her if she would be interested to meet again before I leave so I could to say bye. She proposed to meet up near to the Seokchon lake to see a giant Rubber Duck.

I saw a couple of pictures on the web and I thought it was a different but interesting plan (I had never seen a rubber duck I couldn't squeeze). This massive sculpture floating in the middle of the lake was definitively a new one for me and you can see in my picture that this duck is gigantic (look at the boat and the buildings to get an idea of the scale).

I was reading this is not the only one but it’s part of a set of some massive sculptures designed by the Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman. The place was completely packed and we walked around until we found a couple of good photoshoot spots.

When we finished going around the lake, she walked with me to the subway station but when we were halfway through, a Korean girl that was walking behind tapped my shoulder and asked me "Excuse me, but by any chance are you Juan?". I turned around completely perplexed and replied "Yes I'm" and then with a smile on her face she started to say "Well I'm …" and I interrupted her saying "C!. Wow, amazing! It's very nice to see you!" and we chatted for a couple of minutes, while her companion told me that she had been asking herself if I was who I'm for the previous 5 minutes.

Now my friend J. was as surprised as you might be right now, so she asked me "what was all that about?" and I told her the following unbelievable story: Many years ago I joined this website site called Couchsurfing to meet up people while traveling to other cities and to show Dublin to the travelers who were interested while visiting my adopted hometown. C. Visited Dublin some years ago and I met her one afternoon to show her around. We haven't seen each other since then and suddenly we bumped into each other on a random street of Seoul, a city with more than 11 million inhabitants, an area of 605.21 km2 and composed by 25 different districts!

My mother used to say often that the world is a handkerchief, meaning that it's small world. I agree with this idea, but I have never experienced it in such a dramatic way!


 


Busan - Gamcheon Culture Village

The cultural village of Gamcheon is not only of the most picturesque area of Busan, but it's also an important part of the Korean history. Busan was the only city that was never captured by the north and therefore it served as a refugee for thousands of people fleeing the fighting and Gamcheon was one of the areas where they settled.This area used to be the home to the city’s poorest residents, but the area have been experiencing a lot of transformation since 2009 and now it contains a lot interesting street art, cafes, traditional snacks and small souvenir shops. In conclusion it's a beautiful place worth to visit.
Tips and viewpoints:
  • You can get there using the subway (line 1 to Toseong station) and then the bus or 2-2 to the Gamcheon Elementary School. The bus stop is in front of a hospital.
  • Bring some comfortable shoes to Gamcheon because if you really want to appreciate you need to walk up and down quite frequently.
  • The photo opportunities on this place are around every corner.
  • If you feel like doing some hiking there is a nice pathway surrounding the village on the tophill.
Pictures:

[shashin type="albumphotos" id="16" size="small" crop="n" columns="max" caption="y" order="date" position="center"]


The universal language of music in Jeju

I arrived to Jeju last Tuesday and since my flight was relatively late, I decided to book a guesthouse close to the Airport. When I arrived there the host told me they were having dinner upstairs with some other guests and he invited me to join them. It was a bit awkward at the beginning because I was the only foreigner in the gathering, so they were speaking in Korean. There were 2 or 3 guest who spoke a little bit of English, but they quickly they switch back to Korean. I wished I could understand Korean because even if I had no clue what the discussion was about, clearly they were having a good time and laughing a lot.

There was a point when I noticed they had a piano in the corner and I asked the host "Do you play the piano?" and he answered "Well, no, it's more for guests that can play" and then I replied "well, I can play", and then the guy announced in Korean something like "our friend is going to play the piano!" and everybody was cheering and raising their glasses. I played a couple of songs and the magic happened … suddenly I was not the foreigner who couldn't understand a word of what they were saying, but someone they could relate to, through the universal language of music.

After the songs all started talking to me even if it was in terms of "good good … liked it!", "Yours? ohhhh". It was a brilliant night! Yesterday I had a tiny hangover but it was worth it.



Busan - Beomeosa temple.

Beomeosa Temple is one of Korea's most important temples and it's located at the edge of Mt. Geumjeongsan. The originl temple was built by the monk Ui Sang in 678, during the Silla Kingdom, but it was destroyed during one the Japanese invasions (surprise!). Currently the temple has different Buddha halls and Pagodas.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can reach the temple by subway (line 1 Beomosa station) and bus (90).
  • The temple is relatively close to the city, but since it's up in the mountains, it feels more far away.
  • The complex is beautiful with many traditional houses, stones and pagodas, you can easily spent a couple of hours there.
  • I visited the temple in Autumn on a sunny and this probably the best time to go. The colors on the foliage next to the ancient structures and the blue sky create a perfect mix to get some really cool pictures.
Pictures:

19-Oct-2014 10:51, SONY DSC-RX100, 4.0, 10.4mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
19-Oct-2014 10:53, SONY DSC-RX100, 4.0, 10.4mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
19-Oct-2014 10:55, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 125
 
19-Oct-2014 10:55, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 250
19-Oct-2014 10:57, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 14.75mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 125
19-Oct-2014 11:00, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
 
19-Oct-2014 11:00, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
19-Oct-2014 11:02, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
19-Oct-2014 11:05, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 15.1mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 125
 
19-Oct-2014 11:06, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 125
19-Oct-2014 11:06, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.025 sec, ISO 125
19-Oct-2014 11:06, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
 
19-Oct-2014 11:08, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 125
19-Oct-2014 11:10, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
19-Oct-2014 11:11, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
 
19-Oct-2014 11:12, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
19-Oct-2014 11:12, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 18.88mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
19-Oct-2014 11:13, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 11.89mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
 


Busan - Haeundae Beach

The first recommendation I found in most of the travel guides and books about Busan was the Haeundae beach. Since I was staying at the other end of the city, near to the Busan station, this wasn't my first choice on the places to visit, but after a couple days I was curious and I went there by subway.Haeundae is indeed beautiful with its fine sandy beach, beautiful landscape and good facilities.

At this time of the year the water is too cold to get into the water, so there were only two brave souls swimming. (I saw some pictures of this place in summer and it look completely packed). In any case, even now, it's a good place to walk around and nearby there is the Haeundae market, a narrow lane full of street food options.

Tips and viewpoints:

  • There are many hostals and hotels on this area.
  • You can get by subway (line 2) and get out at the Haeundae stop.
  • From this beach you can easily walk to the Dongbaek Island.
Pictures:
15-Oct-2014 16:03, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 800
15-Oct-2014 16:09, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 800
15-Oct-2014 16:09, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.013 sec, ISO 800
 
15-Oct-2014 16:14, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 800
15-Oct-2014 16:15, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 640
15-Oct-2014 16:16, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 640
 
15-Oct-2014 16:17, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 640
15-Oct-2014 16:25, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 800
15-Oct-2014 16:26, SONY DSC-RX100, 3.2, 16.39mm, 0.125 sec, ISO 1600
 
15-Oct-2014 16:26, SONY DSC-RX100, 2.8, 14.93mm, 0.077 sec, ISO 800
15-Oct-2014 16:27, SONY DSC-RX100, 2.8, 14.93mm, 0.125 sec, ISO 3200
15-Oct-2014 16:44, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 800
 
15-Oct-2014 16:52, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 800
19-Oct-2014 14:35, SONY DSC-RX100, 2.2, 10.4mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
19-Oct-2014 14:35, SONY DSC-RX100, 2.5, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 320
 
19-Oct-2014 14:36, SONY DSC-RX100, 2.5, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 320
19-Oct-2014 14:37, SONY DSC-RX100, 2.2, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 320
19-Oct-2014 14:39, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
 

Busan - Yongdusan Park and Busan tower

The Yongdusan Park itself is relatively small containing only a couple of walkways and some trees, but last saturday when I visited this place there was some type of show where different performers were doing acrobatics on the stage. I spent some time there and it was interesting, but what I enjoyed the most about the park was the Busan Tower, a 118 meter high structure with a small cafe and an observatory on the top.

The views were absolutely amazing! I spent easily 3 hours there because I was able to get pictures from the port, the mountains, the fish market area, the buildings in the city center and the multiple bridges glueing the city together .I took pictures during the daylight and the sunset and in both lighting conditions the view was breathtaking

.

Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get to the park using the electric stair from the BIFF shopping area. Otherwise you can walk and enter from the other side.
  • The cost of the admission to the tower is 4000 KRW and you can stay there as much as you want (believe me).
  • I'm addicted to the panoramic views of the cities I the visit to this one was definitively not a disappointment!
Pictures:

18-Oct-2014 12:58, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 37.1mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
18-Oct-2014 13:00, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
18-Oct-2014 13:00, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
 
18-Oct-2014 13:01, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
18-Oct-2014 13:02, SONY DSC-RX100, 6.3, 37.1mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
18-Oct-2014 13:04, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
 
18-Oct-2014 13:04, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
18-Oct-2014 13:11, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
18-Oct-2014 13:11, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
 
18-Oct-2014 13:12, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
18-Oct-2014 13:12, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
18-Oct-2014 13:16, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 125
 
18-Oct-2014 13:16, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
18-Oct-2014 13:17, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
18-Oct-2014 13:18, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
 
18-Oct-2014 13:23, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
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18-Oct-2014 14:14, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
 


Busan - Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Most of the temples I have visited in my Korean trip are built up in the mountains, but this one is an exception. Haedong Yonggungsa is located next to the ocean in the north-eastern part of the city. The reason of this anomaly is because the temple was created by a great Buddhist teacher called Naong who apparently had a dream the Divine Sea god of the East Sea, commanding him to set up this temple on the seashore.

At the entrance of the temple there are some statues of the twelve zodiac signs and a white big pagoda created for the safety of the drivers (yep, it has a tire on the bottom!). Once you go down the stairs and get into the actual temple, you realize that the location by the sea, creates a very special atmosphere, because you observe the traditional temple houses and statues and hear the traditional monk songs blended with the sound of the waves crashing into the stones.

Tips and viewpoints:

  • The easiest way to get there is by subway (line 2 to Haeundae Station) and from there the Bus 181.
  • The admission to the temple is free, but there is a parking fees.
  • There is a small store with benches where you can get an ice cream or a coffee and enjoy the view.
Pictures:

15-Oct-2014 12:20, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 125
15-Oct-2014 12:21, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
15-Oct-2014 12:23, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.0, 16.01mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
 
15-Oct-2014 12:23, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
15-Oct-2014 12:25, SONY DSC-RX100, 4.0, 19.98mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 320
15-Oct-2014 12:25, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 125
 
15-Oct-2014 12:26, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 125
15-Oct-2014 12:26, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.0, 12.94mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
15-Oct-2014 12:26, SONY DSC-RX100, 2.5, 10.4mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
 
15-Oct-2014 12:27, SONY DSC-RX100, 2.2, 10.4mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
15-Oct-2014 12:27, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 125
15-Oct-2014 12:28, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 125
 
15-Oct-2014 12:30, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
15-Oct-2014 12:30, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
15-Oct-2014 12:33, SONY DSC-RX100, 6.3, 10.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
 
15-Oct-2014 12:34, SONY DSC-RX100, 7.1, 10.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
15-Oct-2014 12:34, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
15-Oct-2014 12:37, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.0, 10.4mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
 


Busan - Taejongdae Resort Park

One of the first surprises I got when I started visiting Busan was to find out there was park called Taejongdae, offering majestic views and beautiful cliffs in the southernmost tip of one the islands facing the open sea.The park offers an observation deck where some of the Japanese islands can be observed. There is also a white lighthouse with a downward path where you either eat raw fish in next to the waves crashing into the cliffs or walk to otherside to step into a natural flat platform made of stone and get an amazing view on the cliffs. I took the picture you see above when I was walking towards the viewing platform.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • The fastest way to get there is to take the bus 101 close to busan station.
  • It's possible to walk all the way up to the observatory but it's relatively long. A good alternative is to get a ticket for a "mini train" that costs 2000 KRW.
  • It's a good idea to go in the afternoon just before sunset. You get an amazing view of the light on the cliffs and the sea.
  • I didn't try the fresh seafood because I was full already, but I looked at the people eating next to the cliffs and it looked like a unusual but cool plan.
  • If you enjoy cliffs in general, this is one of the attractions you shouldn't miss from Busan. Look at the following video to get a glimpse on the waves crashing into the rocks:
Pictures:

14-Oct-2014 13:24, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 13:33, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 13:34, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 125
 
14-Oct-2014 13:49, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 13:50, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 13:51, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.77mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
 
14-Oct-2014 13:53, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.77mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 13:58, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:02, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
 
14-Oct-2014 14:03, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:03, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:05, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
 
14-Oct-2014 14:06, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:10, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:11, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 12.32mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
 
14-Oct-2014 14:12, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 12.32mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:15, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
14-Oct-2014 14:16, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 14.57mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
 

Busan - 10 Places to visit

Currently I'm sitting at the Busan Gimhae International Airport where I will take a flight to Jeju Island in a couple of hours. I'm reviewing the post I have been writing about the week I just spent in Busan. I have been looking back at the different spots I visited, to select my favorite ones, so I can blog about them.

It was not an easy task because Busan has a lot of different spots to enjoy the seaside and take nice pictures. There are many temples and naturals parks very close to the city and the place also offers some amazing seafood. Busan doesn’t feel like a single city but rather a collection of medium size cities glued together by bridges and surrounded by mountains.

My visit to Busan felt like a jigsaw puzzle: everyday I was taking the subway and / or the bus to visit a different area and bit by bit I was able to put all the pieces together and understand the layout of this second largest city in Korea.

There are the 10 places I liked the most:

  1. Taejongdae Resort Park.
  2. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.
  3. Yongdusan Park and Busan tower.
  4. Haeundae Beach.
  5. UN Memorial Cemetery.
  6. Gamcheon Culture Village.
  7. Beomeosa temple.
  8. Dongbaek Island.
  9. Jagalchi fish market.
  10. Busan Cinema Center and BIFF Square.

 

1. Taejongdae Resort Park.

One of the first surprises I got when I started visiting Busan was to find out there was park called Taejongdae, offering majestic views and beautiful cliffs in the southernmost tip of one the islands facing the open sea.The park offers an observation deck where some of the Japanese islands can be observed. There is also a white lighthouse with a downward path where you either eat raw fish in next to the waves crashing into the cliffs or walk to otherside to step into a natural flat platform made of stone and get an amazing view on the cliffs. I took the picture you see above when I was walking towards the viewing platform.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • The fastest way to get there is to take the bus 101 close to busan station.
  • It's possible to walk all the way up to the observatory but it's relatively long. A good alternative is to get a ticket for a "mini train" that costs 2000 KRW.
  • It's a good idea to go in the afternoon just before sunset. You get an amazing view of the light on the cliffs and the sea.
  • I didn't try the fresh seafood because I was full already, but I looked at the people eating next to the cliffs and it looked like a unusual but cool plan.
  • If you enjoy cliffs in general, this is one of the attractions you shouldn't miss from Busan. Look at the following video to get a glimpse on the waves crashing into the rocks:

2. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Most of the temples I have visited in my Korean trip are built up in the mountains, but this one is an exception. Haedong Yonggungsa is located next to the ocean in the north-eastern part of the city. The reason of this anomaly is because the temple was created by a great Buddhist teacher called Naong who apparently had a dream the Divine Sea god of the East Sea, commanding him to setup this temple on the seashore.At the entrance of the temple there are some statues of the twelve zodiac signs and a white big pagoda created for the safety of the drivers (yep, it has a tire on the bottom!). Once you go down the stairs and get into the actual temple, you realize that the location by the sea, creates a very special atmosphere, because you observe the traditional temple houses and statues and hear the traditional monk songs blended with the sound of the waves crashing into the stones.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • The easiest way to get there is by subway (line 2 to Haeundae Station) and from there the Bus 181.
  • The admission to the temple is free, but there is a parking fees.
  • There is a small store with benches where you can get an ice cream or a coffee and enjoy the view.

3. Yongdusan Park and Busan tower

 

The Yongdusan Park itself is relatively small containing only a couple of walkways and some trees, but last saturday when I visited this place there was some type of show where different performers were doing acrobatics on the stage. I spent some time there and it was interesting, but what I enjoyed the most about the park was the Busan Tower, a 118 meter high structure with a small cafe and a observatory on the top.The views were absolutely amazing! I spent easily 3 hours there because I was able to get pictures from the port, the mountains, the fish market area, the buildings in the city center and the multiple bridges glueing the city together .I took pictures during the daylight and the sunset and in both lighting conditions the view was breathtaking.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get to the park using the electric stair from the BIFF shopping area. Otherwise you can walk and enter from the other side.
  • The cost of the admission to the tower is 4000 KRW and you can stay there as much as you want (believe me).
  • I'm addicted to the panoramic views of the cities I the visit to this one was definitively not a disappointment!

4. Haeundae Beach.

The first recommendation I found in most of the travel guides and books about Busan was the Haeundae beach. Since I was staying at the other end of the city, near to the Busan station, this wasn't my first choice on the places to visit, but after a couple days I was curious and I went there by subway.Haeundae is indeed beautiful with its fine sandy beach, beautiful landscape and good facilities. At this time of the year the water is too cold to get into the water, so there were only two brave souls swimming. (I saw some pictures of this place in summer and it look completely packed). In any case, even now, it's a good place to walk around and nearby there is the Haeundae market, a narrow lane full of street food options.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • There are many hostels and hotels on this area.
  • You can get by subway (line 2) and get out at the Haeundae stop.
  • From this beach you can easily walk to the Dongbaek Island.

5. UN Memorial Cementery

There is only one cementary in the world administered and maintained by the United Nations and that is the UN Memorial Cementery of Korea. The Parliament of Korea offered this land for permanent use as a UN managed cemetery in 1955 and it has been in place since then.This cemetery contains a memorial for all the countries that provided foreign troops that were killed during the war. There are tombs, statues, flags and memorial plaques across this cemetery that is maintained in pristine condition. The design and the gardens of this memorial are beautiful The entrance is guarded by South Korean soldiers wearing the same uniforms I saw when I visited the DMZ Zone. They ask you what is your nationality before letting you in.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get there by subway Line 2, Kyungsung University & Pukyong National University stop
  • The guards might deny the entry if you are not properly dressed.
  • It's a cemetery, but it's also a peaceful place with a beautiful design.

6. Gamcheon Culture Village.

The cultural village of Gamcheon is not only of the most picturesque area of Busan, but it's also an important part of the Korean history. Busan was the only city that was never captured by the north and therefore it served as a refugee for thousands of people fleeing the fighting and Gamcheon was one of the areas where they settled.This area used to be the home to the city’s poorest residents, but the area have been experiencing a lot of transformation since 2009 and now it contains a lot interesting street art, cafes, traditional snacks and small souvenir shops. In conclusion it's a beautiful place worth to visit.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get there using the subway (line 1 to Toseong station) and then the bus or 2-2 to the Gamcheon Elementary School. The bus stop is in front of a hospital.
  • Bring some comfortable shoes to Gamcheon because if you really want to appreciate you need to walk up and down quite frequently.
  • The photo opportunities on this place are around every corner.
  • If you feel like doing some hiking there is a nice pathway surrounding the village on the tophill.

7. Beomeosa temple.

Beomeosa Temple is one of Korea's most important temples and it's located at the edge of Mt. Geumjeongsan. The originl temple was built by the monk Ui Sang in 678, during the Silla Kingdom, but it was destroyed during one the Japanese invasions (surprise!). Currently the temple has different Buddha halls and Pagodas.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can reach the temple by subway (line 1 Beomosa station) and bus (90).
  • The temple is relatively close to the city, but since it's up in the mountains, it feels more far away.
  • The complex is beautiful with many traditional houses, stones and pagodas, you can easily spent a couple of hours there.
  • I visited the temple in Autumn on a sunny and this probably the best time to go. The colors on the folliage next to the ancient structures and the blue sky create a perfect mix to get some really cool pictures.

8. Dongbaek Island.

Dongbaek used to be an island in ancient times, but nowadays is more a small peninsula coming out of the Haeundae Beach. The place is a nice area full of pine trees and can be visited relatively quickly since it's a short walk from the Westin hotel.From the tip of Dongbaek there is a small lighthouse and platform where you can get nice pictures of the Haeundae area and the Gwangan Bridge.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get there with subway (line 2 Stop Dongbaek)
  • An interesting walk is to go by subway to Haeundae walk all the way towards the beach and then continue right toward the Westin hotel and then finally visit the Dongbaek Island.

9. Jagalchi fish market.

Tokyo has the Tsukiji market and Busan has the Jagalchi Market, the the largest seafood market in Korea. The origin of the name is interesting: Jagal (small rocks) and ch'i (villages next to the seashore), the small rocks are long gone and they have been replaced by a concrete building, but still it's a really interesting place to eat fresh seafood on the spot.In the first floor you find sellers offering any kind of live fish, mussels, squids, crabs, lobsters and octopus. On the second floor you get the chance to eat some of these fresh food on the spot.
Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get there by subway (line 1). The stop is called Jagalchi as well
  • It's definitively worth to go to the second floor and grab some fresh sea food. I had in Jagalchi the biggest sashimi plate I had ever eaten in my life!

10. BIFF Square and Busan Cinema Center

Unfortunately I missed the 19th edition of the Busan International Film festiva l(2th - 11th October) just by one week. This festival is apparently one of most important ones in Asia, where they introduce new films and first-time directors, especially those from Asian nations. There are two different spots in the city related to the film festival and I had the opportunity to visit both.

On one hand there is the BIFF Square, the original venue of the film festival, offering a "Star Street" where you can find the hands printed of famous actors, actresses and directors (such as the Juliette Binoche in 2010). The place also offers many stalls for food, souvenirs and clothes. The BIFF square is just across the Jagalchi seafood market.

On the other hand there is the Busan Cinema Center, located on the other end of the city, in centum city. This is the current venue of the film festival where its opening and closing ceremonies take place. This Cinema Center offers a huge open air theater covered by a large ceiling constantly displaying LED animations:

Tips and viewpoints:

  • You can get to both places by Subway BIFF Square (Line 1. Stop Jagalchi) and Busan Cineman Center (Line 2. Stop Centum city)
  • I would recommend going to the Busan Cinema Center at night so you can appreciate the LED animations in the roof.

I'm leaving Busan now, but as you can see from the previous post, I bring with me a lot of nice memories from this city.


10 Interesting facts visiting Korea.

I have been traveling in Korea for almost 3 weeks now and I have been noticing some interesting facts across the different cities I have visited so far. Here are my findings:


1. Toilets everywhere.

In Korea there public toilets in subway stations, bus terminals, tourist attractions, in the middle of neighborhoods, etc. It’s never an issue to find a toilet because the obvious bicolor woman / man sign is always nearby no matter where you go.


2. Metallic chopsticks:

Before coming to Korea I have never seen metallic chopsticks before, but here they are the norm. In most of the restaurants you will find this type of cutlery and the reason is because apparently a former king started using silver chopsticks, believing they would turn black with poison, and the metallic costume was followed up until today.


3. Water, pickle radish and kimchi: Everytime you go to a restaurant they will offer you a couple of goodies before the actual food is served and most the times they will include yellow pickled radish and the omnipresent kimchi. They also put a jar of water so you refill your metallic glass every time you want.


4. Cheap and good food, but expensive coffee

In Korea is relatively easy to find some really good inexpensive food. The street vendors offer nice fish cake, corn, Korean pancakes and chicken skewers. There are also nice restaurants serving noodles soup for less than 5 USD.

On the other hand the coffee is expensive! The exception is the instant coffee available in the subway machines, but otherwise an espresso at any random coffee will cost you as much as a nice soup of cake udon noodles!


5. Small towels

Every hostel, guesthouse and hotel I have used so far offers small towels for use after taking a shower. For me it’s funny because this type of towel was the one I brought in my compact backpack to the breaksian trip, but here this is the standard.


6. Wi-fi Everywhere

In the cities I have visited there is always a free WIFI spot around the corner and if you want to pay, there is high speed WIFI spot everywhere. I read South Korea is one of the most wired countries and now understand to what extent. Now the drawback is the people is almost always looking at their phones.


7. Amazing integration in the transport system

In South Korea the integrated transport system is brought to a new level. When I arrived to Seoul my Korean friend suggested getting a T-Money card and that was a brilliant idea. I have been able to use this card in the subway and bus systems of all the cities I have visited so far! I haven't used a Taxi yet, but apparently you can pay this type service with the T-Money card as well.


8. Big red apples

I don't know if it's an special variety of apple but here in Korea you always find this huge apples and I loved them. They are the perfect snack for a walking day visiting temples or parks.


9. No smoking in public parks and beaches:


I have found many times the "No Smoking" sign in the public parks and beaches I have visited in Korea and I think it's a brilliant idea.

There are always old people walking with sticks, couples with children in prams or joggers running around the park. It's great they don't have to be second hand smokers.


10. The Koreans friends are one year older.

This is more a random fact. But did you know the Koreans are born "1 year old"?. This is because they count the time spent in the womb as well … interesting.



Exploring Gyeongju in 2 days – Day 2

Today I'm going to continue describing the second day of my visit to Gyeongju, the ancient Korean city. In the first day I went by bus to the Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram Grotto, but on the second day I wanted to stay more in the center and do as much walking as possible.

Nevertheless reading the guides and talking to the host of my guesthouse I realized that the "central" attractions were relatively spread around, so walking was not the best option, but biking was a good alternative. They lent me in the guesthouse the "nice" bike you see above.

This is more or less the itinerary I followed, starting from the post office (it's close to the guesthouse):


1. First Stop: Bunhwangsa temple:

I pedaled to the train station, I continued heading north until I found a canal and then I turned right and I followed it until I saw in the GPS the Bunhwangsa temple nearby. There was bike parking space on the temple entrance so I left it there, paid the entrance fee (1500 KRW) and started to explore Bunhwangsa.

The name of temple literally means the "Fragrant Emperor Temple" and even if today the temple grounds are relatively small, in the Silla kingdom times, it used to be an important big complex welcoming many worshipers.

A very interesting landmark here was the stone pagoda you can observe above. This is the oldest dated pagoda from the Silla Kingdom and apparently it used to be 7 or 9 stories high, even if there are only 3 stories remaining today.

There were also a monument pedestal and a typical Buddhist bell, but the Pagoda was the most interesting structure on Bunhwangsa. After I left the temple I briefly visited the grounds of Hwangryongsa, the place of another important Buddhist temple that unfortunately was destroyed during the Mongolian invasions so there is nothing standing.


2. Second Stop: Cheomseongdae Observatory:


I continued my bike ride going to the central part of the city where the Cheomseongdae observatory is located, next to some of the royal tombs. The day before when I was coming back from the Bulguksa Temple, I could see both of them lit up from the distance so I was looking forward to come back.

I arrived and parked my bike just in front to the observatory, took a couple of pictures and visit an information center nearby. They provide there a very informative multilingual exposition about the observatory and the silla kingdom.

Here I learned the following interesting facts:

  • The Cheomseongdae is the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia.
  • It was build during the reign of Queen Seondeok, the first reigning queen of the Silla kingdom.
  • The construction method was interesting: The stones were aligned layer by layer and covered by soil, later on the soil was removed.
  • Its name means "star gazing platform"

3. Third Stop: Movie about Gyeongju:

I examined my biking map and the next destination was the Gyeongju National Museum, so I continued riding throughout the park where the observatory is located, but before I arrived there I noticed an structure that looked like a temple but had a banner advertising a show about the history of the Silla kingdom.

I was very curious and the entrance was free so I parked my bike and sat down to watch the show. It was very interesting! They created an realistic animation using the same 3D rendering technology available in most of the modern videogames, to recreate how the Gyeongju landmarks looked like during the Silla kingdom. The film was in Korean with English subtitles.


4. Fourth Stop: Gyeongju National Museum:

After the film was over I jumped in my bike again to continue to the Gyeongju National Museum. The entrance is free and it's possible to see interesting figures both inside and outside of the main building related to the Silla rulers and the Buddhism during their kingdom.


5. Fifth Stop: Old House Choe Clan:

My final destination for the day was the Oreung Royal Tombs, but when I was on my way there I had to make an additional stop after I saw something that caught my attention. There was a group of houses that looked relatively old but well preserved. They were visible next to a river crossed by a beautiful bridge.

I visited the place without knowing exactly what it was. Later on I found out this house was the main residence of Gyeongju Choi clan. In the house it's possible to visit an area where you can try the traditional liquor they have been producing for centuries. A nice Korean old man dragged me into the line so I could try it!

When I was about to leave I saw some people eating nice Korean traditional food in a restaurant / pub, so I made a "pit stop" to fill up the energy tank with a delicious noodle soup in the beautiful place you see above.


6. Sixth Stop: Oreung Royal Tombs ("five royal tombs"):

After the quick lunch I grabbed my bike to go to the last scheduled stop of my ride: The five royal tombs complex.

The tombs are similar to the other ones available elsewhere in Gyeongju, but these ones in particular are very important because they are the resting places of four kings including Park Hyeokgeose, who was the founder of the Silla Kingdom.

After this stop I finished my bike trip going back to the guesthouse.


Last Sunday I took the train from Gyeongju to Busan and when I was on my way here I was thinking that I'm glad I made the Gyeongju detour. It was definitively a great place to visit and I could have spent easily two or three days more.



Exploring Gyeongju in 2 days - Day 1


When I was planning to visit Korea I started to investigate what cities and towns would the most interesting ones besides the obvious Seoul. I picked Busan and Jeju Island, but when I was talking to J., the former flatmate of my Brazilian friend, she suggested to visit Gyeongju as well. In her words Gyeongju is as a small city full of historical spots to visit.

I decided to follow her advice so before coming to Busan, I made a short stopover in Gyeongju where I spent the last couple of days. I'm happy I did it because it was definitively worth it. I took a bus from the bus terminal in Moran and it perfect great because I also had the opportunity to visit the largest traditional market in South Korea, Seongnam Moran.


Going back to the trip story, the bus from this terminal costs about 15000 KRW and it takes around 4 hours to get to Gyeongju, stopping for 15 minutes halfway through. Now I must admit I almost missed my stop at Gyeongju because it was not the final one and the bus terminal is relatively small.

A couple of passengers had left the bus already and when the bus about to leave the stop I went to the front part, asked "Gyeongju?" with a clueless face and the driver a bit annoyed say something like "ye", "ne" or "de", but his bodylanguage was clear, so I quickly descended the stairs and there I was in Gyeongju … pheeew, I almost missed it altogether!


1. Cultural Capital of Korea.

Gyeongju is described in some guides as the cultural capital of modern Korea. This city used to be the center of the Silla Kingdom, that ruled an important part of the Korean peninsula for almost 1000 years!

They developed a well organized society in a city of around 1 million inhabitants and adopted Buddhism as the religion of the state. Based on the number of palaces, tombs, ponds, pagodas, statues and astronomical constructions I saw in the last 2 days, it's don't doubt this used to be a very important place at the height of their kingdom.


2. Day 1: Bulguksa Temple and hike to Seokguram Grotto

On the first day, just after breakfast, I talked to the host of the guesthouse where I was staying and she recommended me to visit the Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram Grotto. The temple is accessible by bus from the city center (the number 11 I think) and you can pay either in cash or using a Seoul T-Money card (I'm happy I got one of those),

It takes 30 minutes to get to the slopes of mount Toham where the temple is located and the bus stop is very close to Bulguksa. The place is beautiful containing ponds, pagodas, ancient stairs and of course Buddha statues. It's considered one of the masterpieces of the Buddhist art during the Silla kingdom.





Even if the place was extremely crowded last Friday when I visited the temple, on the positive side, I had the opportunity to experience a traditional Buddhist celebration as you see in the following video:



I spent an hour and a half walking around the temple, reading the history about Bulguksa and the Buddhism in the Silla era. I also took some pictures making most of the beautiful sunny day. I left the temple and I continued to the next stop for the day: The Seokguram Grotto.

I was reading in the tourist map that I could either take another bus or I could walk through the Tohamsan Mountain hiking trail all the way up to Seokguram. I chose the latter option.


I started to hike and found out the whole path is made out of white stones like the ones you see the in the previous picture. The hike is not really hard but bear in mind you will be going uphill for 1 hour and some of the steps are steep, particularly at the end.

When I began to climb I could hear a bell sound in the distance that turned out to be my constant companion during the whole trip, but the rhythm was quite irregular so I was curious about what it was. When I got to the top I understood the mystery: There is a huge bell that the visitors can play after paying 1000 KRW. Now the view the there was amazing! It felt like a nice reward for the hiking effort.


After I sip some water and grabbed a deserved ice cream, I continued the visit paying the entrance fee for the grotto. Unfortunately the site was under renovation covered by scaffolds and other construction materials, so the view was not an amazing as it could be. Nevertheless I was able to admire the Buddha statue in detail.

I finished my visit by hiking down the same path (way easier) and taking the bus to the city. When I was walking back to the guesthouse I passed by one of the royal tombs and there was a huge gathering around it with a traditional dancing and singing show.

It was a very nice way to wrap up the first day of my visit to this ancient Korean city. I will describe in a separate post my second day, hiring a bike and wondering around the different ancient temples and constructions around the core center of Gyeongju.


Seoul - What to see?

A couple of nights ago I was chatting with my roommate, a French guy who arrived some days before. It was nice to practice the language because I haven’t spoke it in ages. He told me he had only had seen so far, the olympic stadium and a small park he couldn’t remember its name.

I discussed him how I had been taking the subway everywhere moving from one part to the other in the city and then he asked me what would I recommend the most based on the different spots that I had visited so far.

I described the different places I visited during the last couple of weeks, mentioning what I liked about it. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to summarize the conversation I had with him, adding the pictures I took when I went to those places. I won’t include the Korean War Memorial, the DMZ Zone and the Children Grand Park , that are definitively a must, but I already blogged about them.

Yesterday was my last day in Seoul. I came by bus to Gyeongju, so I was thinking this would be a nice post to wrap-up my stay at the Korean capital:


Gyeongbok-gung

This is a royal palace located in northern part of Seoul. It was the main and biggest palace built by the Joseon Dynasty and even if it was destroyed by the Japanese, it has been restored to its original glory.
Cost 3000 KRW
Tips:
  • You can get there using the subway. Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3)
  • A really good plan is to walk around and see all the gardens and small palaces of the complex.
[shashin type="albumphotos" id="8" size="small" crop="n" columns="max" caption="y" order="date" position="center"]
 

Cheonggye Stream

This is a long public recreation and green walking space in the middle of downtown Seoul. In the past the stream was used by the residents to wash their clothes, then it was full of slums and finally it was covered by a highway. Nowadays it's beautiful green space in the middle of the city.
Cost Free
Tips:
  • You can get there using the subway. City Hall Station (Line 1 and 2)
  • Bring comfortable shoes because you could walk a lot if you want to.
[shashin type="albumphotos" id="9" size="small" crop="n" columns="max" caption="y" order="date" position="center"]
 

N Seoul Tower or Namsan Tower

This tower and park offers the best panoramic view of the city and in a sunny day, it's a paradise for the picture taking. The park surrounding the tower is beautiful and on top there are places to eat. It's interesting this place is completely packed of "love" locks hanging around.
Cost 9000 KRW
Tips:
  • You can get there using the subway. Line 3 or 4, Chungmuro stn or line 3 Dongguk University
  • It's possible to walk all the way up. It's clearly marked and it's not very steep.
  • Stop in the "photoshoot" platform, to get some nice panoramic pictures of the city.
[shashin type="albumphotos" id="10" size="small" crop="n" columns="max" caption="y" order="date" position="center"]


Seoul funny english translation.

I'm really grateful every time I find an English translation in the Korean places I visit. For example I just saw this:

The place that looks beautiful and I wouldn't mind going in, but apparently it's for staff only, so thank you for letting the nosy tourist know.

Now I have seen a couple of funny translations during my time in Korea, but the best one I found it in the Seoul subway last week:

Be aware bicycles! They can kick you out of the train! On the other hand don't worry owners, you can chill out :).

Please Korean friends, don't take it personally, I'm just joking around. I don't complain, instead I'm super happy of having english translations in this country.



Seoul Children's Grand Park

This post is going to be a very short one. I just wanted to share some pictures I took today in the Seoul Children's Grand Park. The name of this park could is a bit of a misnomer, because even if it has a lot of attractions for kids, the adults can enjoy it very much as well. It offers hiking trails, a Zoo, a botanic garden, and even a small amusement park.

You can reach the park by metro using the line 7 and getting out at the station with the same name. Here are some pictures, mainly from the Zoo.

07-Oct-2014 12:25, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
07-Oct-2014 12:33, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 125
07-Oct-2014 12:34, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 125
 
07-Oct-2014 12:35, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 11.6mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
07-Oct-2014 12:38, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 125
07-Oct-2014 12:41, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 37.1mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 320
 
07-Oct-2014 12:43, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 125
07-Oct-2014 12:45, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 500
07-Oct-2014 12:47, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 320
 
07-Oct-2014 12:49, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 14.57mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 125
07-Oct-2014 12:51, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 23.55mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 125
07-Oct-2014 12:57, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 37.1mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 125
 
07-Oct-2014 12:59, SONY DSC-RX100, 4.0, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 320
07-Oct-2014 13:03, SONY DSC-RX100, 4.0, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 320
07-Oct-2014 13:18, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 320
 
07-Oct-2014 13:19, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 10.4mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
07-Oct-2014 13:20, SONY DSC-RX100, 4.9, 37.1mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 160
07-Oct-2014 13:34, SONY DSC-RX100, 5.6, 24.11mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 125
 

 

 


Visiting the Korean DMZ by train – Part 2

In the first part of the "visiting the korean DMZ by train" post I described how I find out how is possible to visit the DMZ by train, described the procedure to get there including the strict military control and I finished discussing how we left the Dorasan station towards our first stop, the Dora observatory. The story continues and includes a bonus title at the bottom.


4. The Dora Observatory.



We left the Dorasan Station and after a couple of minutes we arrived to the Dora observatory. A video shown in the bus explained that this observatory is the highest point on the South side of the military demarcation line, on top of the mount Dora. It also described how it offers an rare glimpse view of North Korea including the “propaganda village” of Kijong-dong, the industrial city of Kaesong and a huge statue of Kim Il-sung.

I left the bus ready to take some nice pictures from this viewpoint, but remember that the weather was bad and the whole observatory was really cloudy and so this is the “amazing” view that I got:

After waiting unsuccessfully for the clouds to move away, I gave up and returned to the bus. I guess the frustration was evident in my face, because out of the blue a very kind Chinese lady offered me some “DMZ Chocolates” from a bag she bought.
She definitively knew how to put a smile back on my face :).

Everybody boarded the bus and we moved to the next stop, the third infiltration tunnel.

 


5. Third infiltration tunnel.

Unfortunately you can’t bring cameras or backpacks to the tunnel so I was not able to take pictures inside, but the experience is very interesting, and I will try to describe it briefly. The background behind this structure is that since 1974 South Korea has discovered 4 tunnels dug up by North Korea, supposedly created to support an invasion of the south.

This was the third tunnel discovered, based on the information provided by a North Korean defector. In order to get to the tunnel, you need to put a helmet on and walk down the 300 meters of "interception tunnel" built by the South Koreans. Once you get to the bottom you can walk around 265 meters on a narrower and lower tunnel. This is the one built by the north for an eventual attack.

Once I finished the visit to the tunnel I took some pictures outside:

And I watched a short film in Korean about the infiltration tunnels. Based on the images it seems the film was about the 4 different incursion tunnels built by the north and how all of them were created to attack Seoul from different flanks. But again it was in Korean.

After we watched the movie and we boarded the bus, the tour was basically over. The driver picked up our badges, he brought us back to the Dorasan station and we waited patiently for the last train to bring us back to the Seoul station.

When we were riding back to the city, I had mixed feelings. I was happy I was able to see the DMZ Zone … but I was a bit disappointed with the weather. When we were crossing the Imjingak river I saw in the distance some kind of park.

 


6. Bonus: Imjingak Resort.

This morning was absolutely beautiful with a complete clear sky. I didn't have a specific plan to do today and I remembered the park that I have seen when I was coming back in the DMZ train. I found out this was called the "Imjingak Resort".

This park is located 7 km from the Military Demarcation Line and contains many interesting exhibitions such as the freedom bridge (used by returning prisioners of war), an old railway engine that was caught in the fire during the war and monument created for the families separated by the war.

In contrast to my previous visit, today was a perfect day to take pictures. I indulged myself! I hope you enjoy them too.


Visiting the Korean DMZ by train

Last week I wrote a blog post about the memorial of the Korean War. I described how this place was very informative, taking the visitors from the division of the Korean peninsula on the 38th parallel all the way to the final battles leading to the signing of the Armistice in 1953.

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to visit the Korean DMZ Zone that was established during that 1953 treaty and I got a chilling reminder that this war technically is not over because a permanent peace treaty was never signed.

This is the story about visiting the DMZ on a rainy day using the DMZ train.


1. Finding out how to get there.

It’s possible to visit the DMZ zone but you cannot show up on your own because this area is under the category of “Civilian Control Zone” (strictly controlled by the government and the army). Only the military and the residents of that area have free access to this place. The rest of the people require a special pass. So you always need to be part of a tour.

I really wanted to visit this place because not everyday you have the opportunity to see one of the last remnants of the cold war, but the idea of the "tours" described in different brochures were not too appealing. Fortunately once I was transferring in the Seoul station and I saw some advertising regarding the DMZ train.

I went to the information booth to ask about this option and a helpful girl with some basic English explained me what the DMZ train was about, how to buy the ticket, what were the prices and finally handed me over the schedule for the return trip.


2. Taking the DMZ Train.

I bought the return DMZ train tickets for the afternoon on the day after with the final destination of Dorasan. I went early to the Seoul station, took a coffee boarded the train and the first thing a noticed was the “theme” of the train. It’s painted inside and outside with “peace and love” colorful motives and messages.



But quite quickly the lady you can see in the picture ran to my seat and asked me “Are you going to visit the DMZ?” and I replied doubtfully “Yes?” and then she told me “Well, because in that case you need to fill out the following form. You need to define if you want to do the Dorasan walking tour only or if you want to book a tour including the third tunnel as well and please show me your passport.”



The third tunnel sounded interesting since we missed the cu chi tunnels in Vietnam. Once you make a choice and they collect the forms you can’t change your mind because they give you a badge with an specific color.


3. Riding the train and exchange at the Imjingak station.

The train started to move along north, slowly leaving Seoul, passing through different suburbs. I was a little bit disappointed because the sky was overcast and suddenly it started raining quite heavily. I thought that maybe it was not best day to visit the DMZ, but I decided to enjoy it as much as possible.



It passes through different towns and stops a couple of times. It was interesting to see on those suburbs huge apartment complexes near to some factories and after a couple of stops more then it’s clear you are entering the DMZ zone because this is what happens as soon as you reach the Imjingak train station …



Everybody is politely but firmly asked to leave the train, they double or triplecounted the number of passengers. Then each one handed over the form stating what type of tour was planned and then different lines were formed based on the form preferences. The soldiers checked the identity of each traveler and then a badge was given to each one us (like this one):



Then we were asked to go back to the train and a group of soldiers boarded the train to escort the last leg of the trip until it got to the final station.



When I looked at the window and checked my position on the GPS I understood why there are so many procedures and military presence. We were very close to the South Korean part of the DMZ demarcation line established in the 1953 agreement.

Suddenly there were no buildings, just beautiful landscapes, but surrounded by high barbed wire and watch towers. At this point there were no more stop, the train crossed the Imjingak river and then began to run through a track separated by barbed wire all the way to Dorasan.



3. Dorasan station.

Dorasan is the last train station in South Korea in the northbound direction. Before the war this station was part of the Gyeongui line that used to link the south with the north of the peninsula, but after the war the 2 parts were separated and this station became non-operational for a really long time.

In early 2000 the governments of both the north and the south agreed to connect the line again but for now it's used only for tourism passengers. Based on the station structure and the information panels, it's clear they hope one day the train will go all the way to Pyeonyang.




After arriving to the station the first thing we needed to do was to buy a ticket for the tour we intended to do. I bought the third infiltration tunnel and observatory ticket, left the station on the opposite side, boarded the tour bus and we went to the first stop the Dora observatory.

This post is getting too long. So I will split it in two parts. I just published the second part of this "visiting the Korean DMZ by train"



Visiting the War Memorial of Korea.

When I was kid I only knew one thing about Korea and it was its war. There was a pagoda monument in the middle of an important intersection in my hometown and I remember asking some relatives “What is that?” and they used to answer “Well that’s a gift from Korea, because our country fought in the Korean war”.

Yesterday morning when I was chatting with my dad, he reminded me that I'm not the first person in the family to visit the Korean peninsula: In 1953 an uncle of his who was an army officer, known as “the colonel”, fought on the Korean war under the umbrella of the United Nations forces.

Many decades after here I’m in Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea and I feel compelled to visit the War Memorial of Korea. I took the line 4 of the metro, got out in the Samgakji station and walked a couple of blocks to get to the memorial.

This is my impression after spending a whole afternoon at this place (I could have spent even more time).


1. Memorial museum.

When I saw the memorial on the map and I was planning the visit, I thought I was going to find a monument with some sculptures, the name of the countries that fought on the war and maybe some flowers.

This place is definitively a memorial for the countries and soldiers that participated in the war. There are statues such as the two soldier brothers hugging together on top of a bunker where the honor the different countries that participated in the UN forces:

In the outer walls conducing to the main building, the names of each one of the allied forces member killed in action is written on black marble stones that sadly seems to go forever.

The memorial is also a very informative museum with exhibits both outside and inside of the main building. In different rooms they explain in deep the origins of the war, the role of the different countries involved before and after the hostilities ignited, the different phases of the conflict and finally the armistice process and the status quo.

The memorial offers also an outside exhibition with different war flying machines, tanks and ballistic missiles. They are an interesting sight, but I always try to keep in perspective what is the purpose of those military machines.

As with any history museum you have to take the message with a pinch of salt and remember it always will be one sided by default. I remember discussing this issue when I went to the Ho Chi Minh museum in Vietnam, where the message was clearly coming from a communist country. The contrast is very interesting.


2. Outside exhibition.

There is park in the ring around the main building. On the left side there are some statues such as the brothers in arms I described before, a flying machine sculpture and a clock tower. This one is interesting, because the Korean authorities hope to set this clock with the exact time when peninsula will be reunified.

On the right side of the building there is an extensive collection of fighters, bombers, and trainer aircrafts used before and during the Korean war, both by the ROK and the UN Allied forces and the DPROK and the Chinese. There are also tanks, ballistic missiles and even the replica of boat that was sunk in the Korean waters as recently 2002 (a chilling reminder that this war technically is not over).
It was interesting to see a B52 on real scale. I never imagined how massive was this aircraft:

It was also interesting to see some of the ballistic missiles such as the Scud (that’s the one they were referring to in the news during the first Persian gulf war) and the missiles used to destroy those. There are also many other tanks, transportation vehicles etc.

Again this is a very interesting exhibition if you think about the engineering behind it, but you have to forget for a moment that those machines are created to destroy and kill.


3. Inside exhibition.

I walked to the main building passing by the outer walls containing the names of the soldiers killed in action. Once I arrived to the main entrance I turned left and I started to visit the different rooms explaining the history of the Korean war.

The exposition takes you chronologically starting with the Japanese invasion at the beginning of the century, following by the rendition of Japan, division of the peninsula on the 38th parallel, the plan for elections and reunification, the invasion from the north with Chinese and Soviet support, the UN role and the intervention of its forces lead by the American army, the different phases of the war and finally the battles leading to the signing of the armistice of 1953.

The history was so fascinating that I got completely into it and I almost forgot to take pictures.

Still I managed to take the following shots:


A picture of the UN Security council meeting leading to the resolution condemning the invasion form the north.


The hat, glasses and pipes from the general McArthur, who play a pivotal role in turning the tide in the Korean war by executing the Incheon invasion.


A North Korean flag taken by the allied forces when they captured Pyongyang (it was taken by the Chinese).


A United Nations hall with a detailed explanation of each one of the countries who participated on the war. Each display contains information about what battles they fought, how many people was injured or killed and a sample of their uniforms.


In conclusion this was a very interesting visit and if I have the time I will come back again to finish what I was not able to see (they close at 6pm).

 



First Seoul Searching

I arrived to Seoul last Sunday. J. a Korean former flatmate of a friend from Dublin who is back living in Seoul, was kind enough to pick me up at the Incheon airport and show me how get to the center, how to move around and in general she gave me some tips about the city. I met her at the arrivals terminal, she showed me the way to the train and we took a ride to Hongdae, where my guesthouse is located. This is a very lively district with a lot of young people, places to eat, drink and buy stuff.

Once I checked-in, we walked around Hongdae and we grabbed some food and Soju in a very interesting vintage place with some nice posters on the wall. We ate some unusual food including bird gizzards! It was a bit chewy but interesting.

We walked back to the guesthouse, she helped me to get the metro card and we sipped a cup of coffee. I asked her some questions such as "how do you say ‘Do you speak english?' in Korean'", she answered them patiently and wrote them down in Hagul.

She went home because she had to work the day after and I returned to the guesthouse. I'm really grateful with this soft landing and the very nice introduction to Seoul. Thanks J!

My plan on Monday was to take the metro to the Seoul city hall and then walk north all the way to the Gyeongbokgung palace. I eventually did it as you can see from the picture below, but it was such a rainy day that I have to stop quite a few times to get dry, get warm and get coffee. Finally I arrived to the main entry of the palace complex, bought the ticket and started to visit this interesting place.

Later on I walked all the way down to the city hall subway stop and took train to Myeong-dong to exchange some money into Korean Won and to walk around this shopping district.

I'm loving this city!