Sept 18 2008 – Gyeongju


We headed out to the Gyeongju National Museum this morning. It is a nice museum consisting of several buildings and some items that are outside to be visited. Outside there is a large bell which is the Divine Bell of King Seongdeok. Inside one of the buildings there was a depiction of how the bell was constructed – a large hole in the earth was dug in the shape of the bell and metal was heated until melted the the melted metal was poured into the β€œmold”. Apparently the bell can be heard for 2.5 miles when rung – this is when there is nothing in the way. There are many artifacts including crowns, belts, bowls and vessels, swords, tools, arrowheads, etc.

While we were at the museum several school trips with many children arrived. We heard the usual phrases that all the children learn: Hello, how are you, I am fine, where are you from, how old are you (a new one today), and nice to meet you. We also were asked to sign many of their notebooks and had our picture taken with a bunch of 12 year old boys. Kind of like being rock stars!

After lunch we headed to Imhaejeon site to see the Anapji man made pond and the reconstructed buildings that are an example of the several buildings that existed on this site as part of the Silla era. The area was a royal palace/ retreat around 700AD. It was very peaceful and nice when the sun went behind the clouds, otherwise it was stinking hot.

We spoke to a clerk at a Columbia store, she said it is very hot this year and that both this year and last year are hotter than normal. We are still having amazing weather. It has only rained on us one day so far and that was a very short period of time. Two nights ago it rained over night. Our favourite days are cloudy as they block the intensity of the sun.


Sept 17, 2008 – Gyeongju


Today I seem to be continuing a trend when traveling through Asian countries. In Japan (2001), I lost a hat. Now twice this trip I have lost a hat (I brought two on this trip!). Now both are gone and I had to buy a new one which will hopefully make it through the trip. We are two weeks through the trip, so it has to survive ten days. I’m averaging 7 days a hat it doesn’t look good.

Each city in Korea seems to have a product that is for sale all over the city. In An Dong it was dried mackerel. In Gyeongju it is a barley bread which is similar to pancakes, two are served together with red bean paste in between. It is really good, we bought a box of 40 of them from breakfasts and snacks.

We traveled up to Bulguksa which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a site that is one of Korea’s oldest Buddhist temples and also served as a base for a voluntary militia during a Japanese occupation of Korea in 1593. It was reconstructed in the 1970s.

After Bulguksa we continued to Seokguram (stone cave hermitage), which is a Buddha statue the in a stone grotto. Most grotto temples in Asia are carved or built in caves, this differs by being a constructed grotto. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed within the temple. It features a central Buddha statue – the Sakyamuni Buddha – that is surrounded by stone generals, stone kings.

We have to take a shuttle bus between Bulguksa and Seokguram (or hike 2.5km up hill in 30 degree heat). We opted for the bus, it runs once an hour and has a 20 minute break at Bulguksa. During the break the driver locks the bus and disappears. When he arrived to take the bus up again, he was shocked to unlock the bus and discover he had locked a western tourist on the bus. The tourist smiled and shrugged his shoulders as he got off the bus, a little embarrassed! We noted the driving being fairly careful on our trips about counting passengers.

The afternoon was shopping for a new hat, sunglasses (but we found crazy glue to repair them).

For dinner we found a quiet air conditioned restaurant that looks out to at the largest Tumuli in Gyeongju. It offers a mix of Asian and western food. I decided on a more western looking dinner, but it had a bit of a twist. Salmon with baked potato and soup. It was the first time that I have had baked potato with whipped cream.

One thing we have noticed is many things in Korea are smaller. People are thinner. Squirrels are thin and less furry and even vans have stunted growth. πŸ™‚


Sept 16, 2008 – An Dong to Gyeongju

Yet another travel day, we have moved south from An Dong to Gyeongju about 2 hours south east. When we arrived at that bus terminal it was crazy and the line up for tickets was huge. It has been a long weekend in Korea as it is their Thanksgiving – Chosek. Today’s bus ride was uneventful and the driver was probably the sanest we have had.

We have checked into a Korean Love Motel for our stay here. It is very nice and clean. Everything is designed for being discrete. This is how Koreans can have discrete encounters, it starts from the closed off parking lot that cannot be view from the street. The front of the hotel is very dark and you cannot see in. The staff at the front desk cannot see who is checking in. Love hotels are used by travellers because they are clean and safe and cheaper than other hotels.

After checking in we went for some lunch and then had to change money. It was a very strange experience. The clerk I was dealing with asked if it was my first time to Korea. I told him it was my second, that I liked it the first time, so I had to come back. When he quoted the rate for the exchange, he told me the posted exchange rate and then said he would give me a better rate!! Then he gave me a pen as a gift (it came in a small gift box).

Gyeongju is a considered an open area museum and was the capital of Korea during the Silla dynasty. As a result the burial tombs (Tumuli) of the Silla dot the area. The tombs are large mounds or hills. The largest is 22m high, and has a circumference at the base of 250m. We wander through a park with several Tumuli then to an observatory that was used between the 13th and 15th centuries. From there we found a lotus field but only a few lotus’ were blooming, most had already bloomed. It would be an impressive sight in the full bloom.


Sept 15 2008 – An Dong

An Dong

In the morning we hopped on a city bus and headed to visit the Dosan Seowon Confucian Academy. This site includes the hallowed lecture hall, dormitory, library, publishing place, etc. It is a very peaceful spot and you can see how it would be conducive to studying.

We had lunch at Mr. Pizza and enjoyed an interesting pizza: .5 was potato and bacon (sort of) and the other .5 was shrimp. The pizza crust was sort of like cookie dough and when you finished each piece you dipped your crust in the blueberry sauce that came with the pizza – which we quite enjoyed. If you are Bruce – you dipped each bite of pizza into the blueberry sauce – which he quite enjoyed.

In the afternoon we headed to the An Dong Folk Museum and Folk Village – which our guide book
stated was 3k walk from An dong – so we decided to walk. It was very hot and at times a little scary walking along the highway – sometimes the section for pedestrians was very wide – sometimes it was single file only. We made it to the village – but agreed that it was a very long 3K – it felt more like 4+k. We did not go into the museum but visited the village instead. It was up a hill with the nicer homes nearer the top of the hill. Some of the homes were authentic old Korean homes that were moved to higher ground when the An Dong dam was bulit. Other homes and structures higher up the hill are a recreations that are used by film production companies. Bruce figured out that homes would use the heat from cooking as under floor heating to heat other rooms – very ingenious double use of resources!

In the evening we met Richard and Ann for dinner and ended up at a small restaurant for a grilled beef meal and beer – we sat outside on small stools and grilled the meat. Once the meat was cooked we cut it up with scissors that were provided and made small wraps using lettuce leaves, sauces, meat, grilled onions and garlic cloves and raw onions that I think were soaking in soya sauce – this was very tasty. When Richard went into the restaurant to get more beer – he asked a couple of guys what they were eating – it was small circular pieces of what appeared to be meat. The guys told him it was pigs intestines and next thing you know a dish of these show up at our table – well you gotta try them when that happens! Luckily they came with a good dipping sauce! They were chewy and not something I would purposely have again.

After dinner – which cost at mere $10 per person – meal and beer included – we header to Mammoth bakery for desert and then called it a night.


Sept 14 2008 – Andong / Hahoe Folk Village

Andong / Hahoe Folk Village

This is our first full day in An Dong and we are off by city bus to visit Hahoe folk village which is about 50 minutes by city bus outside of the city. The bus ride costs about 1 dollar.

Hahoe is a village that has been preserved rather than a village that has been built as a tourist site representing a traditional Korean village but you do still see modern life here – cars, TV satellite dishes, and other modern amenities.

We saw quite a few interesting carved spirit figurines in the village. They were carved on posts of various heights and sported various facial expressions. We were quite the hit ourselves with quite a few children speaking to us and generally interested in us. It is strange to be found so interesting just for being you. But there were few non-Asian people in the village that we saw in the morning – I think we were about it. We walked around the village seeing other interesting sites include 3 scarecrows that were very well dressed (ready for a good office job for sure) but had scary faces drawn on them. We saw several homes several of which had gates surrounding them with beautiful doors. There were also several gardens and rice fields.

We walked up the road and found a large restaurant to have lunch. Once we realized that this not the norm where the waitress brings you a menu or comes to see you – Darlene went inside to see about ordering but did not get any attention there – which was very strange. A boy (about 10 years old) from a family sitting and having their lunch came in to assist with the ordering explaining some items and ordering in Korean – he made several trips in to help out.

The children overall are very interested in us and like to talk to us and look at us alot. They are very cute and very polite.

After lunch we visited a Mask museum that has masks from all over Korea and from other parts of the world. It highlights the role of mask in culture and theatre and myth. After the museum we headed back to the Folk Village to catch the 3pm bus. When we got there we heard (via music) that a traditional mask dance was going to start. The dance has several scenes in it, each telling different stories and I think teaching lessons. We need to find more detail on what each scene was.

There was an audience participation part where 1 Korean woman was pulled onto the stage and then given directions to get more people. She picked 5 westerners, I think these were her instructions – she got to stay on stage to act as the translator. Each of the westerners were given a mask and had to approximate the dance. Darlene and I were not chosen!!

After the show while we were waiting for our bus we were chatting with a couple from Australia (Richard and Anne). Ann was one of the westerners chosen. We chatted for a while and agreed to have dinner tomorrow night. When Dar and I went to leave a note at their hotel it took some time to explain/ pantomime to the desk clerk that we wanted to leave a note. When she understood, she took us and the note to the room then slide the note under the door. As we came down in the elevator, she looked at Darlene and said – β€œYou have a small face”. If you are keeping count this is the second time Dar has been told this. She is begin to think she has the smallest face in Korea!

We chose a BBQ restaurant for dinner – pork BBQ. Basically they cook a pound of bacon in front of you and you dip it in sauces and wrap it in lettuce leafs and other greens (you need your veggies). It was good. While we were having dinner Ann and Richard came into the same restaurant. They assured us they are not stalking us.


Sept 13 2008 – Sokcho to Andong

Sokcho to Andong

Another travel day. Moving from Sokcho to Andong. The directions we got from the tourist information office was to take a bus west back to Seoul then another bus to Andong. This would also involve changing to a different bus station in Seoul. Luckily for internet we discovered we could travel south from Sokcho to Gangeung and then take a train to Andong. This would save us probably 5 hours of travel. Upon arriving at Gangeung we found a bus was departing an hour earlier than the train and would get us in 2 hours earlier than taking the train!! It was all cheaper too!

The bus ride started as a very unadventurous ride. The highway system here is really good. I think there may be an American influence as the highway number signs are the same design as the US interstate highways. Our bus driver seemed be moving a good pace. If a car was in front of us and going slow – it was honked at – if it didn’t move we passed on the right. The trip was about 3 Β½ hours. There was a brief 5 minute washroom stop. And he meant 5 minutes. I thought he was going to leave without Darlene. (Boy would I have been in trouble!). Someone else was late and the driver was standing in the doorway waiting for person anxiously.

As we got off the main highways it be became clear that the lines on the roads were merely suggestions. Yellow lines can be driven on the other side of. Solid lines can be crossed and the horn is an essential tool. If the are 2 lanes painted on the road, there are really 3 lanes that can be used.

We arrived in Andong only a few minutes late – which I’m sure almost caused our driver to have a stroke.

We are staying at a Motel call the Mun Wha. Our room is huge with a water dispenser, computer, fridge, 30 inch TV, UV sterilizer for drinking glasses. It is very nice. I suspect the hotel rents rooms by the hour. As got into our room we noticed a ‘couple’ leave the other room with no luggage. The room was then being cleaned. She was dressed very nicely, with a short short skirt. He was not dressed nearly as nicely.


Sept 12, 2008 – Seoraksan National Park

Sokcho / Seoraksan National Park

Day 2 of hiking in the park. En route to the park by 9am after double checking to make sure the camera is there!

The hike today is described as mostly easy with just 600m of hard hiking. We head off to Biseondae (Flying Fairy Peak) which is a veritical rock formation that stands at the entrance to a gorge. Very easy to get to this location, from there was start ascending to Geumganggul Cave. It is on Biseondae halfway up to the peak. It reportedly has a 649 stairs to the entrance. It’s a tough climb. When got to the cave entrace, we were greated with β€œIt’s very nice to meet you”. A Korean couple was resting in the cave before coming down. They were a teacher and principal from Incheon who come here once a year. The were very nice and shared some food they had with us and beer. Luckily I had read about the etiquette of drinking with Koreans.

If offered a glass, hold it while the beer is poured into the glass then drink it. Pass the glass back and fill it for the other person. It is apparently a sign of arrogance or self importance to fill your own glass.

After Biseondae we descended, then took the cable car to the top of another peak. It was a very civilized way to travel up, we were both pretty tired. There is more sun today than yesterday. It was a spectacular view as we ascended. We were going to try and find a waterfall but we don’t think we were able to get there from here. So we passed. Both of us were too tired to start another trail.

Travel day tomorrow off to Andong.


Sept 11, 2008 – Seoraksan National Park

Sokcho / Seoraksan National Park

The day started off pretty nicely, up early to catch a city bus into the National Park. About a 20 minute bus ride later we arrived in the park, paid our entrace and started to decide on which trail to take. When we discovered that our camera was still in the hotel room. So back on a bus back to the hotel. Luckily the bus ride is short, frequent and cheap.

10:20 am – take two: we are back in the park and are heading off to Ulsan-bawi. The trail is about 5km one way and took us about 2 hours to complete one way. The first part is an easy stroll up to a buddist temple. The second part takes us past a hermatige in front of Ulsan-bawi. There a few food stands along the way to refresh the weary traveller. At the hermitage we there a boulder perched on a rock. The boulder can move slightly on the rock but has not been pushed off – yet. Neither Darlene or I succeeded.

From the hermitage we proceeded further the trail getting harder. Sections have ropes to help pull your way up. As we get to the vertical face of Ulsan-bawi the stone paths and boulder we have traversed change to a steel stair case. That goes up, some sources cite that their are 808 steps to the summit. As we reached the summit, out of breath and drenched. As we were there a older gentleman arrived at the summit and seemed quite relaxed and freshed. Another woman arrive looking like we felt – tired hot and drenched!

The trip down was eaiser that we thought it would be, and it was not as freaky as I though it would be going down a staircase that just drops out of sight as you descend.

Korea Seoul

Sept 10, 2008 – Seoul to Sokcho

Seoul to Sokcho

Internetless today. It is a travel day today. We moved from Seoul to Sokcho on the Northeast coast of Korea. Leaving Seoul by bus, we could see the develpment occuring in the south of Seoul. Entire blocks of apartments being built. Not just one 20 or 30 story building being erected but sets of eight or ten 20 or 30 story buildings. As we moved more out of the city there were more fields of rice and smaller towns.

About 2 hours out of Seoul we went through Wonju. A town that last week was hosting an International Tatoo that included the Canadian Forces Pipes and Drums. Though intrigued, we passed figuring that it was too far from Seoul. I didn’t actually realize how far it was.

We splurged on an deluxe bus for our trip about $22 each to travel about 4 hours. The deluxe portion is that there are only 3 seats to a row so it is quite spacious. There were maybe 12 people on the bus.

There does not appear to be a wholelot to the town, but we are using it as a staging area for Seorksan National Park where we will do a few days of hiking.

We wandered toward the port area of the town, going over a larger bridge that went over one section of water only to find there is another section of water that we had to get over and the second part of the bridge isn’t finished. You can’t get there from here. So we wandered back toward the hotel and found a korean grocery store with a food court in it. It was dinner time so we got some dinner (about $6 for both of us), a kind of rice filled omelette, hamburger steak and cole slaw and soup and free water!

Then we wandered through the grocery store which is really Korea’s answer to Walmart (though I am sure if we look we will find it). What we noticed is that gift sets are very popular. Gifts sets of oil or ham, you name it there is one. We just picked up some breaky for tomorrow and snacks for during out hike – though Koreans seem not to travel with food as much as we do as they tend to pick up food along the way. We we travelled on the subway during rush hour and most people just had a purse or paper (and cell phone) but no signs of a lunch.

You can buy fireworks in the corner store here and someone was just setting them off on the beach.

We understand from the guidebook that the beach is lit at night. Not for swimming but so that spies from North Korea can be spotted. As the bus got closer to Sokcho we noticed fencing and razer wire along the coast for probably to prevent North Koreans from entering.

No pics for the next couple of days as the thigh-top is not hooked up to the internet.


Sept 9 2008 – Panmunjom / DMZ and Seoul

Our first tour in Korea. This is one thing that I didn’t get to do on my first time through Korea, so it was a must do for this trip. The day starts with a passport check at the tour office and checking to make sure everyone conforms to the dress code (no shorts / sandals / tank tops / nothing that will offend the North Koreans).

Our tour bus had a sign in front β€œForeign Tourists on Board”. It takes about an hour to get to our first stop. A checkpoint. A South Korean solider (ROK) soldier comes on board to check our passports and identity. After that checkpoint the bus carries on the Camp Bonifas, home of the United Nations Command Security Battalion. Their motto: In Front of them All. A different solider gets on the bus and does another check of the passports. We are brought into Camp Bonifas for a briefing on do’s and don’ts in the Joint Security Area. Basically they don’t want us to create any international incidents, or get shot. In July 2008 at South Korean tourist was shoot by North Korea after crossing into a restricted area on the east cost of Korea (Not where we were mom!). Taking photos is very restricted.

Once on the formalities are done we change to a JSA bus and proceed to Panmunjom. We left the bus and entered Freedom Hall and proceed through to a small building, the only neutral building in the JSA. When we are in there, there are no North Koreans in the building, but there are microphones that bisect a table in the center of the building and they are apparently listening! The microphones also represent the Military Demarcation Line. On the south side of the microphones you are in South Korea, on the North side you are in North Korea. We got into North Korea for a few moments today!

After this building we move to a pagoda where we can take pictures of the buildings in the JSA and surroundings. The tours is very controlled and you cannot move too far astray. A military escort is with the group constantly. One woman could not go up the pagoda because of a knee problem. An extra solider seem to appear to stand beside her to ensure there was no problem. The English of the security escorts is excellent. Another tourist was asked to remove a camera bag of his pouch – we were supposed to leave any case in the bus – the soldiers English was excellent, with no hint of an accent. Not a place you want to have any misunderstanding.

We get back on the bus and are driving around to a lookout where we can see Propaganda City in North Korea. A city in the DMZ on the North Korea side of the Military Demarcation Line. It has apparently the tallest flag in the world. We had 2 tours guides today. One said the city is uninhabited the other that some North Koreans are starting to live there. South Korea also has a city in the DMZ that is protected by the Soldiers from Camp Bonifas.

Before leaving Camp Bonifas we switch back to our bus, but not before visiting the gift shop. We were hoping for t-shirts for the nephews: Someone when to the DMZ and all I got was a lousy t-shirt.

In the afternoon we visited the 3rd tunnel of aggression. One of 4 known tunnels that North Korea dug under the DMZ to invade South Korea. The tunnel is 1.6KM long, 73 meters deep and travels 435m past the military demarcation line. It is thought that 30000 soldiers could move through the tunnel in an hour. From our experience, they would be short soldiers. I was hunched over and hit my head countless times (I had a hard hat on).

After the tunnel we when to the Dorasan train station with is the last station before North Korea. It’s really a symbolic station, without much traffic. But they do have a picture of George W. Bush signing a railway tie. Our tour guide pointed our that if you look closely the marker his is signing with is upside down.

After the tour we went to the Yongasan Electronics Market, if I had more time and patience for shopping I could probably get a bargain on a new camera, the have a lot. If you need something that plugs into a wall this is the place

Related: DMZ info on wikipedia