Week 6 blog entry, sight-seeing, 3 nights

Trip Start Oct 01, 2007
Trip End May 30, 2008

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

The sixth week of our adventure brought us to South Korea. First stop was Busan, a bustling town in the south-east of the country. There`s a large contingent of foreigners in town, most of them russians, so it`s not a suprise to hear that language beeing spoken on the streets. There`s not too much of interest in the city, besides the quite large market and shopping area. You won`t believe what kind of shops they had there. I mean, basically every major sports brand (Nike, Puma, Adidas, Converse, etc) was represented with its own shop. Another example was the MLB-store, which carried normal streetwear (jackets, denim, shirts), but the clothes were embroided with baseball team logos.

We spent our day in Busan buying the planetickets to get to Hanoi from Seoul (340e/ticket one-way), hanging out at the city`s nicest beach, taking a walk on a tree-filled peninsula and eating good food at T.G.I. Friday`s.

Next up was another big city, Daegu, towards the center of SK. It`s quite an ugly town, I have to say, with high-rise apartment blocks all around. As common in autumn, the weather good a bit cooler than before, actually you could call it freezing, brrr! Not our cup of coffee. Thus we weren`t doing to much outside, besides going for a walk around town and visiting the herbal medicine museum and market. Oh boy, if we would only know what the stuff is that they`re selling (and what ailments it would cure), we probably would have bought a lot of stuff.

From Daegu we took a train to Gyeongju, which is the historical capital of Korea. Back in the days, during the Silla dynasty, it was indeed the capital of all Korea. What remains today are numerous tombs, temples, shrines and other related sights. We finally caught up with the evasive autumn foliage in Gyeongju and it`s magnificent, I can tell you that! As you can see from the photos I`ve posted, it`s one of my favourite national wonders! All this bright red and yellow, it gives me a warm feeling in my stomach, haha. So, all around town they`ve got kings`, queens` and princes` tombs, it`s incredible. They can`t (or don`t want to) destroy these relicts of the past, so they built the whole city around and between them. You go around a corner, there`s yet another one of those humps, it`s cool. You can actually enter one of them, but it`s not too impressive (for someone who`s been inside a Maya pyramid anyway).

On the second day we took a short busride to a temple in the vicinity of town, up on a hillside. By now we`re not too much into temples anymore, unfortunately. Ok, they`re nice, but somehow it`s not that impressive if you`re not practicing the respective religion. The landscape around it was cool though, autumn foliage at it`s best.

For the fourth stop on this tour, Uljin, we took our first real busride (quite a comfortable one indeed). Most of the ride took us along the rugged east coast of Korea and there isn`t much beside fishing villages, rocks and squid drying along the road. And yes, Uljin is almost at the end of the world! Just imagine, we had to get my credit card scanned or faxed to Vietnam, to aquire our visas, now that was an adventure! After asking for the best place to do that at the convenience store, we asked at Telecom offices, banks, before finally arriving at the digital foto store. Well, the owner didn`t really speak english, but after mimicking the sound of a scanner, he luckily understood what we were looking for. And with the help of some young schoolgirls we actually managed to upload the scanned pics to my server and get our visas for Vietnam. In Uljin we were actually greeted by a lot of young children. They would actually run after us, yelling `Hi!` or `Hello!` all the way. We felt like superstars, haha!!!

The reason we came to Uljin was a cave near the village. It`s not a very long or deep one, but the most accessible in South Korea. Well, it was close to a 4km walk there, but the countryside was nice and we only got lost once(Nora would say, that I got lost...). The cave was a nice experience, although it`s made up for tourists, with lights and stairways in all chambers. There were some spots where we had to get down on our hands & knees to get through, and we got to wear hard hats, so nobody got hurt. Strangely, they also built a huge soccer stadium right across the river from the cave. Weird, because there isn`t any big city near, which could sustain any soccer club needing a stadium that big (Uljin must have only about 10`000 inhabitants, max). The setting is great though, I`ve gotta admit.

So, after one-and-a-half days it was time to move on, north to Sokcho and Seorak-san. Again travelling by bus, it was raining hard all day and after our evening walk we were quite soaked. We had two full days to spend here, and on the first one we decided to have a look around town. It`s actually really cold here at the moment, about ten degrees only, and we`re not really equipped for this type of weather. Nevertheless, we walked down to the beach, which must be quite nice in summer. At and around the harbour people were drying squids and other sea life, so the air quality wasn`t too good (unless you like that fishy smell). We also hiked to the other side of town, to a lagoon, which is the recreational area. There we found something like an open-air gym, where you can do sit-ups & bench press, among other things. Uuuh, it felt good to push 20kg up in the air, but today I`m kinda sore...

Today, the second day in Sokcho, we headed out to Seorak-san, one of the most famous national parks in Korea. Man, that was absolutely the best trip/hike I`ve done in a long time! First we hiked to some waterfalls along a small valley. As you can see from the pictures, they were more water slides and falls. I would love to go canyoning here, but you`re not even allowed to swim in the pools formed by the water. Because it is late autumn, most of the trees have lost their leaves this much north and we can only imagine how nice it would look in spring or summer. Right now, everything`s kinda grey/brown and bleak, but somehow that`s quite nice too. Anyway, the second hike of the day, along another valley, brought us to a cave in a vertical rock wall!! Fuck, that was amazing!! Although the trail`s only 600m from the bottom of the valley, it goes upwards almost all the time. In the end, on the rock wall, you can get up only by man-made stairs, which are bolted into the rock. Just check out the 360 degrees view video I made from a bit below the cave entry, and you`ll know what I mean.

Up in the cave were two monks and one of them started to play some instrument and chanting. That completely blew me away! I just wanted to sit there, listen to the chanting and to take in the scenery forever... The hard work of walking up the steep mountain was definately rewarded. I felt so good afterwards, that I was just flying down the mountain. Unfortunately my ankle wasn`t quite in such a good shape as I was at that moment and it decided to give up on me midway through the way down... Luckily I didn`t fall far nor lost my balance, but it hurt like hell and we were still 3km from the park entrance. Well, I iced it in the valley`s stream for a while and a friendly korean guy gave me a painkiller, so I managed to get back more or less comfortably. But now it`s swollen to twice it`s normal size and there won`t be any running around for the next couple of weeks.

Allright folks, that`s it, once again. Tomorrow we travel to Seoul, from where we`ll leave to Hanoi and Vietnam next Friday, the 23rd. It looks like it`s quite warm overthere and we`re looking forward to take our first dip in the sea.

Take care y`all!
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