Trip Start Sep 21, 2007
Trip End Apr 10, 2009

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Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Friday, August 1, 2008

 Hello everybody,

I have arrived in Busan after more than 5 weeks of travelling throughout South Korea. My next stop will be Japan, but I will first give an update on what happened the last few weeks.

The last entry was written in Mokpo so I will start from there.

The following morning I took the ferry to the holiday island of Jejudo. It is the most tropical place in South Korea and a long time favourite with honeymooners. After I arrived in Jeju-si, the main city I immediately went to Seogwipo and based myself there. That same late afternoon I visited a not so interesting cave temple at Sanbangsan and the nearby Yongmeori Coast, which was really beautiful. A nearby replica of an ancient Dutch ship was interesting as well, especially the exhibition about the half god Guus Hiddink, the Korean football team coach at the 2002 World Cup.

The next seemed like a nice day, so I headed to Hallasan National Park. Mount Hallasan is the highest mountain in South Korea, and is actually a volcano. The tourist information said it was going to be a 9 hour return hike, but after a speedy 2 hours and 40 minutes I was already at the top, which at that time was completely shrouded in clouds (although I saw some glimpses of the crater lake). On the way up I still had some clear blue skies. Because I was very sweaty I got cold soon and because I didnt think the clouds were not going away very soon, I headed back. And after 5.5 hours I was back at the bus stop. Here I took a bus to the resort town of Jungmun, where I saw a waterfall and the spectacular coastline, where there were very nice basalt rock formations and a rough sea.

The third day on Jejudo I went to visit a small volcano, the Ilchulbong at Seongsan. This small volcano offered some fine views after a short but steep climb, although the crater itself was nothing special. At some moment here I kind of lost my energy to do much more and rested for a while watching the volcano from the bottom. After this I went back to Seogwipo and stopping on the way at Seong-eup village, which still had some old style thatched-roofed houses. In Seogwipo I visited another waterfall and the coastline, which had a big solitary rock standing in the sea, the Oedolgae Rock.

The last full day on Jejudo I first visited another waterfall, supposedly the only one in Asia which drops its water straight into the ocean. It was not all that spectacular though. I then took a bus to Jejudo and went to the ferry terminal to enquire about ferries for the next day and discovered that at that day all ferry trips were cancelled because of a nearby typhoon. After this I took a bus to the Manjanggul Cave, the largest lava tube in the world, but was a little bit disappointed, because it was very touristy. A large lava tube I friend and I visited on the Gal�agos Islands about a year ago was much more interesting, due to the fact that we pretty much had that lava tube to ourselves.

Luckily enough the next day the ferries were running again, so I headed to Mokpo by ferry. From here I took a bus to Boseong and from there to the Boseong Daehan Dawon, a very picturesque green tea plantation. On the way back I was picked up by locals (actually a Korean family and two very nice Korean guys from Germany who were visiting them). They invited me to stay at their home, which I gladly accepted. We had a great homemade Korean meal and a nice chat. The German Korean guys and I slept ondol style on the floor in an annex of the local church (the father of the family was a pastor).

The next day the family toured us around the countryside, to sights which were on my list as well. First we visited Nagan, a walled village with very authentic thatched-roofed houses, all in all very picturesque. After Nagan we were treated to a great bibimbap lunch. With full bellies we continued to Yeosu, where we visited a former island, now connected by a long bridge and a very large and historic wooden building. On the way back to their home, they dropped me off in Suncheon. I thanked them very much and then I took a bus to Jinju.

The following morning I first visited the local fortress, which was not all that special and then took a bus to Jirisan National Park. Here I visited the Ssyanggyesa Temple and continued walking until I reached the pretty Buril Waterfall. On the way back I had to wait for an hour and a half before there was a bus back in the direction of Jinju  normally buses come very frequent in South Korea.

After Jinju I took a bus to Daegu, where I left my luggage at a left luggage and took another bus to Haeinsa Temple. This temple is one of the most famous in South Korea, because this where the Tripitaka Koreana is stored. This Tripitaka Koreana is an ancient book printed on thousands of woodblocks: it was quite impressive. Back in Daegu I was tired and I quickly settled into a motel next to the bus station.

It was raining heavily the next day, but I had already decided not to do any sightseeing that day anyway. I slept in and then took a bus to Daejeon. In Daejeon I changed to a train, and not just any train, but to the KTX service, the Korean 300km/h high speed train. Fifty minutes later I was in downtown Seoul and went quickly to the Bong House, where I stayed before. The owner Bong gave me the last advice about tomorrow and that night I talked way too long with English teacher with a Bengali background, so I basically slept only 1 hour.

After this almost non-existent sleep I woke up at 04h45 for my day trip to North Korea! This trip has to be booked at least two weeks in advance, which I had done a few weeks ago when I was in Seoul. I took a taxi to a downtown bus stop from where a bus took me  and a lot of other tourists in an hour to Dorasan near the border and DMZ. Here everybody got their visitor passes to North Korea and instructions what to do and much more important: what not to do! Altogether the whole group (about 500 people in 10 buses) after waiting for quite a while (the border only opens for a few times (and apparently minutes) a day) went finally to North Korea. The customs went rather efficient (but no stamp in my passport, only on my visitor pass). The first sight of North Korea was the Kaesong Industrial Complex, where South Korean companies have many factories profiting from North Korean cheap labour. After this industrial complex the road narrowed a lot and we were in real North Korea. Alas, we were not allowed to take any pictures from a moving bus or from Kaesong city scenery. Our first stop was the Pakyon Falls, a bit north of Kaesong. Since it had already been raining yesterday and the whole morning, the falls were very wild and impressive. We could walk around in relative freedom (accompanied by around 20 South Korean and 20 North Korean guides). After visiting the falls and a nearby small temple, we continued to Kaesong. Everywhere along the way (at each road and village) I saw North Korean soldiers. In town there were almost no cars: people either walked or cycled (later back in South Korea guides explained us that North Koreans were only allowed to travel no more than 3 kilometers from their house, otherwise they needed a permit). We had a good lunch at the Kaesong Folk Hotel and we visited a few other sights: a small bridge, a Confucian temple and some shrines. Every time we arrived we were not allowed to interact with ordinary North Koreans (let alone take a picture of them) and the road was sealed off just for us. Late afternoon we headed back to South Korea; at the border the custom officials checked every picture on everybodys camera if we didnt break the rules about what and what not to photograph. All my pictures were OK. In Dorasan we entered back into South Korea with stamps in my passport. This day trip wasnt cheap (about 120 euro) but was very well worth it. Not so much for the sights as well for the opportunity to have a brief look at daily life in this very unusual axis-of-evil country.
Back in Seoul I went back to the hostel and to bed relatively early.

I slept in and then took a bus to Sokcho on the East Coast, from where I visited the Seoraksan National Park the next day. This a really beautiful national park, with high mountains and rocky peaks. I climbed one of those peaks, the Ulsan Bawi and had great views. On another hike I visited two waterfalls.

The next day I took a bus down the coast and changed buses a lot. I first saw the Penis Park in Sinnam, a park completely dedicated to the male reproductive organ. They are not sex freaks here; its because of an old legend. Also this day I visited the Hwanseon Cave, one of the largest in Asia, and yes, it was really big!

The day after that I took my longest bus ride in South Korea (4 hours) to finally end up in Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Shilla Kingdom. This UNESCO designated town is filled with picturesque ancient burial tombs (tumuli), temples and other historic buildings and sights. Alas, the second time on this trip (the first time was in Myanmar) I was hit by very urgent symptoms of temple-sickness. It was bound to happen, but yes, I overdosed on temples! I visited two must-see temples, and was unimpressed: the Bulguksa Temple was very crowded with tourists and just like so many other temples in South Korea and after that I visited Seokguram Grotto, where a beautifully carved Buddha was seated in a manmade cave, but I hindered by a big glass wall to fully appreciate it.

I am now in Busan, where I didnt do much except for preparing for my trip to Japan (and a short trip to my last temple in South Korea, the Beomeosa Temple. I will take the ferry to Fukuoka this night and I am now killing time so writing this entry seemed like a good idea.

Japan will be a whole new experience for me; you will read all about it in my next entry.

For now, thanks for reading!

Everybody take care and enjoy yourselves (I know I do)!

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