After that it was time to check in to our room. Not the biggest room, actually the room is quite small. Just enough to fit a double bed but then the bathroom is big and clean. After freshing up we go out to explore the city a bit more. We walk along the "Cheong gye cheon" that used to be a stream that once meandered through Seoul that was then covered up but because Seoul got so clogged up that they decided to open it up again. As it is running a few meters below street level it is a nice place to get away from the noises. People walk along the stream and young couples sit beside the steam with their feet in the water. It is quite a relaxing place. But we feel tired so it is time for a nap. After this beauty sleep we head out for dinner. We find a nice area with lots of restaurants. We decide to go for our first Korean BBQ or Bulgogi. For those who haven't been to Korea or a Korean restaurant before, I’ll try to explain it a bit. You order the meat you want, we chose duck this time, and they put it on a kind of BBQ grill at your table. Either the waiters or you stirr everything untill it is ready. Depending on the kind of meat you choose they, or you, cut it up into pieces, no not with a knife but, with a big pair of scissors. Then you put the meat in a lettuce leaf and fold it. Dip it in a chili sause and eat it! You also get all kinds of side dishes but always one of the side dishes is Kimchi. Kimchi is a typical Korean dish made of fermented cabbage (or other vegetables) in a red chilli paste that has a typical acidy taste. Of course you have to drink the local licor, Soju, to go with the meal. Soju is the Korean equivalent of Sake. It is dirt cheap (cheaper than an espresso!) and it goes really well with the meal. We had an excellent dinner. The next day we set off to visit the palaces. But first we had to buy our first souvenirs namely two umbrellas as it was pouring with rain.
As it was raining so much we decided to go to the history museum of Seoul first. So we got to learn a bit more on the history of Seoul. Luckily it didn’t rain so much anymore when we got out and visited the two main palaces Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung. The first one is the oldest one and the second is where the last king used the live. The Gyeonbukgung Palace looks a bit like an open air museum with not a really lively atmosphere. But that might be due to the grey and rainy weather we have. The Changdeokgung Palace feels a bit more authentic and we actually leave the most interesting part of the complex, the secret garden, for when we get back to Seoul and hope that we have some nicer weather then. In the evening, after another superb Bulgogi BBQ ( beef this time!), we visit the Deoksugung Palace which is beautifully lit and where hardly any other visitors are to be seen. We walk back to the hotel along the Cheong gye cheon Stream where now even more Korean couples are sitting side by side beside the water edge.
The next day we take the free shuttle bus, that we pre booked online, to Jeonju our first stop. In Jeonjo we are staying in a typical Hanok Ondol. An Ondol is a traditional type of room where there is basically no furniture and also no bed! A small fridge in the corner is the only thing that is in the room. There are some folded matresses, blankets and pillows in a corner. In the evening you just put these matresses and blankets on the floor and voila your bed is made up. The matresses are quite thin so it still feels like you’re sleeping on the floor. On the other hand the bathroom is again big and clean. Jeonju is known for its tradional Hanok village. So we start to wander through the village. It is one of the most popular villages in Korea and you can see that as most Hanok houses are converted into restaurants and handicraft shops. This means also that there are a lot of tourists around. The majority is actually Korean and Japanese. There are only a handful of western tourists to be seen. Luckily there is still an area with Hanok houses where you can still see how it used to be before everything was turned into restaurants and handicraft shops. We visit some of the shops and the king’s palace. Jeonju is also famous for one of the national dishes called Bibimbap. This is a rice dish that is served with meat / fish, different kinds of vegetables, chillipaste and a raw eggyolk. All neatly arranged on top of the nice with the whole raw egg yolk in the middle. It looks beautiful but then you have to mix it all through the rice until it is one big reddish dish that doesn’t look appetizing at all anymore. But man it tastes good. So many flavors it is really delicious. The next day we decide to go for a hike as we’ve been into cities long enough we need some serious exercise.
We take the bus to the Geumsan Sa & Moaksan provincional park. When we arrive we walk to the information stand expecting to communicate with our hand and feet to get some information but the woman behind the counter speaks perfect English and is also very helpful in getting us on the right track for a hike. The hike itself is not the most interesting but what was interesting is to see how the Koreans are geared up for the walk. In a completely new (at least that is what it looks like) outfit of the latest fashion they walk up the mountain. On the way down we pass along the temple complex of Geumsan Sa. As this is still in use as a Bhuddist temple it is more elaborately decorated than all the palaces we’ve seen before in Korea. Our next stop on the trip is Busan. We take the express bus which is very, very comfortable. In Busan we take the metro to downtown Busan and with the information pages (that the hotel owner emailed us) in our hand we easily find the hotel. This is our first Love Hotel. Love hotels are quite common in South Korea. As people are living in quite small apartments usually with the whole family together they sometimes want some privacy. That’s what these hotels provide. Of course they are also used to be rented by the hour. You know you’re in a Love Hotel when you enter through a curtain of ropes via the parking lot. There is no real reception but a hole in the wall to get your key. In the elevator there is a box where you can leave your key to make clear that you want “company”. This doesn’t mean that the rooms are sleazy. On the contrary! The rooms are big, clean and comfortable. Our bathroom even has a Turkish steam shower! This is our best room sofar and that for only 35 euro! But we are here to explore the city! Busan is a city of extremes. First you walk in a shopping street with all the latest fashion shops then you turn a corner and you are in a kind of streetmarket with all the cheap clothes and all other stuff you can think of. Turn a corner again and you are in a food market with all sorts of food. All varieties of Kimchi that you can think of. It just goes on and on. Little food stalls where you can get one of the specialities here which is a kind of ommelette / pancake with loads of spring onions. Just keep walking and you come across more little food stalls that are not in use during daytime but at night they turn into a place where you can eat fresh fish. Talking about fish they have the biggest fish market here in the world. They really have all kinds of fish, shellfish, and octopus either dried, on ice or still alive in water tanks.
The fish market is so big and overwhelming that you get a bit worrysome if there is still fish in the sea here and will they be able to sell it all or does it all goes to waste. You just get rid of the smell of fish and you enter the biggest shopping mall with again all the latest fashion shops and people all dressed up. I don’t think I have ever seen such a big contrast in a city by just walking arround for a couple of hours. But I must say the city really feels alive and kicking and we both like it a lot, a lot more than Seoul. In the evening we have a meal at the fish market where we have a dish of eels, onions and chillipaste.It is definitely freshly prepared as the cut up eel is still moving when they put it on the BBQ in aluminium foil! The next day is again a day of extremes. First we visit a peaceful temple that is beautifully situated in the hills just outside the city centre. Then a masterpiece of modern architecture which is the biggest movie theatre in the world that is situated next to the biggest shopping mall in the world. Another couple of stops on the metro and you are in a suburb with the best 2 km long beach in South Korea. Here you also have the large hotel chains and here you find the majority of the western tourists and ex-pats. The beach is the only place where the westerners are in the majority! We finish the day with a great meal of shellfish (didn’t count the amount of different kinds and sizes), a whole octopus and a whole crab. We would have loved to stay another day but we have to move on the next town. But more of that in our next blog.
After a pleasant flight with Air France (even in economy class they serve champagne), we arrived early morning in Seoul. The airport bus brought us right to our hotel. We left our luggage at the hotel as it was still too early to get into our room. Near the hotel there are plenty of coffee shops, not the Dutch ones ;-) but real espresso bars and we had quite a decent espresso. After that we started to explore the city a bit. Visited the folk museum and wandered around the old Hanok village of Buckchon that lies between the main palaces. These Hanok villages still have the old traditional houses with the distinct roof tops. We had a quick lunch in a sort of fast food Korean restaurant but the food was delicious.