Korean Weekend Trips

Trip Start Apr 01, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Hello again

I'm pretty back-logged with my blog. Even though I am now only writing about trips, there are four different excursions that I have yet to share: Busan, Sokcho, Gapyeong and Hawaii. Since the first three were all in Korea and weekend trips, I am clumping them together to save you the hassle of reading multiple entries and me the work of writing more.

Also, tonight I'm leaving for Thailand, so hopefully Hawaii and Thailand entries will be out by November. Only time will tell. Anyway, enjoy!

Busan Briefly

Possibly the best part of traveling to Busan was getting there and back. We (Fran, a Vegas teaching friend, and I) took the KTX, a super fast train, starting from Seoul and ending on the southern tip of the peninsula, Busan: Korea's second largest city and largest port...enticing, eh? The scenery was fantastic; rolling green hills (small mountains I suppose), rivers and rice paddies. Plus, the interior was plush, like traveling business class in an airplane, minus the service.

Once in Busan we were greeted by the tail end of a typhoon (Asian equivalent of a hurricane). Don't worry, it had been greatly reduced by the last chunk of land it ran into. The wind was still really strong though. Without a reserved hotel room to check into in the middle of high-season, we decided to avoid the annoying lodging search and hit the beach. Unfortunately, we joined thousands of our closest Korean friends at Haeundae beach, Korea's notoriously most crowded. A sea of umbrellas covered the sand, making it almost invisible. The water was so packed with rafts (life boats for the many Koreans that can't swim), that moving a couple feet in either direction meant running into someone or something.

Eventually, we found a hotel after literally hours of searching, everything being expensive, booked or both.

The next day we decided to avoid the beach crowds and go mountain climbing. Without any sort of route (just a mountain in sight), we embarked with high hopes and spirits. We made it to a shaded pine forest with exercise equipment and decided to rest (many parks and mountains have outdoor exercise stuff for the public to use). While waiting it started to rain, hard. We braved the downpour and made it to the summit, completely soaked and obstructed from our wonderful view (rain clouds everywhere). With nowhere to go, we headed to a nearby temple. After 30 or minutes or so, showering sounded too refreshing to continue waiting. We forged into the deluge already drenched, no longer bothered by puddles or rain drops.

Deciding to return to the beach scene, we went to Gwangili beach the next day. Not nearly as busy (though it was a week day this time), it was a relaxing, scenic beach. When I say scenic, I don't mean tropical, considering the water is brown and the city industrial. What I mean is that a really beautiful suspension bridge is in the background, providing a strange, rather surreal backdrop while swimming. After a quick dip in the cool water we discovered a track that had every 400 meters labeled. I hadn't exercised or timed a run in awhile, so I decided to do both. I ran a 5:15 mile, not bad considering I'm not in running shape!

That evening we headed to downtown Busan to check out the infamous Busan tower and grab some grub. The tower provided a wonderful panorama of the city, similar, yet not as impressive as the view from Mori (means 'head' in Korean) Tower in Tokyo. We grabbed our last Busan meal at a Korean restaurant, since Fran was leaving the country the next day.

 The train ride home was wondrous again, partially because of the reading material I brought along. I finished the final book of the Harry Potter series, in my opinion, the best of the 7. I'm curious what you Potter fans out there think.

Overall, Busan was not remarkable, but quite relaxing. However, the next stop, Sokcho, was both remarkable and relaxing.

Swimming, Soraksan-ing in Sokcho

After spending a vacation-less week doing what I was supposed to be doing at school, I decided that was no fun and went on another vacation. This time to the east coast of Korea, a fun little town called Sokcho.

 I went with my girlfriend Helen, who at the time was my Korean tutor (she is no longer, for various reasons). We boarded the ultra plush buss as friends, hoping for the possibility of more. Seriously, the leather seats were first class airplane style. I'd never been treated to such comfort on a bus before.

When we arrived (3.5 hour journey), we checked into our Pension, shopped and explored the nearby beach. Pensions are Korean style hotels, usually one room with a bathroom and a very small kitchen. Often, there is no bed and you sleep on the floor amongst many comfy blankets and pillows, much cozier than it sounds.

 We made great use of our pension, going out to eat only once, cooking Korean food the remainder of the time. This is also the place that Helen and I would begin our "official" relationship. Now we have been dating for over two months.

Although the Korean east coast is not exactly tropical either, the water in Sokcho is quite nice. Much bluer and cleaner than Busan water, the temperature is also pleasant. The beaches are packed, but not nearly as packed as Haeundae in Busan. However, massive tent-like structures make it hard to see.

Similar to Busan, almost everyone in the water is using a raft to compensate for their inability to swim. Helen is one of those people. We decided to forego the raft the first day and I was responsible for ensuring that she didn't drown. This was not a big deal until I had the brilliant idea of carrying her out to deep water. By the time we made it back to shore, I was so tired we both almost died.

The other obvious highlight of Sokcho is nearby Soraksan National Park. In Korean, "san" means mountain. As is the case with most Korean National Parks, it is a large, gorgeous mountain. After entering the park and before you start ascending, you are greeted by one of Korea's largest statues of Buddha. Absolutely massive and gorgeous, it perfectly sets the tone for the serene, gorgeous landscapes to come. 

The only problem about Soraksan is that you must experience the great views with so many others. It is hard to walk anywhere without encountering someone else on the trail. However, it is well worth it to battle the crowds and make it to the top.

When we made the trek it started to rain at the steepest and most treacherous part of the trail. To make things harder, the trail was not rock or dirt, but metal stairs, which became slippery quite quickly. We braved the less-than-ideal conditions and made it to the top, only to be greeted by total cloud cover. What would have been a beautiful view stretching over many mountainous miles was reduced to 100-yard visibility amongst the clouds. Regardless, the atmosphere was calming and well worth the hike.

The trip was a wonderful refresher to energize for all kinds of work to come.

Gapyeong Jazz Festival

When I left for Gaypeong after work on a Friday, I was leaving behind my 26th day in a row of working, including Saturdays and Sundays (Saturday program, reffing soccer). I was so exhausted that I slept for most of the 3 hours of the bus journey. This became a problem when the bus announced (in Korean) that I had arrived at my destination. I groggily gained my bearings and rushed to gather my belongings and leave. By the time I made to the front we had passed the station and were back on the highway. I thought about taking a taxi, but the pouring rain made me rethink. Luckily, when we arrived at the last station in Chuncheon, the last bus was pulling out and I was able to jump on and head back to Gapyeong without paying any extra.

I arrived to my friend Nat, Alex and Nat's newly arrived London friend drinking beer, a beautiful sight after a long, wet, sleepy ride. Despite the rain, we decided that we should still go to the jazz festival. We put on our ponchos and trudged through the mud to the island, where the festival was located. We arrived to a massive venue with only a few die-hards standing in a small semi-circle around the stage. The roof of the stage was not waterproof, so tarps were set up over all the different musicians and vocalists. 

We enjoyed the rainy revelry to the max and headed back to Nat's place drenched and ready for Hookah (tobacco, completely legal, no worries). After some snacks and sleep we were ready for anything the next day. Once the remainder of our group showed up, we headed to the nearest elementary school to play soccer. We were kicked off the main turf field and resigned to our confined, rubbery basketball court, which served as well as it could.

Saturday night included much more jazz (well, music at least) and much less rain. However, the best part of the evening was the see-saw. Yeah, that's right, you heard me, see-saw. Apparently Koreans really like their see-saws, because it was quite the popular item. Once Mike and I were able to get a shot at it, we were also quickly hooked. In fact, our group had to pull us away from it, so we could enjoy some music together. Then, after the music was over, we went back for more. Even though the festival was over, and we were supposed to leave, we made friends with some carpenters drinking soju and makkolli (Korean traditional rice wine). We talked (in broken Korean and English) and see-sawed the night away. 

The following day was rather uneventful. We ate dakkalbi in the morning, Korean BBQ chicken with rice cakes (much different than it sounds, looks & tastes like fat noodles) served in front of you on a in table grill. It's delicious. After another mild disaster (I kept missing buses, but there were lots, so it didn't matter), I enjoyed a nice relaxing ride home.

After this adventure I would start a new streak of working too often that would only be broken with the next vacation, Hawaii, which is the next entry. Come back and read!

Annyeonghi Gyeseyo

That is the formal goodbye in Korean. As always, I would love to hear from you all. Either drop an e-mail or a line in the blog. Talk to you soon. Tonight I am leaving for Thailand. Send me good luck and happy traveling thoughts.

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iamsoozi on

i am the 1st to wish you happy traveling thoughts!
happy traveling thoughts!

umm...i mights have to agree about book 7. i was really impressed. i thought it was the perfect way to pull everything together - it didn't need any huge twists and turns, it just needed a clean explanation - and that's what she did. (all of this excluding the epilogue, of course. i know those who disagree, so i'm glad to hear about another satisfied reader.

i love the see-saw story. there's a giant gargantuan wooden see-saw at the place i was working in mombasa last year and you made me really excited to go back and play on it (we're talking like 10 kids on each side. fun fun fun.

ok...i also emailed you today...it's time for me to walk away from the computer...i can feel myself slipping into that loving the internet thing again as it becomes less accessable. it's amazing, i'll walk 20 minutes to use the internet for an hour when before i'd dread checking my email at the kitchen table. food for thought...

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