South Korea 3/4

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Tue: March 3rd – On to Sokcho Last night I set my alarm for 7:30 am. Using the Korean App: Kakao Talk; I messaged Lexy about our plans to head out of Seoul to the far east coast. Not really sure of how or where the bus system was at, I leaned on Lexy for her help. We all had a vague idea of what our destinations would be but no experience in traveling out side of Seoul by bus.

As morning arrived, we just took everything as it came. First off, morning came too soon and it was far too cold to get up when the alarm went off. The original plan was to leave the hostel by 8:00am and meet up at Lexy’s and get to the Express Bus Terminal station by 9:00am.
We ended up spending the morning blogging and most of the day in Lexy’s room prepping and figuring out how much money we were in debt to each other. Jessy and I lightened our packs leaving unnecessary items on Lexy’s bed and making room for her things in our backpacks. Eventually we left and found the way to the bus terminal. Lexy is so cool with her Korean language skills. I’m envious! We hopped aboard the 4:30pm bus and were to arrive in Sokcho at approximately 7:00pm. Our plans for sleeping was to find our first jimjilbang (Korean Bathhouse). Which one? We had no plan, but would find out shortly.

How cool is this? A Korean lady sitting behind us started a conversation with Lexy and could speak English. She asked about us and where we were staying. Finding that we had no place to stay yet, she shared her travel plans and offered us to stay at the condo she was going to. Plus, she was going to a temple and to Seoraksan National Park to hike a similar route we would. It’s great to now know someone familiar with this place. As a member, she was able to get us a $50 room at the Hyundai Sool Condominium.

NaksanTemple-01Wed: March 4th – Naksansa and Mt. Seoraksan Morning came and we awoke and met up at 6 am in the lobby. Our new friend, Myoung-Soon, paid for a taxi ride to Naksansa. The temple grounds stand on the slopes of Naskan Mountain and is one of a few temples that offer a rare opportunity to face the East Sea of Japan. We hurried to a point over looking the ocean in hopes of seeing the sunrise, but to our dismay it was too overcast. Towering over us was a marble sculpture of the Bodhisattva of Mercy, known as the goddess Gwanseeum-Bosal. She could be seen from miles away on the Naksan hillside. The hour for free breakfast at the temple was almost up, so we hurried over and enjoyed a delicious vegetarian breakfast made by volunteering ajummas.

While our friend was showing us around, I fell behind taking pictures. The craftsmanship and hand painted temples were so beautiful. I could tell the color palette was inspired by the surrounding nature. The ocean was a major element that made this place so peaceful. The girls made their way up to a temple porch and were taking off their shoes and heading inside. I hurried up the nearest stairs to join them. Shortly after my sisters got after me and relayed that not even the highest of monks was worthy enough to climb the stairs I just sprinted up. I didn’t mean to disrespect, but I didn’t know!

We left Myoung-Soon for about an hour to let her pray and then met up in a little gift shop for some delicious tea. We tried both Uza cha and Dechu cha. Two amazing teas!!! The place we were in didn’t sell the tea to make but we were told what to look for in the markets. Browsing the items in this shop, I came across a pretty pink glass ring decorated with a floral painting and some diamonds and silver balls. In a rush and feeling discouraged after trying one ring on that didn’t fit, I was about to walk away with my experience of rings never fitting besides my pinky and ring finger. But the lady quickly handed me another size. To my great surprise, it fit! I was very happy and paid about $8.

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We left the temple grounds before noon and caught two buses to Seoraksan National Park. Here we would part ways with our friend as we were taking separate paths. My sisters and I took the cable car up to the point of the mountain. I recommend this if your short on time. An amazing view awaited us at the top and on the way back down I made friends with the cutest little boy and girl. In Korean I asked what their names were and Lexy taught me how to ask for their age. They were four years old and twins. On exiting the cable car, Lexy heard the cable car driver say he was so impressed with my Korean skills. Thank you Lexy for being a great teacher!

MtSeoraksan-02After reaching base, we had four hours to hike the Ulsan path. About 3/4 up the mountain is a famous bolder that can be tipped with the effort of a group of people. Many Korean game shows or team bonding experiences have been filmed here. The total hike was about  3.8 km to the top. We had rented a locker to lighten our packs a bit and therefore we had to be back by closing time at five. It was a hustle on the way down to make it in time (plus having to pee ridiculously bad). Tired and happy, we now needed to make it back to town. Waiting for the bus was getting cold but we got to witness the glorious sunset behind the mountains.

No bus was to be seen and we didn’t know the schedule, but a nice car pulled up to us and the couple inside offered a ride. We were so excited. Speaking no English, Lexy was under pressure to translate. With Jessy and I continuously asking for what they were saying, she tried to make sense of it all (Also she had to try and translate the different dialects of Korean). Lexy told us they asked where we wanted to go. She told them a jimjilbang would be fine. They asked if we were hungry. She let them know we wanted to try the fresh sea food. Picking up words here and there, she came to the conclusion they must want to have dinner with us. They took us to a really fresh fish market where we got out and then realized we would be saying our goodbyes and eating dinner alone.

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We did try some fresh seafood. There was an alleyway full of all sorts of fish tanks and tubs. The variety of sea creatures was amazing and ranged from all kinds of crabs, clams, fish, squid, octopus, eels, sea slugs and the unknown. Many of the vendors had similar creatures, so we didn’t know who to go with. But we started a conversation with one man and inquired what some of the unknown was and decided to go with a crab and fish stew. He and his wife prepared our meal on the spot with some Korean service (on the house). They had cut up some of the unknown species into sashimi for us. I enjoyed the stew and crab, but the unknown sashimi was very weird in texture and the flavor was… ehhh. Usually I love sashimi – perhaps when it is fish and not some kind of slug.

For the night we stayed in our first jjimjilbang (Korean bath house) called Fantasia. What an experience! Yes, the name sounded like a creepy place, but for $8 it was a good deal. We had access to showers, saunas, and spas ranging from hot, super hot scalding hot, and ice cold. Now, it did require some extra confidence to walk around in nothing but our skin. Poor Jessy was nearly raped by an ajumma who wanted to make sure she had a proper scrub-down. The women are more blunt in speech and manner the further we travel from Seoul. It is slightly entertaining. Many of them work hard in the fish markets or farming and for them, the jimjilbang is a place to escape, hangout and relax. There was also some saunas, little personal stools for toosh warming, and showers. After getting dressed in our provided garments, we headed out into the coed area were sleeping mats and pillows were provided. There were some very interesting sleeping rooms that resembled caves with pretty gems and stones covering all the walls and heated floors. We grabbed a few mats and pillows and called it a night in the woman’s private room. Overall, it was a good experience and we would do it again. Yes, there are occasional creepy old men, but we could play smart and avoid them.

Fri: March 4th – Off to Daegu The following morning we traveled around town for a bit and eventually found our way to the express bus terminal. We bought our tickets for about $25 and would arrive in Daegu in the evening. The bus was very comfortable and took about 3.5 hours. When we arrived, we hiked around looking and thinking of where to stay for the night. For the lack of WiFi and seemingly walking away from where we should have been headed, we took a taxi to the subway station and found a Sol Bing to use their WiFi and have an excuse to eat more patbingsu. After a bit of research we found not too far was the cheap Royal Hotel. It was about $50 that we would split three ways.

IMG_6237ed IMG_6259edSat: March 5th – Daegu and Busan In the morning, we had to adjust our plans to hangout with friends around the town. We would not be spending another night here, but would catch a bus to Busan. So we ventured around the area and bought different teas such as the ones we had at the temple in Naksan. While browsing the different shops, we came to one were we met the sweetest old man who invited us in to have some tea in his store. Somehow understanding each other, he gestured for us to follow him upstairs. After climbing the stairwell to the 4th or 5th level, we came to a closed door. He then entered and to our wonderful surprise, he had brought us up to his calligraphy room. Here there were several older men practicing lovely calligraphy and mixing their own ink. The kind man painted each of us a scroll and took pictures with us. He showed a book he was published in and his certificates and awards. After receiving his business card, I learned he was the President of the Bium Calligraphy Forum Association. A very kind and talented man; what a treat it was for him to share his time with us. After saying farewell, we then headed to the Seosam Market where we shopped around, ate snacks and later headed to the bus terminal to catch the next one to Busan.

We arrived in Busan late at night but were too excited to see the beach to wait for morning. We rode the subway and took the exit to Haeundae Beach. We walked a few blocks and enjoyed the colorful town lights and finally the ocean view. A huge bond fire was near the end of it’s life and we drew nearer to check it out. A Korean lady approached us and explained that this festival happened once a year during a full moon at this season. It was custom to bow three times to the moon and pray for the health and good fortune for family and friends. Walking on the boardwalk we sat and listened to two musicians. So much talent and handsome. My inner fan-girl took over and I had to get a picture!

Sun: March 6th – A Dinglebong Experience At 2 am, we checked into our jjimjilbang for the night at the Haeundae Spa Center. Jessy discovered an interesting sign at the front entrance, we laughed and went in. This place was quite a step up from the last one for just $2 more ($10 entrance fee). Tired from our travels and excited to get some shuteye, we hurried through the bathing procedure, got dressed and headed to the sleeping quarters. Lights were dim and pink and blue clothed bodies were sprawled around on the floor. Feeling slightly awkward while we looked for a place for the three of us, a young man came over and lead us to a decent location. We laid out our mats out sticking close together while he whispered something Lexy could respond to. A little time passed and the time for sleep had been neglected due to this guy still wanting to still talk. We let him know it was time to sleep, so he agreed and all was perfect… until he moved his mat perpendicular to our feet. It sparked a red flag. We three got the vibes he had the hots for Lexy. Feeling responsible to protect her, I quietly switched places with her to sleep on the outside with her in the middle. It was an interesting long night, as I stayed on guard and did not sleep a wink.

Never have I experienced someone so… invasive of personal space! The term, dinglebong, was developed by Jessy to describe a jjimjilbang with creepy guys. It was very fitting for this occasion which ruined the whole experience. Multiple times throughout the night, he was awake and up to something. Curiosity got the best of me. I played “sleep” to see what exactly he would do. If he wasn’t staring, he was busy making sure our blankets covered our feet. He tried to be quick not to awake us. Actually, this was kind of helpful because between us three sisters, our little blankets did get disheveled; he was there to fix it. Then, there are these foam bricks used for head rests. They are too high for me to use comfortably as a pillow, but I tried and then chose to use the floor instead. Well, pretty soon this thing is under my head again. I didn’t put it there. I’m getting the creeps just writing this. He was like a little mother… but not a mother, so it’s weird. Anyways, morning finally came and I was tired of being tired and waiting for my sisters to wake up. I wanted to leave, but I was on guard and he found me awake and decided to try and converse. We made sense out of motions and words. He offered me some Alvera juice he had bought for us. He seemed normal at times but I’m not quite sure what his deal was, perhaps he wasn’t all mentally there. Eventually I just woke the girls up so we could leave.

We left for the beach and spent some time exploring the area. We came upon a pathway that was part of the Dongbaek Park. This was a very pretty area, perhaps one of the prettiest places I’ve seen along the coast. In the mid afternoon, we headed to the Busan airport. Once we got there, we bought tickets for the next flight to Jeju Island. The tickets were around $80 but if we were smart and bought them a few days earlier, they could have been as cheap as $15 + $5 gas fee. Traveling day by day – it’s a little hard to know what’s going to happen when and where. It did feel like the movies/dramas when the main actor/actress pulls the stunt of requesting the next flight out for whatever reason.

It was a beautiful flight overlooking the fishing boats and neatly placed nets across the water’s surface. When we arrived in the small Jeju airport, we had planned a basic route that we wanted to take, beginning on the far eastern shore with Seongsan Ilchulbong. We made reservations at a convenient guesthouse that was very near by. Night had approached and hid the view out our window, so we slept with great anticipation for tomorrow.