South Korea 4/4

SeongsanIlchulbong,JejuSat: March 7th – Exploring Eastern Jeju  I woke up to an upfront and center view of the famous Sunrise Peak, Seongsan Ilchulbong! It was early morning and many visitors were already hiking the 20 minute trek to the top. As time passed, it was getting busier and busier. We packed up our bags and headed out to eat something. Lexy and I tried abalone porridge for the first time and Jessy had pajeon (Korean vegetable pancake). The porridge was a bit lacking on flavor… but it was filling. We then headed up hill and hiked to the top of the mountainous crater. The view was magnificent, and the crater itself was cool, but not as awesome as it would be in spring or summer. The grass was dead and the more interesting sight was the panorama view of the landscape below. As we headed back down we went to the House of Women Divers. These ladies were impressive. They had on their wetsuits and would embrace the cold water to search for abalone, octopus, clams, etc… They would come back with their catch, display them and go back in after a little rest.

After our fill in this area, we caught a bus to take us to our next destination, Cheonjyeon-Jo. Along the way we stopped in Pyoseon-Meyon to eat Korean pizza on the beach and continued to Seogwipo where we saw the Worldcup Stadium and a team of really tall Chinese soccer players in the E-Mart grocery store. Finally we came to Jungmun-dong were we walked around to discover the jjimjilbang we planned to stay in was shut down. After walking the same stretch of street multiple times, we finally found a great hotel that would give us a discount for 2 nights at $15 a person per night.

Sun: March 8th – Explorations in Jungmun We decided to pay for a another night so we could leave our bags in the room and just relax and explore the beach and town. It had a bit more to offer than I had expected when arriving at night. Many tourist attractions and lovely waterfalls, beaches, fancy hotels and so on.

There was a lovely park where we saw the Cheonjeyeon Waterfalls which were within a mile of each other. The water was a beautiful combo of blues and greens. Seonim gyo Bridge arched over the flowing stream and as we were crossing over, there was an older man struggling to guide his wife’s wheel chair backwards down the steep arch. We assisted them and I could feel how it was hard to maneuver without slipping. It felt really good to assist them and they were so grateful. There were fresh Jeju oranges and other citrus fruits being sold. I had to get some. In fact, there were orchards everywhere we went in Jeju. Quite often there were trees full of oranges right by the street or outside of restaurants and other buildings. I noticed some small bridges had concrete railings with decor of orange slice. It was lovely.

Making our way to the beach, we found some interesting stairs that led into the forest and high up the hillside. We worked our way up and eventually entered into a beautifully landscaped area that was in fact the Lotte Hotel property. Talk about fancy! We could have easily enjoyed the spas and swimming pools… but continued exploring and taking pictures. We ventured inside the hotel and felt right at home. We worked the idea that we are “rich” Americans and no one would suspect us as a bunch of cheap travelers. It worked! We got a brief glimpse of what a glamorous stay on Jeju would be like. The staff greeted us kindly and we eventually made our exit out the front doors across the driveway and cut through the hedges to the nearby 7-Eleven for an inexpensive kim bop (sushi roll) and ice cream bar. Not the most glamorous exit, I’m sure. Night was approaching and the day was turning cloudy and cold. We turned in for the night doing laundry and buying our flights back to Busan online for $15!! With taxes and gas fees it was $20. So be sure to purchase your flights a few days in advance to get them cheaper. We paid $80 buying them the day of on the way here.

Mon: March 9th – Cave and Maze Exploration We packed our things to leave this lovely little town. We got on a bus to go north to Jeju City. Originally we planned to hike around South Korea’s highest mountain at Jeju’s center, Hallasan. As our bus (3,300 won) climbed towards the center of Jeju, the temperature dropped and snow was on the ground. It was highly overcast so that we could not see beyond the trees next to the street. With this being our last day, we decided to skip the mountain trek and instead take the bus back to where we flew in at the central north of Jeju. We will be staying in this town later tonight. We continued on the next bus to go east to see a lava tube and maze. The bus ride was 2,300 won one way.

IMG_6737IMG_6764edSomewhere I heard that it is worth spending the money on the opportunity for experiences, because even though the time comes and goes, you are left with the memories. Quite frequently I don’t spend money unless it’s for items that are functional and will last a good while. But I agree that nothing can replace the precious unique memories of an adventure. In saying this, the extra bucks to enter the Manjanggul Lava Tube and Kimnong Maze Park were well worth it. Only about a mile of the lava tube was open to the public, but it was a very nicely setup to accent its unique properties. At first I thought the maze would be a simple child’s game, but after seeing the hedges were at least 10 feet tall, I changed my mind. If I hadn’t solved the map before entering or keep track of where I was, it would have taken a long time to get out. Perhaps to the point of frustration. I loved the whole experience!

Returning back to nearby the airport, we found another jjimjilbang. In the bathhouse, I made a new friend by the name of Sarah. She approached me during my ice water bath. Her English skills were very good and after talking, she offered to maybe meet up with her Sunday in Gangnam. Perhaps a teaching connection? Anyways, she was a sweetheart and gave me a a chocolate ice cream bar when she left.

Busan-08Tue: March 10th – Goodbye Jeju and Back to Busan We didn’t want to pay for a taxi to the airport, so we wandered around early in the morning and after several miles with out packs, we found it! We flew back to Busan and saw the Jagalchi and Nampo (fish market). We also explored the beach and Gwangan which was a very pretty location on the beach and near our next Jjimjilbang.

Wed: March 11th – Into the West and to Seoul We woke up with scratchy throats and the sent of cigarets. Not very pleasant, but it got us out of bed and off to an early start for the day. We stayed on the beach for the morning collecting shells and eating breakfast. Afterwards we headed out to catch an express bus to Namhae. When we got there, we wanted to buy our next ticket to Jeonju (The birthplace of bibimbap). Sadly there was no bus for this destination and we settled for Hadong at 4,700 won. Hopefully from there we can continue forward. The people in Namhae were not very helpful.

When we arrived in Hadong, it ended up being a very pleasant experience. We had about two hours there before we would leave to go back to Seoul. While walking the street, a sweet lady waved to us and we ended up talking. She asked if we had eaten and we hadn’t. We asked for a good restaurant that served dishes with vegetables. She took us to her friend’s restaurant and we ask for bibimbap. It wasn’t on the menu, but they made us a special one. And it was special. Easily the best I have had in Korea. The owner even gave us dried persimmons and lots of side dishes.

Very near by, there was a little market which we browsed and bought some dried persimmons. There was one stall we were at where a lady was helping us. Her little boy was walking around and then sprinkles on Jessy’s leg when he decided to pee on the street. Quite funny! Anyways, we made it back to Seoul and decided to sleep at Lexy’s apartment for the remainder of our stay before leaving Sunday night. We traded off sleeping on the floor this time.

BlueMoon-09Thur: March 13th – Exploring Gangnam I’m not sure where time has run off to, but we hadn’t even been to Gangnam yet! The buildings were all beautiful with fancy lighting and interesting architecture. Perhaps more lovely than any I’ve seen in Japan or New York. Designer brands were everywhere and the shops were mostly empty. I was happy just taking photos of the outside.

Today was the day. We were going to visit the prestigious Once in a Blue Moon Jazz Club. I’ve seen this in multiple K-dramas, and now was my time. There was a definite vibe here. We made it to the jazz club and took a seat. The music was very lively and soothing. There was some slight miscommunication, but the waiter said there was a minimum entry fee of spending at least $20. We ordered a drink and desert to split between us to cover it. However, the manager came over and explained we had to buy more since it was a $20 cover per person. That pooped on our parade, but we went with it and felt like skipping dinner to make up for the loss.

Later in the evening we met up with some friends for a fun norebong session. Some of my favorite songs are in Korean, but I couldn’t read the Hangul fast enough to properly partake in singing them… besides the obvious parts. So I must work on my language skills. Thank goodness there was plenty of English songs to go around.

SwimTeamFri: March 14th – Club Day and Meeting the Swim Team Today we met Lexy’s swim team during Hanyang’s club member recruiting day. I think they were surprised how similar she and I looked. What a great group of people. Many of them could speak basic English and we got along very well. I think swimmers are really great people in general. The president bought us lunch at the school cafeteria and later I helped walk around and recruit people. It was fun to feel this side of college life. My years of college were not involved in clubs. Too busy in the graphics lab. Afterwards, we ate dinner with the group and experienced another two rounds afterwards. It was a very nice evening and lots of new friendships were formed. I know I’ll miss these people even after such a brief encounter. I think it’ll be so hard when Lexy has to move back to America. At the end, one of the guys bought us girls a White Day candy gift. On Valentine’s Day, girls usually give a gift to their loved ones. On White Day, guys show their affection in return. So sweet!

Wedding-07Sat: March 15th – Korean Wedding We were blessed to be invited to the wedding of one of Lexy’s friends from church. We arrived and I’ll say it was the fanciest wedding I’ve ever been to. We even were asked to join the church group and sing in front of hundreds of people. For not practicing, it went rather well. The decor, the food, the couple…. everything was so perfect. But, it went much later then expected and our plans to meet up with the swim team later after swim practice fell through. We did show up but most everyone had left except a few familiar faces. It was nice (Songhei) 성희 was still there. We went out for round 3.

Sun: March 15th – Our Final Day We went to church and had invited Lexy’s friend, 성희. Jessy and I were sitting near a lake by the church and decided to walk around it. On our walk we met our friend and he had brought us a bag of Jeju oranges. There were two different kinds and all of them so delicious! We were very thankful. Afterwards he had a meeting so we said our goodbyes and he left. We then joined the church for dinner and afterwards we went back to Lexy’s and packed to fly the next day. There was a feeling this whole day of sadness because I didn’t want to say goodbye and I didn’t want to leave. I tried to not think of it, but then the day got later and time was still running out.

LastDays-09Our flight was early the next day and it was going to take almost 1.5 hours of travel time to get to the airport. Because the trains would not open early enough, we decided to catch the last train of the night and stay the early morning hours at a jjimjilbang. Lexy saw us off and it was so hard to turn away. Jessy and I were on our own from here on out. We reached the station and ventured out to find a jjimjilbang. Lexy had one mapped out for us. We hiked a ways… further then what we had planned. Eventually we came to a place that look like it. A British man walked out with a confused look. He asked us for directions to a different place and said this location was nothing that he expected. We didn’t know the area well, but wished him the best. As we proceeded to enter, a man approached us and showed us back out. Apparently it was only for men and yea, we’ll leave it at that. He did direct us in the correct direction.

Finally we arrived and it ended up being a very nice place. I had a fun time exploring all the floors and the interesting spa rooms. There was a freezing blue room I peeked in, but didn’t actually enter cause a guy was in there. I walked around checking out the other places and then sat by a column so Jessy could easily spot me when she showed up. I then noticed the guy coming out of the freezing room was a tall attractive lad. He walked passed me then proceeded to sit on the other side of the column. I began to think that Jessy probably would have a hard time finding me, so I ventured to find her. Searching all the floors, I would occasionally run into the guy I noticed early. I went back to sit at the column. He later came in and bought two juices and sat at the column again. Was he following me? Maybe, I should talk to him? I was too shy this second time around. After some time passed, he got up and left. Perhaps he would be back? Third time’s the charm. Jessy then found me and we decided on a room to sleep in. Part of me wanted to stay up and see if the lad would appear again, but with only 2 hours left to sleep, I gave in.

Mon: March 16th – Goodbye Korea, Hello Thailand
Made it to the Incheon airport and flew to Hongkong, then to Bangkok. Elysia flew in 4 hours later and we met up with family of one of my university friends… to be continued