Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, Busan

As today is Buddha's Birthday, I thought it would perfect to post about our trip to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple on our recent trip to Busan. In honor of Buddha's Birthday, we have a national holiday. 

Although we are both now a bit tired of visiting temples and generally find that many of them are the same, we thought we had to visit Haedong Yonggungsa while we were in Busan. This temple is unusual as it is the only seaside temple in Korea. Most temples are in the mountains. This temple was first built in 1376. There is also an underground cave at the temple where you can drink fresh spring water. 

Our visit to the temple was brief but we enjoyed being near the water. We tried to go relatively early to avoid the crowds but it was really crowded when we arrived. The temple was absolutely covered with lanterns to celebrate Buddha's Birthday. I think the reason it was so crowded was because of the upcoming birthday. Despite the crowds, it was a fun visit and I enjoyed taking pictures with all the colour. 

How to get there

Take bus 181 from around the Haeundae area. There is a stop just near exit 7 of Haeundae station. 

Gamcheon Culture Village

On our recent trip to Busan, one of our major highlights was the Gamcheon Culture Village. The village is also known as the Taegeuk Village. The pastel-coloured hillside village was originally home to poor refugees during the Korean war. Now it is just a place some locals call home but is rated one of the top spots to visit in Busan

There are many places around Korea where people have tried to uplift the poorer communities by painting murals and having different quirky artworks. This attracts tourists and allows the residents to sell things and start small businesses. It seems to work really well and we have seen other examples of this at the Ihwa Mural Village in Seoul and a village in Jeonju. 

When we arrived, there was a vibrant atmosphere and a few small tents set up. We didn't realize that there was a festival going on. Tents spread along the main road selling food and offering opportunities to make various Korean traditional crafts. Despite the festival, it wasn't too crowded and due to all the alleyways, there was plenty of space for everyone. 

A fun thing to do is to buy the village map at the entrance (2000won) and try collect the 9 stamps that can be found at various locations around the village. Once you get all the stamps, you get some free postcards. This kept Dean busy while I was snapping away. There are some great view points where you can look over the hill and in the distance you can see the Busan harbour. 

It was so fun taking all the colourful pictures and walking the small alleys. It's more interested to step off the main paths where you can see how people really live and how they are just going about their daily lives. You are allowed to walk anyway as long as you aren't too obtrusive. 

When you're in Busan, be sure to visit the Gamcheon Culture Village, you won't regret it. 

How to get there

Take subway like 1 (the red line) and get off at Toseong station. Take exit 6, turn right at the corner and walk to the bus stop. From there you can catch a small shuttle bus (bus 2 or 2-2), which will drop you at the Gamcheon entrance. 

Busan Highlights

I can't believe it has taken us nearly a year to visit the coastal city of Busan. I kind of wish we had gone earlier as I'm sure we would have been back a few times. But I'm so glad we managed to go before we leave Korea. Busan is the second largest city in Korea but it is not very accessible from Jeonju. There is no direct train and the buses aren't that frequent. On our way home we actually had to go via Gwangju, which was such a mission, making our trip home 7 hours! But anyway, our great weekend in Busan made up for it.

When we were planning our itinerary we decided that we weren't desperate to see any of the major tourist attractions, but rather just wanted to relax and take it easy. The only 2 places that were on our list were the Gamcheon Culture Village and the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (full blog posts coming soon). 

We caught the first bus to Busan on Saturday morning and went straight to the culture village. Unexpectedly there was a festival going on around the village giving it a vibrant atmosphere. 

After wondering around for a couple of hours, we went to Gwangalli where we had lunch at Sharky's  (great place) and chilled on the beach. 

We then decided to walk along the coast for a while. There are some great coastal trails that go on for kilometers. The paths followed the sea and weren't too busy. 

We didn't reach the end of the trail  but turned around about half way and headed back to Gwangalli beach and the sun was starting to set. The lights come on Gwangalli Bridge around 8pm so we waited for that. As the darkness and night chill set in, we headed to our accommodation in Haeundae and had a relaxed evening.

The following day, we were up very early for a walk along Haeundae Beach (the most famous beach in Korea). There were quite a few people running, cycling and swimming already. Although the water was rather cold, we thought we had to swim otherwise we would regret it. It was so refreshing. Haeundae and Gwangalli beaches are really something quite amazing to see. It's so weird to see the skyscrapers come right up to the beaches, definitely not something you see in Cape Town. 

We had a quick breakfast at our accommodation and caught a bus to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. This temple is famous for being the only seaside temple in Korea. It was quite crowded and adorned with colourful lanterns to celebrate Buddha's birthday next week. 

We headed back to Haeundae and had a quick lunch before beginning our long trip back to Jeonju.

I definitely think Busan is a great city. It has such a relaxed atmosphere and it's not as busy and fast-paced as Seoul. Another thing we noticed were the amount of people walking dogs (even off lead), definitely a record for Korea. 

Morning Running

Since the start of the warm weather, Dean and I have made an effort to get outside more and enjoy all of our days left here. We now walk or run everyday. I've been meaning to get a bit more into running but during the long cold months, this was not going to happen. But now I have no excuse. I found this great app called "10K". It coaches you to be able to run 10km in 14 weeks (or 5 by 8 weeks). I skipped the easier beginning weeks and I have really started enjoying running with it. We live on the edge of Jeonju so we have many places to run; mountains, forests and rivers that spread out into the country.

I really like running outside of Jeonju in the "country" because it's much quieter than the city. We have seen many people walking their big dogs off lead and even though we are the only runners, it feels more normal.

It's great to get outside before it is too hot and to make the most of our mornings. I look forward to doing more running when I get home.

A Korean wedding experience

A few weekends ago, Dean and I attended the wedding of one of my colleagues. I didn't ever expect to go to a wedding while living in Korea for a year, but I am so pleased I got to have the really interesting cultural experience. Korean weddings are completely different from western weddings and I think I was constantly surprised. Here are some key differences and observances about Korean weddings:

1. Weddings take place in a Wedding Hall (or palace)

These "halls" are large multistory buildings where the wedding ceremony and reception take place. There isn't just one wedding taking place, in fact there are many. There are many ceremony rooms for the different wedding parties. When we walked into the building there were hundreds and hundreds of people. You have to check the reception to see where the wedding you are attending is taking place. There are 7 of these "halls" in Jeonju, doesn't offer much choice then.

2. The Bride's Room

Before you enter the ceremony room, you go via the Bride's Room. Here, the bride is waiting to greet the guests and take a photo. Obviously this is really different to western weddings where no one sees the bride before the ceremony. 

3. Wedding gifts

It is customary to give money as a gift. The money should be in a white envelope and it is given to cover the cost of food at the reception. After you give your envelope you are given a meal voucher for the buffet reception.

4. The ceremony

The actual ceremony was so interesting. It was set in a dark room with many multi-color lights and flashing screen pictures. Depending on whether you are a guest of the bride or groom, you sit on a different side of the room. I can't say exactly what went on in the ceremony as I can't understand Korean. There was a lady who kept ushering the bride and groom around telling them what to do. The groom and the groom's friend also sang which was cool because they had good voices. The most bizarre thing is that most people don't even sit but hover around at the back. Guests didn't seem to even listen to the ceremony, rather talking loudly and even making phone calls!! After the ceremony (and even during it), guests leave and head to the reception. 

5. The reception

At the reception, there is a huge buffet and the guests from all the weddings (so hundreds of people). It is so crowded and you have to try find an empty table. You obviously end up sitting next to random guests from other weddings. The food though is unlimited and was really delicious. There was even unlimited beer and soju.

6. Wedding attire

The bride doesn't have a custom dress designed but rather rents a dress and shoes too. The dress for the ceremony is a typical looking white dress. During the reception, the bride and groom change into Hanbok (Korean traditional clothes), and walk around and greet their guests. As far as the guest attire goes, the range was huge. Some of the older people wore Hanbok, while others were smartly dressed and a few really casual. The guests dress code is definitely not as fancy as for a western wedding. 

So there you have it. Korean weddings are definitely an interesting experience and I am glad I got to have this cultural experience.

The start of summer in Korea

This past weekend definitely felt like the official start of summer. It was the first time we wore shorts (since about October last year) and the weather was so lovely and warm. The flowers out at the moment are amazing, there are bright colors everywhere. The azaleas are in full bloom, the cherry blossoms are long gone and the trees are beautiful and green. Everything is looking alive and happy compared to the long, dry, brown winter. The cat is of course content with life as she gets to watch all the noisy birds and lie in the sun.

I'm sure these mildly warm temperatures will be short lived as I can imagine we will be boiling soon enough. But in the mean time we are making the most of this weather. We are enjoying lots of morning walking, running and hiking. Last weekend we went to the Bukchon Hanok village in Seoul and it was good to wonder around in the sun and eat. icecreams

Our time in Korea will be coming to an end soon. We have just one month left here, I can't believe it! Time seems to have flown in the last few months. We are looking forward to making the most of our time left here and enjoying the start of summer.

Bulguksa Temple

Bulguksa Temple is perhaps Korea's most famous temple and it was a must see while we were in Gyeongju. We went there early on a Sunday morning before all the crowds. We timed it well because it started getting really busy as we left just before midday. The spring morning was again really misty but luckily no rain. There were so so many cherry blossom trees, they really were beautiful and I was constantly in awe.

Bulguksa Temple was built in 528 during the Silla dynasty has some interesting history behind it. It was almost destroyed during Japanese invasions but has since been resorted and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can read about the history as you walk around the temple grounds. Entrance to the temple complex is 4000won. It's definitely recommended to go early because it is Korea's most visited temple and is bound to be crowded. I think Bulguksa is one of the nicest temples I've visited especially because the surrounding grounds are so pretty. I would recommend a visit.

Outside the main entrance, towards the back, there is a path that heads up the mountain. Some ladies at the information booth told us the trail was about 2km and would lead up to the Seokgurum Grotto. We walked the trail, which is a nice gradual walk up. It was so peaceful and we hardly saw anyone else walking. I'm sure the views would have been lovely if there wasn't such thick mist. We were a bit surprised when we got to the top as we reached a busy car park. To enter the Seokguram Grotto, you have to pay 4000won and walk for about 500m from the car park. This path was lined with Buddhist lanterns and quite crowded. The grotto is also a UNESCO site and there is a Buddha set in the grotto. It is protected by a glass window and no photographs are allowed. The grotto was a bit disappointing, perhaps because of the crowds. Perhaps it would be better on a sunny day when you can apparently see the sea. Afterwards we walked back down to the temple because the buses down the mountain only come on the hour.

How to get there

There are a few ways to get to Bulguksa Temple. There are a few local buses which take about 40 minutes. If you time it right, you can catch a train to the town of Bulguksa from the Gyeongju Station. We caught the train there (8:13am). This only takes 10 minutes and then you can catch a bus up to the temple. Buses 10, 11 and 700 run between  Gyeongju and Bulguksa. We caught a bus home which took ages because of the traffic jams, it was rather unpleasant but at least we had a seat because the bus got fuller and fuller the closer we came to Gyeongju.

Beautiful Gyeongju

While cherry blossom season was in its prime, we visited the old city of Gyeongju. Visiting Gyeongju has long been on my bucket list because it is the ancient city of Korea. It was once the capital during the Silla dynasty (57BC-935AD) and is filled with ancient sites. It is also a really popular tourist destination as it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gyeongju is really far from Jeonju so our time there was limited. We caught a bus via Daegu which made the trip about 4 hours. 

We went to Gyeongju during the first week of April and the amount of cherry blossom trees constantly blew my mind. My mum was visiting us in Korea for the second time and she timed her trip well to see the beautiful spring flowers. They were in full bloom everywhere but unfortunately the weather was rather miserable. The actual city of Gyeongju is a bit of a dump with the attractions scattered around the outside. It's really easy to find your way around because there aren't any skyscrapers blocking your views and things are well signposted. After we arrived in the afternoon we wondered to the area of the Daereungwon Royal Tombs. On the way we passed beautiful streets lines with blossoming trees.

The entrance to the tombs is 2000won. Under these mounds there are kings and queens buried. The park was peaceful with not too many people around.

At the back end of the park you can walk out to the Wolseong Forest and the Cheomseongdae Observatory. This area was really beautiful and the blossom trees were huge. You can rent bikes to ride around but we opted to walk. Just as we were at the other end of the forest, it started to absolutely pour with rain and there was thunder and lightening too! With no umbrellas, we had to sprint (along with many others), to find shelter. The rain didn't stop for ages and we were completely drenched. We had wanted to visited some other sites around like Anapji pond in the evening, but we were soaked and cold so we went back to our hostel for an early night instead. Although I was disappointed not to be able to see everything I had wanted, I still enjoyed the seeing the tombs and all the blossoms.

A must thing to do while in Gyeongju is visit Bulguksa Temple, which we did the next day (post coming soon). 

Maehwa Spring Flower Festival

Winter has sure been long and cold here in South Korea. We have been anxiously waiting for spring for a while and now the temperatures are slowly starting to rise. Spring started rather suddenly, just last week we had freezing weather, but this week has been rather pleasant. One thing I have been looking forward to with the end of winter, are the spring blossoms. Blossoming trees are a big deal here and in South Africa we don't get to see too many.

With the start of the warm weather, we felt like doing a day trip so we headed south to see the first blossoming trees. We have already been to a summer flower festival in Korea, so we wanted to check out a spring one. We went to the earliest spring festival in Korea, the Gwangyang International Maehwa Festival (광양매화축제). The festival takes place for 2 weeks every March. The trees in the south start flowering first and we haven't seen any in Jeonju yet. 

The Maehwa Festival is unlike many of the other spring flower festivals in Korea as the blossoms are white apricot blossoms, compared to the pinkish cherry blossoms. The apricot trees at the site cover 83 acres, making it the largest number of apricot trees in Korea. 

We packed a picnic and caught the train south (more on how to get there later). The weather was so lovely and warm. After a long walk, (with a Korean guy who followed us the whole way), we were a bit dissapointed when we got to the festival site. Unfortunately most of the trees hadn't started blooming yet and the mountain was mostly brown. Apparently it is normally covered in white. We wondered up the mountain and went in search of some flowering trees, there were a few! The crowds weren't too bad when we were there (I think most of them were stuck in traffic), and only started to pick up when we were leaving. 

We wondered the festival site, had our picnic, ate some ice creams and took some pictures. Although the trees weren't as impressive as they were ment to be, we still enjoyed ourselves and it was a good way to start off the spring season. I'm really looking forward to the cherry blossoms and can't wait to see Korea in spring.

How to get there:

We had instructions from one of our colleagues how to get there but unfortunately it didn't go according to plan. She had made some calls and found it would be quicker to go via Hadong instead of Gwangyang. We caught the train to Suncehon from Jeonju (1hour) and then transferred to Hadong (45min). From there we planned to catch a bus to the festival but when we got to the bus station we found that the buses had been cancelled. We were a bit stuck with how to get to the festival and in the small "town" of Hadong, no one spoke Englsih. We tried to ask a taxi driver to take us but he wouldn't because there was too much traffic going to the festival and it would be quicker to walk. We ended up walking there (and back) which was about 5km and took about an hour. It's not a bad walk as you walk along a river and pass many flowering trees on the way. Oh well, good exercise, and we got there in the end! I don't think there was a quicker way to get to the festival as we were walking faster than the cars were moving, so if you go, be prepared to walk. 

Mustoy Cafe, Hongdae

As I think I've mentioned before, Korea has a big cafe culture. Particularly, themed cafes. So far we have visited a cat cafe, dog cafe, hello kitty cafe, and a sheep cafe. This time we went to something different. At the Mustoy Cafe in Hongdae, you can color these small little ceramic dolls called Mustoys. while sipping on some coffee or iced tea.

I had read about this cafe online and on a few blogs, and we thought it would be a good activity to do on our last rainy afternoon in Seoul during the Seollal weekend. The cafe is small but cute, with shelves lining the room with many colorful and interesting Mustoys. There aren't many tables but we got a seat before the cafe started getting much busier later in the afternoon.

The owner of the cafe was so friendly and she was really keen to chat to us. She explained to us the process before we could get started. There are a couple dolls you can choose from and they range in price. The dolls are big, small, white, have cat ears, have different head styles, are colorful or even can hold pencils. The prices range from 15 000won to 20 000won, The standard doll is 15 000won and this includes a drink of your choice and the pens you use to color the doll. After we chose our dolls, we were given cards that we could practice our design on. The dolls lining the shelves give you some good inspiration but in the end I decided on the Korean character of Petty. Dean chose to to draw a minion and Marcel a soccer player (which eventually seemed to turn into himself). 

After our preparation, we got started on the fun part. There were so many color pens to choose from and we didn't have to worry about mistakes because you can "rub out" using alcohol and ear buds. It was really peaceful drawing our dolls and listening to the classical music in the cafe. The owner kept walking by to check how we were doing and chat some more. 

When we were finished, our dolls were wrapped up and neatly packaged. I even bought 2 more dolls as part of a gift set which costs 30 000won. The set includes 2 dolls and color markers too. I plan to add Pororo and Doraimon to my collection. We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at the Mustoy Cafe and I can highly recommend it if you are looking to do something artsy and relaxing in Seoul.

Directions

We actually struggled to find this place a bit. I had read various instructions online but we still got lost and walked around for quite a while in the rain, Anyway, I found this business card online which gives much clearer directions. When you are in the right street, the cafe is obvious and has a big white doll outside. 

-For more information you can check out their website or here.

Han River Biking

On one of our days off during Seollal, Dean and I went for a tandem cycle along the Han River. It was a great, refreshing and active way to spend an afternoon. We started our ride from just near Yeouido Park We had wanted to go up to the top of Building 63 but unfortunately the sky wasn't so clear, and we didn't think the view would have been great. Hopefully we will still get a chance. 

Anyway, you can rent bikes on an hourly basis. It is 6000won/hr for a tandem and 3000won/hr for a regular bike. 

It was our first time riding tandem and it was good fun. There were so many people spending their day off along the river. people were riding bikes, walking dogs and there were lots of children playing. These are some pictures taken with my camera and of course our selfie pole too. 

Everland for Lunar New Year

Along with Chuseok, Seollal (Lunar New Year) is one of the major holidays in Korea. It is widely celebrated in Asia too and it is a 5 day weekend. For this holiday we had hoped to visit somewhere in South East Asia but unfortunately due to hiked plane tickets and late planning we didn't manage to. We still made the most of the days off and spent some fun days in Seoul with friends. 


On the actual day of Seollal, Koreans spend time with their families and so this was a perfect opportunity to visit Everland, the largest theme park in Korea. Everland is ranked number 13th of the most popular theme parks in the world and every year 6.6 million people visit. It's much more impressive than Cape Towns local theme park and it has some pretty extreme rides. 


Everland was full with only foreigners and the queues were so short. I think the longest we waited for anything was 10 minutes. My students had told me that waiting for rides at Everland can be as long as a couple of hours. Apparently they normally wait about 2 hours for the T-express (the most awesome rollar coaster). This seems crazy to me and I definitely wouldn't go if I had to spend hours in queues. The weather was lovely and mild, making things much more pleasant. Luckily our faces didn't ice up too much on the rides. In the park there aren't only rides but a variety of other entertainment options. There is a huge safari area (which we didn't do) and a 4D screening of Rio (which was great), to mention a few. We really had a great day out and it was well worth it because of short queues. One thing that was kind of annoying, was the lack of food options. The same kind of restaurant and food option was scattered around the park. We ended up eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant, one of the few indoor eating places.


The highlight of the park is definitely the T-express roller coaster. It is the world's steepest wooden roller coaster with a first drop of 77 degrees and it reaches a top speed of 104km/hr. It was so so thrilling. 


The most peculiar things about Everland are the cleaners that walk around looking like snowmen, and the way the staff greet you at every possible opportunity with a 2 handed comic wave.


There was a great special on tickets for foreigners meaning we only paid 23 000 won entrance. This definitely made our visit worthwhile as tickets are normally 46 000 won. Be sure to check their website for any specials and discount coupons. 


As Everland closes at 10pm, it was too late to head back to Seoul so we stayed the night in the nearest town of Yongin. We stayed at the Q Hotel (more like a motel) there. There didn't seem to be much in the area so we went back to Seoul early the next morning. 

How to get there

There are different ways you can get to Everland (see here) but we decided to catch the subway. I think it took about 2 hours from Hongdae and was only 3300 won. 

Philippines in pictures

I must admit that it has taken me quite a while to do a post about our trip to the Philippines. Our visit to the Philippines was definitely not the most successful holiday and was rather brief. In fact, it was a holiday where everything seemed to go wrong. We had a well-planned trip organized and intended to visit Moalboal and Bohol in Cebu. Things started to go wrong from the start where our flight (Air Asia), was delayed by 12 hours. As we only had 5 days for our trip, this was a big deal. This meant we only spent 2 nights in Moalboal.  The next thing that happened was the Philippines was hit by a typhoon. Ferries were suspended for a few days to the island of Bohol meaning that this part of our trip had to be cancelled. We ended up changing our flight and coming home early. Dean and I were really sad and were so let down. I guess sometime things just happen that you can't control. From what we experienced during our short time in the Philippines, I must say it is an amazing country. The highlight of our trip was Kawasan Falls with its amazing colour water and massaging waterfall. We also enjoyed delicious food and fresh fruit, very different from Korea. The Philippines is definitely high on my list to return to, and I can't wait. Here is a look into our short time in the Philippines, mainly in Moalboal.

Skiing in Muju

We finally got around to going skiing on the last weekend of January. We went to Muju resort and I must say I was really impressed. Dean and I really love skiing and had wanted to go for a while. We were a bit weary about skiing in Korea compared to skiing in the Alps and we were worried we would be dissapointed.  But actually we had a great time. It's a good thing we waited so long in the season to go as I'm sure if we had gone earlier we would have spent all our money on skiing weekends. Skiing in Korea was really interesting and a completely different skiing culture to that of France. The slopes were decent and the snow was good too. Although there wasn't much snow around, the slopes were well kept. It was really crowded at the bottom of the slopes. The lines to get the lift up the mountain were really long but once up the mountain the slopes were empty and the views are beautiful. We look forward to a couple more trips before the season ends. These are just a few snaps from our iphones. We were way too busy skiing and making the most of our short time to focus on taking photos.

To get to the resort was really easy. We took a bus to Muju town, about 9000won and 2 hours from Jeonju, and then a free shuttle bus to the resort, about 45 minutes. The ski rental and passes are also well priced and easy to organize. You even get a great discount with your Korean bankcards (nh and kb cards). 

4D movies in Korea

A few weeks ago when we visted Seoul for a winter weekend, we checked out a 4Dx movie. This was something completely new to me as we don't have these in South Africa. We watched The Hobbit at CGV in Sinchon and it really was a mind blowing experience. 

We had to go to the morning show as the seats were all sold out in the evening and I definitely would not be able to stay awake for a 1am show. Seeing a movie in the morning feels kind of strange but we weren't complaining as tickets are much cheaper and we paid 12000won each. Booking movies is surprisingly easy for foreigners with the use of CineKorea and it worked perfectly for us. 

We have seen a couple of movies in Jeonju and one thing that is different from the movies in South Africa, are the snacks. Popcorn flavours generally come in caramel or onion and other snacks like dried squid are sold. In Sinchon however, they sold 'gourmet popcorn' including popcorn covered in chocolate and white berry popcorn. I tried the white berry popcorn and it was delicious!!

The 4Dx movie experience was literally amazing!! On top of the 3D graphics, the seats move and shake, water and wind blow in your face and you even experience different smells. The Hobbit was a good choice to check out in 4D as the scenes are dynamic and there is so much opportunity for 4D. I mean you really feel like you are in a fight scene when you are getting punched in the back. 

Watching a 4Dx movie was really worthwhile and I was captivated the whole time. You definitely aren't going to fall asleep in a 4D movie. I definitely wan't to check out a couple more 4D movies before leaving Korea. 

Gochangeupseong Fortress

Now that we are in the heart of winter, it is often difficult to get motivated to leave the house to explore new places. But, we are always looking for easy day trips from Jeonju and so we started off the new year with a trip to the small town of Gochang. We were eager to check out the Gochangeupseong Fortress. Gochang is about an 80 minute bus ride from Jeonju. 

Dean and I both love being outdoors and in nature so Gochang has definitely been one of our favourite outings. It is not often in Korea that you can escape the thousands of people, but the Gochang fortress was surprisingly quiet and peaceful. There were only a few families around having fun in the snow.

We arrived in Gochang to thick snow which made the fortress look particularly beautiful and gave it a different feel to what typical pictures showed. We were dressed really warmly (Nowadays I wear 2 jackets!!) but there were blue skies, the sun was out and the weather was actually rather pleasant.

 The entrance fee to the fortress is 1000won. 

The fortress is just behind the town and was built in 1453. It was used to defend against Japanese invasions. You can walk along the wall which is 1.6km. We walked around the whole fortress and didn't see anybody, it was great!

Inside the fortress there are many different paths and there is a bamboo forest which is an interesting contrast to the surrounding pine trees.

I would definitely recommend a visit to Gochang fortress. It was nice to have a change from some of the typical Korean sites, especially since it was so quiet.

Directions

The available directions online were a bit vague but the fortress is actually easy to get to. When you leave the Gochang bus terminal, walk left at the main road. After about 500m, turn right at an intersection just before a school. Walk for about 150m, cross a bridge. and the fortress entrance is straight ahead. 

Christmas in Korea

Christmas is not a very celebrated holiday in Korea and for some reason it is thought of as a 'couple holiday'. This didn't deter us and so we had a big Christmas celebration with a group of our foreigner friends in Jeonju.

We got into the Christmas spirit and decorated our apartment and it felt nice and cozy with the cold weather outside.

Our friends came over for an afternoon of good food and company as well as some games. There was so much yummy food, Christmas jumpers, and even gluwein and champagne too.

We organized a secret Santa and there were some interesting gifts including a BB gun.

It was a lovely day and definitely a memorable Christmas in Korea.

Winter weekend in Seoul

In a last attempt to check out any Christmas spirit in Korea, myself, Dean and our friend Marcel, headed to Seoul the weekend before Christmas. We were hoping, that like most major cities, we would see a substantial "Christmasy" atmosphere with lots of lights and high spirits. Unfortunately we were a bit dissapointed as there was not too much. We still made the most of our time and had some good food and experience some freezing weather. 

We started off our weekend with a stroll along the Cheonggyecheon Stream. The weather was icy but it was really peaceful to walk alongside the river.

We had lunch at Richard Copycat in Itaewon. The restaurant is at the end of the Itaewon "strip" near the High Street Market. It is quite a chic restaurant and kind of reminds me of places in Camps Bay in Cape Town. In summer the restaurant is open air so I can imagine it would be a cool place to hang out. They serve some good food, bottomless drinks, and we enjoyed great sandwiches and burgers. Since visiting I have read some terrible reviews about Richard Copycat on Trip Advisor but I have to disagree with them as our experience there was pleasant. 

In the evening, we checked out the giant Christmas tree near the Seoul City Hall. Just near the tree was some outdoor ice skating. We were really enthusiastic to try it out so we queued up. We stood in the freezing cold for 30 minutes, only to find out we had been in the wrong queue and were actually meant to book a session. The next session was sold out and as we didn't want to hang around for the next 2 hours, we ended up giving the ice skating a miss. The winter weather in Seoul can definitely be mean. The winds were icy and the evening temperature (not including the wind chill) was -10 degrees! 

We ended off our weekend with a 4Dx movie (more on this soon) which was amazing and definitely the highlight of my weekend. 

Easy DIY Christmas Tree

Sadly, Christmas is not a big holiday in Korea and it is a little depressing that there is no Christmas spirit, and only a few very sad Christmas decoration displays in some of the shops. We have already had quite a bit of snow so it looks like it will be a white Christmas. This year I decided to be a bit unconventional with our Christmas tree and so I (with Dean's help), got a bit crafty.

This paper tree looks great on the wall and it was really easy to make.

What you need:

- doilys

-colour paper for the 'decorations'

-double-sided tape

-spray paint

-brown paper for the trunk (I used an old paper bag)

How to:

Making this tree is really easy and hardly needs an explanation. Simply spray paint the doilys, and once they are dry, start arranging them on the wall. 

I used double-sided tape to stick them to the wall but you could also use Prestik. Once you have your tree, add your trunk and decorate it with some colour paper. 

I also topped my tree with a home-made 'star' made out of toilet rolls. I spray painted the toilet rolls and added some glitter glue. 

There are so many great DIY Christmas trees on Pinterest and I'm not quite finished with decorating for Christmas yet. 

The unexpected aspects of Korea

We have now reached our 6 month mark in Korea and it seems crazy that time has gone so fast and we are now heading “downhill”. It definitely makes us think that we still have a lot of things we want to do before we leave and I’m sure the last few months will fly. So now that we have been in Korea for a substantial amount of time, it got me thinking about the things we have come to find ‘normal’ in Korea and some things that no one tells you before you come.

These first 5 points were difficult for us to get used to and contributed to our homesickness after we had been here a while.

  1. English is not as wide-spoken as you may think. Unless you are in a very big city, it is unlikely a lot of people can speak English. This shocked us when we first arrived as we live in a city but the majority of people here cannot speak English (making shopping and other day to day activities rather interesting).
  2. People stare! I guess the locals in our area have become accustomed to seeing a large crowd of westerners now. But, if you go to smaller towns, or even when we go walking in our nearby forest, Korean people are not shy to stop and stare at you (literally). You will often hear them whisper the word ‘waygookin’ (meaning foreigner) even in the supermarket.
  3. The culture can be difficult. I truly didn’t realize people could be so different and have such different view before I moved to Korea. There are things that happen every day to remind you how different things are.  Random men (and women too) have often said ‘you’re so beautiful’, ‘you’re so pretty’ on really random occasions and while it may seem nice it makes you uncomfortable and back home would sound like harassment. The view on animals is something I also struggle with here, but that’s a story for another day.
  4. Living situation. Almost everyone lives in high rise apartments in Korea. There is just no space. We are lucky to have a ‘spacious’ apartment but getting used to living in such a big building with a small living space was tough.
  5. The food. Western food is not that easy to come by and it is by no means cheap. I really miss lots of food from home and I have now taken to ordering food online which is great.

Now onto some more light-hearted observations:

  1. Koreans are friendly and kind people. (read here).
  2. The fashion. This is something  I still can’t work out. Koreans have a cool quirky style but there are some things that are strange. Like, sandals or ’slippers’ with socks are not frowned upon and are really common, trainers go with everything, and when we work, we can wear nice comfy slippers. Let’s not forget the couple clothes either! It is not unusual to see couples dressed head-to-toe in matching clothes and spotting these has become a bit of a hobby for Dean and I.
  3. The laws of riding a scooter. People ride scooters without helmets and are not afraid to drive on the pavement. They simply take the most convenient route for themselves.
  4. Loud-mouth fruit trucks. These trucks drive around with fresh produce and a loud speaker advertising their goods. They also tend to park in 1 spot for a while and leave their speaker on repeat. It is very frustrating on a Saturday morning!
  5. Koreans have the quickest restaurant service ever! An array of side dishes will arrive at your table before you have even ordered and your food order takes minutes. Needless to say, socializing over food is not a big thing here.
  6. Sun umbrellas and masks. Sun umbrellas were a life-saver for me in summer. Never pictured myself using one, but I unashamedly did through summer.  People commonly wear masks here too. Jeonju is not a very big city and I really haven’t noticed anything with the air pollution, so I’m really not sure why. 
  7. Move out the way for ajummas!! These little old ladies with their permed hair can be fierce!!
  8. Cellphone culture.  People are addicted to their cellphones here and you will see people of every age playing games and taking selfies.
  9. Seafood is everywhere. Frozen and fresh seafood is all over the place. There are tanks packed to the brim with crabs and fish outside seafood restaurants and it always makes me feel sad when I see this.
  10. Toilet paper. This is a kind of gross one. But most of us here have become used to not flushing your toilet paper when out in public places. How I look forward to western loos again.
  11. The rubbish system is fantastic. While recycling can be a bit of an effort, I really commend Korea for making everyone recycle and sort their waste. Even food waste is separate and goes to animal feed.