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. 

An afternoon in Muju

Now that we are nearing the end of autumn, warm days are far and few. Fortunately for us, we were blessed with a lovely warm sunny day when Dean, myself and a couple of friends decided to take a trip to the town of Muju. Muju is a popular ski destination in winter, and so we were eager to pay it a visit to check it out before ski season starts. We were also hoping to catch the last colours of autumn but the trees were already turning brown. We didn’t do any planning and were sort of expecting to arrive in the town and that the ski resort would be obvious. However, we arrived to a somewhat sleepy town with no sign of anything that would suggest it would offer skiing. We have since learnt that where you ski is Muju Resort and not Muju town. Two separate places. The bus to Muju from Jeonju takes 2 hours and costs 9000won one way (longer and more expensive than we were expecting). When we arrived we grabbed some lunch and decided to go exploring some of the mountains instead of travelling further to find the skiing area. 

The town was really quite and I think the locals were a bit surprised to see a group of foreigners wondering the quiet streets. We followed a trail to the top of a small mountain and got some beautiful views of the surrounding rural areas. 

I was a bit lazy with taking photos but here a few snaps. 

Muju isn’t exactly the most exciting place to visit but it was nice to go on a short hike in the warm weather. When the ski season opens, I hope we will make some frequent trips to the resort for some skiing. 

DIY gold animal jars

Last weekend I joined a great group of girls for a #DIYDaysInKorea meet up (read more

here

). It was a lovely afternoon filled with lots of DIYing and yummy things. Now that the weather is cooling down, I think I will be spending more time indoors so it has got me thinking that it's a perfect opportunity for me to be a little creative.

For my first "project", I made gold animals jars, simple yet effective. They are really cute and perfect for storing all my nuts and seeds in. I took my inspiration from a few Pinterest posts and I am really pleased with how they turned out.

What you need:

-plastic animals (these are really easy and cheap to find, I got some at Daiso and some at another stationery store)

-glass jars

-glue (I started using a glue gun but then found that superglue actually worked better)

-spray paint (really easy and cheap to find here in Korea)

How to:

I recommend giving the animals a coat of paint before you stick them to the lids so you can get in those hard to reach places once glued. Make sure to spray them from a distance so that the paint is even. Allow them a few hours to dry properly before sticking them to the lids of the jars. Then, allow time for the glue to set. Once the glue has set you can spray the animals and lids, making sure you cover everything nice and evenly. You might want to do a few coats, depending on how well the spray paint covers. Again, leave for a few hours to dry.

I love my new jars and I think I might have to find some more things that can be stored in jars. I am going to keep my eyes out for some pastel coloured spray paint and some more cute figurines.

Colours of fall in Korea: Naejangsan National Park

On the first week of November we took a trip to Naejangsan National Park to see the bright colourful leaves on the trees. Coming from South Africa, where we don’t see too much of a dramatic change in autumn, I was really excited. My Korean rough guide book had also rated an autumn trip to Naejangsan as one of the top 25 things to do in Korea, and luckily it is relatively close to Jeonju. Unfortunately the weekend we planned to go was miserable, rainy and foggy, but we still decided to go as we thought the crowds would less (not true by the way). The temperatures have dropped a lot here already in Korea and it has been rather chilly.

To get there we had to catch a bus to Jeongeup which takes about an hour and then a 40 minute city bus to the National Park.  Luckily we managed to squeeze ourselves onto the bus as it was absolutely packed and definitely not the most pleasant trip standing on top of people the whole way. We had an eventful trip there as when we got to Jeongeup and were waiting for the next bus, we spotted a small little puppy running in the road and avoiding cars. Of course we rushed to pick him up while everyone watched and did nothing. The puppy, a Jindo, must have been about 10 weeks and was cold and lost. We spent the next hour trying to find his home with no one being interested in helping us except for some people who wanted to try claim him. One thing that always breaks my heart in Korea, is the treatment of animals and Dean and I would have taken him home in a flash if it were not for the exorbitant cost to send him to South Africa. Luckily we eventually found his home, where we spotted some more puppies and he must have wondered off through the open gate.  No one even noticed. 

Once we got to the park we had to wind our way up to the actual entrance past the colourful stalls selling some strange things, blaring music and dancing ajummas. I don’t think we were quite prepared for the chaos and thousands of people. Literally there were thousands and thousands of people. I guess like all outdoor or “natural” activities, we should have expected it. The entrance cost to the park is 3000won. From there we walked up through the park to a lake and a temple, taking in the amazing colours. They really were beautiful and impressive. There is an option to catch a cable car to the top of one of the peaks, but there was a really long line and because of the mist we didn’t think it would be worth it. 

Despite the hordes of people, a trip to Naejangsan was definitely worth it. The colours and sites were breath taking and unlike anything I have ever seen. Although the sky wasn’t blue, the mistiness gave a somewhat magical feel and I am glad we decided to go.

Gujeolcho Flower Festival

We were lucky enough to visit the Gujeolcho Flower Festival (구절초 제전). Or in other words, the Siberian chrysanthemum festival. The festival takes place for 10 days every October. I found out about the festival by coincidence on a Friday night when I was phone teaching and a student happened to tell me she would be visiting a flower festival on the weekend. This sparked my interest and so I asked her where and she asked her mom for me. I then mentioned it to a teacher and she said she had been the week before. She gave me a few pointers how to get there and we decided it would be a pleasant trip on what may be one of the last hot days of the year.The festival was held at Okjeongho Lake Gujeolcho Theme Parknear Jeongeup. The park is basically a large natural area with paths winding all over. The festival is famed for its Siberian chrysanthemums that cover the floor of a forested hill, the largest chrysanthemum hill in Korea. To me the flowers look like common white daisies and I didn't know they had such a fancy name. In their large amounts they looked particularly impressive though. 

At the festival there were also fields of cosmos and sunflowers. The flowers were really beautiful and of course I loved photographing them. There were many fields so there was plenty of space for everyone to enjoy taking pictures in the flowers. We wondered around the grounds and then found a spot to enjoy our picnic. Luckily we packed a picnic as we are not very adventurous when it comes to Korean food, and there was only some rather interesting looking food at the many food stalls.

We tried to do a bit of research before we went and find out exactly where we were going, but there was not much English information available as the festival is not one of the bigger well known ones. It is featured on Korea’s Miss Flower promotional video which tells you the best places to see flowers throughout the year. It was not the easiest place to get to and took quite a while. We first had to catch a bus from Jeonju to the town of Jeongeup and then another bus to a small village called Sannae-myeon. From there, there were shuttles to the festival area. The 2 bus rides were each an hour long but we had a bit of a wait when we got to Jeongeup because the buses were very infrequent to Sannae-myeon. The scenery on the drives was very beautiful and we could tell when we were getting close to the festival area as flowers started to line the roads.  Many people tried to help us along the way even though we couldn’t understand them much and we scored some chestnuts on the bus ride home from a kind lady who showed us how to go back. 

The entrance cost was 3000won but free if you wore something with flowers on, which I planned ahead for.

It's a pity the festival is not better known, especially amongst the English community. We were by far the only western people there and one man even asked us how we knew about it. I didn't even manage to find it on the list of Korean festivals.

A trip to this festival is well worth it and a perfect place to visit during autumn as the temperature starts to cool down. 

The tea plantations of Boseong

I had wanted to visit the tea plantations of Boseong for quite a while, but it had always seemed so out of the way. I am pleased now that we got around to it. To get to Boseong from Jeonju, you either need to go via Gwangju (bus) or Suncheon (train) to the small town of Boseongand then catch a city bus to the plantations. The round-trip transportation takes a couple of hours and takes a bit of effort making sure you are heading to the right place. So while we were in the Suncheon area, we decided it was a perfect chance to visit Boseong . 

We went to the most famed plantation, Daehan Dawon, and although there are others in the area, they are apparently not nearly as impressive as Daehan Dawon. This plantation has a farming area of 5.7 million square meters and 5.8 million tea plants-in other words, it is huge! Daehan Dawon has become quite a popular tourist destination and when we got there at 10am, there were already so many people there. 

This plantation is beautiful and much more impressive than the Osulloc plantations in Jeju. The bushes reach all the way up the mountain, which gives a beautiful view of the farm. We walked up to the top, which was quite steep with many stairs and even ropes to help you. Thank goodness I changed into trainers from my slip slops, as they definitely wouldn’t have been practical and everyone was wearing trainers or hiking shoes. I am also pleased that we didn’t visit the plantation in summer as it would have been way too hot but was perfect in the warm autumn sun with a cool breeze. 

There are quite a few paths spanning over the plantation, and once you are off the main ones, it wasn’t too crowded. 

After we reached the top to admire the beautiful views, we wondered back down in the cool forests, passed a waterfall or 2 and headed for the café where we tried some green tea ice cream. 

They sell all sorts of green tea flavoured things. The ice cream was so delicious and we bought some green tea candy and chocolates too. 

I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Boseong and I think another trip may be in order in the winter months when the rows of tea bushes are covered in snow. 

Suncheon Bay and Garden Expo

Suncheon City is known as Korea’s eco city, and fittingly so. We caught a train to this southern city as part of one of our long weekends. It was a sort of the spur of the moment decision as the holiday weekend crept up on us and with no plans, we took the advice of one of Dean’s teachers and headed to this coastal city. We were a little apprehensive as Suncheon barely featured in my Korean tour book but it was worthwhile visit and should perhaps be given more credit. Suncheon is near Yeosu and the train ride is just over an hour from Jeonju. 

Suncheon Bay Ecological Park is Korea’s first coastal wetland and it is listed as one of the world’s 5 major wetlands. The wetland plays an important role to migratory birds and is teeming with fauna like crabs and mudskippers. 

At the top of the hill in the background is the Yongsan Observatory.

There are boardwalks that snake over the reads with look-out spots to watch for birds and look at the mud below to see the hundreds of crabs. Walking across the wetlands you get to a rather steep hill that you can walk up to reach the Yongsan Observatory and get a good view of the wetlands. The round-trip to the observatory was a good 40 minutes and thank goodness for the breeze and the drop in humidity as the walk was rather steep and tiresome. 

Some beautiful views from the top-looking over the wetlands and to the farmlands in the distance.

Another of Suncheon’s sites is Suncheon Bay Garden. This garden was host to the 2013 World Garden Expo and is still open to the public and well maintained. Another World Expo I had never heard of, but the Garden Expo was started 150 years ago in Europe and it showcases different gardens and flora from around the world.  I think there was a ticket special while we were there as we bought tickets for 2500 won that allowed us entrance into both Suncheon Bay Eco Park and Suncheon Bay Garden, so it was a great cheap visit! 

The garden is absolutely huge and you could definitely spend a good couple hours walking around. As we got there towards the end of the day, we only had about 2.5hours to explore and we didn’t come close to seeing it all. 

There are 2 sides to the garden and they are connected by the “Bridge of Dreams”. The one side is filled with themed gardens from around the world and the other is where the Korean garden, wetlands and more “wilder” gardens are. 

A view from the gardens towards Suncheon City in the background.

The Bridge of Dreams. The walls are covered with thousands of tiles of drawings done by Korean school kids and they have drawn their dreams. As a person who loves flowers and nature, Suncheon was a great visit for me and I loved all the opportunities to take photos of the beautiful flowers. I’m definitely enjoying taking photos and learning a lot with my new camera!

A trip to Suncheon is an easy day trip from Jeonju although we did opt to spend the night at a motel as we planned on doing some more things in the area the next day. 

Wondering the Ihwa Mural Village

On the actual day of Chuseok during our Chuseok in Seoul , we wondered around Ihwa Mural Village. It was a great idea for Chuseok day as many things in Seoul were closed and the Ihwa Mural village is simply an array of murals scattered around a neighborhood. The village is set on Naksan and the neighborhood winds up the “mountain” with many alley ways, steps and steep paths. 

The murals around the Ihwa village were painted as part of a project by the Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism in an effort to promote the area and make it a bit of a tourist destination. 

As the area is a real neighborhood and home to many residents, it was peaceful and quiet. It was nice escape to be away from the busyness that is Seoul, so much that it doesn't feel much like you are in Seoul anymore. There were only a few tourists taking pictures and walking around and unfortunately as it was Chuseok, most of the quaint looking cafes were closed. 

As you can tell by this heavy picture-fulled blog post, I definitely recommend a visit to the Ihwa mural village if you are in Seoul. There are many murals to be spotted, and believe it or not, these are only a handful of them. The village is easy to access and just near the Hyehwa subway station. My word of advice is, wear practical shoes as there are many many stairs. 

September Round Up

Lots of great things happened in September. Dean and I have gotten much more settled into life here and have gotten over our home-sickness period (We even have an oven now so I can do some home baking!!). We have met many more foreigners in Jeonju, most of them being from South Africa and they live right around the corner from us, which is great. It’s really nice to finally have met a whole lot of people compared to when we first arrived and thought no foreigners lived in Jeonju! September also saw a visit from Dean’s mom, Sue, over our Chuseouk (Korean thanksgiving) holiday when we spent 4 great days in Seoul. We also have a new addition…Luna! Luna is a rescued street cat (her cut ear is to show animal control she has been spayed) and is just the sweetest and craziest little cat. We love having her.

To top it off, I also invested in a new camera (thanks to Sue's inspiration and help) and I am looking forward to learning more about photography and hopefully taking some really nice pictures. 

A bit of Chuseok in Seoul

Chuseok is the main holiday in Korea, similar to American Thanksgiving, and it gave us a 5 day weekend. After umming and arring about what to do over this break, we decided to go to Seoul.  We had not done many touristy things around the city and as most Koreans head to their hometowns, going to Seoul would be against the traffic and less crowded.  Dean’s mom, Sue, had timed her visit perfectly and we were lucky to spend our Chuseok in Seoul with her. We stayed in Dongdaemun which was convenient for most of the places we visited as well as some good shopping! I can’t wait to go back to the Dongdaemun fabric market as well as the baking market nearby as unfortunately these were closed over the long weekend. 

Outside our hotel in Dongdaemun. We started our trip with a visit to one of my favorite areas in Seoul, Insadong. I love the atmosphere in Insadong and all the shops selling such cute things too. This time, we went to a tea house which I have kept meaning to do. We went to Chatjip Teahouse because in my tour books it was said to have finches flying around but unfortunately they got rid of their birds. The tea was still great though!

The men in Insadong performing their song and making one of my favorite Korean treats- Sweet Yong Su Yeom

We paid a visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace, one of Seoul’s 5 Grand Palaces, and which is just around the corner from Insadong.  I won’t go into the history about this palace but the grounds are massive and really beautiful. It was much grander and different to the other smaller temples I have visited.  The palace area is relaxing place to stroll around and I loved that there are lakes around the grounds. It is also is very photogenic and makes for lovely picture taking.

Many places were closed on the actual Chuseok day, so we went to Ihwa Mural Village (full blog post to come later) and also the Alive Museum. 

3 of the hundreds of photos we took at the Alive Museum. We had good fun posing for all the funny pictures.

** Thanks to Sue for letting me use some of her lovely pictures. 

A long weekend in Yeosu

For our first long weekend in Korea, we headed to the coastal town of Yeosu. Our director had recommended we go to Yeosu over Mokpo, so we took her advice. We caught the train from Jeonju and it was really quick and efficient. Living in a country with easy public transport is just the best.

Only in Korea...

Yeosu is a city that hosted the World Expo in 2012 and it still seems a little obsessed with it. The Expo advertising is very prominent and it is everywhere! I’ve never heard of a World Expo but apparently it is quite a big deal. There are many contrasts in the city from the futuristic expo site, to the traditional fish markets and the hundreds of islands scattered around the coast. Before we arrived we hadn’t done much research and so we relied on the tourist office outside the train station when we arrived. The lady at the office gave us maps and some general information but we had hoped to go on an island cruise and she wasn’t sure how to help us so we ended up giving that a miss. 

We stayed at a motel (Silla motel-very good value for money) in the older area of the city and away from the expo site. We were able to use the bus system well so it wasn’t a problem at all. 

On our first afternoon we went to the small island of Odongdo. You can walk to Odongdo across a 700m bridge near the expo area. The island is a sort of botanical garden, with wooden boardwalks all over it. The unique feature of the island is that it is covered with bamboo, pine trees and camellia trees, a unique combination. 

Walking to Odongo.

After Odongdo we headed to Manseongi Beach. After waiting for a bus for over an hour we caught a taxi there (a very expensive trip mind you) as it is just out of town. The beach is the only black sand beach on Korea mainland but it was actually rather dull and uninteresting. Once again we were frustrated by the lack of swimming and so we settled for just relaxing on the beach and enjoying the warm evening. 

Early the next morning we went to Yeosu Aqua Planet, the aquarium. We had seen the queues the previous day (literally hundreds of people) and wanted to avoid them (well we managed slightly). Aqua Planet is the largest aquarium in Korea. The most impressive thing was the Beluga Whales. I had never seen Beluga Whales and the 2 at the aquarium were beautiful and I loved watching them play with balls in their huge tank. After an hour and a half of wondering around the aquarium we enjoyed a western lunch at the aquarium restaurant. 

We then hopped on a bus to Dolsando Island. Somehow we ended up missing our bus stop and we were on the bus for over an hour, getting further and further away from civilization and into the rural farm villages on the island. We eventually got off the bus in the middle of nowhere and hoped another one would pass soon. Luckily a bus came soon enough and we made our way to our original destination, Admiral Yi’s Turtal Ship Museum. Looking back we should have stayed on that bus to the end of its route because we found out later there is a famous temple there, but oh well. Anyway, Admiral Yi was a famous Korean conqueror and is renowned for the design of his turtle ship, a wooden ship with spikes coming out the top. The Turtle Ship has some interesting history and there are several replicas around Korea. 

Stuck in the middle of nowhere...

Later that afternoon we spent our time relaxing on a little shelly beach under Dolsan bridge and then wondering around one of Yeosu’s many fish markets. The fish markets are just hectic, I can’t believe they can even sell all the fish and how it all gets eaten. It’s not the most enjoyable site seeing all the fish, octopus and crabs crammed into tanks, barely surviving. After being put off eating any fish we luckily managed to find a nice home-made burger restaurant in downtown Yeosu.

This sweet little dog was lying outside a fish shop and keeping cool on the piece of stone. 

We spent 2 nights in Yeosu and I think we could’ve just spent one. While it is a pleasant enough place, there is not too much to do and we ended up catching the train home early

Maisan Provincial Park and Tapsa Temple

One of the last places we took a trip to when my mom was here, was Maisan Provincial Park, or “horse ear mountains”. The name comes from the obvious 2 rock peaks, which from a distance resemble horses ears. The park is

located just near the town of Jinan, a 40 minute bus ride from Jeonju. We were trying to think of a day trip to do from Jeonju, and my Korea Rough Guide book had a short description about Jinan, which gave us this idea. It was a great choice as Tapsa Temple is a truly unique place and unlike any of the other temples in Korea (which all seem to look very similar).

After arriving in the small town of Jinan, we caught a bus from the terminal to the park. I guess the town doesn’t get many foreigners as the old men who seem to spend their days hanging out at the terminal, were very excited to see us and had fun jabbering away at us in Korean. 

After arriving at the park entrance, you wind your way up through a few tourist shops and restaurants. We first reached the smaller, more traditional temple of Unsusa before we got to Tapsa. We arrived early in the morning before most of the crowds, so the walk was rather empty and relaxing. 

Unusa Temple.

After passing the restaurants and little shops, you get to this lake just before the temple. You can even hire a swan paddle boat.

The word “Tapsa” means “Pagoda” and the temple is surrounded by 80 pagodas. What is amazing about this, is that the pagodas were single-handedly constructed by one man over 30 years. Even more amazing, is that these stone towers are not held together by any adhesive and the rocks simply balance on each other. It is still unknown how they “stick” together as the valley experiences strong winds (we can attribute to the very strong winds!). The man behind this magic is Yi Kap-Yong. After the start of his pagoda “project”, Yi Kap-Yong became a monk and so the area is now a Buddhist temple. 

Behind the temple, you can walk up to between the horse-ear mountain. Unfortunately, the rocks are closed for restoration so we couldn't climb them, but the walk to the middle of them is quite a decent walk (I think around 300 stairs if I can remember correctly), and there are many pleasant Buddhist features along the way. 

The flowers are lovely in the summer.

The temple just below the horses ears.

What the horse's ears look like from the distance.

You can bang this giant drum and it sends an eary echo down the valley.

Our trip to Tapsa and Maisan Provincial Park was well worth it and definitely a truly unique place to visit. 

Jeju Island-Day 3 and 4

On our 3rd day (2nd full day) on Jeju Island, we travelled to the south of the island to the Seogwipo and Jungmun beach resort areas. To add to Jeju’s beauty, there are a handful of waterfalls around the island and we visited 2 of them.  The first we visited was Jeongbang Waterfall. We managed to get to the waterfall early in the morning before the crowds. I don’t think I’ve mentioned but millions of people visit Jeju each year and every 5 minutes a flight lands at Jeju International Airport (Literally, we saw this. It’s crazy the amount of airplanes constantly landing.). My point is, there are many tourists and tour buses you need to try avoid these. We didn’t have too much problems with crowds luckily. Back to Jeongbang Waterfall, this 23m high waterfall is unusual in that it runs from the cliffs directly into the sea. It is the only waterfall to do so in Asia.

Strolling around the trails near Jeongbang Waterfall.

After wondering around the coast near Jeongbang Waterfall, we went to Cheonjiyeon Waterfall. This is a beautiful waterfall that runs into a pond. The walk up the river to the waterfall is luscious, calming and very pleasant. 

Walking up to Cheonjiyeon Waterfall.

Cheonjiyeon Waterfall.

We reached the “Lonely Rock” of Oedolgae just as it decided to start pouring. The weird rock formations around the coast of the island are from the volcanic activity. The rain was cooling and we welcomed it. This pinnacle like rock is believed to have scared off the Mongolians and sent them away. 

Oedolgae.

Our next stop was Jungman. This exclusive area is filled with 5 star hotels and quirky museums. We visited the Teddy Bear Museum. After the rains, the weather became extremely hot and humid and so being indoors was perfect. Korean people love Teddy Bears and this museum is dedicated entirely to them. Teddies can be seen portraying famous historical events and are dressed up as famous icons. The museum is definitely worth a visit and although we were a bit sceptical at first, we all enjoyed it.  We popped into Jungman Beach after the museum. It is one of the most famous beaches on Jeju and has the biggest waves. It has even played host to a few surf competitions. It was absolutely BOILING on the beach (like burn your feet on the sand type boiling) and we were desperate to swim. Of course we got told to stay shallow, even though we were in the swimming area, but the water was amazing. 

Dying of heat on Jungman Beach.

In the afternoon, we went to O’Sulloc Tea Plantation. It was disappointing and I was expecting a tea museum but there was only a few small posters about tea and thousands of people trying to cram their way into the green tea café. Having a car really gave us a lot of freedom just to explore the more rural areas of Jeju and just drive around and see whatever. We had lunch at a Paris Bagette in the small town of Daejeong and then tried to visit the Peace Museum. Unfortunately the museum was closed for refurbishment. We really wanted to see the tunnels in the mountains that the Japanese had built during their rule in Korea. The man at the museum was kind enough to show us their entrance. I would have liked to visit this museum the history between Korea and Japan is very sad but interesting.  

O'Sulloc Tea Plantation.

The farms in Jeju are separated by these low walls made from volcanic stone. 

On our last morning before we left Jeju, we had a quick swim at Iho Tewoo beach, the closest beach to Jeju City. We arrived at the beach before anyone had begun setting up for the day (there weren’t even swimming ropes out yet, yay). We thoroughly enjoyed our holiday in Jeju and its natural beauty. Although there is an endless amount of things to do in Jeju, I think stayed for the right amount of time and we were pleased with what we did. The only other thing we would liked to have done, was hike Mt Hallasan (the third UNESCO site on the island). Mt Hallasan is a dormant volcano and dominates most of the island. Perhaps this will call for a return trip. 

A crisp morning on Iho Tewoo Beach.

View of Mt Hallasan in the distance at the airport.

At the airport-only in Korea.

Jeju Island-Day 2

Our day 2 on Jeju Island was jam-packed. We got up early and headed to the town of Seongsan to visit the UNESCO World Natural Heritage site of Ilchulbong or “Sunrise Peak”. Jeju is the first place in the world to receive the UNESCO triple crown. After some dolhareubang chocolates, a quick stop at a black sand beach and breakfast at Starbuck we started our trek up Sunrise Peak. 

Many mandarin oranges grow on the island so there are many orange flavored chocolates and other goods. Oranges weren't in season when we visited but they hang fake oranges on the trees for photo opportunities (of course Korea).

A black sand beach with Sunrise Peak in the background. 

Our neat little car.

Sunrise Peak is a cone type mountain that really looks amazing from aerial views but you can hike up 180m to the crater to look over Seongsan and Udo Island in the distance. 

The busy walk up to the top. 

At the top-looking across the crater.

Looking across to Udo Island. Although a really popular island in Jeju, we didn't manage to visit it. The side of the island looks like a baboon face doesn't it?

When we were in Seongsan we were lucky to see some of the famous Jeju diving grannies. These women dive for shellfish and urchins without any breathing equipment for many minutes. The tradition started when men found loopholes in the law that they would not have to pay tax if their wives did the work. So instead the wives would dive for food and the men would look after the children. Some of these women are as old as 70. The tradition of the diving grannies is fading and so we were lucky to see some.

Getting ready to go diving. She wouldn't let us get a proper picture of her. 

We had a most enjoyable visit to the Jeju Maze Park. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a real maze and it was good fun trying to find our way to the centre to ring the bell. The Jeju Maze Park was actually developed by a western man who loves living in Jeju. He must also love cats because the park has a bit of an underlying cat theme and there are about 20 cats hanging around the entrance. 

Styling in raincoats.

Around the corner from the maze is Manjanggul Cave, another UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. The Majanngul Cave is a long (13km but long about 1km is open to the public) underground cave formed by volcanic eruptions. It is a famous example of lava tubes and it is one of the longest in the world and has many lava features. The cave is quite deep underground and it gets pretty cold (poor Dean didn’t have a jersey and was shivering the whole time). You walk 1km to the end of the cave before you turn around and walk back. The cave really is amazing. It’s difficult to capture the experience of the cave on a camera because it is dark and water droplets sometimes mist up your lense. 

At the end of the 1km tunnel walk. 

Umbrellas are useful to avoid the water drops falling from the cave roof.

Our last stop on our second day in Jeju was Yongduam or “Dragon Head Rock”. The rock formation is along the seafront of Jeju-si and is a big tourist attraction. We visited in the evening and it was very busy. I’m not quite sure what the hype is about but it is clearly very popular. 

Walking along the promenade. 

I'm not quite convinced I can see the dragon...

Jeju Island-Day 1

We were lucky to Visit Jeju Island (known as Jeju-do in Korea)after only having spent a month and a half in Korea. As my mom’s visit coincided with our short school vacation, we decided a trip to one of the world’s 7 wonders was ideal.

Jeju is known to be similar to Hawaii and Bali. The island has everything from natural world wonders, beaches and 5 star resorts, to rural villages and “diving grannies”. The whole island is actually one of the 7 wonders of the world, and it’s not surprising.

As we only had 3 nights in Jeju (2 full days), we researched a fair bit how best to spend our time and make the most of it. Jeju has an endless supply of things to do, both natural and kitsch (check out www.jejumandarins.com for everything you need to know) but we ended up thoroughly enjoying our holiday and we pleased with all the places we managed to visit.

Jeju's famous Dolhareubangs are cute grandfather statues that are all over the island. They are made from volcanic rock and the reason for them is not known.

We stayed in a motel in Sinjeju called Monaco Motel. I have learnt that motels in Korea are really decent and great value for money and so far I have had good experiences with them. Our motel was in a good location around the corner from many shops and restaurants. We also hired a car while we were there (Dean has an international drivers and lucky for us, was brave enough to drive-Korea driving on the opposite side of the road and all). Hiring a car was definitely worth it because I think we would have wasted a lot of time using the buses. Luckily one of Dean’s teachers helped us book a car through a Korean rental company because as we visited Jeju during peak season, only very expensive cars were left for hire at most of the rental companies. 

We were lucky enough to organize cheap flights on eastar jet from Gunsan with the help of our director. A rather interesting flight as it involved a giant game of rock/paper/scissors. 

On our first day, after fetching our car and briefly checking into our motel, we drove to Hallim Park. Hallim Park basically gives you a taste of the whole of Jeju in one park. It has caves, stone statues, flower gardens, bonsai gardens and Jeju houses. It's ideal if you don't have much time on the island. It is a relaxing place to visit, with not many crowds and it is lovely to stroll around. 

Entrance to the caves.

Inside the lava caves at Hallim Park.

That's how you grow a bonsai! 

Diving grannies! (More on this later)

Near Hallim Park is Hyeopjae Beach. We stopped here for a quick swim in the evening. Korean beaches are really frustrating as they fence your swimming area. Many Koreans don’t know how to swim and it really irritated us that we couldn’t properly enjoy swimming in the warm water

An island in the distance. Many small islands are scattered around the cost of Jeju.

July Round-up: Part 2

When my mom arrived, Dean and I were proud to act as tour guides of Jeonju and show her around. Her visit was also perfectly timed to coincide with our 3 day vacation so we were extremely lucky to be able to visit Jeju Island.  Here are just a few photos to finish off the end of the month. 

Mum catching on with the Korean ways :) 

The flowers this time of year are lovely.

One of the larger traditional Hanok Village houses.

Enjoying the wonderful treats the village has to offer on a hot day.

A moving tribute to the victims of the Sewol tragedy. Korea is still in deep pain about this. 

More flowers and a cat!

My mom became a bit obsessed with cute Korean children. Snapping pictures whenever she could. Her camera must be full of them :)

Hillside village. How to disguise a drain pipe. 

Lucky for my mom, she also celebrated her birthday while she was here. We took her to try the famous Jeonju Bibimbap. We went to a restaurant called Gajok Hwegwan and it was definitely the best Bibimbap we have had so far. We followed up with traditional Korean desert Bingsu which is made from shaved ice and has various toppings. It is truly most delicious.

More flowers. In the forest behind our apartment. 

Gym time!! In the forest.

-One a side note, a funny thing happened at school the other day. My middle school students rushed in one evening to tell me about Ebola. And how Ebola is in Africa and that now I am lucky and I don't have to worry because I'm in Korea, I'm safe!!. The blissful ignorance...

July Round-up: Part 1

July was a great month and we had many exciting times during the month. July saw a visit from my mum, our first trip to Seoul and an amazing holiday to Jeju island (more blog posts on Jeju to come soon).

As part of our teaching duties we had to go to Seoul to attend a day-long EBY Talking Club training course. This meant we had to leave Jeonju at 5:30am on a Saturday morning to catch an express bus to Seoul. Luckily one of Dean’s co-teachers also had to attend the training so she could show us the way. The training was at the EBY headquarters and there were only about 10 of us foreign teachers (from all around the country). It was very relaxed and just involved some Korean teachers giving talks on the syllabuses.  It was much better than I expected as we were given some good teaching tips and it definitely inspired me to try be a better teacher and make my lessons more exciting. Another nice thing about the training was that we got to speak to other foreign teachers who work for the same franchise and compare our schools. Most of the other teachers were American or Canadian. It seems Dean and I have a really good deal with the running of our school.  We kept the contacts of the other teachers and may meet up with them in the future if we are ever in their part of the country.

After our training we headed to Itaewon to stay at my dad’s friend, Paul’s, house. His whole family moved to Seoul and they have been there for 5 years. Itaewon is the foreigner area in Seoul and it is filled with many westerners, embassies and huge houses (the CEOS of Samsung and LG live there). It was so weird for us to be there and see westerner families walking in the streets as well as be in house that sort of resembled a typical South African house (it even had a garden).  Paul and his daughter Erin took us to the Seoul Club for dinner. We had delicious hamburgers, a first since our time in Korea. They then took us out to check out the bustling streets of Itaewon. The streets are lined with trendy bars, pubs and restaurants and they were full with people. We definitely saw the most foreigners and westerners we had seen ever in Korea. There seemed to be people from all around the world as we heard all sorts of accents and languages. We went to 2 pubs. One was the “Braai Republic”. A pub/restaurant started by a South African man. It serves all sorts of South African food. We were pleased to have some Savannahs, Castles, biltong and amazing Amarula cheesecake. Being in Itaewon kind of made us wish that we lived in Seoul. The place seems so alive and it’s really nice to not feel like such an outsider. I can’t wait to go back there.

Braai Republic- looks like home

The next day, Paul very kindly took us for a brief tour around Seoul. We visited Insadong, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, the old Olympic stadium before we had lunch in Gangnam and then headed back to Jeonju. I really enjoyed the weekend in Seoul and appreciated all the home comforts. The small things like being with dogs (Paul had 3), eating normal cheese and having Mexican food for lunch reminded me of home.

Girls wearing traditional Hanbok clothing in Insadong.

The main street of Insadaong. You can buy lovely trinkets, food and treats.

Dean and Paul watching the performance on how to make the delicious

Insadong traditional sweet Yong Su Yeom. Yong Su Yeom is a treat spun from fine threads of honey and it has a nutty filling.

Dongdaemun Design Plaze from the outside. Bizarre looking building. The inside looks weirdly futuristic.

 

In July we also had Market Day at our schools. This was a really fun day as we didn’t have to work and the kids had a great time. On Market Day the children get to spend “money” that they have earned for good behaviour, hard work etc on all sorts of treats. Dean and I were in charge of the snack rooms.  We also got spoilt with many treats and yummy food. I was given iced noodles for lunch, a really strange meal but quite refreshing.