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. 

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. 

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

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.