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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

Hanok Village in pictures

On a return trip to the Hanok Village we managed to visit some of the well-known places we didn’t get to last time and finally taste Jeonju’s famous Bibimbap. And it wasn’t too crowded either. 

We started off just outside the Hanok Village at Pungammun Gate and Jeondong Cathederal. Pungammun Gate used to be part of Jeonju's city wall and was built in 1768. At a plaza just near Pungammun Gate, there was a tribute to the Sewol ferry disaster. Yellow ribbons and decorated life jackets were on display. There were some haunting messages written on the jackets blaming the crew for killing the children. Jeondong 

Cathedral was one of the first  cathedrals to be built in Korea and has a somewhat European style. A sweet old man saw us hanging around the cathedral and offered to take our photo. He managed to take about 20 photos all with his finger over the corner.

Outside Gyeonggijeon, a shrine area full of beautful buildings and trees.

We loved this little shop-Mohair Shop (http://www.mohairshop.co.kr). It sells all sorts of teddy bears and teddy bear making kits. We bought 2 and have loved sewing up our little animals. 

"Happiness". Shops and stalls in the Village sell all sorts of trinkets and fans.

A very old convenience store.

Walking up to Omokdae, the view point above the Hanok Village. 

On the hilltop there is a resting place (note all the shoes) and once again an outdoor gym (just incase you thought about gyming while you were touring the village).

We wondered out of the Hanok Village to a very old, quaint, hillside village. I'm not sure what it is called but it wound its way up the hill and many of the walls were painted with all sorts of murals (more to come in a blogpost on this later).

We ended our day with some of Jeonju's famous Bibimbap. After trying some of the many snacks for sale in the village, we weren't too hungry so we only ordered 1 portion of food. And look at all that food!! Bibimbap is traditionally a mixture of vegetables served on a bed of rice in a stone bowel and topped with some meat and a fried egg. There are now many different variations. As you can see, our meal is surrounded by all sorts of side dishes, from crab to tofu and kimchi. This is common in Korea and best of all, they are FREE!