Beautiful Gyeongju

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

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

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

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

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

Maehwa Spring Flower Festival

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

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

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

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

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

How to get there:

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

Mustoy Cafe, Hongdae

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

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

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

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

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

Directions

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

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

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. 

4D movies in Korea

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

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

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

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

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

Gochangeupseong Fortress

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

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

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

 The entrance fee to the fortress is 1000won. 

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

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

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

Directions

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

Christmas in Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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. 

Nami Island

During our Chueseok in Seoul, we took a day trip to Namiseom, or Nami Island. The island is an easy train ride from Seoul, we got there using the metro which was great and cheap too. The island is half-mooned shaped in the Han River just outside the town of Gapyeong. The whole situation surrounding the island is a bit confusing to me because from what I have read, Nami Island is actually called Naminara Republic and is an imaginary country which requires a visa. You can catch a quick 5 minute ferry or zipline to the island-the option that Dean and I took. Ziplining was good fun and definitely my recommended choice of arriving on the island. 
Going through immigration and getting "visas". 
The more conventional way to arrive of the island and return to the mainland.
Nami Island is a beautiful place just to wonder around and it is really photogenic. There are paths leading everywhere and I never felt like it was too touristy or crowded. 


There were quite a lot of other Asian tourists around as Nami has been host to popular Korean drama scenes and the spots around the island are famous. We opted to walk around Nami but there are the options of renting bicycles too. We just loved and appreciated the coolness of being under the trees. There are lots of things to do around Nami from water activities to crafts, as well as just simply having a picnic.





 Being on Nami Island was a really great escape from the usual city life in Korea and it was definitely our highlight during our Chuseok break.

** Thanks again to Sue for letting me use some of her photos

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

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...

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. 

Hiking in Jeonju

A drizzly Sunday morning inspired us to get out and explore some of the nearby hiking trails. Hiking, being a firm favorite among Koreans, we bumped into many avid hikers. Some who even offered us a drink of their very strange flavored water. The hiking trails are about a 20 minute walk from our apartment and there are many different trails that snake all over the hills. To our surprise, shortly after starting the walk, we came across a beautiful Buddhist temple and shrine. There were monks walking around too. There were also a couple of outdoor gyms scattered around the walk where a few locals were doing push ups, pull ups and other exercise. A great idea I think! Another strange/clever thing we saw, was a "high pressure air drying station". Basically there are hoses which blow high pressure air and you can use it to get rid of the dirt on your shoes and clothes. The hiking was really steep, but it wasn't too far to the top. We were rewarded with some amazing views. Definitely a place to visit more than once, and maybe even at night because some of the paths have lights.

After a very steep and sweaty walk we reached this Buddhist temple.

I love these paintings and engravings on the side.

Just look at all those tall buildings. One of them is ours in the faaar distance.

Again, now you can really see what I mean when I say there are tall buildings everywhere!

Just incase you need to know the time while you're walking!

One of the gyms (note the guy doing push ups back there)

View of Jeonju at the top.

Many more trails to be explored. Looking into the mountains from the top.

At the top-not very high!

Butterfly that was following us around.

Apartment Living

So as I mentioned before, basically everyone in Korea lives in very tall apartment buildings. Apartment blocks are clustered together everywhere and the average height is about 15 floors. Dean and I live in a 15 story building and our apartment is on the 4th floor. When moving to Korea we had very low expectations of what our apartment would be like. After much blog reading we expected we would be living in a tiny studio apartment with barely any space to move, a shower over the loo and a kitchen in our bedroom/livingroom. However, we are so lucky!!! We have a large spacious apartment with a separate kitchen and living room, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom with a bath!! We couldn't have asked for better, seriously! So without further ado, here is a tour of our place :) 

View out the back door of our apartment. The far, tall buildings are where our schools are. 

Our kitchen/dining room (we did not choose lovely table cloth)

Koreans love their wall paper. As you can see, all our cupboards are papered differently.

Our lounge with a flat screen TV too. 

Our spare room (for anyone who wants to visit us). Currently our walk in closet.

Koreans use very strange/unusual linen. We were limited for choice here with hawain type flowers.

Great! We have a bath (not common), and our shower doesn't drench the place too much!

Laundry room/balcony.

View from the laundry room/balcony (not very exciting).

Outside look of our building, taken on a Friday market day.

Guemsansa Buddhist Temple

Our director is so great!! During the week she gave us a list of some things we may want to do in Jeonju and asked us to choose one and we could go with her and her family on the weekend. We decided to pick the nearby Buddhist Temple Guemsansa because we wanted to see what the surrounding area of Jeonju was like and get a bit into the mountains. We started off our outing with some lunch at a very fancy Italian restaurant in Jeonju. We had a 4 course meal and it was delicious. Although Joanna and her family can’t speak English that well, it is very fun to talk to them and compare our cultures. Joanna’s daughter is actually in one of my classes and her son is only just learning English at kindergarten. Her husband can’t speak any English but knows the odd word.

After lunch we headed to Guemsansa Buddhist Temple. Guemsansa means “Golden Mountain Temple”. Guemsansa is in the slopes of the Moaksan Mountains (in the Moaksan Provincial Park) and is about 40 minutes out of Jeonju. The mountain scenery was beautiful. In the national park there were many people starting the hiking trails and relaxing, having picnics. Koreans are the most kitted out hikers I have ever seen. Considering that hiking is their national past time, these hikers looked so professional in their special colourful hiking clothes and carrying hiking poles. The Guemsansa Temple is extremely old and was first established in 599AD. There are male and female Buddhist monks living at the temple and we saw a few walking around in grey robes. You can even do a temple stay at Guemsansa, which we may consider in the future. We spent the afternoon wondering around and looking at the temples. The architecture is so beautiful. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take photos inside the temple but the one temple houses the largest indoor Buddha statue in the world, 11.82m and 2 Buddhas on either side of 8.8m tall! We had a really great day with Joanna and her family and we were so happy to spend time with them. We definitely want to head back to Moaksan Provincial Park sometime and explore some hiking trails. I think we should visit again in Autumn because everything will look stunning with the changing colours of the leaves.

Us with Joanna and Henry in front of a man made waterfall.

Walking up to Guemsansa.

The entrance to Guemsansa.

Maitreya Hall that houses the 3 huge Buddhas.

In front of Maitreya Hall.

Yukgak Tachung Soktap, one of the old treasures, was built between 918-1392.

In front of one of the halls. You can see the gold Buddhas in the background and a lady praying.

Joanna and I. Note the height difference.

Buddhist lanterns.

Lighting candles and making wishes.

With Henry and Rachel.