Flashback: 2.5 weeks in South Korea, the quickie version

South Korea was the first stop on our 6 month Asia tour. We only had two and a half weeks, but wished it could have been longer. Since there was so little down time and both my phone and tablet died, I never got around to posting anything beyond Christmas tree photos. Until I find the time to get back to those photos, here’s a brief list of places we visited and some of the things we did that we’d recommend to other travelers. Rob and I just met Matt and Sophie who have South Korea as their next destination and I got inspired to at least write a bit about our wonderful time there.

Stop #1: Seoul
A couple days to get rid of jet lag. We visited a couple of the palaces (cheap and take the free English tour – look up times in advance) and hiked Bukhansan National Park a short walk from the metro line. We thought using the metro card was worth it for the convenience although we lost a couple bucks at the end because you can’t use the remaining balance at the airport (at least not in the early morning).

 

Hiking in South Korea means many steep flights of stairs. The distance may be short, but it is probably straight up. Use their suggested hiking times as a guide rather than the distance; they are much closer to reality than the US national park suggested times which are super generous.

Stop #2: Chuncheon
It’s a long ride using the Seoul Metro, but we met some very nice people on the journey. This city is good for a half day stopover on the way to Sokcho. There’s a pretty lake for a bike ride around on numerous trails or a plethora of paddle boats to rent. The city is famous for dakgalbi, a chicken dish that’s cooked on a hot platter at your table. There are multiple streets lined with these restaurants. Are eating most of the dish, you can get rice added, which makes really tasty crispy rice rolls.

 

Dakgalbi with cheese. We tried it both ways and preferred plain.

Stop #3: Sokcho
We really liked this small town. The tourist fish market had great food, including amazing fried chicken (see caption, photo of business card) and a extreme fritters (squid). Be careful to ask prices if you buy a whole fish or other creature. They can apparently get expensive.

This chicken was amazing! Make sure you get the one with the tasty sauce. Some of the booths have boneless chicken, others have bones. Make sure you know that what’s in the box is what you want.

Seoraksan National Park is a short bus ride away and has beautiful hiking. There’s a multi day hike with a stop in a shelter, but we were there in the wrong season to do it. The waterfall hikes are nice. We also had an expensive but delicious and massive haemul pajeon (seafood pancake 해물파전) at a restaurant in the park.

Stop #4: Gangneung
We stayed in a hotel near Gyeongpo beach, which wasn’t that hard to get a bus to take us nearby. There’s a tourist near the bus station with more info and the buses are on google maps transit directions. The beach has a nice strolling path and many fun places to sit. A section has lookout towers and barbed wire. There are bike rentals nearby the beach and a lake with walking paths is fun to explore. Sections of it are lit up at night.
The Chodang tofu village area has great jeongol (a feast with a sundubu hotpot). I think we went to Nongchon Sundubu at 108, Chodangsundubu-gil based on the phone number on our receipt (must get two orders of the jeongol and that’s a full meal).

Stop #5: Haesingdong Park near Samcheok

See picture. A kitschy hilarious afternoon visit.

There are many more here.

The zodiac at Haesingding Park.

Stop #6: Gyeonju

Gyeonju is known for its many historical sites – Huge funeral mounds, pagodas, a grotto, etc. There’s a massive museum with good exhibits (on the same bus line as the big temple) that’s worth a visit. A guide says it’s a good place to try ssam, but the best looking place was full of tour buses.

Stop #7: Busan
Haeundae beach was fun to visit, although quite windy. We found a public foot bath nearby and tried it out (public footbaths near the beach, clean your feet first at a washing station. Locals bring a towel and something to sit on like a newspaper.) The tent bars near the big department store are a good way to meet Koreans in a convivial mood. Try the chicken anus!

Stop #8: Jeju-do
We got super cheap flights on Air Busan ($15 each one way with bag and OJ drink). The buses are very easy to use, but can take awhile because the island is quite large.
Rob and I hiked Hallasan, the highest peak in South Korea. The top was cold and windy. Instant noodles were available at a hut part way up the mountain and were so wonderful and warm. Sunrise peak is also worth a visit for the view. Time your visit right and you can see a diving demonstration by the women free divers looking for sea creatures to eat. Try the oranges grown on the island. They were perhaps some of the best fruit we tried in Asia.

Stop #9: Seoul again

On our return, we hiked the Namsan section of the city wall and visited the City Wall Museum. The riverwalk was great for a stroll, although the Christmas lights are probably long gone.

Costco – the Asia tour

For fun, Rob and I checked out Costco in a few other countries. It’s always entertaining to see the variety of products for sale and compare to back home. The Korea and Taiwan ones had a kimchi bar.

Stop #1 South Korea -Seoul

Rob and I walked a ways from the metro to get to one of the Seoul Costco stores. Once we were nearby, we could easily follow the line of people carrying wholesale size items to the store.

After wandering awhile inside, Rob started thinking they didn’t sell food. But alas, he just hadn’t found the cartscalator to the lower floor. The food court is located so you can dine between floors. The seafood selection at the Korean store was the best of the three we visited. It was also nice to see all the thinly sliced meats they sell for BBQ, bulgogi or hot pot.

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Costco Korea food court menu. 

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We tried the pizza, the bulgogi bake (like a philly cheesesteak in chicken bake form) and the mango smoothie (too sweet).

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Costco soju, a terrifying amout of alcohol for a very low price.

Stop #2 Taiwan – Taipei

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Pork green onion buns.

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Prepared hot pot packs. I thought this was pretty special, but then we saw these all over Japan in grocery stores (smaller sizes of course).

The interesting potato chip flavor round-up.

Out of all the Costcos we visited, this one had the most unique food court menu.

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Costco Taiwan food court

We had the seafood pizza (meh) and the peking duck pizza (very tasty)in addition to a massive round of samples, including some cake that unfortunately looked better than it tasted.

We ended up getting a bag of the oyster omelet chips to eat of our forthcoming bike trip.

Stop #3 Japan – Tokyo Suburb

We dropped in here a half hour before closing right after we picked up the campervan. After all, we needed some food for the road trip (and dinner).

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The tortellini was very expensive at over $20 a package.

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Redhook in Japan.

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Bacon only comes in chunks. Not good for car cooking.

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Rice burgers. Rice patties instead of buns.

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Only chicken bakes were left. Still good though.

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Best costco dessert ever!

You must fill out a Costco international form to shop here if your membership is from abroad.

Christmas in South Korea

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Rob and I are in Taiwan now, but we greatly enjoyed the Christmas/holiday season build up during our two weeks in South Korea. Here’s a selection of our favorite decorations.

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Shopping Mall in Seoul

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Shopping Mall in Seoul

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Busan

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Gangneung

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Jeju Island Airport

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Market in Jeju-si

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Seoul Tower

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Outside Seoul City Hall near their ice skating rink

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Seoul Christmas on the Cheonggyecheon riverwalk

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“Merry Christmas and Peaceful Unification” Seoul Christmas on the Cheonggyecheon riverwalk