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).
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.
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.
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.
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.