Trip to South Korea 2006
All travel reports are translated electronically although minor improvements are sometimes made.
South Korea 2006 – travel journal
Travel route: Inchon – Seoul – Pusan - Inchon
From Inchon to Seoul
After nine hours of flight from Dubai I got off at Inchon airport. At this point I understood a very important thing. As I love to get off at unfamiliar airports in a distant country at the other end of the world. I said to myself: hurray, I’m in South Korea.
From the airport I took the bus and after leaving the city I saw what I really like, ie Asia at its best (only this time the richer). After a while I saw the fruit stalls and the fancy dishes I had tried before and whose names I do not know. A colorful world of lights, octopus skewers and lavishly lit shops, but especially helpful people. As in East Asia, people here are very friendly and when I asked for help finding a street, everyone was always willing to help. People even walked with me to tell me the way or they stopped when I opened the map. I never had this happen in Poland before.
After a short while I reached the guest house at Heywa subway station, clean and very cheap. So, in all my travels, I’m famous for the cheapest. At last I lay down in bed, which was very nice because I had not slept well for three nights.
Seoul – first impressions
The next morning I went to the Mongolian Embassy and then to the National Museum. I liked the museum itself because it was a collection from all over Asia, but primarily showing architecture, costumes and articles from the Korean peninsulas. The most beautiful in my opinion are the local parks, often with small streams, waterfalls and bonsai trees. Then I started to walk around town, tried local food and watched people. Moving was not a problem, but it would have been easier if I knew Korean. Transportation in Seoul is very well organized. There is a metro, a ground train and buses at a fairly affordable price. Just like in Kuala Lumpur, the city travels easily and pleasantly.
I must admit that the Koreanki impressed me so much. Most are slim and medium in height, short skirts or trousers for knees and musters on heels. They are nice, but they do not throw themselves around the neck and do not make sweet eyes as it was in other countries. They also do not speak English which is a great hindrance at the start. I think the Koreans are a happy nation. They are always smiling, cheerful and love to eat in restaurants and on stalls. You can see that people live here well because economically it is a developed country and wages are often like in western Europe. I walked around the city and tried to contact people but after a few hours I realized that the weakest point of the Koreans was the lack of English. That is why learning the language is such a good business here. I was told that if I went to one of the schools and asked for a job, I could get it straight away, although later I learned that Koreans officially accept only people whose first language is English.
I also went to the tourist office to plan the details of my further trip. Unfortunately, nobody again could speak English. I think sometimes they catch a word, then bow and reply in Korean. As for the bow, I think that also my “habit of bowing”, as everyone is bowing and each other, so I automatically also bow. The Koreans are so kind as to write me Korean in the name of the station, where to get it, and then I just have to compare their letters to the letters (also Korean) on the stations and I usually get 5 out of 10. The fact that almost no one speaks English here is a great hindrance. Sometimes when I’m nervous because I can not get along with anyone, it seems to me that the Koreanki shudder at their high heels. But it is sad that I am completely alone at the end of the world and even if something happened to me, nobody would understand what I mean. But I continue to pursue my plan of travel, laboriously comparing the Korean signs. My first day was full of new impressions but I had a lot to see. I felt like the hero of the movie “Lost in Translation”.
I would like to mention that Seoul is interestingly built. It is a town set on hills and mountains (just like Stockholm on the islands). It is a combination of 14th and 16th century temples and a settlement with modernity and colorful lifestyle of young Koreans.
Whenever I visit a new country, I try to try national food. Korean tastes great although it is certainly specific.On the first day for breakfast I ate pasta soup and I do not know yet what but was very good – for only one pound. The food here is very cheap, which is a great asset. For every meal, there are appetizers, which are always chopped, yellow vegetable, which kills even a little taste of acute soup. It is also “kim chi”, or chopped Korean cabbage with chili – very good. Korean cuisine is very sharp but fortunately not as sharp as in Thailand. As you can easily guess after the location of the country, seafood is also very popular here.Street stalls sell live mussels and octopuses, which can be taken out of the aquarium and eaten. They are prepared on site by the client. Today I also eat sushi and Korean dumplings wrapped in rice cake and of course yellow fruit with kim czi. All I eat with chopsticks and still learning how to use them better. When I order food, I often have no idea what I eat. I just point my finger and say “it’s yellow please” though no one understands me anyway. Walking through the streets of Seoul and watching the Koreans working at the shops and at their stalls, I once again ate sushi and dried squid. I have eaten them a lot in Thailand although the squid I never had enough. After a few days in Seoul I began to distinguish between dishes and wanted to eat the more elaborate. I mainly used octopuses, although I also ate mango dumplings and the famous cabbage with chilli- “kimchi”. I recently ate a new version of this appetizer because the cabbage was green and stuffed with many other fillings. So I see that when it comes to “mang du” and “kimchi” they have a whole set here. I can not forget the sticky rice wrapped in a piece of sea algae, with dried fish and vegetable stuffing, or “babe”. Kim bab is also a Korean fast food that children eat on the way to school. I also had chicken skewers on the street and they were also very good – especially after octopus and squid for so many days. I was also in a restaurant where I had to sit on the floor in a Turkish restaurant because the table was about 30cm high and although I ordered only one dish, I got a lot of entrees. The food was good but at the same time it was a training session using the sticks and straightening the spine. I think even if you are not interested in Korea, it is worth to come here for the food itself.
Seoul – Changdeokgung Palace and Biwon
Next day in this particular city I wanted to see the historical architecture of Korea and therefore I first went to Changdeokgung Palace and Biwon. This palace is on the Unesco list and is a rich cultural world. Biwon is a beautiful garden in which these temples are integrated. The construction of this architectural work began in 1405 on the orders of King Taejong and was completed in 1412. For years, these were only beautiful temples and buildings that were the residence of the king, and in 1463 King Sejo expanded the palace and created the gardens of Biwon, also called “mysterious garden” . Unfortunately, there is also a tragic history linking Korea with Japan. The Japanese burned all the objects of the palace in 1592. Many of these objects were burned and rebuilt many times. In total, thirteen kings lived in this palace for over 270 years.Impressive is the main gate, or Tonhwamun, built in 1412 but later destroyed in 1592 during the Japanese invasion. Rebuilt in 1607, is the oldest wooden gate in Seoul. Changdeokgung Palace is also the only place where you can see the blue tiled, once used throughout Korea. Walking around the area was a real pleasure and a wonderful lesson in history. The traditional Korean architecture of the time was shown here.Exquisite and elaborately executed details on the buildings looked like the majestic temples of the kind.Characteristic were the roofs, which looked as if they consisted of many floors and were beautifully decorated. I have to admit that the Korean temples impressed me very much and are very different from those of Laos and Thailand and have nothing to do with those in Myanmar or Cambodia. Korean temples are more massive at the base of the roof. Beautiful Biwon garden, without which all the buildings would not look so beautiful. This garden (original name: Huwon) consists of many ponds, stone bridges, bonsai trees and rocky hills with small pavilions and pagodas. Biwon is a beautifully designed garden where once kings and their families spent their leisure time. On the territory of this palace I was lucky because I met a girl from Canada, with whom we were taking pictures in turn. At least here I did not have a language barrier.
Seoul – Jongmyo Temple
Jongmyo is a Confucian temple built during the Joseon dynasty. Its purpose is to worship the dead kings and queens of this very dynasty. The entire complex was built in 1395, but during the Japanese invasion in 1592 it was burned and then rebuilt in 1608. This temple is also on the Unesco list and to this day there are devotional services. The whole property was slightly different than Changdeokgung Palace and Biwon.There were not so many beautiful gardens, and the buildings themselves were not so “pampered” as in the earlier palace. For this it was possible to feel the burden of time here. Jongmyo Temple was fenced by a massive wall, and in the middle of the stony square, there was an object supported by tall red pillars. Also the roofs were very massive and colorful. The whole complex of temples is located on a large area and each object is separated by a garden or a wall. Also here I felt like I went back many centuries back (over 600 years to be exact).
Writing about oriental Asia and traversing many of its countries, I often use the word “Confucianism” without explaining what the term really is. I mentioned this in my coverage of China and now Korea, describing the Temple of Jongmyo. I hope I can explain this concept in just a few short words.Confucianism is a philosophical and religious system that was initiated in China by Confucius in the 5th century BC. Confucianism says that building the ideal society and achieving world peace is possible only under the obligation of observing the duties of the social hierarchy and preserving tradition, purity and order. Confucianism is a mixture of religious, social, ethical, economic and moral concepts that create a coherent but not definite worldview. Confucianism has grown exponentially in China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan, while shaping the cultures of these countries. For detailed information on this subject, however, I advise to provide specialized literature.
Seoul – “retirement club” in front of Jongmyo Palace
After leaving Jongmyo, I noticed that the old people had arranged a party in the square in front of the palace where one man made a show of snakes. He had two python tigers, and the other man, aged 70, broke the stones with his hands. The rest eat, danced and sang. Bowls of pasta were laid out on benches and the boiling water was waiting in big pots.
Traveling earlier in other parts of Asia, I noticed that older people are very active and willing to live. For example, when I was in Vietnam, people even practiced tai-chi with swords in the 80s, and in Cambodia they practiced in one of the main squares, also in front of the palace. In this case, neither the money nor the age, but the way we were brought up and our culture. Here older people exercise and can enjoy themselves, and in Europe the entertainment of an old man often ends only on television.
Seoul – House of Korea
Korea House was built in 1957 in the traditional style of royal palaces, which I described earlier. This place was created for tourists to experience local architecture and art. Traditional dance and music shows and tasting of Korean dishes are held there. I had only the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful view and walk on this property, sometimes climbing and watching the old architecture against the backdrop of green and modern city in the distance. As I walked towards the facility, I first went through the traditional gate and in the middle was the House of Korea. It consists of four buildings forming a courtyard in the middle. In addition, there are several other pavilions and smaller, very architecturally attractive buildings. House of Korea was another interesting cultural experience in this modern city. Great architecture combined with nature allows you to rest.
Seoul – last day
(Plastic eye surgeries, Dogs in Boots, Itaewon Market, Korean to English, Myeong-dong, Seoul Tower, Antique Posters, Flea Market in Hwanghak-dong, Yangnyoungshi Natural Medicine Market, Dongdaemun Market, Namdaemun Gate)
My last day in this unique city I still wanted to see the places I missed by focusing on the palaces. This meant that I had to ride the metro a bit, but I was already practicing in Seoul. Leaving my hostel with a colleague from Europe, I drew attention to one of the curiosities. Well, I learned that the plastic surgery of the eyes is very popular here, because the Koreans prefer to have eyes on a European rather than Asian one. Only on my street are two places where you can do it. I also noticed in the Koreans that they love dogs. There are a lot of shops where they are sold, especially dachshunds and chewwa. There are also a lot of animal hospitals, dog hairdressing salons and what is rather unusual, many dogs are wearing shoes.First, I went to the Itaewon bazaar, which is something like a tourist zone. Here you can buy souvenirs, buy postcards, you can also see more white faces with round eyes and Koreans themselves know English very limited. If you want to buy antiques, paintings, jewelry and all kinds of souvenirs, Itaewon bazaar is the best.I also had an interesting event here. One older man talked to me and said he knows who Lech Walesa is, even though he knows almost everyone I go to. Also young Koreanki talked to me and they knew a few phrases in Polish. I met this before. It is very nice that even Koreans here can ask in Polish “how are you”.The Koreanki was obviously nice and very nice, but I think most expect a free English lesson because it is expensive here and the demand is very large. Exactly the same happened to me earlier in Vietnam. Often girls want to go out with Europeans who know English well for dinner. They will go out, have fun, teach English for free and then politely say goodbye. That’s it in Korea. A friend from America told me that. He had already made some pretty Korean dates and spent a lot of money on dinners, but they were only English. Then I went to the fashion district of Myeong-dong but did not play there long. There were a lot of people, colorful neon and shoe shops and bags. I only woke up and that’s why I recommend this area only to women who necessarily want to spend money. But I saw something that also curious me. These were posters showing the Chinese government’s policy, ie, the torture and persecution of political enemies of the Communist Party of China. (The same thing I saw earlier in Hong Kong). The Tower of Seoul, at 480m high, was not far away. It was not unusual, but it was one of those places that worth looking at and checking off as one. Out of curiosity I also went to the flea market Hwanghak-dong.
It is a street of antique stands, used machines of all kinds and mostly things that nobody needs and which is too much and there is no way to get rid of them. This is one of the places where you can find the most original souvenir from Korea, completely without knowing what you are buying. I recommend curious. I was also on the bazaar of Yangnyoungshi natural medicine. This bazaar was large and interesting and represents 70% of the total interest in natural medicine in Korea, including Korean ginseng. But especially here I would advise to take the translator to explain exactly what each of the specifications. Anyway, this is an interesting experience. When I was near, I got off at Dongdaemun Market, another fashion district. This was more interesting than on Myeong-dong. There were several large buildings and there were stands in the courtyard, but I donated my clothes and shoes. I only bought a commemorative T-shirt with the flag of Korea and I donated this area. The building that I was most interested in was Namdaemun Gate. It is the oldest wooden structure in Seoul since it was built in the 14th century. It emerged at the time when Seoul became the capital of the country and it served as the southern gate. This is an impressive, massive building consisting of stones at the base and a wooden part. This gate consists of a massive, colorful roof, built in a characteristic style for that period. Unfortunately, when I returned from the expedition I learned that on 11 February 2008 this timeless monument was set on fire. The perpetrator confessed and gave the reason for the arson. He did this because he did not get enough compensation from the construction company for the land he was displaced from. The Korean government is going to rebuild the monument but it will take many years and cost millions of dollars. I am glad that I was given the opportunity to see the Namdaemun Gate before the tragedy. Then I walked along the river at night and in the light of the skyscrapers and then went to the hostel, at the Heywa station.
(In this chapter: a trip to Pusan, a short description of the city, once again courtesy of Koreans, Gwangalli beach and Gwangan bridge, fish market, Geumgang Park and adventure related.)
The next morning I left Seoul and set off for Pusan to spend a few days at the seaside. Bus ride from Seoul to Pusan took 4.5 hours. During the trip I was able to see good motorways and tunnels in the mountains, several times we stopped and it was only a pity that no one again spoke English. Pusan is the second largest city in South Korea after Selu, famous for its beach and beautiful views of the city from the summit.Also, this city has its sad history with Japan but today these relations are already very good. There are many mixed marriages and friends still inviting themselves. Pusan is also one of the largest ports in Korea.Here you can take the ferry to Japan, whose islands are well known in good weather. Pusan is also famous for catching fish, which I witnessed later to see. Upon reaching the station I got up to the subway and got off at a particular station. This is also confirmed by the great kindness of the Koreans. I could not find a guest house so one man walked with me about half an hour until he found an address for me. It was very nice and unheard of. My bad luck was that the hostel was passing a few times but was so unlit that I could not find it. It was the cheapest hostel possible where I slept in a room with eight Japanese who had fucked all night.
The next day I went to Gwangalli beach to take a bath in the sea. This beach is close to the center and to my hostel. It was a very nice place and the water was warm and pleasant. Nearby is Gwangan Bridge, which is illuminated in the evening. It gives the impression that this city never falls asleep because on one side I had an illuminated bridge and on the other bright houses and hotels whose light was reflected by the sea. Gwanagan Bridge is the longest bridge in Korea. It is 7.42 km long and connects two smaller towns.It also has two levels of highways and as I mentioned, it is well lit. That evening I went to the fish market where I saw a variety of specimens. There were not only fish but different types of mussels and squid. On the way to the hostel I also invited for a traditional Korean meal. I ate a couple of kimchi and some babies and as usual everything was delicious. I think the Gwangalli beach and Gwangan bridge and their surroundings are what you must see in Pusan. The next day I went to the biggest attraction in Pusan or Geumgang Park. It is located at the top of Geumjeong and is called the Geumgang small peak. All this time I had a company with Canadians and Fina, which made me feel better and finally I could talk to someone.Park Geumgang was indeed beautiful. At the top we got a cable car, whose cable length is 1260m. All the time I watched the conifers and interestingly formed rocks. When I reached the top of the hill, the view of Pusan was obviously beautiful, and at the very top was a small temple with a carved Buddha near the door.The return journey was not so easy, because we wanted to have some effort. We went down to the bottom where the place was not easy and it took us about two hours. We had to bypass the huge rocks and often climbed onto them to jump to the other and in haste to catch the trees. We also avoided mountain streams, crossing over collapsed trunks and rocks. It was an adventure, and it was fun and lucky to have had it before dark. At the end we went to a restaurant where we sat at the table at a height of about 30cm. We ate Korean food with chopsticks and that is how we had this meal. Sometimes the waitresses wanted to give me a fork but I always refused. In Pusan I could spend more time and see more places but the time was pressing me. I had an important meeting in Beijing and in front of me there was still a crossing of Mongolia. Pusan was definitely worth seeing and I would recommend it.
On the way to China
The next morning I went to the bus station in Pusan, which was supposed to take me to Seoul. Of course I was late, which is no surprise at all. In my life I was late and missed everything, and I also treated it very loosely. Instead of going to Seoul, I went to Incheon, where there is one of the ports. Thanks to that I saved time and the ticket was also cheaper. When I got off at Incheon Station, I caught a taxi to take me to the port. Explaining where I wanted to go was time consuming and tiring, so all the time I was not sure if we were going to the right place, because the taxi driver did not know the English word. Fortunately, we succeeded. I walked in five minutes before closing and bought a ticket.
My next destination was the city of Qingdao in the People’s Republic of China, which this time will be just a short stop on the way to Mongolia. I really did not want to go to Qingdao but I did not have a choice, because in all the other ticket offices for cruises to other cities in China, no one spoke English. So I went to China. So just what’s next? I was not disturbed by this awareness because I consider myself a hiker-traveler, and therefore dark travel also has its charm.
This is how my adventure with South Korea ended. I boarded a ship and sailed to China.
Summary of Korea
South Korea was a wonderful experience. Seoul, which I spent most of the time has a lot to offer. It is a living, modern metropolis with admirable royal palaces dating back several centuries. Also Pusan loved it because it is a good place to rest on the sea with many other attractions. People are always friendly and willing to help, although unfortunately they are of little use because they usually do not speak English.Especially in this country it is worth to learn a few words in Korean. Imagine we have to show the language of gestures that we are hurrying to the plane or that we are hungry. But we certainly would not want to show that we want to go to the toilet, and that is where the Korean case is needed. I highly recommend Korean cuisine, which is very tasty, healthy and it seems that her ingenuity never ends. Staying here I feel very good but as usual, I could spend more time and see more places.