Jeju Island

The time has finally come: tomorrow, I finally get my five glorious days off. Things at work have been rather, uh, tense, though in the interest of job security, I won’t get into it here. Suffice to say this vacation is well-timed and I am looking forward to it immensely.

Alex and I will be traveling to Jeju, a volcanic island off the coast of Korea. Not only is it a cheap, hour-long plane ride from Busan, but it also looks absolutely gorgeous. There are many beautiful hikes, walking trails and natural sites to behold. In 2007, it was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

My co-workers thought it was funny that I made a whole itinerary, detailing what I wanted to do each day. To that I say: I learned from the best. My dad made a binder, complete with tab dividers for each city we were visiting, when we took a trip to California when I was younger. Clearly, this has scarred/helped me in planning my own vacations.

Anyway! Our itinerary for Jeju:

Wednesday, 7/31: Arrive in Jeju in the evening; go to sleep around 7:00pm (see Thursday morning).

Thursday, 8/1:

-Seongsan Ichulbong aka Sunrise Peak, a (very) early morning hike.

-Yakcheonsa Temple.

Friday, 8/2

-Halla Arboretum.

-Yongduam Rock/Pond.

-Loveland, an amusement park of sorts.

Saturday, 8/3

-Olle Trail 6, including the Cheonjiyeon Waterfalls.

Sunday, 8/4

-Hyeopjae Cave/beach.

-Lava tubes.

Monday, 8/5

-Mt. Halla, aka Jeju’s piece de resistance.

Tuesday, 8/6

-Make a tearful, early afternoon return to Busan to ready ourselves for the grind of work on Wednesday.

We have three major hikes planned (Sunrise Peak, Olle Trail 6 and Mt. Hallasan) with a couple days of rest/wandering/beach time in between. I’d like to post about each day when I get back, and compare what we planned to see with what we were able to see.

I already can’t wait to share it with you guys. Have a great week!

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Haedong Yonggunsa and Puppy Cafe

There is nothing better than waking up early on Saturday morning, with the entire weekend ahead of you and vacation just a few days away.

Since it was overcast today, we weren’t really feeling our usual beach routine. Instead, we decided to check out the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. It is unique in that it was built right on the ocean, which is why it is colloquially known as the Water Temple in Busan. This alternate name is so common, in fact, that when it came time to tell the taxi driver where we wanted to go, we didn’t actually know the real name. Some quick Googling and feeling silly later, we arrived.

After we were dropped off, we wandered through a touristy little market area. They had Buddha statues, bracelets, chimes, etc., which was a little surprising, because these types of tchotchkes are hard to come by in Busan. At the end of the path, we were greeted by this guy:

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The path split, and you could either walk down to the temple or up through a wooded hiking path. We have a lot of hiking planned for Jeju this week, so instead opted for just the temple visit today.

The original temple was built in 1376 by a monk named Naong during the Goryeo Dynasty (which predated the Joseon Dynasty). A sea god appeared to him in a dream, instructing him to build a temple. It was believed that if everyone prayed here, the Dynasty’s hardships would disappear. After visiting the grounds where Haedong Yonggungsa stands today, Naong built the Bomun Temple.

This temple was (unsurprisingly) destroyed by the Japanese during their invasion of Korea in the early 20th century. It was rebuilt in the early 1930s, and the main sanctuary was restored again in the 1970s. Haedong is said to be protected by the Great Goddess Buddha, who rides on the back of a dragon.

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ImageThe view was absolutely gorgeous. Despite the crowds, we had an excellent time meandering through.

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There was a Buddha for every occasion, if you will. I saw a father playfully pushing his son toward the Buddhas for Academic Achievement, above. There was also the Traffic Safety Prayer Pagoda. Due to my experience as both a passenger and pedestrian here in Korea, I think they might want to erect a few more of those.

Our next stop was the Puppy Cafe in Jangsan, As the name suggests, it is a cafe in which you can pet and play with dogs while enjoying a cup of coffee. I sipped a cappuccino while hanging out with these furry friends:

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ImageImageImageWhile these pictures illustrate some normal looking dogs, there were a few in the cafe that had had some of Korea’s rather unfortunate trends thrust upon them. One dog had black eyebrows; another had pink-tinged ears and tail. The real kicker was this poor kitty:

ImageAside from her perma-sour puss, she had also been groomed so that it looked like she was wearing furry boots and a cotton ball tail. I tried to coax her out for a full body shot, but she wasn’t having it.

All in all, a very fun and busy Saturday. Looks like we’re seeing Pacific Rim tonight, which is supposed to be very good. At least, it is according to my class of twelve-year-old boys!

Buddha’s Birthday

This post is coming about two months late, because the photos have been trapped on my camera. My USB was MIA, until I realized just yesterday that I have another one that fits into it. This is particularly well-timed, since I’m going on vacation next week and wanted to use my real camera.

Anyway, back on May 16th, we had a day off from work for Buddha’s Birthday. I had never given Buddha’s Birthday much thought before, mostly because I’ve never lived in a place where it was a national holiday. However, it seemed the perfect time to hike up to one of Busan’s hidden (re: nearly impossible to find) temples.

Armed with directions from three different blogs and still no ability to read or speak Korean, we set off on our journey to find the Seokbulsa Temple. We had to take the subway quite far from our apartment, then a taxi to a park where our hike began. There is usually a cable car that runs up the mountain, but it was not operating the day that we were there. So, hike we did.

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ImageI was very glad that we did, as it turned out, because this was very beautiful and bypassed if on the cable car. Though I’m sure the view from the cable car is also pretty spectacular.

Once we reached the top of the mountain, things got a little confusing. We reached several crossroads in which we simply had to choose one, walk and see if it was headed in the right direction. We also asked approximately 2638 Koreans for directions along the way. While everyone was very nice, it is apparently difficult to find even for those who can read hangul. 

We stumbled across this while wandering:

ImageThis is, of course, the South Gate of the Geumjeongsanseong Fortress. Duh. It is apparently an attraction in this park/mountain/hiking area. Though it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for, we did find a map here that would eventually point us in the direction of the elusive Seokbulsa. 

(Also, this was cool:)

ImageFinally(!!!!), we saw Koreans hiking en masse up toward what looked like a temple built into the side of a mountain. After some huffing and puffing, we reached our destination:

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It was a beautiful hike, and a special experience visiting the temple. We were the only foreigners there, but everyone was so kind to us. People gave us random food, and when we entered inside the temple, they pinned flowers to our shirts (you can see it in the picture of me and Alex). Despite being the only non-Koreans, we felt very welcomed. I’m very glad we made the trip on Buddha’s Birthday.

I’m also very glad that I have finally released my trapped photos!

 

 

 

Gyeongbokgung Palace

On our first (and okay, only) full day in Seoul, we made going to the Gyeongbokgung Palace (referred to hereafter as the “G-Palace”) our top priority.

The construction of this impressive complex began in 1395 by the Joseon Dynasty, and served as their primary palace for five hundred years. It continued to expand for 300 years, until the Japanese destroyed much of it in 1592. It was not rebuilt until 1867, under the direction of Prince Regent Heungseon Daewongun. At this point, the complex swelled to an impressive 500+ buildings.

Unfortunately for the G-Palace, its misery at the hands of the Japanese was not over. It was destroyed again during the Japanese occupation of the early 20th century, with the Japanese tearing down 90% of the palace buildings in 1915. Adding insult to injury, the Japanese happened to build their colonial headquarters directly in front of the palace complex. This building has since been removed, and the G-Palace has been continually restored since 1990.

So, if you weren’t exactly sure why Korea and Japan still have beef, this is a good example.

Anyway, we spent about two hours wandering through the palace grounds. You couldn’t go into any of the buildings, but could take a peek inside. Here are some pictures of our wanderings:

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This is Geunjeongjeon, or “All affairs will be properly managed if Your Majesty demonstrates diligence.” Both names are quite a mouthful. This is the main palace.

ImageStanding on the steps of Geunjeongjeon, with the Gwangghwamun Gate in the background.

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ImageThis is “some place off to the side that I can’t find in the guidebook from our visit.” Whatever it was, I’m sure important things went down here.

ImageThis is the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, which is where the king held banquets for foreign guests (the Japanese were usually not invited). I thought it was my favorite part of the grounds until…

ImageThis pavilion is called Hyanwonjeong, and was probably the single most beautiful site that I saw all day. I loved the bridge leading to it, and the pond with the lily pads.

As we neared the edge of the grounds on the opposite end, we happened upon this:

ImageThis is the Blue House, aka the home of President Park Geun-hye. It makes sense that her home is right behind this historical landmark, but I had no idea that it was.

We ended the day by watching the changing of the guards, a reenactment of a ceremony that once occurred at the palace:

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Finally, a few more random photos of our walk (if you’re not yet photo-ed out):

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ImageWhat I liked most about the G-Palace was that even though it is obviously a huge tourist attraction, it’s large enough that you’re not on top of other people the whole time. There were certain points where we didn’t see anyone else at all. That’s one of the things that made this visit truly special. If ever you’re in Seoul, it’s definitely a must-see!

Weekend in Seoul: Sleeping in a Spa

We headed up to Seoul this past weekend, for our first trip outside Busan since arriving in Korea. It was a whirlwind trip, but a nice change of pace.

Since we left after work on Friday, we didn’t arrive in Seoul until about midnight. Taking our friend’s advice, we stayed in the jjimjilbang behind the train station: a public bathhouse/spa that is also used as an easy bed for the night.

The only other jjimjilbang I had been to was Spaland in Busan, which is kind of the Holy Grail of these places. That one cost 15,000 won for four hours. This one, Siloam, was a little different, but more typical of other jjimjilbangs in Korea. This one had a twelve-hour time limit, making it perfectly feasible to spend the night here. It was also older and less modern than Spaland. The scene that greets you as you walk up to Siloam:

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Yeah, I have no idea. There was a long line of Koreans with huge suitcases in the check-in line when we arrived, so I guess a lot of people do this. We saw only two other foreigners during our stay here.

So, how does a jjimjilbang work? First, you pay. It cost us 13,000 won (about $12) to spend the night and have free use of all the facilities through 12pm the next day. Not a bad gig. They then give you a key to a shoe locker and some ugly-as-sin-one-size-fits all shorts/tshirt combo. The men and women split into their respective locker rooms. 

Once inside, you put your shoes into a tiny locker. You don’t wear shoes in any part of the building, which is definitely something I’m still getting used to. It’s very strange to wander through corridors and up stairs with no shoes on. But alas, this is Korea. Anyway, you then bring your shoe locker key to the lady behind the locker room desk, and she gives you a key for a big locker. You can either get changed into your snazzy new duds and meet up in the gender-mixed sauna/relaxation areas, or you can get naked with all the Korean ladies and take a dip in the mineral baths. 

Since it was so late when we arrived, we decided to do the sauna/bath stuff the next morning. Alex and I met in the meeting area for men and women, and got the lay of the land before retiring to our respective Sleeping Areas. This basically consists of about 100-300 (hard to tell in the dark) mats and Korean-style pillows, laid out bunk-bed style. 

I chose a mat in the far corner, and tried to fall asleep. Just as I was drifting off, a flashlight shone in my face. A Korean man was crouched outside of my, uh, sleeping accommodations, whisper-yelling at me to put my keys and cell phone in my pocket. Several words and phrases popped into my head, none of which included, “Thank you for the advice, kind sir.” I understand the idea behind keeping your valuables on your person, but dude, I was sleeping. 

After a rather fitful night’s sleep (you get what you pay for, I suppose), Alex and I met up to do some sauna-ing before taking showers and heading out for the day. This was my favorite part of this particular jjimjilbang: the fomentation rooms they had were really interesting. They had two different salt rooms, where you went in and literally lay down on a bed of salt crystals. There was another, similar room called the Jade Room. There was a super hot sauna (I want to say around 180 degrees F) so I stayed in all of 3 minutes before I felt like I was going to pass out. But that’s okay- to the Ice Room! This one was exactly as the name suggests: a refrigerator for cooling off after the hot sauna.

Alex and I headed into our respective locker rooms to enjoy a couple baths and a shower before leaving. The baths here were nice, if underwhelming. The facility at Spaland is so modern and huge that my experience there dwarfed this one a little bit.

It was an interesting place to spend the night. The sleeping part was definitely the worst, but waking up in a spa was not too shabby. I was able to stretch out the kinks after my less-than-stellar night on a mat, which is more than I can say for any hostel I’ve every stayed. I would go back to Siloam and do the same thing again, but next time I’m keeping everything in my pockets at all times.