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Trip Report 4 wonderful solo weeks in South Korea

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Finally! -- a start to my promised trip report on South Korea. I plan to summarize my final itinerary, comment on what I enjoyed least and most, recap my planning activities, and then – because South Korea gets so little coverage on Fodor’s -- give you a relatively detailed account of my time. So consider yourselves warned: This TR will be LONG (feel free to skim! :-) ) and it will take me a while to complete it. Even so, your questions and comments are welcome at any point!

Context: As some of you know, I’m a woman with reasonably extensive experience as a solo, independent traveler. This was my first visit to Korea and my third trip to the Orient. (I previously visited Japan for 3 weeks and northern China for 4 weeks.) Wherever I travel, I seek to maximize the diversity of the experiences I will likely have during my trip. My tastes are fairly eclectic, but not entirely indiscriminate: I typically enjoy art, architecture, museums, religious sanctuaries, parks and gardens, natural scenery, castles and fortresses, markets (for their atmosphere, not for shopping), picturesque villages, good food and wine, folk traditions, and the chance to see and experience other parts of the world. I generally don’t seek opportunities to relax (relying on meals and time in transit for that) or shop (except for buying gifts for family and friends).

Itnerary: This trip took place in May of 2014. My final itinerary was:

- Day 0-1: Leave the U.S.; reach my hotel in Seoul by early evening; begin exploring
- Days 2 – 5: Explore Seoul (with more time in Seoul at the end of my trip); day trips to Yongin and Suwon
- Day 6: First part of day in Seoul; move on to Daejeon
- Day 7: Day trip from Daejeon to Buyeo
- Day 8: Day trip from Daejeon to Gongju; move on to Gwangju
- Days 9 - 11: Gwangju and day trips to Gochang, Soswaewon, Songgwangsa, and Yulpo/Boseong
- Day 12: Move on to Seogwipo (on Jeju Island)
- Days 13 – 14: Explore Jeju Island
- Day 15: Visit Jeju City and move on to Busan
- Days 16 – 18: Explore Busan and Tongdosa
- Day 19: Move on to Haeinsa for an overnight templestay
- Day 20: Finish seeing Haeinsa; visit Daegu and Jikjisa; move on to Gyeongju
- Days 21 – 22: Explore Gyeongju and visit Seokguram and Bulguksa
- Day 23: Move on to Andong; visit Hahoe
- Day 24: Explore Andong
- Day 25: Move on to Yeongju; visit Buseoksa
- Day 26: Return to, and explore more of, Seoul
- Days 27 - 28: Explore Seoul
- Day 29: Return to U.S.

Likes and Dislikes:

What I liked least:

- In many areas, seemingly incessant and frankly unnecessary, irritating noises. Music blaring, people shouting, cartoon-like commercials and announcements (SO irksome, whether auditory or visual!), honking cars, sounds of hacking and spitting, etc., all (of course) against the “usual” street noises one encounteres anywhere. I remember one hike when -- just as I was thinking about how nice it was to experience a few moments of silence, broken only by an occasional bird call or the rustle of the leaves as a breeze caught them -- my thoughts were interrupted by blaring karyoke from a radio somebody was carrying. Seriously? And if someone is going to share his/her music with everyone else, does it really need to be Korean-dubbed disco music, decades-old pop music, or “White Christmas” (in May)?!? Sigh.

- Litter and the lack of trash cans/disposal options. One of my first impressions of Seoul was that it had a surprising amount of litter. The next morning, when I wanted to dispose of a take-out coffee cup, I realized that part of the problem is that it is almost impossible to locate a disposal option. Even the areas around vending machines – which were almost as common in Seoul as in Japan – didn’t necessarily have any trash receptacles. If I asked someone where to put my trash, s/he would inevitably simply take it from me, which I must admit felt like an incredible imposition, especially the time I asked a police officer. :-( I came to the conclusion – which could easily be mistaken -- that at least in Seoul, garbage is picked up early in the morning and people simply leave their trash at the curb. The problem didn’t seem quite so prevalent outside of Seoul, and I’m glad to report that when I did find trash receptables, they were almost always designed to separate recyclables from trash.

- The seeming absence of consensually acknowledged rules of the road other than stopping at a red light, so that just about every time I took a taxi, it was with the sense – no, make that the certain knowledge!!! – that I was risking my life. Nonetheless, I only saw one accident, and neither of the two cars involved were taxis.

- The VERY long waits to cross streets. It seemed that at almost every intersection, each distinct approach had it’s own, separate light. And each red light was long enough that some drivers (including some of my crazy taxi drivers) literally turned their cars off. A wait of up to 4 minutes for a green light for pedestrian crossings was not uncommon, causing me uncommon frustration.

- some truly awful coffee. I mean REALLY bad. I thought I could endure just about any cup of coffee if I felt the need for caffeine. I was SO wrong! I did find a number of decent coffee shops (Starbuck’s franchises or those of many of its competitors) in major cities, but many of these shops were open for afternoon or evening business only. (?!?) Finding a good – or even just barely decent -- cup of coffee in the morning was not always an easy task, particularly outside of Seoul or Busan.

- the nearly complete absence of options to enjoy a glass of wine or beer when not also eating a meal. Wine was extremely hard to find and was seriously overpriced. And although it seemed that one could buy beer at any 24-hr convenience store, public places where Koreans relax over a beer in the absence of a meal seemed essentially non-existent. (Beer did not seem an unusual accompaniment to dinner.)

- the seat belts on intercity buses. I don’t mind wearing a seat belt. My complaint is about the particular seat belts used on intercity buses in South Korea: The piece to the right is HUGE and is firmly fixed to the seat, so it can’t be moved, and the seats are made for SMALL people. I may not be the slim little wisp that I was when in high school, but I’m not much over the ideal weight for my height, and I still developed a HUGE bruise from where this seat belt part dug into my side on every bus trip. Ouch!

- The lack of a top-is-north convention for maps. (I think the convention may be that the top is what you are facing, but I’m not certain.) I didn’t realize that it wasn’t top-is-north until well into my trip, but I was soon aware that I was having great difficulty using publicly posted maps. That was disconcerting, as I am usually pretty good with maps. Eventually, I remembered being in another country where top is not necessarily north: Lightbulb!

- The very limited space for hanging things in Korean lodgings. Only one room in which I stayed had more than 3 hangers (it had 5!?!); some had less. Most rooms had enough rack space for me to hang my used towels and my day’s handwash; some did not.

- My idea of a dinner napkin is something one can use to cover one’s lap and wipe one’s hands. Not so in South Korea! As a rule, dinner napkins were no larger than what I consider a “cocktail napkin,” and they were often made of much thinner tissue. I did reasonably well – IMO – with the metal chopsticks and spoon, but I went through a LOT of the insubstantial little “napkins” I found at my tables. ;-)

What I liked most:

- the people and their truly warm hospitality. In every country I have visited over the years, I have been the fortunate recipient of some incredible acts of kindness, and those moments remain among my most precious memories of prior trips. Even in that context, the warmth and hospitality of the people of South Korea awed me, and it could well be that my memories of these people prove the most enduring of this trip. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where so many people have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome or to find ways to help me or share something with me. As examples, I don’t think I ever stopped at a public map without someone politely offering assistance. And even though there was no reason to do so, an incredible number of people who passed me as I walked around a temple or climbed to a fortress wall or whatever took a moment to greet me, whether in English or Korean; and they beamed, and sometimes paused to speak, when I responded. Delicious fruit was foisted upon me; people who I asked for directions sometimes walked a block or more just to make sure I found what I sought; volunteer guides spent inordinate amounts of time with me. Wow!

- the food! One of the few words I learned before going to Korea was “delicious,” and I definitely had opportunities to use it! More often than not, I sat, laughing, as plate after plate after plate (“banchan” or small dishes) was put before me, sometimes even before I ordered. I don’t have the most adventurous of palates, but OMG, just about every dish was amazingly delicious! I didn’t always know what I was eating, but at most, one or two of the side plates at any one meal proved too salty or spicy for me.

- the attentiveness of bus drivers throughout Korea. There were, at most, only a few times when a bus driver failed to make absolutely certain that I got off at the place I wanted to go, and most of them also made sure I knew which direction to walk once I got off.

- Ondal floors! None of the nights that I was in Korea were particularly cold, but even so, a tad of warmth underfoot was incredibly pleasant. I want one!

- The ease of using the subway systems in Seoul, Daejeon, and Busan. There were frequent signs and announcements in English and each station had conveniently located maps of the station, the area around the station, and the metro system. It may have taken a moment for me to get oriented in any specific station, but it didn’t take long!

- The many opportunities I had to observe a wide range of Korean traditions, ceremonies, and performances, whether by walking through folk museums or attending events or visiting villages that have retained traditions that have been abandoned elsewere. I attended the very solemn Jongmyo Daeje as well as humorous reenactments of folk dances; saw professionally performed dances and barely proficient equestrian stunts; attended moving Buddhist prayers and the comedy of Nanta – a delightful range of cultural events!

- Public toilets. Seriously! Even in the middle of forested parks, public toilets were common, clean, and generally had Western-style toilets. I only came upon one public WC that had only squat toilets; a few had both Western and squat options, most had Western only. And almost all had plenty of toilet paper and soap. :-) There were even a surprising number of toilets, even in parks, that had those fancy Japanese toilets with heated, padded seats and a set of controls that provide all sorts of options. Awesome!

- And to move to the completely trivial, I became a complete convert to the exfoliating strips that many Korean hotels offer their guests. These are just bits of some kind of synthetic whatever, but I LOVED them – just the right texture for exfoliation, just the right size for scrubbing one’s back, easily wrung out to dry overnight. I took every one that my hotels offered as a free amenity and bought more for family and friends! When I showed one of my proprieters an example, and asked her to write out and pronounce the Korean name for it, she said, literally, "You won't believe me, but the name, pronounced in Korean, really is “shower tower – or should that be towel?” LOL! But using that name worked, and some of my friends and family members will reap the benefits. (Or they might if I decide to give any up.)

I think you will have noticed that my “least-liked” list includes many things that were irksome, but ultimately irrelevant; my “most-liked” list includes things that made this trip truly memorable. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in South Korea!

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    Oh good, very glad to see this get started!

    BTW, if you had problems with the noise, the trash and the traffic in South Korea, you might want to skip India... Just saying.

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    OMG, thursdaysd, there are SO many things in India that I would love to see, and SO many things I don't think I can manage -- the heat, the poverty, the crowds.... Not to mention the horrible events involving women over the last few years -- which I know you bring to our attention as soon as you become aware of them. Sadly, I suspect that India is off my list of priorities, at least for now. But maybe things will change, and at least I am absolutely certain that I won't run out of other options!

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    Oh, and I should be clear: I found the noise, trash, and traffic in South Korea irritating, nothing more, and I regret if I suggested that they were trip-stoppers (as I think they can be in some countries).

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    Well, I think India is absolutely worth it, but I was amused because I don't remember noticing that noise and trash were bad in Korea, and certainly not traffic, but apparently I've spent more time in Asia than you have (yet). BTW, I drink wine almost exclusively at home, but I drink beer in Asia. Things may be gradually improving, but when I started traveling in Asia wine was either undrinkable or ridiculously expensive. I don't even look for it any more.

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    kja - I am looking forward to your report particularly about Seoul....as I said in your other post, all I know about Korea is from Korean dramas, and Seoul and the Han River have a place in my heart....:)
    In the dramas they tend to drink at these tent bars which seem to be outside and serve soju and some type of food - did you see places like that?
    I am surprised about the litter - in Japan you don't see trash cans much at all in the stations/streets but there is very little litter for the most part.
    Was there no language issue for the most part? Funny about 'shower towel.' In Kyoto I was with a Japanese friend in a health and beauty aids type store and I told her I needed body lotion and asked how you say it in Japanese....'body lotion'....with a little Japanese accent of course. ;-)

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    Warm greetings again kja and early thank you for what promises to be another thoughtful trip report concerning a country I've grown to savour for current Asia business travel, South Korea. (And remain most appreciative of your China musings. Believe have mentioned this before: writers like you make being on the road for work that much more enjoyable.)

    Completely concur with your positive impressions of that warm S. Korean hospitality, the cuisine and yes, those occasional "exfoliation strips". Am presently scheduled for ongoing Seoul meetings this month, so look forward to more from you.

    As always, would be honoured to offer lodging, dining and recreational ideas for our fine home of Singapore (and naturally, a certain Singaporean airline I'll be flying "trans-pac" for work this weekend). Our sweet city-state of SIN can have her moments.

    Keep up the brilliant work, kja; always a pleasure. Warm and early weekend (and perhaps holiday) wishes to you and all from San Francisco Bay Area,

    macintosh (robert)


    ... Singapore Girl, You're a Great Way to Fly ...

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    Hmm… I wonder if the trash I noted was because I arrived in Seoul on a holiday weekend? If the street clearners were off, that might explain the amount of litter I saw. (Although more trash receptacles would have helped!)

    @ Prachuap – point taken! I hope the title of my TR lets the reader know that I thought the positives won out.

    @ thursdaysd – I wasn’t particularly surprised that it was difficult to get decent wine at an affordable price; it’s just one of the (little) things earned a place on my "least liked" list. I do enjoy being able to relax with a glass of wine, or beer, at an outdoor cafe at the end of a long walk! Maybe one day I'll learn to stop looking for such opportunities when in Asia. (Of course, the day I do that will be the day it actually becomes an option, and I won't even notice! ;-) )

    @ Mara – I did see some of those little tent places, and unlike you, I hadn’t known about them! All the ones I saw sold hot food (oh, the aromas were enticing!); I’m sure that beer and soju would have been available (as they were at most other places where one could eat).

    Language was more of an issue in some places than others, but there were at least some people who spoke at least some English just about everywhere. And I’m always pleasantly surprised by how much can be accomplished with just a few words, particularly when people are as accomodating as I found the Koreans to be. I’ll try to be sure to note the few times where communication was on the more challenging side.

    As a speaker of a language that adopted so many words from other cultures, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when other languages adopt English terms, particularly for modern conveniences. Even so, it can catch me quite off guard, especially when the items seem so commonplace and, as you say, they are pronounced (charmingly) with accents.

    @ AskOksena – Hi, Robert, and thanks again for your kind words. Towards the end of my stay, I adopted one of your recommendations – but I’m not giving anything away yet! You are just going to have to read along…. :-)

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    "The lack of a top-is-north convention for maps." I had to laugh at this one. I kept wondering why I was so lost in Tokyo until it was pointed out to me that there is no "north at the top of the map" convention in Tokyo!

    Enjoying your report, kja.

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    @ Kathie – Knowing the direction of a map turns out to be useful, doesn’t it! :-) I think it WAS Japan where I had encountered that issue before….


    Thanks to all of you who are sharing this trip with me -- keep on chiming in!


    Approach to Planning:

    I LOVE to plan my trips, and in recent years, I have typically spent about 6 months (on evenings and weekends, as my schedule permits) doing so. This time, life intervened and I did not feel as prepared as I would have liked when I left for the airport.

    Planning for Korea provided some unique challenges: There was enough information out there to let me indulge my urge to plan, but only up to a point. There was not enough information (or at least, not enough that I could find that seemed reliable) for me to have confidence in some of my plans. And in some cases, the information I had was so scanty or inconsistent that I didn’t feel I could plan at all. :-( (Of course I know that NO plan is perfect, and I never think of a plan as being written in stone, but I do like being able to think things through in advance when I can.) Here are a few examples of the challenges I encountered:

    • Planning a visit to the Gansong (aka Kansong) Art Museum. This museum, which some sources describe as the finest private collection of art in South Korea, is only open twice a year – for two weeks in May and two weeks in October. But NOTHING I did resulted in information about WHICH two weeks in May! Just before I left, I got a message from the staff of one of my hotels in Seoul saying that it would not likely be the first 2 weeks….

    • Identifying certain transportation options. Example: I hoped to visit Buseoksa and believed that the best way to do so would be by taking a bus from the city of Yeongju. But the only bus information I could find suggested that there would be no way to get to the temple after 8 a.m. and no way to leave it until about 5 p.m. – options that didn’t suit me well. If nothing else, I thought, maybe I could hire a taxi for the day….

    • Reserving certain reserve-able events. Example: Perhaps a month before my trip was to start, I came across an announcement that two of Seoul’s palaces – including Changgyeonggung, which was near my hotel – would be open for a rare evening visit on the night of my arrival in Seoul AND that a certain number of tickets were reserved for foreigners. Bonus! One was to call a certain number, so I did! And called. And called. And then I called other numbers – the number for the 2nd palace included in the special event (yes, the number you have is correct, we don’t know why you can’t get through… ) and a different number for the palace in question that I found on-line (yes, you are right about the tickets, but we can’t help you – please call the number you already have again….) How frustrating! I spent both more time and much more money than I would have liked talking to people who couldn’t help until the last date for making advance reservations passed. Sigh.

    With lots of deep, calming breaths (and BTW, it turns out that it is helpful to take such breaths SLOWLY), I planned what I could – which was, in truth, most of my trip.

    Key Resources: Here are the key resources I used:

    - The following six guidebooks:
    Frommer’s South Korea,
    Insight Guides’ South Korea,
    Michelin’s Green Guide, South Korea,
    Moon Handbook’s, South Korea,
    Rough Guide’s Korea, and
    Seoul Selection Guide’s Korea.

    The best of these was, IMO, no contest -- the Seoul Selection Guide. The bad news: It is made with high quality paper and a wealth of color photos, so it is NOT a good book for carrying along, and it was not available in Kindle or other electronic format. :-( The book I chose to take in hardback was the one I thought second best, the Moon guide (minus all the pages I didn’t think I would need, which I tore out -- ouch! Sort of like ripping a bandage off, IMO.) I also had a copy of the Rough Guide on Kindle. BTW, I didn’t use either of two of my usuals for this trip: I read so many bad reviews of the Lonely Planet’s guide that I didn’t even look at it, and, at least when I shopped, Fodor’s didn’t have a book on Korea that I could find that was less than 10 years old.

    - Answers to questions I posted here on Fodor’s, as well as answers to a few questions I posted on TripAdvisor or sent to VisitKorea.com (the web-iste of South Korea's tourism organization) or to some of the lodgings I reserved, and trip reports and other postings that I found through Fodor’s. Here’s a link to my planning thread:
    http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/please-help-me-plan-35-weeks-in-south-korea.cfm

    - Input from a few Korean friends and also several friends who are not Korean, but who have visited one or more parts of South Korea.

    - Google maps. And

    - Any and all sites I could find when googling topics about which I wished to know more.

    Lodging: At this point in my life, my critera for accommodation generally include cleanliness and safety, location, en suite bath facilities, internet access (preferably free wifi), cost, and other evidence of “good” as opposed to “not so good.” I spend very little time in my lodgings – as a rule, just enough time to sleep and take care of hygiene -- so I do NOT look for high-end accommodations, nor do seek Western hotels.

    - As with my other travel plans, I seek variety in my lodging: I wanted to stay in at least one hanok (a traditional Korean home, converted for guest lodging), at least one temple, at least one “love hotel” (more about them later), etc.

    - I read reviews on both booking.com and tripadvisor.com (and sometimes other sites), and then reserved most of my lodging through booking.com and a few places through their own web sites.

    - The only reservation I didn’t have before leaving was for Yeongju, for which I had little information. I had selected a possible hotel, but couldn’t reach it. After arriving in South Korea, I reserved it with the help of someone at a hotel I visited early in my trip.

    - I post reviews of hotels on TripAdvisor (TA), and I don’t like to create the impression that two different people have said the similar things about a place, so in what follows, I will quote my TA reviews verbatim.

    Language: I listened to 7 or 8 hours of Pimsleur’s Korean lessons, but I can not say that I learned to speak Korean before my trip. I found Korean to be very alien to my ears and I had a hard time with even some very basic phrases. But I did learn a few words and phrases – enough to at least try to be civil. And with the help of a few friends who are Korean, or who have Korean relatives, I learned some words that I found very particularly useful: wonderful, delicious, etc.

    Currency: Someone with whom I work had recently returned from Seoul, so he sold me his leftover won – about 30,000 won – for the exchange rate listed on the internet the day we looked. Otherwise, I knew that the airport into which I would fly (Incheon) had conveniently located ATMs.


    Soon to come: posts about the trip itself! I will try to provide enough of a description of places to give you a sense of what I am talking about, but I will NOT try to duplicate information you can find in a guidebook or with a simple internet search. Instead, my focus will be on MY experiences of these places in the hope that that information will provide a personal perspective on things you can easily learn elsewhere. When it seems appropriate, I will interrupt my report to share some generalizations; I will try to remember to set these notes aside by starting them with astericks.

    Again – feel free to ask questions any time!


    Days 0-1: Flight from DC to Seoul

    I flew Korean Air, taking a direct flight from Dulles to Incheon. I was in window seat (my preference) in economy class (not my preference, but I can’t imagine it is anybody else’s, either ;-) ) Fortunately, there was no one in the seat next to me, so it was by no means the smallest space I’ve been forced to occupy. It could have been MUCH worse! I chose the Korean dishes for each of my two dinner choices, and thought them better than many intercontinental meals I’ve had. (Although I must say that the bibimbap tasted much better on the way there than the way back. I got spoiled!) With the “benefit” of a sleepless night of preparations before my midday flight, I slept through most of this 14.5 hour flight.

    Once at Incheon, I easily spotted a store selling “T-Money” cards -- plastic cards the size of a credit card that one can use to pay for subway and other transit options within Seoul and some other parts of Korea, with greater savings and convenience than using hard currency for each trip. I was surprised that it seemed difficult to buy this card, until I realized that my coworker had inadvertently sold me some Phillipine currency. :-( Yes, that would make the transaction more complicated! Once I offerred Korean currency, purchasing and charging the T-Money Card were very easy.

    I then stopped at an ATM and went to an easily located Tourist Information (TI) desk, where I got a map, confirmed the directions to my lodging, and headed to the departure point for my bus. It arrived soon, and the driver stowed my luggage in an external side compartment. ( I love external luggage compartments!)

    During my hour-plus-long bus ride, I looked out over the broad mud flats (I think that’s what they were) of the vast tidal basin near Incheon. Soon, the bus reached the outskirts of Seoul, with its many clusters of highrise apartment buildings – cluster after cluster after cluster, each building maybe 20- or 25-stories tall, mostly in the same shade of eggshell white, rising in tiers, one after the other, into and in front of the surrounding tree-covered hills. This was my first exposure to Korea’s hills, which I came to think of as dragon-backed ridges – they extend across the horizon with so many ups and downs that the ridges seem broken; ridges that ran parallel to one another, one behind the next, fading into bluer and bluer shades until they disappear into the distance. For me, this image of clusters of high-rise apartment buildings creeping up the lower reaches of multiple dragon-backed ridges will remain one of my iconic images of Seoul, and, absent the high-rises, an iconic (and lovely) image of much of what I saw of South Korea.

    It was easy to find my stop: Shortly after a recorded voice announcement (as I was to learn, many announcements on public transportation in Seoul were in Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, and English), the bus driver signaled to me that we had reached my destination. I stepped off and he gave me my luggage.

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    Thanks, thursdaysd!

    I do live in the DC area and expect be in town the first weekend in August, but there is a small chance that I might have to be elsewhere that week. I would be delighted to meet you – thank you so much for suggesting it! I think we have a mutual friend out on the west coast; I’ll give him permission to share my contact info with you. Or feel free to suggest another way to connect!

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    @ thursdaysd – You need to help a luddite! When I tried to click on your “comments” link, my computer (a Mac) told me that I don’t have an app that will let me do that. So, what do I need? I have a Mac and an iPad; no smart phone.

    @ gertie – I wonder how often our paths crossed in Seoul? I’ll look forward to hearing your perspectives on the things I saw.

    @ Mara -- next to last paragraph of this post.


    Day 1, continued: Seoul

    I got of the bus, as directed, at the Changdeokgung stop, began following the directions provided by my lodging, and thought to myself: “This can’t be right – it’s too close!” But it was correct -- bonus! I turned the corner across from the impressive main gate to Changdeokgung – one of Seoul’s palaces – and then walked through a short block of multistory structures with storefronts. In just minutes, I reached my lodging.

    HOTEL: Hostel Korea 11th: Changdeokgung. Here’s the review I posted on TripAdvisor:

    “I spent 5 nights in a double for single use at the Hostel Korea 11th: Chandeokgung <sic>. For my purposes, the location was superb: I was within easy walking distance of 3 different subway lines and multiple sites of interest to me. 



    I found this hostel to be quite serviceable and pleasant. There is a small area with a cheerfully utilitarian décor that serves as the breakfast room and is available 24/7. There’s also a roof deck with some nice views of the mountains to Seoul’s north and a self-service laundry area, too.

    My corner room offered nice views; was spotlessly clean; and was simply, but comfortably, furnished. It had a minifrig, electric kettle, free wifi, flat screen TV, and computer. The bathroom was a wet room with sufficient counter space and just enough rack-space to suit my needs. 



    Breakfast was also serviceable: Hardboiled eggs; steamed sweet potato slices; bread that you could toast in one of two 2-slice toasters and top with jam (my one recommendation for the hostel: get a few more toasters!); bananas; a delicious yogurt drink; cereal; and (unfortunately) truly lousy coffee. 



    The staff of the Hostel Korea 11th deserve special commendation. They spoke English well, responded promptly to numerous questions I sent in advance of my trip, and provided patient and constructive answers to the many questions I asked during my stay. 



    To be absolutely clear: The Hostel Korea 11th provides utilitarian accommodation. If you want luxury, you are looking at the wrong place! But if you want to stay in this part of Seoul in a place that is clean, pleasant, serviceable, and staffed with people who will go out of their way to help you, then the Hostel Korea 11th is well worth considering. I am very glad I chose to stay there.”

    *** Accomodations in South Korea: There were several things that I found common to all the places I stayed during my trip, with the exception of my templestay (which was an entirely different beast). These commonalities could have resulted from my strategy for selecting accommodations, rather than from common Korean norms, but for what it’s worth, here’s what I observed:

    - Payment in full was expected in advance.
    - One is expected to take one’s shoes upon entering one’s room. Separate pairs of slip-on sandals are provided for the bedroom and the bathroom.
    - If there is a bed (and you should be able to tell in advance whether you are reserving a Western room – with a bed – or not), then the bed will be on the firm side (I’ve slept on firmer). Whether in a Western room or not, you will likely find a lightweight comforter, but not a top sheet. (Hotels geared to Westerners may have them; I don’t know!)
    - I was generally given 3 hand towels and 1 bath towel.
    - Many bathrooms were “wet” – the room is designed with no expectation that a shower curtain or shower wall or anything else will contain the water from a shower. Instead, there is a drain in the bathroom floor into which the water will flow. Most such rooms are designed with more than enough spray-free space, but do consider the placement of towels, robes, toiletries, etc., before taking a shower!
    - Bathroom counter space was often quite limited.
    - All rooms in which I stayed had functioning sink stoppers.
    - My electrical adaptors fitted too loosely to function properly in any of the rooms in which I stayed. With one exception, all of my accommodations had adaptors that I could borrow.
    - Most of my rooms used the door’s key card to control electrical current, so one could not charge electrical appliances after leaving.
    - As I recall, all the rooms I stayed in had a wide-screen TV, a computer, a mini-frig stocked with water, a hair dryer, and at least a core selection of toiletries – soap, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. Many rooms had other amenities, such as electric kettles, packets of tea, robes, etc. Rooms in “love hotels” also had a tray with various lotions and creams.
    - With one exception, none of my rooms had more than 3 hangers.


    Back to my first night in Seoul: I checked into my hotel, freshened up, and decided that I had enough energy to spend a couple of hours exploring Seoul. You might recall that I had been unable to reserve a night visit to Changgyeonggung. But there I was in Seoul, only a 15-minute walk from the palace, in need of a stretch of legs after a 14.5-hour flight and an hour-long bus ride thereafter, and really, what did I have to lose? The worst they could do was say no! So off I set, and YES! WooHoo! They let me in! :-) As I knew by the time I got there, I had at most just over an hour before closing, but it’s a small palace.

    Changgyeonggung. Changgyeonggung may not be the largest or most noteworthy of Seoul’s palaces, but seeing it after dark on the first night of a visit to South Korea gave it a special aura. As I stepped through the gate and faced the little arched bridge, with its guadian statues, over the stream that marked the inner/outer border, I thought: ah, yes, I am back in the Orient!

    The grounds were lit specially for this night-time event, with tasseled red and blue silk lantern screens hung over the lights that mark its pathways and green or yellow lights provided back-lighting to the major sites. Most palaces and residences and pavillions were lit so that one could see both exteriors and interiors. The area by a pavillion overlooking the palace’s stone pagoda and the area by a man-made pool near the king’s residence seemed especially lovely to me in the dim light. There were a number of people about, but everyone spoke in hushed tones and the atmosphere was wonderfully quiet and evocative.

    As I was walking in the area near the king’s and queen’s residences, a guard signaled to me, and despite her limited English, indicated that I should go to the palace’s pond before the palace closed for the night. And so off to the pond I went, and I am so grateful for her timely notice! Here, too, lighting was used to great effect, and the reflections in the still waters of the pond were absolutely lovely! All too soon I heard the announcement for closing, an announcement that was made in several languages, including English.

    It was a beautiful evening, and very comfortable, and OMG, what a wonderfully unexpected introduction to South Korea!

    I returned to the area near my hotel, walked around a bit to get a sense of the neighborhood, and then returned to my hotel. I checked my e-mail, and found a surprise, which requires a bit of a back-story.

    I knew well in advance of my trip that May 4 would be the day of the Jongmyo Daeje (aka Jongmyo Jerye), a centuries-old celebration of the kings and queens of the Joseon dynasty. The shrine in which this ceremony is held – Jongmyo – is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS), and the ceremony itself has been designated a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The ceremony was another event for which a number of (free) tickets for non-Koreans had been set aside. I had applied well in advance of my trip, but apparently not soon enough – days before my departure, I got word that my application had been denied. But when I returned to my hotel that night and checked my e-mail, OMG, I had been awarded a ticket after all!

    I fell asleep with the feeling that South Korea had opened its arms to me. :-)


    Day 2: Seoul

    Bukchon. Bukchon is a small district within Seoul that is “preserved to show a 600-year-old urban environment traditional village … composed of lots of alleys [and] hanok …” <quoted from Wikipedia>. While that may well be true, that description does not fully capture my experience: In my 2-hour-plus walk of the area, I saw a lot of tourists posing before a few stretches of traditional hanok walls. I saw a lot of places where it was possible to imagine that hanoks were hidden behind walls. I saw a lot of electrical wiring and unadorned cement walls. I saw a place where one could look out over much newer sections of the city. With effort, I found “the” place where one could look out over a Joseon-era palace – if one climbed up on a bench and craned one’s neck…

    If you are getting the sense that I thought Bukchon over-hyped, you would not be mistaken. I didn’t find my time in the area unpleasant – it was just not what I had expected. I thoroughly enjoyed a few places: the garden of the Constitutional Court; a set of wisteria-draped arbors edging a library’s courtyard, etc…. (But those aren’t the essence of Bukchon, are they???)

    There was one place, though, up a small inconspicuous street that was sided by a fence, from which one could see, descending a slope, a series of slate-colored tile roofs, each with its ever-so-slightly upturned corners, each giving texture and shading to the view, each making me smile. THAT was worth seeing!

    I stopped for a latte and then headed for Jongmyo. As I understood it, there was to be a parade leading up to the Jongmyo Daeje, and it was to proceed along a route that I could easily reach from Bukchon. My plan was to walk along the parade route until I reached Jongmyo. I was a bit later than I had planned, but only by 15 or 20 minutes, and there was no sign that there had been, or would be, a parade along any of the very busy streets involved. After a relatively long, rapid walk in more humid and hotter conditions than I would have preferred, I came to the main entrance to Jongmyo – only to see signs directing me elsewhere because of a construction project.

    I bought more water and followed the directions and FINALLY found the entrance. There, I learned that the parade had been cancelled because of the tragic ferry disaster that had taken place about a month before. Fully understandable!

    People at the gate were handing out sunvisors made of two flat pieces, one that wrapped around one’s head and the other that clipped into it to shade one’s face and eyes. Perfect!

    Jongmyo. The entry into the shrine provided a surprisingly clear demarcation between the hustle/bustle of city life and quietude. I had been on a street that was filled with vendors and relatively raucous crowds, and as soon as I stepped through Jongmyo’s gate, I felt the peacefulness of a sanctuary. I had only about a half-hour to visit the grounds of Jongmyo before positioning myself for the ceremony. Despite the crowds, my impression was that this was a very deeply respected space, and one that was intended to foster contemplation (as a pond near the entry did) or to quietly inspire (as the elegant lines of each building did).

    Jongmyo Daeje (aka Jongmyo Jerye). From what I had read in advance, my understanding was that this ritual takes 6 hours all together, and includes 3 phases that are open to the public: the parade, a 2-hour ceremony that would be accessible to the public and would start at 1 p.m.; and another ceremony open to those with tickets from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m.

    The doors to the main shrine were opened at about 12:30, and I joined the masses as we entered and jockeyed for position. The shrine used for this part of the ritual is exceptionally long; I thought it had an incredibly simple elegance. The long side facing the courtyard is divided into multiple “bays” defined by supporting columns, and each “bay” held a table and various sacred objects. Most of the courtyard was actually a huge paved “platform” raised about 4 feet above the surrounding edges; there are several bridges connecting this raised area to the shrine. I was lucky enough to find a position leaning forward against the wall of this platform.

    The vast platform had been covered, in parts, by woven mats, which demarked the places in which partipants (celebrants? I’m not sure how to refer to them) would later stand. An occasional gust of wind (thank goodness the air moved once in a while! -- it was very hot that day, :-( ) tossed the mats hither and fro. There were two or three men in costume who ran about repositioning the many mats. (I kept thinking: Have you never heard of rocks or other weights?) Each time the men returned to their positions, the wind would hurl the mats around again….

    Soon, costumed men began stepping onto the paved platform against which I was leaning. They were in Joseon-era costumes for civil officers and they seemed to take great pride in being precise in their steps and other movements. The costumes seemed generally similar, but there were some differences that would have signalled rank – whether one’s shoes were white or white with black details; whether one’s belt was “jade” only or had some other stones, etc.

    Once everyone was in position, there was a row of men – maybe 10 wide – who were standing on the platform just a few feet in front of me; this was the last row of perhaps a dozen rows of men. Then a woman came along the platform edge, on the level where I was (not on the platform itself) and adjusted each man’s custom: There were knots that she re-tied and garments that she straigtened and socks that she re-positioned. She was VERY particular. And each time she started her work on the next man in line, it was interesting to see the startled reaction on his face, even as he stayed as still as he could.

    And then began about 2 hours of … I wasn’t exactly sure. I had looked at on-line images of the ceremonies before leaving for Korea, but they all showed what was happening within the shrine, and from where I was standing, I could barely see into a few of the bays. Over the course of the next 2 hours, the rows of men filed to the center of the platform, and then into the shrine, and then back into place. I could hear the occasional sounds of bells and drums and gongs. I could see that someone in a special headdress (I assume the man protraying the king) was carried by palenquin into the area and then escorted by foot, to and from, a central point. And I could see, within the barely visible shadows of the shrine, various people moving around the tables in the shrine’s bay, offering wine or foods or whatever in highly ritualized movements.

    And then, once everyone was back in place (with lots of running around to again secure the mats), it was over. And only then did I see any of those many men who took part smile -- which they did broadly as their children leapt onto the platform and into their arms or as other family members and friends came up and greeted them. I have no idea whether anyone on that platform believed in the power of the rituals that he reanacted, but I am convinced that those men believed in the importance of preserving those rituals.

    After 2+ hours of standing in the sun (thank goodness for that visor!), I was ready to go.

    I left the shrine and found a coffee shop, where I eventually got a much-needed cup of coffee. (Did anyone think that heating water IN ADVANCE of an order might be worth considering if your business is running a coffee shop? Of course that thought remained unspoken….) Much as I wanted a second cup, there was no time before the next part of the Daeje, the part for which I had been given a last-minute seat.

    As instructed in the e-mail that notified me that I had been granted one of the free seats for this event, I went to the entrance to the shrine and found a table at which I could check in. The volunteers who manned this desk were very helpful and very gracious. I was given my ticket, a brochure, little booklet that I could use to obtain and record stamps from all the UNESCO WHSs I visited while in Korea, and a little emergency rain parka. I was offered a sun-visor (which I declined, since I already had one) and an English-language audio of the ceremony, which I declined (with regret) because I had a reservation subsequent to this one and didn’t think I would have time to stand in line to return it and retrieve my ID.

    ***English-speaking Korean volunteers. I benefited enormously from the many, many English-speaking Koreans who volunteered as docents or at tourist information offices or who staffed special events, such as this one. I didn’t realize until well in my trip that these people are often (generally? always?) volunteers. And every one seemed to take great pride in the things they were able to share with, and make accessible to, foreigners – their efforts seemed to me to be genuine labors of love. How awesome!

    I also learned that this part of the ritual would actually be the SAME as that which I had observed earlier; the only difference is the availability of seating at this version. Oops!

    This ceremony was held in a different building than the earlier one, and if not quite so long or quite so elegant, it nonetheless had a similarly pleasing simplicity of lines. My seat offered a view of not only the “civil officers” (those whose backs I had seen earlier), but also a distant view of musicians and dancers. And there were two HUGE video screens beside the visitors’ seats, so I could see what was happening INSIDE the shrine, not to mention the camera’s views of the dancers and musicians and the civilian officers and the costume of the man brought in on a palenquin and a man and woman (each in a beautiful robe) who were narrating the event.

    As I suspected from my earlier experience, the ritual is solemn and slowly paced and a bit (OK – quite decidedly!) ponderous.

    Then … was that a raindrop? Another? People began rushing out. It’s just a few raindrops! I put my emergency parka on. Event staff began moving easily assembled tents onto the shrine’s courtyard to protect the musical instruments. The ritual participants stayed in place. More frequent raindrops. More people dashed for the exit. Volunteers came out and distributed sturdier parkas. Rain began to come down harder. Even more attendees ran out. Event staff began moving more tents onto the courtyard. And then, as the rain came in full force, even the most stalwart of the ritual participants ran for the exits. And, with the last of the die-hard, I did, too, perhaps a half-hour short of the time it would take for completion of the full ritual.

    Had I known, in advance, that I would see the “same” thing at both times, I can’t imagine that I would have tried to attend both. But what a precious stroke of fortune it was to have attended both segments, given the different experiences they afforded me. And, thanks to the rain, I didn’t sit through the ENTIRE event a full second time. ;-)

    Despite the downpour, I took my time walking to the exit gate. Most of the grounds were blocked off, but I still appreciated seeing the green refuge that this shrine provided in the midst of one of the most densely populated cities in the world. And IMO, if a pond is pretty in good weather, it’s worth seeing when raindrops pock its surface. :-)

    Nanta (a play/comedy/musical). It was very easy to find my way to the Myeongdong NANTA Theater: I took a bus to the very, very busy Lotte Department Store, and then walked a few blocks. I had reserved in advance (while still at home) and I arrvived in plenty of time to claim my ticket.

    OMG, this play was such fun! It has energy and athleticism and musicality and martial arts and Latin dance and humor that ranged from corny to witty and it engages that audience wonderfully and I recommend it wholeheartedly. :-)

    Myeongdong district. I’m not a shopper, so my goals for walking through this notorious shopping district were to get to/from the theater and to get something to eat. I had, in advance, identified a nearby restaurant that I thought I might enjoy that would still be open after Nanta ended. But I hadn’t understood Seoul’s method of assigning addresses, and so never found the restaurant.

    ***Street addresses: In Seoul, and many other parts of Korea, the thing I understood to be the “street” name when I looked at an address might not refer to a street, but rather to a district. As a result, multiple parallel AND perpendicular streets have the same "name". Street signs generally give the “district” name and often indicate which building numbers would be found in a particular block – or at least that’s what I came to believe.

    There were a lot of food stands in the area. I rarely partake of street food because I prefer to sit down and relax over a meal. But it was late, the foods smelled wonderful, and I could watch the food being cooked (which I think is important when eating street food). Soon I had a delicious serving of a lightly coated, deep-fried, sandwich-like thing of minced shrimp and crab and vegetables. SO good! A bit later, I also had some nicely seasoned potato crisps. To this day, I don’t know how the local vendors turned slices of potato into such tasty coils!

    Cheonggyecheon Stream. The Cheonggyecheon Stream is a revitalized waterway through the core of Seoul. There was an entrance just a few blocks from Myeongdong.

    Near the start of my walk, a part of the stream had been strung with lanterns in advance of Buddha’s Birthday: Lovely! Other parts were more subdued. The stream was lined with young trees, and burgeoning shrubs, and reeds…. I’d love to see this urban park once the vegetation matures! There were stepping stones to cross the stream every so often, and places to sit, and a few places where walls were decorated with tiles that depicted key events from Korean history. Through most of what I saw, they stream flowed steadily, with just a bit of speed, through a slight downhill course, but there was at least one point when it flowed at a noticably rapid pace, and at least one place where it flowed over enough rock for me to consider it a small waterfall. A few others were out enjoying the evening, strolling or sitting.

    What a great urban walkway!

    As I walked toward my hotel, I passed a few street-side eateries, but not food trucks or carts – small, tented, street-side eateries. (Mara – these are the ones!) From what I could see, some tents --- the larger ones – had space for the cooking area and maybe as many as 12 or even 16 diners (I’m guessing); other tents seemed to have space for even fewer patrons. Each had a small central area where someone was cooking, and tables to either side, all under a single tent, and all with lots of lively conversation and comraderie. Although I didn’t eat in any, the aromas were enticing and the concept intrigued me.

    I also passed a closed fish restaurant, where I learned something else about Korea: Many fish restaurants are fronted by tiers of large fish tanks, from which people select their meal.

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    Wow, that is a very busy first day! I was starting to suffer from starvation just reading it.

    Great that you were able to do the evening visit, it sounds magical.

    Not sure why the comment thing isn't working - if you click on "2 Comments" at the bottom of the first post you should see a "Leave a Reply" box. Does clicking on "Post Comment" below it not work? If it doesn't, try the contact link at the bottom of http://wilhelmswords.com

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    kja...lol....those tents sound like what I see in the dramas.

    Great first day! The room sounds similar to a budget Japanese, e.g. Toyoko Inn, room except the Japanese bathroom always has a deep tub, right? Yes, three hangers is about it. ;-)

    You are tempting me to visit Seoul. I am thinking to take a quick trip - maybe 3 nights - if I can get a cheap fare from Japan next spring.

    Looking forward to more - even places I don't plan to visit - oh, and Jeju Island is also often visited in dramas......

    Don't mind me - I am a kdrama addict....lol....I've seen many historical dramas as well and would love to see them dressed in those costumes at a palace.

    Thanks so much for sharing. :)

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    kja - I meant to ask - how is the smoking situation in Korea? Are there non-smoking rooms in the hotels you stayed at? What about restaurants? I found that to be an issue in Japan. Still most restaurants there allow smoking or have no real partition between smoking and non-smoking areas.....
    Then again maybe you are a smoker or that isn't an issue for you...;-)

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    kja, have read your stuff with great interest. I was in Seoul for just the last week of May, so we might have crossed in the street at the end of your trip!

    While I was there I had a day in Gyeongbokgung, lovely, fairly quiet round the back and off the main drag!

    Then another in Bukchon, which was a different story altogether... crowds and crowds of high school kids on school trips, the narrow streets very noisy and packed with people. Like you I found the English-speaking Volunteeers wonderful, so helpful and always smiling while answering my questions. One of them even advised me not to try to climb all the steps (I suspect due to my advanced age though she didn't exactly say that! I didn't take her suggestion either.) I walked back along Insadong picking up bits and pieces to take back for friends (I'm not a shopper in any way).

    Another day I started in Unhyeongung which was almost deserted and suited me fine. Then across to Changeokgung and Changgyeonggung where I spent all day. Fantastic, especially the Secret Garden... hope you got there. You have to go on a tour to that bit but the group got so big, around 80 people, that it was quite easy to get lost and avoid them all!!

    One thing I failed spectacularly in was a visit to Jongmyo. I found it with no problem and read all about it, only to stand outside and read that it was it closed Monday and Tuesday which were the only days I had left. So it is great to read about what I missed and it is always there for next time.

    Another thing I did was to walk along Myeongdong to the elevator and cable-car up Namsan for great evening views. And more crowds.

    I am sure I will read a lot more interesting stuff about your travels in the next part of your trip. I have also been to the DMZ, Pusan and Kojedo island but it was all in the early 80s. So I'm looking forward to your report telling me how much things have changed.

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    @ Mara -- I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Korean movie. Recommendations, please!

    I had asked for non-smoking rooms when I made my reservations, and although I’m not overly sensitive to smoke, I didn’t have the sense that anyone had smoked in my rooms, or at least I didn’t think anyone had done so recently. (Although there was an ashtray in one room.) Smoking is not allowed in most restaurants (I think it may be OK in some of the little tiny places, like the tents, but I’m not positive) or other public buildings, and it is clearly disallowed in temples and palaces. I did occasionally see people who were smoking outside here and there; I don’t remember exactly where, but I vaguely recall clusters of smokers outside airline terminals and bus and train stations, and every once in a while on a busy street -- probably when people worked someplace nearby where smoking was not allowed and they had come outside to smoke during a break.

    BTW, for my first glimpse of the Han River, see the 2nd paragraph of this day’s “installment.”

    @ gertie – Sounds like we visited many of the same places, and at about the same time – we probably did pass one another! I didn’t make it to Unhyeongung; I wonder how you thought it compared to Seoul’s other palaces? And kudos for ignoring the advice (no matter how well-intentioned) to skip climbing the steps of Bukchon!


    Day 3: Seoul and the Korean Folk Villiage (KFV) in Yongin-si, outside Seoul

    This was Children’s Day in Korea, a major holiday when most sites in Seoul were to be closed. The Korean Folk Village is an outdoor museum featuring traditional houses from all over the country, which had been relocated there, along with their typical accoutrements. There are also workshops where one can experiment with (or watch) the making of traditional handicrafts and a set of four folk performance that are performed about twice each day.

    To get there, I took a subway and then a bus. (The subway emerges from its tunnel to cross the Han River – Hangang – by bridge. Wow, now THAT is one massive river! I think it was at least a kilometer wide!)

    As was to happen often on this trip, English speakers offered their help at just about every turn, so I easily found the correct subway, then the correct bus stop, and then the entrance to the KFV. Given that it was Children’s Day, I was not at all surprised that I was joining throngs of others, and indeed, there were LONG lines for people waiting to buy tickets. There was also a special counter, with no line :-) , for foreigners. Moments later, I was inside the ticket gates – and in a large area devoted to shops and restaurants and other “conveniences.” It didn’t take TOO long to cross this area….

    As I mentioned, folk performances are routinely staged at the KFV, and I arrived just moments after the “Acrobatics on a Tightrope” performance began. The tightrope was in the center of a flat area surrounded by a few tiers of seats; I soon found a place from which I could watch. Some of those moves had to HURT! (Imagine jumping up from the tightrope and then landing on the rope with your legs extended out and in front of you. Male or female – this performer was male – I can’t imagine it!) When the performance ended, after about ½ hour, everyone got up and moved across a pathway to a different performance venue. Like the first, it had a set of tiered rings on which people could sit. What a clever way to make sure that those who had poorer seats for one show had a chance to find better seats for the next! I watched the “Equestrian Feats” before moving onto a 3rd venue – a home in which one could watch the re-enactment of a “Traditional [Josean Dynasty] Wedding.” Later in the day, I caught the day’s 2nd showing of “Farmers’ Music and Dance.”

    As noted above, I attended quite a few folk performances during this trip. These were not the most polished of the ones I saw, but there were delightful nonetheless! Part of my enjoyment came from watching the many, many children in the audiences – such expressions of delight! And the faces of their parents, watching their children, who were watching the performances – priceless! And the faces of the many adults who take advantage, consciously or not, of the opportunity to be a child again …. And even if the performers were not the most skilled of those I saw, they were a lot of fun to watch. They engaged the audience; they did things that obviously took a great deal of skill and training; and whenever one did miss a trick, he or she was cheered as he or she tried again, even if it took a third attempt. My kudos to them all!

    I spent hours walking around and exploring various buildings, learning a bit about some of Korea’s traditions, and being made to feel welcome. (I don’t know how many people came to speak to me, except that it was a LOT!) Lots of children seemed fascinated by my obviously non-Asian appearance, so they would stare and stare…. One poor little thing found it less to his liking: As soon as he saw me, he let out a spine-wrenching scream! He turned away more quickly than he turned off his wail, only to look at me again moments later: SCREAM. Repeat sequence. And again…. Poor kid!

    I did not explore every nook and cranny of this vast outdoor museum, but I did see a sizeable portion, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I readily admit that I’m a sucker for these kinds of places – I really like seeing the traditions, and I like being able to see buildings from different places and eras in close enough proximity to discern at least a few of the difference, and I love seeing people (of ALL ages) enjoying themselves.

    As I awaited my bus, I captured a glimpse of someone with a pet – something I rarely saw in Korea. The woman in the front seat of a passing car held a small white lapdog, except he wasn’t entirely white – he had intensely purple ears. Seriously? I’m not sure the dying process would have been painful for the dog, but still – seriously? I only saw a few people with dogs while in Korea; many of those I did see were small, white lapdogs; I am pleased to report that none of the others I saw had obvious signs of dye.

    ***Some notes on Seouls’s subways.
    - Subways in Seoul have a single row of seats on either side facing inward; they are curved to define specific seating positions, There is space for two or even three rows of standing people in between. It seemed that almost without exception, people of any age get on, sit if a seat is available, take out their earplugs and cell phone, and type away. If no seats are available, you stand facing the window, pull out your earplugs and cell phone, and type away. OK, so not EVERYONE used earplugs and cell phones, but it did seem that the norm is that one never faces forward or backward or toward the opposite side of the car – I noticed, because I kept turning so I could see the signs that indicated what the next stop would be.
    - Every car had seats reserved for the handicapped. No matter how crowded the car, I never saw someone who was not clearly handicapped take one of those seats. Even little old ladies who couldn’t stand straight stood, rather than taking one.
    - The boarding platforms for many subways in Seoul and other cities are part of the South Korea’s civil defense system, and so have cabinets that hold gas masks and other emergency supplies. Seeing them made me realize that the vast majority of people I saw would have no personal recollections of living in country that was not technically at war. Wow.


    Baru (temple cuisine restaurant). In advance of my trip, I had read that Korean temple cuisine is delicious, and since that had been my experience in Japan, I was on board! After some research, I decided that the option that would suit my needs best while in Seoul would be Baru, aka Baru Gongyang. With the help of my hostel’s staff, I had made a reservation earlier in the week. They had apparently been VERY clear: Reservation or not, they would neither seat nor serve me if I wasn’t there by 7:30 p.m.

    This restaurant was not far from my hotel. I returned to my room after visiting the Korean Folk Village and had enough time to shower and change before heading out. I had only walked about 5 minutes when I realized that I didn’t have my camera with me. Growl! I thought I could probably make it back to my room in time, but didn’t want to risk it. On I went.

    I found the address (in the building with the TempleStay offices across from Jogyesa) easily, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find the entrance to this 5th story restaurant. I finally took an exterior staircase, and huffed and puffed my way to … a locked door!?! Thre was a bell, so I rang it and knocked. And rang and knocked. As the time to my “drop dead” time approached, I couldn’t help but admire the views over Jogyesa, a temple just across the street that was fully bedecked for the upcoming Buddha’s birthday. It seemed like I was looking out over a sea of multi-colored lanterns, interrupted only by the impressive crown of a huge tree. What an awesome view -- I wished I had a camera!

    And how I wished I knew how to honor my reservation at Baru. I was just about to give up when the door opened; a woman graciously escorted me through the non-public regions of the restaurant (storage area, the kitchen) to the seating area. As we approached the table (one with chairs), I could see a row of shoes to my right, so I carefully took mine off and placed them on the ledge. But why did the hostess seem to be signalling, “no, no”!?! Only after I took my seat did I realize that I was in an area for Westerners, where people were supposed to leave their shoes ON. Oops!

    My meal at Baru was phenomenal! I ordered the 12-course meal (about $39). Most courses had multiple dishes, each of which was beautifully presented. (I so wish I had my camera!) The serving staff went out of their way to try to tell me at least a little about each dish, and even if the communication wasn’t always perfect, I sincerely appreciated their efforts. Of the MANY dishes that I was given that evening, there were at most two that weren’t to my liking. Most were outstanding.

    When I was finally ready to go, I was discretely steered to the elevator. Elevator? Yes – elevator, which took me to the building’s first floor, from which I could exit through the then-closed TempleStay offices. According to the sign on their doors, they closed before I would have arrived, so I still don’t know of any way I could have reached the restaurant except by it’s back door. If you decide to eat at Baru – and I would go again! – be sure to ask how to get to it when you make your reservation!

    Jogyesa – evening visit. Before heading back to my rooms, I stopped at Jogyesa – and I am so glad I did! As I had seen from the stairway to Baru, a nearly continuous ceiling of lanterns covered this temple’s grounds, and they were at least as lovely from beneath as from atop. Too, there were temporary “walls” made of lanterns – metal dividers hung with them. And below each lantern, there was a plastic sheath holding a piece of paper with lettering: Anyone could pay to offer a wish for one person (for about $30) or for an entire family (for about $100 and up). I briefly considered making some kind of homage, but quickly decided that there are other things that would be more consistent with my family’s wishes. As I looked around Jogyesa – and the many other temples I saw during this time – I realized that these temples must reap a substantial portion of their annual income from these lanterns!

    Most of the lanterns were small globes in a single color – green, white, magenta…. But there were also some HUGE “lanterns” that looked to me more like balloons that a parade float might use, but which were stationary and lit from within. Some were quite lovely; many struck me as decidedly tacky. To each his/her own!

    The temple’s main hall was still open, and I found it very beautiful, with its three large gilded Buddhas, turquoise walls, lattice-like wooden screen doors, and arrays of small, back-lit Buddhas. Even in the midst of the seemingly chaotic preparations for the next day’s rituals, there was a wonderful sense of peace there. Very nice!

    It was a quick walk (maybe 15 or 20 minutes) to my room, and no matter how curious I was about what I passed (places to eat? have a drink? buy something?), I was MUCH too tired to return – as I had thought I might – with my camera.

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    kja - I have never seen a Korean movie - Korean dramas are a different genre....they are more like soap operas or mini series. They are quite family oriented and have common themes often - it is too long to explain here - if you want to know more please send me an email my screen name plus b1 (one, not el) at hotmail dot com....

    Your report has interested me a great deal - I have already found two websites about Korea and Seoul to bookmark for future reference.....looking forward to more - and it's nice to know how helpful the people there are... :)

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    @ Mara – Thanks for clarifying! Korean dramas sound interesting – and addictive! I’ll keep them in mind for retirement (should that day ever arrive). I’m glad you are finding my report interesting, and hope you continue to do so! And BTW, there’s more about the Han River at the end of this installment.

    @ Kathie – Thanks your kind words! When I began researching South Korea as a possible destination for myself, I was surprised by how few people seem to have gone there, or at least, how few had stepped outside of Seoul for reasons other than family. (Thanks again to those who did and who kindly provided input as I planned my trip!) I am writing what I know is a ridiculously long TR in the hope that my impressions might be helpful to people who, like you, might not have considered traveling there.


    Day 4: Seoul -- Buddha’s Birthday Dharma Ceremonies and more

    This is the day on which Buddha's Birthday is celebrated in South Korea. I readily admit that I didn’t know what to expect of a Dharma Ceremony. I had read that Jogyesa would be a good place to see the morning (10 a.m.) event and that Bongeunsa would be a good place for the evening (7 p.m.) event, so I planned my day accordingly.

    Jogyesa – Dharma Ceremony. Expecting crowds, I made sure that I reached Jogyesa before 8 a.m., and it was already very crowded. Roped-off seating for invitees filled much of the space, with what I took to be a South Korean version of secret service officers positioned around the relatively small temple grounds. I found a place to stand behind one of them – a very fit and watchful man who was wearing a suit and the telltale coiled earpiece. Perfect! He was directly behind the last row of seats, I could easily see over his shoulder, and no matter HOW much that crowd moved and swayed, he was immovable. :-) (I did wonder what he thought about my presence….)

    The many colored lanterns swaying overhead gave the event a festive aura, even as other elements signalled solemnity. For the first hour or so, a choir performed (I assume as a dress rehearsal), and the music was lovely. There were some pieces with, and some without, musical instrumentation, along with some strictly instrumental pieces. And there were a pair of large video screens, so I could often see close-ups of the musicians.

    I spent the next couple of hours watching people filter in – monks and dignitaries and children and people in uniform…. Many of the attendees were to have a role in the ceremony, and some women in traditional dress walked them through their dress rehearsals. I especially enjoyed a very young girl and boy, each dressed in gorgous modern-day attire, as they walked through their parts – they couldn’t help showing their hearts as they learned their steps. How sweet!

    As the time for the start of the ceremony approached, more and more people pressed into the area, but the crowd was generally very well behaved. There was little pushing or shoving – right up until a few minutes before 10 a.m., when a news cameraman muscled his way to the front, female reporter in tow, causing even my “rock” to waiver ever so briefly. People did not seem pleased.

    Once the ceremony began, I concluded that it would be a mix of the various events that I had seen rehearsed, along with Buddhist chants and prayers. By then, I had been standing for nearly two hours and was happy to yield my place to someone for whom the ceremony had religious significance. So I began to make my way to the exit – and to what proved to be a truly frightening experience:

    There was a line of people moving slowly toward the main gate, and another line moving in the opposite direction, and because of the crowds, there wasn't much anyone could do except be patient. There seemed to be a bottleneck at a place where the lines rounded a corner. Moving, moving … stuck. And then the crowd behind me surged, and I felt myself lifted off the ground by the forces pressing against me, and I was carried – spinning and out of control, my arms pinned to my sides by the masses of people – and then I touched ground again, only to be forced forward without intention, and I heard someone scream and saw a head slip down out of view and I thought OMG, this is how people die in stampedes! And even as that thought crossed my mind, I heard some men shout and I saw a space – just a small one, but a space nonetheless -- open up and I saw a moaning woman lifted and I was swept around a corner and could see no more.

    It was just a few more moments – probably only seconds, but it seemed an eternity – before I could break free of this throng. I was shaking so hard! It took me some time to return to any sense of normalcy. I couldn’t help but realize that I was at least a head taller than many of the people in that crush of mindless movement, so at least I could see. I can’t imagine being trapped in that chaos with no line of sight. And I’m large-boned, so perhaps more able to handle the bruising pressure (and yes, I actually did get bruised). And all for … what? A momentary blockage of the route? Wow.

    National Museum of Korea, Seoul. Once I calmed down, I took a subway and walked a short distance to the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, where I crossed the expansive grounds to the entry way, took note of the fact that the museum was hosting a special exhibit of works from the Musee d’Orsay (I doubted that I would have time, but liked knowing that the museum had made these works accessible to the people of Seoul), bought a ticket, and was told that I could get an audio guide once inside. Some of you may have just recognized my error; it took me a bit longer to realize that the ticket I had purchased was for the special exhibit – visits to the permanent collection were free. :-) Of course, I only figured that out while speaking to the woman at the desk for the audioguides to the Musee d’Orsay exhibit. She immediately got on the phone and, before I knew what she was doing, arranged for me to turn in my ticket for a full refund. I decided not to take that opportunity because the mistake was mine, not theirs. And maybe I would have time for a quick walk through….

    Soon I found my way to the museum’s permanent collection. Unfortunately, all the English-language audioguides were in use. :-( I confirmed that there would be a tour in English a bit later, got some other information, and began to explore the museum.

    ***National Museums of Korea: I visited five National Museums of Korea -- those in Seoul, Buyeo, Gongju, Gwangju, and Gyeongju. In each of these locations, I found a large, modern, and well-signed facility with displays spanning from prehistoric through modern times. Each showed a much smaller selection of pieces than would have been feasible given the interior space: The focus seemed to me to be on quality, not quantity. Most (all?) also had at least some interesting pieces (sculptures, temple lanterns, etc.) outside.

    I began in the museum’s prehistory section, and proceeded, gallery by gallery, until about a half-hour before the scheduled English tour. After a quick coffee break (the museum’s café actually served decent coffee! :-) ), I met the guide and the one other person who showed up that day for the English tour.

    After a very informative tour that lasted about 1.5 hours, I took another coffee break and then finished my exploration of the museum’s permanent collections. When I was ready to leave – I think I’d been there for a bit more than 5 or 5.5 hours – I considered a quick walk through the exhibit of works from the Musee d’Orsay, which is one of my favorite museums in the world. There was a LONG line. No problem! I went to the ticket counter and gave my ticket to the person who was next in line.

    Samneung Park, Seoul. If I haven’t already said so, I’m a sucker for UNESCO WHSs, which include the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. Several sites are part of the inscription; I think this site was the one closest to the heart of Seoul.

    This small park included two large tumuli, one for a king that was fronted by a ceremonial walkway and shrine, and one for a queen. The park also held a another small shrine, the building in which the groundskeeper lived, and lots of lovely forested walkways in which magpies and pheasants and chipmonks were merrily going about their ways. From what I read, the king’s tumulus is sourrounded by 12 outer guardian statues; I was only able to glimpse parts of them. The queen’s tomb had fewer guardians, but I was able to see them easily. :-)

    Bongeunsa. As noted above, my advance information suggested that Bongeunsa would be a good place to experience the evening Lantern Lighting ceremony that marks Buddha’s Birthday. With a promise to myself that I would avoid ANY part of the temple that looked like it might have a crowd-flow problem, I decided to go.

    I loved my time at Bongeunsa! This temple is spread on several levels over the lower reaches of a hill, and it has multiple shrines -- small and large, enclosed and open-air – that are connected by pathways, some broad and some narrow. There were many people there, but everyone was polite and no one seemed rushed and we moved along the various paths quite comfortably. And the weather was perfect for the event. :-)

    As I climbed from the main temple area to some of the hillier parts behind it and as twilight approached, people began lighting the lanterns. And as the lights came on, music began. Beyond that, I can’t tell you what the service entailed – I was completely absorbed by what I was seeing.

    Like Jogyesa, Bongeunsa had LOTS of small lanterns forming ceilings and walls, and like Jogyesa it had LOTS of large lanterns in various shapes – but more that I found aesthetically pleasing (pairs of cranes, grazing deer) and fewer that were less pleasing (e.g., cartoon characters). As I walked down to the main gate, with all the lanterns of every size now lit, I kept thinking how very, very glad I was that I had come to Bongeunsa that evening!

    Yeouido Hangang Park. My original plan had been to go to a place from which I could watch the Bonpo Bridge Fountain while eating dinner, but I had learned that this fountain would be closed because of the tragic ferry disaster. My back-up plan was to take a cruise along the Yangang, starting from a pier in Yeouido Hangang Park.

    With the help of yet another very kind Korean, I found my way to a subway stop within walking distance of the park. The walk to the park was a bit longer than I expected, and then there was a LONG walk through the park to the pier. I knew that the last cruise would depart at 10 p.m., so I moved as quickly as I could and reached the pier with minutes to spare -- except that the last boat left at 8 p.m.! :-(

    OK, this was, after all, a back-up plan. As I walked back through the park, I took note of just how broad the Han River is – it is WIDE! There were a few others in this large park, evident primarily through bits of voices I could hear in the distance, and there were lights shimmering across the river, and it was pleasant evening – no complaints! :-) I stopped for another meal of street-food – tempura-like shrimp and vegetables with some tasty sides and a can of beer, and a distant view of the Yangang down and through the park as I savored my selections.

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    I'm really enjoying your report Kja. I'm going back to Korea for my 4th visit in October. While I've traveled around an awful lot of the country on the first 2 trips I was mostly concerned with Ceramics - I'm a potter. Last year I spend a month in Yeoju and while I saw a lot of that area, most of my time was spent in the pottery. For anyone interested in Ceramics its the most wonderful place.

    So this year I'm heading back to Yeoju but will also travel down south again and to Seoul of course. I plan on stopping in Gwangju for the museum and Damyang for the bamboo so am looking forward to your report on that section as I haven't been there. I'm going down to Gangjin (Celadon ceramics) and Mokpo (Maritime museum) I'm also picking up lots of tips from you for places I've already been but will probably visit again! Thank you.

    I love the museums in SK - they are all really good. Some truly wonderful ceramic ones all around the country as well.

    As for movies - I watched a few in trying to improve my lousy Korean language but without much success. I did love "Il Mare" and think its worth looking out for. A few years old now but very nice. They later made an American film based on the Korean one called "The Lake House" I thought the Korean one much nicer.

    Looking forward to reading more.

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    @ MaryW – OMG, South Korea holds some stunning ceramics! – the shapes and glazes and designs, from the Baekje-era through the Goryeon and on through the Joseon.… I’m no expert, and I still found them awesome! As a potter, you must find it a VERY special place to visit. :-) Your planned visit to the Gwangju museum is, in part, for the Chinese celadons? Well worth it, IMO. (And once you see them, I would love to hear your thoughts, given your expertise with Korean celadon.) Have you been to the Ho-Am, the LEEUM, or the Gansong? I think you would find them worth your time. (My visit to the Ho-Am will be covered in my next installment, my visit to the LEEUM in either that or the subsequent installment, and what I was able to see from the Gansong will be covered near the end of my TR.) And thanks for the movie recommendations – I’ll be sure to watch out for them!

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    Day 5: Day trip to the Ho-Am Museum of Art and Suwon

    Ho-Am Art Museum. The Ho-Am Art Museum, part of the Samsung Foundation, isn’t far from the Korean Folk Village, but it had been closed the day I went there. I took a subway and then express bus to Everland, a huge amusement park, from which one can take a free shuttle bus. People at each step of the way were very helpful.

    I got off the shuttle bus just beyond the “peacock crossing” sign – a peacock crossing?!? :-o -- and immediately began hearing the piercing cries of peacocks. Can’t say I expected that!

    I thought the Ho-Am a thorough delight! The gardens (called Hee Won) were beautiful and filled with artfully arranged sculptures and stone pieces, some as centerpieces, others half hidden in the trees. The exhibits were also very memorable. As with the National Museums, there were far fewer items on display that the space would have allowed, but the pieces that were displayed were exquisite, and it was a joy to see them as focal points. Too, there were touch-screen images next to many of the actual pieces, allowing one to digitally zoom in on details that one would not otherwise have been able to see.

    ***Cheap labor. While at Ho-Am, and any number of other places, I saw groups of sun-hatted women crouching as they tended to gardens by hand. And these weren’t young women! I can’t imagine how their backs must hurt at the end of a day. I also saw men and women sweeping the leaves off streets in South Korean parks. I had seen similar things in previous trips to the Orient, but as someone from a country where machinery is “cheap” in comparison to labor, it always surprises me to see these labor-intensive activities. I’m not offering any judgments here – just noting what I saw.

    What a privilege to be able to see a place like this! As I was leaving, some chipmunks caught my attention and then, finally, a pair of peacocks and a penhen.

    Just outside the Ho-Am walls, and apparently still part of the museum, there was a sculpture-lined walkway beside a small lake. As I was returning from my stroll there, I saw a taxi pull into the Ho-Am parking lot. A taxi! I ran and caught it just as it was about to leave. What luck! I had thought I would need to wait for the shuttle bus and return to Everland to get one.

    Suwon. Although my taxi driver tried to speak with me, we didn’t have enough shared words in either English or Korean to do more than exchange pleasantries. Still, she was great! I had asked to be taken to a specific Suwon Fortress gate, Paldalmun (the name of which I had with me, spelled in Korean), but she apparently knew that the tourist information office there had recently closed, so she called someone (I have no idea who) and eventually reached an English-speaking woman named Jenni at the palace in Suwon. Jenni agreed to meet us just outside the entrance to the palace. And what a stroke of good fortune for me -- Jenni was awesome! She was there, waiting for me, along with another woman who spoke only a little English. They had a map for me and a brochure or two and the patience to answer a slew of questions. As I prepared to leave, Jenni gave me her phone number (even though I didn’t have a phone) and told me that she would be at the tourist information desk in the palace until 6 p.m. that day.

    Suwon Hwaseong (fortress) -- Seojangdae (west command post). To get to the fortress's west command post, I had to climb up an ever steeper and steeper path, and then a very steep set of stairs. I was passed by any number of Koreans who were so fit that they seemed totally unphased. In contrast, I was moving slowly enough that one young man stopped to see if I needed assistance. Bless his heart! The effort was worthwhile: the command post and a surrounding terrace offer magnificent views over Suwon and the surrounding countryside. And there were some gorgeous, ancient trees up there!

    Walking partway back down, I came to the place from which I could board a little train for a tour of the fortress. While I waited, I realized that I had misjudged the time: If I took the next train, I would miss a performance that I had wanted to see at the palace; but if I returned to the palace, I would have to climb back up – growl! Down I went.

    Suwon – around the town. I had some time to explore the town of Suwon a bit first. Just to the base of the path I had used to access Seojangdae was a sign for “artisans’ street” (or something like that) – a few blocks of galleries and craft shops, some of which seemed to sell high quality work. Many of the buildings in these few blocks had been surfaced in something into which bits of tile had been embedded. It wasn’t uninteresting, but it was, IMO, oddly discordant with the shop fronts and seemed to create a visual cacophony more than anything else. JMO.

    The huge and impressive city gate called Paldalmun is now in the center of a busy traffic circle and is surrounded by a market. Paldalmun reminded me of some of the city gates I had seen in China, and I walked around it for a while before turning to the market. Ah – my first Korean market!

    ***The chaos of Korean markets: Although I don’t like to shop, I love to roam through traditional markets, taking pictures and admiring the produce and seeing how vendors and their clients interact. And traditional Korean markets offered me those opportunities in abundance. But if there is any order to them, I never discerned it! I would pass a produce stand on one side and bins of dried spices or beans on the other, then women on the floor or sidewalk or whatever with plates of herbs or some vegetables in front of them, and then a table overflowing with shoes, and then a fishmonger…. The array of hot food stands and baskets of dried fish and tables heaped with bras and more women on their haunches selling bowls of strawberries and truck beds filled with garlic and lots and lots of things that I didn’t recognize at all seemed to me to be completely random in just about every market I visited while in South Korea. Fascinating!

    ”MUYE24KI” (a performance of military arts). I reached the palace just after this performance of military arts began. A group of very athletic young men demonstrated their skill with various deadly implements -- spears and swords and bows and arrows -- all with leaps and spins and colorful costumes and beating drums. Wonderful!

    There were announcements over a PA system that provided information about what we were seeing, and the gentleman who was standing beside me kindly took it upon himself to translate. He would listen intently to the Korean description, and then tell me what he had heard. I’m sure he never noticed that the announcements switched to English immediately after providing the Korean description – and bless his heart, I hope he never realizes! His English was very good (if not as good as that of the official announcer’s), and honestly, the stuff was pretty easily understood even without translation, but OMG, I sincerely appreciated his efforts on my behalf!

    As I was thanking him, the woman who had accompanied Jenni earlier that day spotted me and came to say hello, and then Jenni saw us and came over. I learned that her service at the palace’s tourist information desk is as a volunteer. Awesome! She answered more of my questions (the patterned walls of the artisans’ district are of recent origin, the restaurant she recommends, etc.) and she again said that she would stay at the TI desk until 6. Earlier in the day, I thought that what she meant was that she would be WORKING until 6 -- which seems substantially different to me than a volunteer saying she would STAY until 6. I tried to assure her that she had been extraordinarly helpful already and that she should not stay on my behalf. She repeated that she would be there in case I needed something. I could find no way to dissuade her.

    Suwon’s public toilets. Yes, Suwon’s public toilets deserve special mention. As I understand it, a man who was once mayor of Suwon commissioned multiple public toilets in advance of the city’s hosting of the 2002 World Cup. The first of three that I visited while in the city was just outside the palace, and was designed to ensure privacy even though it had a picture window that afforded a view of a lovely garden backed by a high wall. The two others also offered pleasant, private views. VERY nice! :-)

    Suwon Hwaseong (fortress). I made my way back uphill and bought my ticket for the Hwaseong Trolley, aka “dragon train.” I was a little early for the next trolley’s departure, and so I looked through the gates of a nearby, but closed, shrine.

    The trolley was a great way to explore Suwon’s fortress, in part because it takes its passengers around the key extant features of the walls, in part because there are announcements in several languages (including English) about what it is one sees, and in part because many of the passengers – at least on the day that I was there – were children who were clearly enjoying every moment. The trolley gave me my first glimpse of Suwon’s “water gate,” to which I knew I wanted to return!

    I got off the trolley at the end of its route and then started walked back along the wall. Soon I reached a delightful pavillion with lovely views over the water gate, among other things. A number of people were relaxing here, including a group of older men who were playing some kind of game while one played a flute-like instrument. They invited me to join them and share their snacks. I declined, but greatly appreciated their offer!

    From there, it was just a short walk to the water gate -- Hwahongmun, an arched city gate that bridges a stream. How pleasant! On the side outside the city, the stream meanders through a field and then disappears behind some woods. To the inner (city) side, the stream drops substantially into a straight channel with walkways to either side. Trees overhang its edges and there were shrubs and flowers and birds and exercise equipment….

    ***Public exercise equipment: I was to see exercise equipment – bars for chin-ups and bars for leg-lifts and so forth in any number of public spaces in Korea, and I often saw people – usually older men – using it. Cool! :-)

    Although I wasn’t ready for dinner yet, I located the restaurant that Jenni had recommended with the help of some passers-by. I then walked beside the lovely, channeled stream until I reached the center of Suwon, where I climbed to street level. It was only a few blocks to the bell tower just outside the palace, where I paused to appreciate the bell’s details and those of its pavillion. The volunteer docent with whom I had toured the National Museum in Seoul had made a point of noting that, unlike Chinese or Japanese bells, Korean bells have a hollow tube at the top. The tube is parallel to the chain from which the bell hangs, and was believed to improve the bell’s acoustical properties. I looked, but couldn’t see such a tube on this bell.

    Hwaseong Haenggung (palace). I reached the palace just after 5:30, and the woman at the ticket desk tried to dissuade me because the palace would close at 6. I thanked her, but assured her that I understood. Sure enough, Jenni was at the TI desk, and when she saw me, she exclaimed, “You came!” I was very glad to be able to let her know what I had seen that day and how much her advice had meant to me, and that I had found, and planned to dine at, the restaurant that she recommended.

    With one last question – which of the palace buildings was the one (and there was only one) that was original? (the rest were reconstructions) – I began a brief exploration of the Hwaseong Haenggung. I was glad to see that one original building, and to get a bit of a sense of what the rest was like, and to see what remains of an ancient tree that was once viewed as a protector of the palace. (I love the care accorded venerable old trees in parts of the Orient!)

    Yeonpo Galbi (barbecued ribs). Suwon is known for it’s barbecued ribs – galbi -- and the restaurant Jenni recommended, which was also mentioned in several of my guidebooks, was Yeonpo Galbi, located just steps from the water gate. I had been warned by my guidebooks that galbi would not be inexpensive here; it was about $39 ($35 for the galbi, $4 for a large beer).

    There was an electric charcoal burner in the middle of my table, which the server lit as soon as I ordered. Soon, she served a plethora of side dishes (“banchan”). And then, once the grill was hot, she served two ribs, which had been cut to a length of (perhaps) 5” and were wrapped with the attached strip of meat and fat. She unrolled them and placed them on the grill, along with a cluster of mushrooms. She came to the table with some frequency, first flipping the meat and then using a set of tongs and shears (which remained at the table) to cut the meat from the ribs and, later, to cut the meat into bite-size pieces. It was fun to watch, and the meat and mushrooms and banchan were delicious!

    As I was paying, a small boy came over to me and said, very clearly, “My name is Leo. I am 6 years old.” I told him my name, to which he responded, “I am missing two teeth. See?” And he proceeded to show me. How cute! :-)

    Before leaving, I showed the man at the desk the Korean name of the bus stop I needed to reach. He consulted his smartphone, and then insisted on walking about a block with me to an intersection from which he could point me in the correct direction. Have I mentioned that I found Koreans to be extraordinarily helpful!?!

    Seoul – Hwanggudon, aka Wongudan. Seoul’s “Temple of Heaven” is a small structure, similar in style to Beijing’s spectacular Temple of Heaven, tucked into a space beside the Westin Chosun Hotel. I had read that it was open 24/7; not! :-( But I could see part of it, from not too far away, by walking along a wall. It certainly is NOT the Temple of Heaven, but it had some similar features; I didn’t feel that I had wasted my time to come catch a glimpse of it.

    I took the subway back to the area in which I was staying and then took some time to roam the back alleys nearby. I had reserved a room in a nearby hanok (a traditional Korean house) for a few nights at the end of my trip, and wanted to find it. Wow, that wasn’t easy, but it was fascinating! Just a few steps from any of the major streets in the area took me to narrow alleys where tiny shop fronts alternated with gated doors and low stairs on which a few neighbors might be sitting, quietly chatting; an occasional high rise (office or hotel) took up space, and far less frequently, a small garden plot…. I don’t think the zoning regulations were similar to those where I live. :-)

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    South Korean ceramics are fantastic - so many potters too and everyone buys nice handmade tableware including the restaurants. The area I stayed last year to work with a master potter is in Yeoju/Icheon not far from Seoul and has over 600 studios and unlike studios in my home where we tend to work alone, they all have a number of staff. That area is just one of many major centres. My first 2 visits came from invitations to attend the Gangjin Celadon Festival - Gangjin is the home of Goryeo celadons and considered "first under heaven" with good reason. There is a great centre/museum there. Its a very small town (by Korean standards) but interesting and near to Mokpo (great maritime museum) Boseong tea fields etc. -about 1 hour south of Gwangju.

    Other wonderful museums/galleries are the Clayarch Gimhae for architectural clay with the most wonderful cladding on the whole building. Its made from glazed kiln shelves by Shin Sang Ho who is described as the Korean Picasso. I had the good fortune to meet him and see his studio and workshop on one trip. Next door to the Clayarch is another ceramics museum.

    The Onggi village (food storage pots) near Ulsan is good and the Living Ware Museum in Yeoju is probably my favorite for its contemporary studio ceramics and really wonderful display.

    Loved the Leeum, Gyeongju and National Museum. The last two both have some duck shaped vessels that I always visit as a priority.

    I haven't been to Suwon yet but I'm looking at it for this trip if I can get the time. Your report is making it go up the list.

    People really are so helpful aren't they. I have had much the same experiences as you with folk going well out of their way to make sure I'm okay.

    I'm just loving your report and wait impatiently for more

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    @ MaryW – Sounds like you have been to a number of places in South Korea that proved quite inspirational to you and that have provided you with priceless opportunities to pursue your craft. How wonderful! And you must be quite skilled to have twice earned the honor of an invitation to the Gangjin Celadon Festival -- congrats!

    I, too, saw the duck-shaped vessels at several museums and developed a real fondness for them. And I just googled the Clayarch Gimhae – awesome! It's now firmly on my list for "next time." Thank you for bringing it to my attention, and for your kind words about my TR.


    @ thursdaysd – It helped that I was visiting just one country for an entire month, rather than trying to plan an around-the-world trip. The planning THAT would take boggles my mind!


    Day 6: Seoul to Daejeon

    Itaewon. I walked through a small part of Itaewon briefly; there were interesting shops and lots of restaurants and it looked like a lively area.

    LEEUM Samsung Museun of Art. The LEEUM, like the Ho-Am, is part of the Samsung Foundation, and there were decided similarities – the pieces on display were of exceptional quality, often with adjacent digital touch-screen technology.

    Unlike the other museums I visited in Korea, the LEEUM had a building devoted to contemporary art that included both Korean and Western pieces. (There are, of course, other contemporary art museums in Seoul and other parts of South Korea; this is the only one that I visited.) I readily admit that I don’t know enough about contemporary art to fully appreciate it, and indeed, I find it hard to appreciate some of it at all! ;-) But some pieces do speak to me, and this museum had several that I found quite compelling.

    Too, the LEEUM is positioned within several interconnected buildings that are notable for their architecture. The main stairway is reminiscent of the Guggenheim in NYC. The winding corridor isn’t quite so broad and the inside of that corridor is walled, with long narrow windows that entice one to look into the central core. The building that houses the contemporary collection makes great use of a limited number of carefully positioned picture windows to bring leafy exteriors inside.

    Very enjoyable!

    Dongdaemun Yangnueong (medicine/herbs market). This market area is massive – block after block of shops and covered markets and street-side stalls. And even if there was an area that was MOSTLY herbs and medicines, the “usual” chaos seemed to apply.

    I have NO idea what much of this stuff was! Bags and baskets and bins of various herbs and seeds and small pieces of branches (for their bark, I believe) and roots and dried fruits and creepy-looking bottled ginseng and ground stuff in various colors and why do so many vendors have two different adjacent containers that seem to display the SAME reddish thing? And (of course) intermixed with these herbs and traditional medicine ingredients were vendors selling just about everything that one might eat and a lot that one might wear.

    I love taking pictures in markets – but I try to be careful to do so only with permission. I learned the Korean word for “OK” in advance of the trip, and made a decided effort to ask “OK?” while pointing to the goods for sale, trying to be clear that I wasn’t asking to take pictures of the vendors themselves. Almost all the vendors smiled and said, OK! So many laughed that I often thought they were more surprised that I asked than anything else. I even thought that some of the vendors thought that they were agreeing to let me take a picture of them, and oh my, I was tempted! – but I preferred to let them be “disappointed” if they thought I would take a picture of them and didn’t, than to have them be upset if they thought I'd said I would not take a picture of them and then did.

    As I recall, only two vendors refused to let me take a picture. One man leapt from the back of his dried fish shop to say, “No, no!” even before I asked. What was that about!?! And one woman said, and gestured, “NO” very clearly, and she immediately stepped in front of my camera. Oh -- the meat she was selling was from a dog's hind leg. I'm willing to guess that her experience of Westerners had not been entirely positive. I moved on.

    I spent more than an hour roaming the streets and alleys and corridors of this fascinating market, got incredibly (but happily) disoriented, and was (of course) kindly helped to a subway station when I was ready to go.

    As I was boarding my subway, a woman smiled and said something like, “Did you enjoy [xxx]? I saw you there!” She looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her and hadn’t heard what the “xxx” was -- but I immediately concluded that she couldn't possibly be referring to the chaos at Jogyesa, so I could honestly answer: “Oh yes! I enjoyed it VERY much! Thank you so much for asking and for remembering me!” I had time to compliment her city and its residents before she reached her station and wished me a good trip. When I later reflected on this brief interchange, I realized that if someone in my home city in the U.S. approached me as this woman did, I would have found it decidedly creepy. Instead, although disconcerting, I experienced it as a genuinely warm and welcoming moment.

    I returned to my hotel, retrieved my suitcase, made my way to the nearest elevator access to the subway system, and on to Seoul Station. [I returned to Seoul at the end of my trip, so if you are interested, look for more information later in this report.]

    DAEJEON. The bullet train (KTX) from Seoul to Daejeon was nearly empty when I claimed my seat 10 minutes before it was to leave. It filled up completely just minutes before its scheduled departure. The comfortably ride took about an hour; I reached Daejeon at about 6:30 p.m. and soon found my way to the subway.

    Unfortunately, the Daejeon subway system is not handicapped-accessible, so the only way to take my wheeled suitcase to the subway level was by stairs. At this point in my life, my rule is that if I can’t carry it, it doesn’t go, so I knew I could carry my luggage. What was difficult was declining all the offers from those who wanted to help! I finally decided that it would be best for all involved if I accepted assistance, and I did so at both ends of my subway ride. So -- my sincere thanks to the men who carried my suitcase. :-)

    One other note about the Daejeon subway system: Once you use your token or card to access a turnstyle, a bird-call signals that you are free to move forward, and from what I could tell, each turnstyle was a different “bird.” Very nice!

    Benikea Hotel Daelim. My TA review:

    “I spent 2 nights in a deluxe double for single use at the Daelim Hotel. 



    "While there, I greatly appreciated the efforts of the staff, who spoke English well enough to help answer my questions. As one example, I wanted to taste samgyetang, for which Daejeon is known, but which is often only served for 2 or more people. A woman at the Dealim’s desk helped find a restaurant that would serve it for one person and printed out the directions for me to get there. Perfect! (And OMG, it was tasty!)



    "The Daelim Hotel is near a subway station and is near an area with restaurants and other places that were lively in the evening. It was not particularly convenient to the bus or train stations I used to move to / around / from the area, but Daejeon is large enough that it might not be possible to select a single, convenient location. 



    "My room easily met my minimal needs. I would have appreciated a few more hangers and a bit more rack space on which to hang things to dry, but I believe these limitations are common to Korean hotel rooms. 



    "One small criticism: I found the breakfast buffet disappointing: Seriously overcooked ‘scrambled’ eggs; heated cocktail sausages; white bread you could toast and top with packaged jam.”

    Dinner (samgyetang) at Daejeon Dong-Sung Samgyetang. As that hotel review indicates, a woman at the Dealim’s desk helped me identify a nearby restaurant that would serve samgyetang – a chicken and ginseng soup – for one. Daejeon Dong-Sung Samgyetang was a just a few blocks away, blocks that included some lively shops and restaurants and nightspots.

    When I thought I was in the right block, I showed the name of the restaurant to an attendant at a parking lot, and he confirmed that I was heading in the correct direction. Walking, walking … tap on shoulder. I had inadvertently passed the restaurant, the man from the parking lot noticed that I had done so, and came to let me know. Once again: How kind!

    The restaurant was just a small, local eatery that did a brisk business selling samgyetang, and OMG, that was good! The owner and his staff were very welcoming, too. The chicken in this flavorful soup is not in bite-sized pieces—it is whole, =-o , so I tried to take a discrete peek at a group of people seated nearby so I could learn how they ate it -- only to find all four of them looking at me with varied expressions of curiosity and puzzlement. We laughed, and then they used gestures to show me what to do. Worked for me!

    Footbath – 1st attempt. Daejeon is home to one of Korea’s oldest known hot springs. There is a huge spa complex, but I wasn’t looking for a spa treatment. I had, however, read about an outdoor area where one can go and soak one’s feet in thermal waters. I could go for that!

    I boarded the subway for a longer-than-expected ride – more than ½ hour, as I recall – to the area near the spa. I didn’t have precise directions; just that it was next to the Yongin Hotel. That was fairly easy to find: although I hadn't expected to find that it is currently closed, it still had visible signs. I circled it – no footbath!?! So I went I went into another hotel and asked the woman if she spoke English -- no. I knew how to say “where is” and I knew the word for “water,” but perhaps you will understand that the words for “footbath” and “toe-dip” had not made my must-learn vocabulary list! So I pointed to my feet and the woman literally burst into laughter and pointed me in the right direction. It was a block away – and it had just closed for the night. :-( Sigh. At least I now knew how to get there.

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    @ MaryF -- "I haven't been to Suwon yet but I'm looking at it for this trip if I can get the time." -- Suwon in easy day trip from Seoul -- perhaps as little as 1.5 hours or so each way depending on your starting point....

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    Day 7: Day trip to Buyeo from Daejeon

    It took me a few moments to find the right bus stop – I started on the wrong side of the street – but I was soon on board for a trip that took about 1.5 hours, during which I caught enticing glimpses of dragon-backed ridges in the distance and farmland and rice paddies in the foreground.

    Buyeo National Museum. Although the collection at this museum is quite small, I thought the gilt-bronze Baekje incense burner absolutely exquisite. If it had been the ONLY thing I saw in Buyeo, I would have been a bit disappointed – but only a bit. IMO, it easily merited the effort it took to see it.

    Gungnamji Pond. This ancient park has a set of lotus ponds separated by narrow, raised, iris-lined strips of land that serve as walkways. My first thought was that it must be lovely once the lotus bloom – and then I noticed that some ponds did have blooming lotus! I roamed from pond to pond, some filled with white or pink or deep rose blooms and some where lotus were just beginning to bloom and others where lotus were just beginning to spread their leaves, and I listened to the sounds of frogs jumping into the water and hovering insects (was that huge red thing a dragonfly?) and magpies and admired cranes cooling their feet in the ponds, and I saw one crane swoop into the air just after I noticed him. :-)

    At the far end of the park, there is a very pleasant pavillion on a small “island” in a tiny lake, reached by an ever-so-gently arched walk. Perfect! Several people were enjoying the shade and the views, including a very old woman who was accompanied by two middle-aged women. They took a few moments to greet me and we mimed our shared appreciation for the place.

    Busosan. This “mountain” has various shrines and pavillions (some with wonderful views over the river that skirts its base) and shaded walking paths, and it was a very pleasant place to spend some time. For reasons unknown, Busosan was free that day – bonus!

    A fair number of other people were there, generally in groups, and it seemed that someone in just about every group took a moment to greet me, usually in English, and if I responded, then every member of the group took his/her turn in greeting me. If someone in a group spoke English, s/he often stopped to ask me where I was from or ask how long I would be in Korea or in some other way engage me, however briefly, in conversation. I felt genuinely welcomed. So nice!

    Baegmagang, aka Geumgang. After making my way up part of Busosan, I headed down toward the river in the hope that there would be a boat. I had read that they exist, but that they only make the trip if enough people show up. I did NOT want to have to climb back up again!!! So when I saw a boat pull out when I was very near the base of the hill, and near the end of the hours during which I believe the boats operate, I prepared myself for the worst. I reached the ticket desk, and the woman signaled “no!” :-( I was SO tired that I almost cried. And then she explained that I didn’t need to pay – the park was free that day. Of course! I had reached an entrance to the park, not the ticket desk for the boats. Thankfully, the boats were still running; I bought a ticket and soon boarded. I thoroughly enjoyed the relaxing ride.

    Gudeurae Park. The boat landed at one end of Gudeurae Park, an outdoor, river-side sculpture park with what I thought a surprising number and variety of public works of art. There were many people strolling around, or enjoying picnics or barbecues, or even camping on the pleasant grounds. And it seemed that every time I decided to go to the exit, I saw something else that enticed me to explore just a bit further.

    ***Public sculpture. I was impressed by how much public art I encountered in South Korea. I found sculptures not just in sculpture gardens, like this one, but also along many busy streets in various cities I visited. I sometimes found it hard to appreciate the works, because there was so much else going on visually for me – shops and signs and traffic and people and sometimes I didn’t even realize there WAS a work of art in front of me until I nearly walked into it --- but it was there and much of it was quite interesting! :-)

    Dinner at Kudarae, aka Goodarea, Dal Ssambap. I wanted to try dal ssambap – a local specialty – before leaving Buyeo and had written down the name of this recommended restaurant, but wasn’t sure how to find it. I decided that I would just keep my eyes open after leaving the sculpture park and either select a restaurant or find a place where I could ask about options. LOL, the 2nd or 3rd building to my right was the place I had flagged! I was seated immediately and soon given a ridiculously extensive array of small plates – the banchan. Honestly, I could have made a very filling and satisfying – and delicious! – meal just from these “side dishes.”

    If you order dal ssambap, you are given a plate of greens – a wide array of lettuces and fresh herbs – along with some seasonings (such as red sauce and sesame sauce, garlic, spring onions, etc.) and rice (in this case, cooked with black beans) and, if you ordered it, meat. (I ordered pork dal ssambap). You place a piece of lettuce and some of the fresh herbs on your hand, put some rice and meat and whatever seasonings you want on top; roll the lettuce up and tuck in the ends; and then eat it. Once again – OMG, that was tasty! It cost about $13, plus $3 for a large beer.

    Return to Daejeon. It wasn’t far to the bus terminal from this restaurant. As I looked at my map to confirm the directions while crossing a street, I realized why one should never do that: I tripped, and only by the greatest of good fortune did I avoid falling on my face or serously injuring an ankle. I immediately thought of thursdaysd, who had to deal with a sprained ankle on her trip that included South Korea. I was VERY lucky – I recovered my balance without falling, without getting hit by a car, and without injuring my ankle, although it appreciated a bit of pampering for the next day or so. Lesson learned!

    I reached the bus station without further incident and didn’t have to wait too long for my return to Daejeon. There are several bus terminals in Daejeon, and I wasn’t sure which was the final destination of my particular bus. So I hailed a taxi….

    ***Taxi metering and charges. I didn’t think to check the metering system everywhere I went, but in many places, the minimal fare covers a certain amount time, with additional charges thereafter also based on time. Many of the taxis in which I rode had a “countdown” clock that allowed one to see how much more time one had before the fare would increase. Cool! And with only one exception, the driver of every metered taxi I took immediately gave me change, no matter how little, and even sometimes rounded in my favor. So, for example, if the fare was 9,600 won, I got at least 400 won back, if not 500 won. There was NO expectation of a tip.

    Footbath – 2nd attempt. Not knowing exactly where I was when i reached Daejeon, I thought a taxi the best option. Unfortunately, I still did not know the words for “footbath” or “toe dip.” But I did remember that the place I wanted to go was by the Yongin Hotel. Unfortunately, the driver knew that it was closed. :-( I showed him my map, on which I had placed an X to mark the spot. I said “Yongin Hotel” once again, he said “You want hotel?” – what the heck! I said yes, and off we went. The drive – through traffic – took more than a half hour. I just hoped we were going in more or less the right direction. (I kept telling myself, with mantra-like repitition, “it's an adventure… it's an adventure….”)

    As I began to see signs for the spa complex, the driver said the name of a hotel. I responded, “Yongin Hotel.” He tried another hotel name; I said, “Yongin Hotel.” He gave yet a third name – Oh, I think that’s the hotel where I spoke with the woman who knew what I meant when I pointed to my feet! So I said yes. He looked stunned. And then there we were, right in front of the defunct Yongin Hotel, and I asked him to let me off right there. Poor guy – I’m sure he thought I was crazy, but he got me to where I wanted to go!

    It was only a short block to the still-open footbath. I took a moment to observe the rituals and then joined in. There is an area where one washes one’s feet and calves as assiduously as possible, so – like a Japanese bath -- everyone knows that you are clean. And then you step in and carry your belongings to a place where you can sit on the edge.

    The water was nicely warm as it circulated through this tree-shrouded pool. The floor of the pool was made of rounded cobbles that proved perfect for massaging one’s feet. There were people of all ages enjoying this space, including a little boy who (of course) loved splashing his parents and older couples who leaned against one another.... I remember one elegantly dressed woman who arrived in spike heels that she kicked off before preparing to enter, as though she didn’t care if she ever saw those shoes again!

    It was hard to leave this comforting place, but at least I did so with happy feet! :-)

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    I am really enjoying your TR! You are a very good writer! I am looking forward to the Gwangju and Jeju portions of your report as I have been to Gwangju and will be on Jeju in September. I read your post when you were planning and I mentioned Gwangju and the tea plantation. I wondered about your trip and where you decided to go. Keep it coming!

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    Those big lotus ponds around the country are just wonderful. They have been a major inspiration for my work the last few years.

    Did you come across lotus tea. Served in a large (and usually beautiful handmade) bowl The whole lotus flower opens up from the dried one. Looks beautiful and is meant to be good for your health. Didn't have much flavour though.

    I love dal ssambap. Was told you are meant to put the whole parcel in your mouth for one bite. People did but I could never assemble a decent parcel that I could get in in one. Two bites meant a great danger of dropping bits everywhere

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    @ whitecloudorillia – I don’t think you should have any problem visiting Jeju Island on your own – it is a major international tourist destination, with a well-developed tourism infrastructure, lots of signage and announcements in English (and other languages), lots of English-speaking people, and both buses and taxis for getting around. While I can’t make any recommendations for your day – that would really depend on YOUR interests, I can and will tell you what I did while on the island. (That section of my trip report has yet to be written, but is coming up!) There were a number of things that many tourists to Jeju-Do that I did NOT do, either because they were not of sufficient interest to me (e.g., climbing Mt. Halla, going to Udo, or visiting the Teddy Bear Musuem) or because of when I went (many of the gardens would not have been at their best when I was there) – so DO think through your priorities a bit regardless of what I write. I hope my comments prove useful to you, and do let me know!

    @ SeeHag – Thanks so much for your compliments! I remember your helpful remarks about Gwangju and Boseong as I was planning this trip. As you noted, the food in/around Gwangju was wonderful – among the best I had on this trip, and that says a LOT! And the first time I saw those long strips of fabric by at the entrance to a love hotel’s parking garage, I laughed out loud and thought of your description of them. :-) Wasn’t your son to get married in South Korea? I hope all went well.

    @ MaryW – I can easily understand why you would find lotus ponds inspirational! They can be SO very lovely!!! I don’t think I’ve ever had lotus tea -- I have had tea in which a dried flower is placed and opens up, but I don’t think they were lotus. On the other hand, I love lotus root and was glad that it was among the banchan at many restaurants. As for dal ssambap, I definitely know what you mean about that danger! But there’s no way I could have wrapped one of those little parcels tightly enough to eat in a single bite – 3 or 4 bites was more my “style” (or lack thereof). ;-) I have another ssambab story from Gyeongju, so you might watch for that….

    @ Kathie -- thanks! Sometimes the unexpected moments are among the best, aren’t they? :-)

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    Day 8: Start in Daejeon; visit Gongju and Magoksa; move on to Gwangju

    With an ankle that was only a little sore (thank goodness!), I checked out of my hotel and left my luggage at the desk. I took the subway to the applicable bus station; and then a bus to Gongju (about ½ hour away). Gongju's bus station was some distance from the heart of city, and although there are local buses I could have used, I chose to take a taxi to make the most of my time. As I recall, the drive to the museum took 10 or 15 minutes.

    Gongju National Museum. The Gongju National Museum was another modern museum with a very select array of spatiously-arrayed exhibits and an English-speaking staff member (Kim) who ensured that I made the most of my visit. Highlights of this museum include artifacts from the Baekje-era tomb of King Muryeong and his queen, circa early 6th century. Once again, I was awed by the craftsmanship of the artisans of that day! The museum also has a collection of other works from the area, spanning prehistory forward, with good English signage.

    I met Kim again before leaving the museum, and was glad to be able to assure him that I appreciated seeing the treasures it holds. He gave me his number in case I needed help later in the day, made sure I had the names of places I would need written out in Korean, called a taxi to take me to Magoksa, and then walked me out. Once again (I think it worth repeating): How nice!

    Magoksa. My taxi driver didn’t speak English, but clearly communicated his love of driving as he swept past the ticket gate for Magoksa and navigated the winding turns up the hill toward the temple. He didn’t speed, and he didn’t take unnecessary risks, but he certainly seemed to enjoy taking advantage of each and every opportunity the pavement provided! BTW, this was the ONLY taxi driver I encountered in South Korea who did not give me change – the meter showed 21,900 won, I gave him 22,000 won, he looked at me with a question in his eyes; I smiled, nodded, and got out. Basically, it was my choice.

    From there, it was just a short walk to an arbor-like tunnel covered in lanterns, and then another, and another! Beautiful clusters of little lotus-shaped decorations made of deep rose silk with green “leaves” hung from various trees around the grounds. The main temple gate is by a very pleasant curve in a stream, and the arched bridge and gate were also decorated for dharma – even the statues of turtles sunning in the creek were festively adorned.

    The things I remember most about Magoksa, other than that wonderful entryway, were the gorgeous stream-side pavillion that housed its bell, gong, drum, and fish; the intimacy of the main courtyard; the venerable and ancient stupa that held sway there; and the stunning and enormous painting to the rear of one of the temple’s altars (thanks to the Moon Guide for advising me to take a peek!). And the hospitable young English-speaking monk (Ilya) who introduced himself to me and chatted with me and who kept offering me various treats until I finally accepted a small lotus-shaped bun filled with red bean paste, and OMG, that was delicious!

    There were a fair number of people around and everyone seemed to be enjoying it – understandably so! Finally ready to go – and very glad I had decided to stop here, even if it meant arriving at my next destination later than I would normally prefer – I began the long, winding, wooded walk into the town below the temple. There were a few vendors here and there, but not many. Once I exited the temple (I stopped to pay the entry fee – it seemed only fair!), I entered an area with lots of souvenier shops and restaurants and people who were very helpful when I asked for directions to the bus. And then, OMG, I bet that’s it!!! I began running and thought maybe the driver saw me and then it pulled out and I waved again, and bless that driver’s heart, he stopped. :-)

    Transit to Gwangju. An older gentleman on the bus at Magoksa first very politely corrected my pronunciation of “Gongju” and then made sure I knew where to get off. Once at the main Gongju bus station, I bought a ticket for the next bus to Daejeon. Only as the bus was boarding did I realize that I had forgotten to say WHICH Daejeon bus station I wanted – hadn’t I learned that lesson the night before?!? I ran back to the desk, where the very nice clerk quickly changed my ticket.

    I reached Daejeon, took a subway to my hotel, retrieved my suitcase, took a taxi to the bus station that I needed for this leg of my trip, and was soon waiting, ticket in hand, for my bus to Gwangju (which took close to 2 hours). Once there, I hailed a taxi to...

    Gwangju -- Geumsoojang Tourist Hotel. My TA review:

    “I spent 4 nights in a Western standard double for single use at the Geumsoojang Tourist Hotel. It met my needs, but was less convenient than I had hoped. 


    • The location was not particularly good in my opinion. It was 10 or 15 minutes walk to the train station and, unless all my walks took me in the wrong directions, it wasn’t particularly near any restaurants except the one within the hotel, which was fine, but a bit pricier than other restaurants I saw in Gwangju. There was also a café within the hotel that served what seemed to me an overpriced “continental” breakfast (coffee, juice, and toast for 8,000 KRW). 


    • Although the bedroom and bathroom seemed clean, the room’s entry area was definitely in need of vacuuming and remained so throughout my stay. 


    • The room had some quirks – the ondal floor was very pleasant; the lack of a bedside table or lamp was not. The bathroom had sufficient counter space, but no hook for a robe and very little space to hang one’s towels or anything else. There was a fixture above the toilet that prevented the toilet lid from remaining up, even when one was seated, and the toilet paper was not positioned conveniently for anyone in a seated position. 


    • Although I had exchanged a few e-mails with the hotel in advance of my stay in English, the only English that was spoken by anyone at the desk while I was there was the bare minimum needed to check in. English was not critical, but it would have been nice to be able to ask a few questions about Gwangju and to confirm some directions, and the lack of a shared language (which I recognize is a shared responsibility!) prevented me from communicating the problems I encountered with the room, and so prevented them from offering a solution.”

    It was on the late side when I reached the hotel, a bit too late for the hotel’s restaurant and, as just noted, if there were other local options, I didn’t find them. There was a 24/7 store just a block or so away, so I was able to buy some snacks and a beer, which I brought back to my room. I have often found that the first few hours in a new location are among the most stressful of my travel moments, and I needed that insight on this particular evening! Still, all things considered, I have no regrets about how I spent my time that day: I would have easily given up a dinner for EITHER the Gongju National Museum OR Magoksa; that I got to see both of them was more than recompense for a quick meal of convenience-store items and a few moments of frustration!

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    kja, My son did the legal wedding in December and we were originally going to go in May or June but they couldn't decide what they wanted to do and having a reception in Seoul obligated them to invite lots of family and friends and they didn't want to spend the money and that wasn't what they wanted. We are going in September to meet her family. We are all going to Jeju island where they have rented a beautiful looking large home on airbnb. I hope it turns out better than the Love Motel! Had I known you had decided on Gwangju I would have asked my son for some recommendations but it sounds like you are a great researcher! Looking forward to more Gwangju & Jeju! I have been looking at pictures of Jeju on Pinterest and it looks beautiful.

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    SeeHag -If I might interrupt, could I ask for a recommendation for a cheap hotel in Gwangju. I heard the Ballad which is a love motel near the bus station is okay. I'd be very interested in your son's opinions. Its for a older couple and we may well have a young korean man with us - so 2 rooms needed - probably just one or two nights so not critical. We will be coming or going to Gangjin where we will spend a few nights and going out to Damyang probably only on a day trip.

    I'd been waiting to see where Kja stayed but obviously not one of the more convenient ones unfortunately

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    I'm so impressed -- and pleased -- that some of you continue to follow this long, drawn-out tale -- thanks so much!

    @ SeeHag – sounds like your son and daughter-in-law have a lot of common sense: So many young people squander their money on wedding-related events that aren't even what they really want!

    Parts of Jeju Island are absolutely gorgeous – I’m sure you will enjoy your time there. And who knows, maybe something I say will prove of use to one or more of you!

    @ MaryW – I agree that it makes sense for you to try to identify a more convenient lodging in Gwangju than the one I found.

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    Wow! He was online and answered me right away! He hasn't heard of the ballad but he said there are tons of love motels in town. He said the love motels in Sangmu tend to be nicer. He mentioned there is now a Best Western and a Hilton there if you want something nicer. Big improvement over six years ago!

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    SeeHag. Thank you. I'll look up the new hotels and the Sangmu area. I'm kind of hoping to wing it as we may decide to stay at Gangjin longer
    - Depends on who is available to meet up with at the time. Lots of love motels will hopefully give us options at the last minute. Just need somewhere clean with preferably a comfy bed. I know comfy is not always an option in SK at least by my definition.

    Kja. A lot of what you say is proving useful. It's very entertaining as well. Look forward to more.

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    Thanks, MaryW!


    Day 9: Day trips from Gwangju to Gochang and Soswaewon

    My first goal for the day was to visit Gochang. I traveled by train to Jeongeup, where I needed to switch to a bus. A young soldier walked me to the bus station, made sure I got the right ticket, and that I got on the right bus. Mantra-time: How nice! Once in Gochang, I needed to switch from an intercity bus to an intracity bus, and again, people came to my aid. Once I showed one person the directions I had written down in Korean, several people were doing everything they could to help. In this case, they didn’t stop even after I got on a bus that would meet my needs: Someone actually came on the bus to pull me off and onto a different bus! I was to learn that I had initially been (correctly) directed to an intracity bus that would take me close to the museum, but the 2nd bus to which I was taken was a free shuttle that went all the way to the museum and that left at almost the same time. :-) Of course I didn’t realize what had happened until much later. I just knew that the driver didn’t let me pay and that I didn’t face a 15-minute walk to get to the museum, as my planning had led me to expect.

    Gochang Goindol. Until I began planning this trip, I had no idea that South Korea has one of the largest arrays of prehistoric megalithic funerary monuments anywhere in the world. Several such areas are covered by the same UNESCO WHS inscription; the Gochang site has the largest and most varied groups.

    I bought tickets for the museum and a little train that takes one around the site. The museum was small and had few displays, but there was information to be gleaned there, particularly for those who are not familiar with megaliths. The train went by several areas with large concentrations of dolmen and allowed brief stops at a few of them. The dolmen are scattered over the low reaches of some foothills, with a floodplain at the base. The extent and array of dolmen were impressive. The sounds of glee from the many children who shared my ride were priceless! :-)

    After the train returned to the museum, I briefly explored a mock-up of a prehistoric Bronze Age village. I then returned, by foot, to the nearest area with a large concentration of dolmen. I’m sure seeing this place would not be every tourist’s cup of tea, but I found it fascinating! Megaliths awe me – what effort it took to make them! I see in them powerful clues about the communities that were responsible for erecting them, communities that were willing and able to devote so much time and energy of what must have been their strongest and most fit members in the effort to commemorate the death of a leader. That took social organization, and systems for division of labor and wealth, and a commitment to past and future…. (Or at least that’s my take!) Too, there is an enigma about dolmen that intrigues me: Are these megaliths evidence that the memory of the people whose death they marked has, in fact, survived the test of time – that they are not truly and completely forgotten? Or is the message that even the greatest effort cannot preserve their memories, since we generally don’t know anything about the specific individuals involved? Okay, I’ve rambled on enough…

    I spent some time roaming around the dolmen and then returned to the museum complex to find my bus. Oh, there was a bus just about to leave! I ran and caught it, but no – it was a chartered bus for a school excursion. I walked around, and then asked, and that’s when I realized that the bus I had taken that morning was a free shuttle, not an intracity bus. There would be a return shuttle later – substantially more than an hour later, as I recall. Or I could walk about 15 minutes to a traffic circle where there was a bus stop. So that’s what changing the bus had been about!

    I reached the traffic circle, but didn’t see a sign for a bus stop. I walked around it, went a little way in each direction, and I saw two buses, each of which stopped and – when they saw my destination – shook their heads “no.” And then I saw a taxi and thanked my lucky stars! It was only a few minutes, and cost about $6, to get to the bus station.

    Waiting …. Upon my return to the bus station in Gochang, I learned that I needed to go to Gwangju’s intercity bus terminal, and I bought a ticket for the next bus, 50 minutes later. With that long a wait, I decided to see if I could find something to eat, since I the only food I had eaten the day before were some snacks. There was chicken place right at the station, and as I was studying it's picture menu, an English-speaking staff member approached. My brief conversation with this man may have been the most seriously misunderstood, from either side, of my trip. (Heads up, Mara – you asked about communication difficulties!) I thought I confirmed that I could get just a single serving that I could eat at the one inside table and that it would cost about $4 and take about 18 minutes. He apparently thought I confirmed that I wanted take-out for 4 at about $18.

    I waited and waited and my bucket ( =-o ) of chicken didn’t arrive until less than 10 minutes before my bus. They kindly let me eat at the sole not-for-the-public’s-use table, where I gobbled just a few pieces of very tasty chicken bites in a slightly sweet (and very sticky :-( ) almond sauce. Apparently, a cola drink was also included – but I don’t drink colas. And I had no time to take advantage of whatever that side dish was – some kind of tofu salad? When I turned it down, they tried to give me even more cola. I tried to assure them that the food was delicious, but that I didn’t have time.... I don’t like wasting either money or food, but I also don’t like making a fuss when there is a good chance that a mistake was mine, and my bus was about to leave, and I just honestly hope that they found some use for the very tasty, and substantial, serving of chicken that I left behind.

    Once I reached Gwangju, I had another wait of almost an hour before my next bus. But all was not lost -- there was a Tourist Information office just outside the bus station. What a perfect opportunity to get the information I wanted for the rest of my time in Gwang-ju! Not. There was a very nice, very knowledgeable woman at that desk who spoke English very well and who was committed to sharing her knowledge with those who came to her – without any apparent regard for the question those tourists might actually have. ;-) I pulled out my printed directions and asked her to write out the English, when it was missing, or Korean, when it was missing. She took out her pen and, saying “yes, yes!” actually CROSSED OUT the Korean words in several places. I don’t think doing so was, in any way, intentional – she was just marking information exhuberantly as she chattered on. I pulled the paper out from under her hands. I turned to the one question I thought most critical: Where, exactly, could I catch the bus FROM Soswaewon BACK to Gwang-ju – across the street from where I get off? She looked startled, and then said, “Yes, yes!”

    Soswaewon Garden. Moments later, I boarded my bus. The driver was very careful to ensure that I got off at the right place and that I knew the direction in which I should walk. It was beginning to drizzle, but just enough to add to the evocative, rather mystical, aura of the forested lane that led uphill past the ticket gate. No problem – after all, that’s why I carry a very lightweight rain jacket with me.

    I found Soswaewon -- a cluster of small pavillions set in a copse -- absolutely lovely. It was a very pleasant place to linger for few moments (it isn’t large!), and each viewpoint offered a unique and lovely perspective over carefully (if discretely) landscaped scenes.

    As the rain increased in intensity, I made my way back to the main roadway – where I could find no sign for a return bus, only the sign where I had arrived. I reached that stop 5 or 10 minutes before the bus was to stop on its way back to Gwangju, and I watched the roadway in both directions. No bus. To improve my lines of sight, I eventually walked around a bend so I could see, not only in either direction, but also a road that formed a T-intersection with the road I was watching. Oh, finally, a bus! The driver looked at my written destination, shook his head, and waved his hand. I must admit that I didn’t understand -- was he signaling "other way" or "that way" or "no" or...?

    I watched those roads for nearly 50 minutes. Thankfully, I have a very good rain jacket, and I never felt the need to pull out my mini-umbrella, which I thought would just mean tiring my arm, with little or no addional protection. During that time, at least 4 different cars stopped so someone could offer me an umbrella. Seriously! And in every case, I actually had to pull my umbrella out of my pack to prove I really didn’t need their incredibly kind offer. Awesome!

    The rain intensified. And became colder. My back began to feel the day’s efforts. The little irritations of the last day began running through my head, no matter how much I told myself, “Don’t go there!” I began thinking about which direction I should go to get help.

    And then, finally – a taxi! I barely had the heart to bargain. I said Gwangju, he said 30,000 won, I said 20,000, he said 27,000 (about $27), and I accepted. I knew it was a pity offer – I’m sure he knew he had me from the moment I flagged him down, and I knew I wasn’t going to protest too much, and thankfully, he did allow me to save a little “face” by lowering his price a bit. I have no idea what it would actually have cost if I had insisted on a meter, but I have reasonable confidence that his fee was not terribly excessive. Throughout my time in Korea, the taxis I had taken cost about $1 per minute, and this driver brought me to Gwangju in just under ½ hour.

    Dinner at Yeongmi Oritang. “Oritang” means “duck soup,” and there is an Oritang Street in Gwangju – a short block with several restaurants that serve no other main dishes. (There were streets – or at least a block or two thereof – devoted to a specific regional specialty in several cities I visited.)

    Based on my prior research, I had targeted the restaurant “Yeongmi Oritang,” which I easily found. I was glad that there was a wait because that gave me a chance to see how to eat it: In addition to an awesome array of tasty goodies, the server brings a pot of soup, with half a duck (or a whole one, if that's what you order) that is in pieces, along with seasoning, and sets it on a tabletop burner. The server also brings a basket of fresh herbs, which you add to the pot when you want. Everything is served on a table covered by myriad sheets of plastic, so people put the bones right on the table, and when they leave, bussing the table simply means rolling up the plastic. Brilliant!

    By the time I was seated, I thought I had figured it out. Nonetheless, the very nice gentleman sitting next to me decided he would help. Apparently, I wasn't eating or cooking fast enough -- he kept putting more and more stuff in my pot and it was running out of polite ways to suggest he could stop helping until I finally said "No," rather loudly, which is a real no-no in Korea. Oops! I was trying to apologize when my pot nearly boiled over, so I turned to adjust the heat. And then, as I tried to lift a piece of duck, I watched it fly, complete with herbs and thick sauce, right onto my thigh. =-o

    Did I mention that Korean napkins are smaller and thinner than cocktail napkins? Or that this food was HOT?

    Those who know me might realize that I was prepared -- I had, in my purse, a sealed Ziploc bag holding a Handiwipe-wrapped titanium spork. As I was reaching for it as discretely as I could, my server came up behind me and draped a (bright red) apron around me, startling me so that I only avoided knocking over my beer because the woman to my right had great reflexes; the woman to my left started trying to pat me off; and the man took the opportunity to add more herbs to my soup. Chaos! Thankfully, once I started laughing, everyone joined in. It may not have been my most graceful moment, but OMG that was good soup! :-)

    By the time I left, it was raining rather hard. I started out, made a turn or two, and then questioned my decisions. I went into a neaby 24/7 to ask directions. The young man ran out onto the street with me, without any protection against the rain, and escorted me a half-block to a place from which he could point me in the correct direction. How nice!

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    lol....takeout for 4 at $18.....pretty serious miscommunication... ;-)
    Personally I think you are doing amazingly well...I wouldn't think of traveling up into the wilds of Korea without much understanding of the language....I am so impressed!
    I guess you didn't have a phone app for translation......that might have come in handy - I don't have a smart phone either....but I think I would get one for that sort of trip....
    Still loving your report!

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    I'm so glad you could laugh. I'm sorry to say I was having a very good laugh while reading. I do love duck and that dish is on my gwangju list.

    I had several phone apps. I just use an iPod touch which is like an iPhone without the phone bit! You can use it on wifi. Some of these translations are often worse than miming. They are okay for nouns sort of and some very short phrases but many of the translations can be odd indeed.

    I'd translate anything back and forth in the apps before I risked using them. I can't repeat some of the results for what I thought quite straight forward things.

    I also printed out a few carefully vetted cards for things like taxis and buses which did help. Not that I was on my own all the time on any of my trips My Korea host wouldn't let me go off alone too much. He'd come looking for me if I was gone longer than he thought I should take.

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    @ Mara -- Thanks for the words of encouragement! To be clear: I didn't mind that the chicken cost $18 -- I minded that it took more than 40 minutes to cook when I had less than 50 minutes to spare! LOL, it seems that I continue to miscommunicate about that order! ;-)

    Honestly, I didn't find communication to be that difficult; this was about as "bad" as it got -- and that isn't too bad! It was easier than some parts of China that I visited, and easier (or at least no more difficult) than Russia in 1994 or Poland in 1995.

    i didn't carry a phone of any sort. There was a section in the books I had with me (hard copy and Kindle) with some key words and phrases, but I never consulted them. And I had an iPad that I could have used to google things, but I didn't take the iPad with me most days and didn't have any travel apps on it. (Thanks, MaryW, for confirming that translating apps don't provide a guaranteed solution!)

    @ MaryW -- yes indeed, a sense of humor is, and always has been, firmly on my "must-take" list for travel! There have been more than a few moments over the years when it seemed the most valuable thing I had with me. :-)

    I thought the oritang truly delicious (even in the context of some outstanding meals) and hope you enjoy, too!

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    I'm relishing your report kja. South Korea is a destination I'm unlikely to get to (so many places, so little time) barring that big lotto win :)

    Enjoying the journey through your eyes, and now I want to go to the nearest Asian grocer for a big tub of kimchee !

    Please continue....

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    @ sartoric – Thanks so much for letting me know that you are enjoying my report! I, too, love vicarious travels – there’s something about “seeing” the world without sore feet that can be quite wonderful. :-)


    Day 10: Day trip from Gwangju to Songgwangsa

    This morning was not the best of my trip. I walked by inexplicably open hotel room doors that provided glimpses of things I honestly had NO interest in seeing (WHY do some people leave their hotel doors open?!?); decided to skip the overpriced breakfast in my hotel, discovered that the nearby coffee shop wouldn’t open for several more hours, had difficulty finding my bus stop, couldn’t figure out how much to pay for the bus ride, and inadvertently upset my driver by holding out a handful of coins to him. (Apparently, bus drivers do NOT touch the money.) Nonetheless, that driver was also very careful to make sure I knew where to get off – the intercity bus station, where I soon bought my ticket for, and boarded, a bus to....

    Songgwangsa. Once I got off the bus, an old man made sure that I found my way to the temple by signaling to me, and then signaling to others that they should watch out for me. I passed a long row of restaurants and souvenier shops, and at every step, there was someone watching and waving me on. As I turned onto a wooded lane beside a little stream, I saw the last of those who had waved me on return my greeting, and then she turned to signal to the person before her…. I felt like the bucket in a fire brigade! :-)

    A row of widely spaced paper lanterns marked the road to the temple, which soon led me to a lovely pavillion that stradded the stream. I shared greetings with several others who were enjoying this special refuge before continuing my walk up a gently sloped path. And as in Busosan, it seemed that at least one person in every passing group said hello and paused to exchange a few words when I responded. If there was any place I went outside a city – any temple or park or whatever -- where that was not the case, I don’t remember it. If I see it in my notes as I continue writing, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, assume it was part of the welcoming “landscape” I experienced in South Korea.

    Songgwangsa is is one of the “Three Jewel Temples of Korea,” representing the Buddhist Community. (I visited the other two “jewels” later in my trip – Tongdosa, representing the Buddha, because of its relics; and Haeinsa, representing Buddhist teachings, because of its woodblocks. All three are working temples with monks in residence.)

    The main entryway to Songgwangsa is among the most striking of the temple entrances I saw: A well-proportioned, open-sided pavilion straddles the top of an arched bridge across the stream. On the down-stream side, a channel led to a waterfall. One side was lined by leafy trees, the other by temple buildings. In honor of Buddha’s birthday, the area between the pavillion/bridge and waterfall was covered with a “ceiling” of variously colored lanterns, which were beautifully reflected in the water. :-) The upper side of the stream also separated temple buildings from the woods; here the stream flowed more naturally. The bridge-paviliion itself had some wonderful ornamentation and much-appreciated benches (attached to the walls) on either side. Wonderful! This pavillion led to an impressive gate, where one passes the four temple guardian statues and ascends a set of stairs to emerge in a large, lantern-covered plaza. Wow!

    I began to approach temple buildings, but kept noticing that the doors were shut and so moved on, trying – unsuccessfully -- to find either an open building or a sign that indicated hours. There were a few places where clear signage indicated that one was not to enter – this is, after all, a functioning temple, and the monks’ living quarters and certain study halls were off limits. But weren’t there any open buildings?

    And then I heard a woman say, “Hello!” and so met Ansu: Korean-born, she lives in California and was at Songgwangsa for a templestay. (South Korea’s templestay program allows people to spend a bit of time at a Buddhist temple. More on templestays elsewhere.) She assured me that the temple buildings were open – all I needed to do was to open one of the doors. OK, I know that sounds pretty simple – but I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a temple building in Japan or China or thus far in South Korea that one could visit that didn’t have a door (or two) already open. But we went together and she tried a door and it opened and we went in. (BTW, I don’t remember buildings at any other temples in South Korea that one could enter that didn’t have an open door, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there.)

    I found Songgwangsa well worth visiting. In addition to its magnificent entryway, I particularly enjoyed its impressive main hall; a pair of very small, very old shrines; a huge serving “bowl” carved from a tree trunk that could apparently hold enough rice to feed thousands; a steep stairway to a stupa and some stunning views; and the many blooming and wonderfully redolent peonies edging the buildings.

    As I often do, before leaving the temple, I checked my guidebooks to determine whether there was anything I missed or that I want to look at again with better-informed eyes. Oh, I had missed a building that is considered particularly special! As I approached the small, open wooden gate that led to a walkway to that hall, I remembered why I hadn’t gone in: There was a sign on the gate, but not in English, and since I hadn’t seen anyone else go through that gate, I had thought that maybe it was closed to the public. But the sign didn’t look at all like any of the other “do not enter” signs (I checked); the building was listed in the brochure I had gotten when I paid my entrance fee; and, from the gate, I could see that there was an information stand below the set of stairs that led to the building … so in I went and climbed the very steep stone stairs to this hall.

    The first door I saw – the one facing me – had a padlock. There was a rather narrow ledge between the building and the edge of the wall, so I carefully walked along it, checking the other doors. The first two were locked. As I reached the third door along that wall and stretched my hand to test it, a monk came out. After a stunned few seconds, he said, “No! No!” in Korean. I tried to say, “I’m sorry!” while trying to back up. The monk switched to very clear English: “Please leave. PLEASE leave!” I did my best to turn quickly on that narrow ledge, and nearly lost my balance, while hearing him say, “PLEASE -- LEAVE THIS PLACE! PLEASE leave NOW!,” I did my best to move as fast as I could, even though it was obviously not rapidly enough.

    I truly regret that I disturbed this monk and that I had apparently entered forbidden space. I found the experience quite upsetting – particularly because I make a sincere effort to respect limits and norms and cultural nuances. As I left, I again checked the Korean lettering on the sign that was there, and compared it to two other “do not enter” signs – it was not the same set of words. With thoughts like that, I eventually calmed down.

    I was still a bit shaken when, on my way back to that lovely open-sided bridge-topping pavillion, a woman stepped out of a little shop just inside the grounds and nearly forced a set of postcards into my hand. I had not encountered that kind of aggressive salesmanship anywhere along my travels in South Korea, and I was still just too distressed at that point to come up with an appropriate response. I looked at the packet, realized it was only about $3, and thought – just buy them, I need some postcards anyways. I started to hand the woman the money. No, no, no -- it was a gift! Wow! (And BTW, I did not encounter aggressive vendors anywhere in South Korea.)

    I had a few hours before my return bus, and there were several hermitages scattered in the wooded hills above Songgwangsa, so I consulted a map and selected a path that seemed to fit my time frame. A relatively gentle uphill lane led to a public exercise area where a group of partially robed monks were doing chin-ups and leg lifts and otherwise doing their workouts. I must admit that I had never thought about what monks do to maintain their fitness!

    Then the path became steeper. At every section that was particularly steep and every section that would be prone to becoming muddy, the path was defined by cross-sections of log that had been driven into the ground and so provided “steps” – perfect! (And BTW, I was to find these “steps” in similar places throughout South Korea. :-) )

    The path led beside a stream that became smaller and smaller. It sometimes splashed over a set of rocks, and sometimes leapt over a little ledge, and always sounded lovely. There were a few blooming things and bamboo sprouting among the trees and birdcalls and insects – including lots of mosquitoes. :-( I was beginning to find the mosquitoes really irritating when I remembered that I had Picaridin with me. (I admit it -- I sometimes forget about things that I carry more-or-less every day, but only rarely need.) I splashed some on and set off again without further irritation.

    Unfortunately, I am not the nimble, sure-footed goat that I once was, and I have come close to some dangerous moments while hiking alone in recent years. So, after a pleasnt hour-or-so-long uphill hike, when I came to a point when I needed to climb some slick, moss-covered boulders to move further up the path, I surprised myself by stopping and assessing how I would get back down. I don’t know if it was wisdom or weariness that won the day – all I can say is that I chose to turn back. I slowly said my farewells to Songgwangsa, stopping at both stream-straddling halls as I left.

    I think I’ve noted that I found the scenery throughout South Korea quite lovely. My ride back to Gwangju was no exception: Almost immediately, the bus passed a large series of lovely lotus ponds. And then a reservoir, with sunlight glinting off ripples and inlets that disappeared behind the hills that edged it. And then various expanses of farmland, backed by series of dragon-backed ridges that held more shades of blue shading to violet than any Crayola box I’ve ever seen. VERY pretty!

    Around Gwangju. It took almost 2 hours to return to the Gwangju bus station. I stopped at an information desk there to get information about a local dinner specialty that had sounded tasty to me -- tteok galbi. Unfortunately, it was a TRANSIT information desk, not a TOURIST information desk. A very kind passerby stopped to help, and with his help, I learned that this specialty is actually from a town about 1’20” away. :-(

    I hailed a taxi and asked him to take me to “Art Street,” which one of my guidebooks led me to believe would be a lively stretch of art galleries and public art. Not when I was there! A few galleries were open; most of them were nearly deserted. There was some public art, but less than I saw in many other streets in South Korea. And “lively” was not an adjective that I would apply to the area – I saw just a handful of other people in the two blocks I walked.

    As I walked back to my hotel, I came across a bonus: another traditional market! Some of the vendors had already closed up for the day, but there was still an enjoyable array of fishmongers and grocers and purveyors of socks and herbs. Many of the vendors who were still there were in the back of their shops, watching TV.

    Geumsoojang Tourist Hotel Restaurant. I finally went to my hotel, where I hoped to experience “royal” cuisine. I freshened up and went to the restaurant and was seated in a pleasant private room – and then realized that they serve “royal” cuisine only for two or more. :-( So instead, I ordered grilled beef with vegetables. It was very tasty and was accompanied (of course) by a vast array of banchan. This meal may not have been the very best of my trip, but it was definitely quite good; it may not have been the least expensive, but it wasn’t outrageous (about $28, including a large beer). OK!

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    Day 11: Gwangju and day-trip to Boseong & Yulpo

    Once again, my morning didn’t begin very well. I found the bus stop I needed rather easily, but the bus was VERY crowded and the bus driver didn’t have time to look at my printed destination. A nice young man who was on the bus offered to help: He looked up my destination (the Gwangju Folk Museum) on his smartphone and signalled to me that I should get off with him at a particular intersection. He then walked with me for a block or two, pointed in the direction I was to go, and headed off. But I was pretty sure something was mistaken, because I expected a bus stop right in front of the museum. So I walked until I was sure the young man could no longer see me and then hailed a taxi. I showed the driver my written destination, and he said he knew it. And then a rare experience: He drove SLOWLY, looking along every corner…. Did he really know? And then, there it was!

    Gwangju Folk Museum. I thought the Gwangju Folk Museum very interesting and well laid out, and it had good English signage. In addition to displays of artifacts, it makes extensive – and I thought effective -- use of dioramas. It focused on regional traditions, and so didn’t provide the range of coverage that the Korean Folk Village did, but it covered THIS region in some depth. I enjoyed it and spent about 1.5 hours there.

    One of my guidebooks mentioned a shortcut from the Folk Museum to the National Museum and it worked. :-) As you leave the Folk Museum, turn to your right. There is a small roadway to the side of the museum (so another right, if coming from the museum), which leads to an underpass. Go through the underpass, walk through the parking lot, stay to the left, then cross the road. There you are!

    Gwangju National Museum. The Gwangju National Museum is another large, relatively new facility showing a small array of objects spanning the history of the region. I thought the entry way was pleasant: It held a path along a man-made curving water channel with occasional pools, some of which held lotus that were just coming into bloom, that allowed an alternative to the low flights of stairs to either side.

    IMO, this museum held some wonderful pieces, but it didn’t have any Korean pieces with the same WOW factor that at least some pieces had for me in each of the other national museums that I visited. One unique, and very impressive, display held items that had been recovered from a 14th century Chinese ship that sank in the area, including some very special examples of Chinese celadon. (MaryW, you will love this exhibit!)

    Travel to Boseong & Yolpo. There was a bus stop right in front of the museum, where I caught a city bus to the main intercity bus station. Traffic was heavy, so the ride took more than ½ hour, not the 15” I had expected. But no problem – I had plenty of time before my bus. Once that bus was boarding, I showed the bus driver that I wanted to go to Boseong; he tried to tell me something that I couldn’t understand. He signalled for me to stay put, then left the bus, and then came back with a small piece of paper showing the times of the return buses from Boseong. How nice!

    In Boseong, I changed to a local bus. Once on board, a friendly Korean woman – Hueng -- came to chat with me. She recommended that I go beyond Boseong to Yulpo to see the ocean, and she said that the bus would go there and then return, so it would be easy. She offered to ask the bus driver if he would let me do that, and she did – despite my protests that I would be happy to pay the extra fare. The bus driver not only said yes, he said that she should come along. :-)

    So, off to Yulpo we went! It was a lovely bus ride that didn’t take very long, but offered enticing views over tea plantations and fingers of the sea intertwined with ridges of land and a vast tidal flat where people were digging for clams....

    Because it is the end of the bus line, and the place where the driver takes a 10- or 15-minute break, Hueng and I had a few moments to walk around just a bit and look out over the beach and the sea. When we returned to the bus, the driver spoke again to Hueng and pointed to a tree: He was from Yulpo, and he wanted her to show me that tree – it was the village tree and he said it was 820 years old. In the past, the entrance to every Korean village was “protected” by a tree and this tree was regarded with the reverence accorded an animistic entity. I had read about such trees at the Korean Folk Village, so I was delighted when Hueng translated, and they were both pleased that I knew what they meant. What a special treat!

    We then reboarded the bus. Hueng got off just before my stop; the bus driver pointed me in the right direction at Boseong and waved as I walked away.

    Boseong’s Daehan Dawon (a tea plantation). A quick walk through a lovely shaded area brought me to the ticket gate of the Daehan Dawon, a tea plantation.

    After passing a pleasant fountain by a café and a shop or two, I came to the main part of the plantation that is accessible to tourists: A slope covered in tea bushes – a large, very steep, and very sunny slope. Probably NOT best seen on a REALLY hot day ... but there I was and I wasn't about to turn back! It was lovely, with the meticulously groomed tea bushes forming vuluptuously-curved bands that wound, in parallel, across the undulating slope. I had to stop more than once to catch my breath as I made my way up that hillside, and when I reached the last flight of stairs, and saw that it had a thick rope rather than a handrail (so one can get a good grip and pull oneself up), I knew I was in for trouble! Thankfully, that stretch was rather short, and the views from the top were impressive. (Thanks, SeeHag, for letting me know when I was planning my trip that you had enjoyed your day here!) I will say, though, that this hill was better suited to those much younger and fitter than I. (I came back from this trip a little older, and much fitter, than when I started, so I guess I shouldn't complain! ;-) )

    The descent, on the other side of the hill, was through a pleasantly shaded wooded area near – and in one part, quite literally through -- a stream.

    The scenery on the way back to Gwangju was (again) very pleasant. There was one long-ish stretch were a shallow, sluggish stream meandered between very lush green banks; elsewhere, a small lake that seemed to be a mirror reflecting the sun and clouds, and (of course) ridges disappearing behind each other in the distance.

    Geumsoojang Tourist Hotel Restaurant, 2nd dinner. Gwangju is known for its food, and I was looking forward to experimenting with another restaurant, but I realized – once at my hotel to freshen up – that I simply did not have the energy to go out again when a decent option existed “in house.” So I once again ate in the hotel’s restaurant.

    This evening, I ordered fried shrimp, which were not unlike shrimp tempura, but with a sauce that was just a tad sweeter and decidely lighter than I normally encounter with tempura. The array of banchan included some of the ones I had liked best on the previous evening, and a large number of others that were at least as good, if not better. Very tasty! With a large beer, it came to less than $25.

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    I'll definitely check the museum. I've been to the Maritime museum in Mokpo that has a great collection of Chinese and goryeo from wrecks. The biennale is on when I'm planning on going so those museums as well will be a good days worth all in the same complex.

    A question re bus fares. I've only got on at terminals so far so have paid at the booth. What and how do you pay if you get on part way on the route? Do you put the money in a tray or what? I understand the card system where its available and you swipe it but not the actual cash bit!

    I liked boseong too but it was so hot - 2 August trips. Not a time I'd particularly choose to go really.

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    kja, I am glad you enjoyed the tea plantation. I think when we visited there were the steep stairs up to the top and then another path that may not have gone all the way to the top hill but it was much less challenging! That was the path I took!

    Since you did such thorough research for your trip and visited the history museum I am wondering if you heard of the Gwangju massacre? When my son lived in Gwangju he worked at an English-language radio station and he did a segment about it on the anniversary of the tragedy. Does the museum cover modern history? Sorry to hijack!

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    Still reading, still impressed. I think the reason you may not be seeing more artifacts in the museums is because so much was destroyed during assorted wars and invasions.

    You seem to be getting by on fewer meals than I could! I noticed elsewhere in Asia that meals are not really designed for solo travelers. Like mezes in Greece and the Middle East.

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    I am impressed than any of you are still reading this tome! Many thanks for your interest and encouragement!

    @ MaryW – The Gwangju National Museum also has some wonderful Korean ceramics, so I’m sure you will see some special things there.

    Paying city bus fares with cash is actually quite simple: There is a fare box to the driver’s right; you put money (coin or bills) in the top, which is see-through; the driver then operates a change box to give you any change you are due. As I recall, fares for city buses ranged from about 100 won to about 150 won – so reasonable! In some places – and Gwangju may have been one of them, I don’t remember – there is a “flat” fare for any ride; in other places, the fare depended on the distance. It was really quite easy. I don’t remember why I tried giving the money to the bus driver that day – generally, if I didn’t see a sign, I just put in what I was pretty sure was enough and then waited for change. BTW, when using a card to pay, don’t forget to swipe it both when you enter AND exit.

    I can’t imagine trying to climb even the lower part of Boseong in August! =-o You are brave, MaryW!

    @ SeeHag – there was a lovely observation deck part way up the hill of the tea plantation; I stopped there on my way down. Had I only known when I started up…!

    I had, indeed, heard of the Gwangju massacre, aka the Gwangju uprising, and had planned to visit the May 18 National Cemetery, which honors that event with a burial ground, monuments, and a hall in which one can learn more about it. As it turns out, I decided that I didn’t have sufficient time to go there. I believe there is also a memorial at the site of the uprising – May 18 Democracy Square.

    None of the National Museums of Korea that I visited, including the one in Gwangju, covered history except to provide context for the objects on display.

    (And BTW, I don’t consider your remarks “hijacking” – I am pleased that you are sufficiently interested to pose questions. :-) )

    @ thursdaysd -- Your hypothesis about the reason that museums showed relatively few items has great merit. For example, the audio-guide for the National Palace Museum in Seoul specifically mentioned that some of the items on display (e.g., royal garb) were the only ones to have survived. But I wonder if it might be more than that? By way of contrast, archeological museums in southern Italy are often full of partially reconstructed vases or bowls, even though they also show the best preserved items. The quality of the artifacts on display in the National Museums was generally so high that I came away with the impression that there was a curatorial decision at play. But I could easily be wrong!

    I am not an eater of lunch, even in my life outside travel, so you have observed correctly that I generally only ate breakfast (which I skipped a few days :-( ) and dinner. With the exception of a few local specialties that were served for 2 or more (e.g., those made from a whole chicken), I didn’t find it difficult to order for one. And while the servings were certainly generous – even if one didn’t count the banchan -- I didn't find myself with a platter designed for a family, as I sometimes did in China. Unlike tapas or mezes, the banchan came without ordering them and without extra charge. So tasty! :-)

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    Thanks for the bus fare info. It's so much nicer to know how it works.

    Boseong in August. I took the leisurely path which was still a challenge in the heat. My husband took your way. He is a bit of a mountain goat Second visit I was on my own -well husband left at home and me with a mob of other potters. I only went part way and found a lovely cool spot to rest, admire the landscape and people watch. That was nice.

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    @ gertie – thanks for letting me know that you, too, are traveling with me! For a solo traveler, I sure seem to have a lot of companions – and delightful ones at that. :-)

    @ MaryW – Glad to be of assistance! Sometimes, it really is the little things that contribute to the stress of a journey. (That, and climbing really steep hills in the heat when one is no longer a mountain goat. Kudos to your husband. Kudos to your wisdom. :-) )

    @ Mara, whitecloudorillia, and SeeHag: Heads up: Sections on Jeju are about to begin!


    Day 12: Move on to Jeju-Do

    Transit to Jeju-Do (Jeju Island). Despite the horrible and tragic sinking of a Korean ferry to Jeju on April 16 of this year, my plan was to take a ferry from Mokpo to Jeju-Do. The ferry I planned to take was run by a different company; it left from Mokpo, not Incheon; it was a passenger-only ferry, unlike the car ferry that sank; and with so much attention on human errors that may have contributed to the sinking, I believed that everyone with any degree of responsibility would be bending over backwards to be as safe as possible. There was an argument to be made that ferries in South Korea had never been safer. Still, I will admit that I was a bit unsettled, and I checked the internet several times in the days and hours leading up to my anticipated departure to see if any further news about possible causes had emerged.

    Despite this mild trepadition, I was looking forward to the experience: I have had some very pleasant ferry rides over the years, and this one was (I believe) to take me through parts of Dadohaehaesang National Park, a maritime park that I believe includes some spectacular scenery. I had actually spent a considerable amount of my time while planning this trip identifying my ferry options, and had originally hoped to not only go to Jeju-Do by ferry, but to also go by ferry from Jeju-Do to Busan using a route that would take me through other islands. In the end, I concluded that leaving Jeju-Do by ferry would not meet my needs, and so I had booked a flight for that leg.

    My original plan was to spend just a little more time exploring Gwangju that morning (specifically, SeeHag, to see the May 18 Cemetery), but I slept in a little longer than I had planned and I didn’t yet have a ticket for that ferry and so wanted to be sure to reach Mokpo as early as I could. I paid for a 2nd overpriced breakfast in my hotel and then quickly checked out. It didn’t take long to hail a taxi to the train station.

    It did take a while to figure out what to do, because once at the train station, I was told that they had no trains to Mokpo. ??? Maybe I could take a bus? Wow, I thought, I was sure my information indicated a train station – I could even see the letters, “KTX” (the name of the high-speek train in South Korea) in the Korean name! But if there’s no train, there’s no train. Thank goodness I had plenty of time!

    I caught another taxi to the intercity bus terminal, where I was able to buy a ticket for a bus that would leave fairly soon. It was raining by then, and the trip was uneventful. The bus took longer than I expected, and I remained quite confused by how discrepant the information I had obtained in advance was from my experience on the ground – most of my advance plans had proven remarkably accurate! But my route planning info didn't have the English names for all the stops (something I had relied on hotel staff to translate in other locations), so I could only assume that something had been very much in error.

    Once in Mokpo, I hailed a taxi and showed him the name for the ferry port. Off we went! While on our way, he asked a few questions, but his English was limited (although better than my Korean!), and I didn’t understand. He finally stopped the taxi at a corner and pointed ahead. Ah, I thought, there’s the ferry terminal; why did he stop? Surely he doesn’t want me to walk a block or two in the rain?!? And then he pointed right – uh oh, another terminal! We established that I was going to Jeju-Do. He communicated that the port I had named is not the one used for Jeju-Do. I figured he probably knew, but if not, I still had about 3 hours to walk those few blocks. On to the port of his choosing!

    I entered a huge, empty space. Well, not EMPTY empty – just devoid of life. I saw a ticket counter and moved to it; there was a sign that I think said that the counter would open again at 1 p.m. It was just after 11 a.m.; the ferry I hoped to take was to leave at 2 p.m. I sat down and turned on my Kindle.

    Not long afterwards, I heard footsteps and turned to see a young woman approaching the counter. She read the sign, and as she turned to leave, I asked if she spoke English? A little…. Is the the station for ferries to Jeju-Do? Yes. (The taxi driver was right, of course.) Does that sign say…? Yes, but it also says that you can go upstairs – oh! but the escalator is broken and you have luggage and do, please, let me run up for you! Which she did -- how nice! She soon returned to tell me that the ticket counter would re-open at 1 p.m. and I shouldn’t have any problem buying a ticket at that time. :-)

    There was free wifi, so I sent some messages, and I read.

    At about 11:45, a man came up to me and asked if I was waiting for the ferry to Jeju-Do? Yes! It had been cancelled due to the weather. I thanked him for letting me know and asked if there was any other way to get to Jeju-Do that day. There was! Following his directions, I:
    • Left the terminal. No taxis in sight. Walked a couple of blocks, came to a main street, hailed a taxi to Mokpo’s train station, which is on the KTX (high speed) line.
    • Almost immediately boarded a high-speed train to Gwangju’s KTX station. What? Gwangju had a KTX station? No wonder all my plans for the morning had been so at variance with my expectations! I had gone to its “regular” train station; the KTX station is some distance out of town.
    • Took a taxi ride of about 10 minutes from Gwangju’s KTX station to Gwangju’s airport, reaching it by about 1 p.m.
    • Went to the Korean Air counter and asked for a ticket on the next flight. Passport, please. OMG! It never occurred to me that I would need a passport that day, so it was in a security pouch underneath my clothes in a place that could be reached in public. I offered her a copy. No. I asked where the WC was, and she pointed across the lobby. And then, as I started moving toward it, she said, “Please hurry. The flight is in less than 15 minutes.” =-o LOL! I’ve always wondered who, in their right mind, would EVER show up at an airport and think they could jump on a plane leaving less than an hour or two from when they got there. A train maybe, a bus maybe, even maybe a passenger ferry, but a plane?!?
    • Reminded myself that the worse that would happen would be taking a later flight -- no great hardship, since I hadn't even known there would be one at that hour!
    • Reached the WC and retrieved my passport.
    • Returned to the counter, bought my ticket, and checked my suitcase.
    • Turned to go to the boarding gate. Stopped to figure out where I was going. My ticket agent came to steer me there, every step of the way to the security gates, smiling graciously, despite the worry line on her brow.
    • Went through various passport checks and security and got wanded (very politely), too.
    • And with a last ticket check, I was welcomed on board. I actually had time to reach my seat and strap in before I heard the announcement to do so -- I had AT LEAST two minutes to spare!!! What a The Amazing Race moment! Except that I wasn’t in a race and taking the next flight would have been fine…. LOL, that was an unexpected adventure!

    So, to recap, I spent about 3 hours getting from Gwangju to Mokpo so that I could take a ferry to Jeju-Do. It took a bit under 1.5 hours to get from Mokpo to Gwangju and board a flight for Jeju-Do. The flight left ¾ hour before the ferry I had planned to take would have departed. I arrived in Jeju-Do nearly 3 hours before the ferry would have arrived. Life is strange.

    There was cloud cover for almost the entire way, so I didn’t get to see the maritime park that I had hoped to see, from sky or sea. Next time!

    Because I was SO early, I went straight to the TI desk and asked a very nice woman there to call my B&B – it’s a very small place, and I wasn’t sure anyone would be there if I arrived at such an unexpectedly early time. I got a map, some answers to a few questions, and soon boarded the airport bus. And because I was SO much earlier than I expected, I reviewed my plans for my time for the island to see if there is anything that I had decided to skip that I might be able to squeeze in.

    The bus took something over an hour to reach my stop, and was a bit less scenic than I had hoped – but it got me there, and it did so with announcements in several languages, including English. My inn, the Tae Gong Gak, was in the city of Seogwipo and was just steps from the bus stop.

    Tae Gong Gak, Seogwipo. Here’s my TA review:

    “I spent 3 nights in a Western double for single use at the Tae Gong Gak Inn and Guesthouse and found it delightful! 



    "The owner – Sylvia – and her staff could not have been more helpful, either before my trip (by responding promptly and clearly to quite a few e-mails) or during my visit. Sylvia seems genuinely committed to helping her guests enjoy their time in Jeju and she uses her knowledge of the island, and the information she gains through talking to her guests, to provide individually tailored suggestions. She and her staff have photographed key points along the route that visitors are likely to take to get to any number of destinations, and they have posted those photographs on a computer at the desk, so when someone is planning to visit X, they can walk them through the photos, pointing out key things to watch for along the route. In all my travels, I’ve never known a hotel to do that, and it was very helpful -- kudos!



    “Guests prepare there own breakfasts in a well-stocked kitchen (no need to purchase anything unless you want to), and OMG, I enjoyed these breakfasts! Bagels and cream cheese; eggs the way I like them; coffee brewed to the strength I prefer and with the option of adding milk; yogurt; a variety of fresh fruits…. 



    “My room was spotless, very comfortable, and nicely appointed – it even included pillows in two different sizes. It was just steps from the bus stops for the airport and Jungman Resort and an easy walk to the stop for most (all?) other buses that serve Seogwipo, it was close to several very tasty restaurants (which Sylvia was happy to recommend), and it provided easy access by foot to the harbor and its sites. The guesthouse also has a back yard (most of the fruit trees were, unfortunately, removed recently), a seating area outside the front office, and a roof deck offering a pleasant view over the harbor. Nice!



    “If I ever return to Jeju-do, I would happily stay at the Tae Gong Gak again.”

    Upon checking in, Sylvia assured me that I did not have time to see any of the places I had flagged while on the bus. I wasn’t surprised, because I knew they were all some distance from Seogwipo. But, she told me, I had reached town on one of the days of its traditional “5-day” markets: As I had learned during my time in South Korea, markets were traditionally held every 5 days. Although many cities – including Seogwipo – have traditional markets that are open daily, this would be a much larger market with a much wider and more extensive array of options. I was game! Sylvia called a taxi and off I went.

    Seogwipo Five-Day Market. What a great market! Large, filled with interesting (and, of course, oddly juxtaposed) stuff, lots of bright colors (Jeju-Do is known for its tangerines), and vendors who almost always made me feel welcome to take pictures of their wares.

    I think I’ve mentioned that I don’t like to shop – I like to take pictures of markets, which is quite a different thing. I do plan some shopping on each trip I take – I buy gifts for friends and families and (lesson learned long ago) I ONLY do that toward the end of my trip – no need to trek things around for weeks! So I was very surprised that, while taking a picture of some tangerines, a handmade silk shawl caught me eye. Definitely a winner! I even considered buying several, but that would have meant finding a WC to reach my money pouch, and the market was about to close…. To this day, I think I should have gotten at least two more, but I did get one, and sorry, dear friends and family – this one’s for me!

    Seafood Restaurant. Oh no, I can’t find the name! Sylvia recommended this restaurant, which was only about a half-block from Tae Gong Gak going downhill and on one’s left. I ordered the “special” abalone stew, and OMG, who knew that I would like, let alone love, abalone! The stew had abalone and mussels and a huge shrimp-like thing and various other shellfish and herbs and WOW that was REALLY good. :-) Add in a jaw-dropping assortment of banchan and a large beer and count me among the happy!

    Seogwipo Harbor and Bird Island. Back at Tae Gong Gak, the evening staff suggested that I might like to take a walk, since it was still early. That’s when I first saw the hotel’s series of photos showing what one will see at key points – cool!

    I walked to the harbor from the B&B using a paved footpath that is quite a short-cut in comparison to the roads; walked along the harbor filled with boats bobbing in that delicate, soft light that sometimes precedes a sunset; and crossed the Seogwipo Harbor Bridge as twilight took over and the bridge lights – a sequence of colors outlining the “sail” that forms its central and highest point – came on. Wow!

    Bird Island is a very small nature reserve on the far side of the Seogwipo Bridge, with walkways that were often wooden boardwalks to protect the island (from people) and people (from falling when slippery). This little islet was not on my list of priorities, but I was really glad that it had been recommended: There were some very pleasant views out over the sea and to just a few distant shores where lights were coming on; there was a stretch where I could appreciate (or not) the activity of the main port of the island, with its derricks and bright lights and barges; and there were stretches where it was just me walking through a darkening wood with some glimpses of flowers and a few bird calls and reflections of lights off the water behind the trees…. Not a bad way to spend an hour!

    By the time I completed my circuit of this islet, the sun had set and the lighting of the Harbor Bridge took center stage. After some admiring gazes, I turned away and retraced my steps through the harbor area to…

    Cheonjiyeon Waterfalls. The Cheonjiyeon Falls of Seogwipo (not to be confused with the Cheonjeyeon Falls – note that the letter J is followed by I in one and by E in the other) is in a small park below my B&B and to the side of the harbor. I bought my entry ticket and then followed a lighted path along a quiet stream to the falls. VERY nice! I readily admit that I have a thing for waterfalls. These were by NO means the tallest I’ve seen, or the broadest, or most powerful, or most dramatic, or most beautiful, or most … anything. But they were pleasant and nicely lit for post-sunset viewing and I can think of I lot worse ways to spend a bit of time. :-)

    I climbed back up the hill to my inn, spent a brief moment or two on its roof deck for another glimpse of the still-lit Harbor Bridge – and then went to sleep.

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    And I have to say your account of getting to Jejudo brought back memories of the early 80s. This was during the military dictatorship. We were living in Kojedo for about 6 months then and every day there were challenges like you describe getting from A to B!! I had thought things had improved a lot by now, but I have only been to Seoul recently so it looks like there are still challenges outside the big cities.
    I have heard that Kojedo is now connected by bridge to the mainland, has 6 lane highways and highrise buildings. In those days there were no paved roads, little wooden shacks, and I did my shopping by negotiating with local ladies who were selling their home-grown produce by the side of the road!

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    I am enjoying this leg of the journey! Lol at the round about way to Jeju! I am spoiled having my own trip planner who speaks Korean! Your description of the first dinner has my mouth watering. We all love seafood and are looking forward to sampling Jeju' s fresh bounty!

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    Jeju-do sounds so interesting as does every other place you have visited. I finally looked at a South Korea map so have some idea of what you are talking about. ;-)

    I know you did a huge amount of research so I am curious why there was confusion a couple of times with different bus and train stations....was the info you used not specific enough - or just not available in English?

    The people seem incredibly helpful!

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    @ gertie – Wow, what wonderful pictures -- thanks so much for sharing them!

    I can’t imagine what it would have been like to live in Kojedo under the conditions you describe – you must have had more than your share of “interesting” moments! I’m curious about why you were there, if you choose to say.

    BTW, the challenges I experienced in moving from A to B were largely of my own making – the transportation system in South Korea is really quite good.


    @ SeeHag – Rest assured, you have some tasty meals in your future!


    @ Mara -- LOL, since I got pretty much everywhere I wanted to go, I had forgotten how many missteps there were along the way! I guess communication wasn’t all that smooth after all. ;-)

    I think there were several different things that contributed to confusion about stations and stops: In a few instances, I simply had incorrect information (e.g., the identity of the port for the ferry I planned to take). With city buses, I didn’t always know the bus numbers in advance, and even if I did, I didn't always know which side of the street I needed to be on. Too, most buses I rode seemed to follow a route and then follow it in reverse, so that stops for the two directions were roughly across from each other, but I think not all routes were that way. So, for example, I now suspect that the clockwise and counterclockwise routes on Jeju-Do have slightly different stops, and my best guess about Soswaewon was that that bus traveled a circular route. A number of difficulties were because of how I went about planning: I had roughed out an itinerary using the sketchy info in guidebooks (e.g., the bus runs frequently and takes about ½ hour, or 6 trains a day ranging from 40 to 70 minutes). I then turned to Google Maps, where I was able to get much more detailed information, but nothing other than my start and end point were in English, so I often didn’t know whether I would be changing buses at a bus stop or a bus station. I was in the process of trying to track that down when I ran out of time. :-( In most places, I spent some time at my hotel or a TI office to confirm or clarify my plans, but that didn’t always happen. Too, when Google Maps identified multiple routes, I chose the one that I thought would be best given the time I would likely be on my way, and that meant that if I got “off schedule,” I might end up taking a different route than the one I had planned. So, for example, when I planned a route from Gwangju to Mokpo, I actually planned to go from the May 18 Cemetery (which I ended up skipping) to the port I thought I needed, and everything in between was written only in Korean. I could see that I would be taking a train, and could see the letters “KTX” in the Korean name, but I didn’t realize that Gwangju had two train stations. When I got in the taxi, the driver asked something; I probably inadvertently said to go to the main train station.

    Fortunately, I never assume that my advance planning is completely correct (even when I have time to finish it!) and I always try to keep in mind that there will be adventures along the way. And when people are as incredibly helpful as South Koreans, it’s easy to get back on track and to remember the kindness rather than the confusion! :-)

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    @ thursdaysd -- always good to have a back-up plan or two! :-) And as I'm sure you know, there is no use in "squandering" worry on things that are completely out of one's control -- those are the moments when one just has to sit back and see what happens. There are likely to be plenty of times when one can worry with much greater reason. ;-)


    Day 13: Eastern Jeju-Do

    I’ve already described the WONDERFUL breakfast at the Tae Gong Gak, so I’ll move on. My plan for the day was to visit, in order, the Jeju Folk Village, the Manjang-gul Lava Caves, and then Seongsan Ilchulbang. I had a lot of information in advance about how to make that plan work, but I didn’t know where, exactly, I could get the various buses that would be required. So I asked Sylvia.

    I hope I have been very clear in extending my sincere commendations to Sylvia for her attention to the individual interests of her guests. But this was not the moment that put her in her best light. She sincerely believed that it would be too tiring for me to visit these three places in one day, and she apparently didn’t hear me say that I preferred to visit Seongsan Ilchulbang close to sunset. (I REALLY didn’t want to try to climb Seongsan Ilchulbang during the heat and sun of the middle of the day!) Too, I think she worried that I wouldn’t make all the necessary connections among various buses. So she strongly discouraged me from trying to see the Jeju Folk Village that day, instead suggesting that I go to the Manjang-gul caves and then Seongsan Ilchulbang. I listened, and I thought about it, and I decided that if I did run out of time, well, OK – I still had time to adjust my priorities for my remaining time on Jeju-Do. I decided to ignore Sylvia’s clearly well-intentioned advice and pursue my original plan, and if that decision backfired, sobeit!

    I followed her directions and photos to the bus stop in Seogwipo. Along the way, a very nice old man decided to help. He kept chattering to me and gesturing at this or that, even though I kept trying to tell him that I didn’t speak Korean and didn’t understand what he was saying. He wasn’t going to let that stand in the way! :-)

    The Seogwipo bus station – as Sylvia had told me – is just a very small office where one can buy tickets and a series of benches, perhaps three, beside an area where buses can pull off the main street. I bought my ticket for the Jeju Folk Village with minutes to spare. The driver, like so many others, made sure I got off at the right place and pointed me in the right direction.

    Before reaching my destination, I came to a corner of a beach – Pyoseon? – that looked quite pleasant. I cut across one tiny corner and admired it briefly before returning to the road. I think it was about a kilometer to the…

    Jeju Folk Village. I bought my ticket, got a map and an English audio guide, and began my exploration of this lovely outdoor museum. Like the Korean Folk Village outside of Seoul, this is a space that shows buildings that date from various ages and places; unlike the KFV, it is about Jeju-Do only. So there was much that was familiar to me, but there were also things that I hadn’t seen, or hadn’t fully appreciated, during my visit to the KFV.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this museum, with its buildings and gardens and artifacts and flowers and it was a LOVELY day to be outside and there were craftsmen displaying their arts and children running about and honestly, I find much to appreciate in outdoor museums! There was a group of three people – a young woman, and older woman in a wheel chair, and an older man – with whom I kept crossing paths. At one point, they stopped and insisted on giving me a locally grown orange -- how kind!

    There is a “government complex” near the end of the route through this museum, and as I consulted my map while I was leaving it, I realized that I had NOT learned my lesson from Buyeo: I tripped on the centered metal piece that blocks gate doors from opening the wrong way – that little loop in the center -- and I fell flat and hard. :-( Ouch, ouch, OUCH! But OMG, I was, once again, extraordinarly lucky – I gained some bruises, but nothing worse. And I actually kept my face above ground, except for just the tiniest bit of the tip of my nose. What may be the worst part – and I haven’t confirmed this possibility – is that I may have damaged the lens to my camera. (I still have’t uploaded my pictures!) Ever since that moment, the screen that supposedly shows what the camera sees shows a blurred spot in one corner. Argh. I’ve reminded myself that I take a LOT of pictures and iPhoto gives me good cropping options ... and bottom line – what really matters is what I already have in my head. I didn’t even own a camera for my first few trips abroad!

    I thought a “drum performance” was to start at 1:30 just outside the “government complex,” but by 1:25, there was NO sign of life and I wanted to find a place where I could splash some water on my face and nose and wash some detritus off my hands, so I headed to the nearest WC. And as the water splashed, I heard the first drum beats. :-)

    I headed back, and OMG, I’m so glad I did, because this group of four performers was awesome! This was not a group of re-enactors who can be appreciated for their efforts; this was a group of accomplished and stylish musicians who were obviously accustomed to working with each other and who clearly love making music and who do it WELL! This was one of my favorites of the many performances I saw in South Korea. It was also the least well attended – there was only one other person who stayed throughout the performance; as many as a dozen people stopped for 5 or 10 minutes each. I so hope these musicians know that their work is appreciated!

    Transit to Mangjang-gul. After I returned to the area near the bus stop, I stopped in a shop to buy a bottle of water, but the owner refused to sell it to me: She insisted on filling my empty bottle with fresh, cold water. OMG, how sweet!

    The bus ride to Mangjang-gul seemed like a long one – I think it was over an hour, but I could easily be mistaken. I found the views interesting, but not particularly scenic -- except for glimpses of Seongsan Ilchulbang. I was very glad to see that the bus stopped very close – just a block or two – from its entrance. Good to know for my return!

    The bus driver made sure I knew where to get off – an intersection where an access road leads to the caves, about 2 or 2.5 kilometers inland. I started walking, and almost immediately, a bus turned onto that street. The driver stopped for me, even though I wasn’t at a bus stop. How nice! That bus went straight to the entrance to the cave.

    Manjang-Gul Lava Cave. What a wierdly fascinating place! I had never heard of lava tubes until I began researching this trip, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve seen some awesome caves over the years – ones known for their stalactites and stalagmites, or their cathedral-like chambers, or their prehistoric paintings…. I hadn’t visited any known for the striations of their black walls. ;-) But the cave had much more than that – various formations that I hadn’t known existed and that were well signed and IMO worth seeing.

    I wanted to get back to the bus route along the coastal road, and wasn’t sure how often the bus that goes to the cave runs, so I began walking, and then I saw a taxi. I showed him the Korean name of the bus stop; he said 4,000 won, I said meter (and pointed to it), he thought about it a moment and then said OK. It came to 3,100 won. He took only 3,000 won, declining the 100 won coin with a gracious smile. :-)

    I had only a short wait until the bus arrived. The driver made sure I got off at the stop for Seongsan Ilchulbang – but it wasn’t the stop I expected. Instead, I was some distance away; I’m not sure exactly how far. The good news: I was just beside a beach (I think it was called Gawalji) where my earlier bus had stopped, and which I had noted because it looked like it offered an excellent view of Seongsan Ilchulban in the distance with water in front of it. And it did – bonus! And there was a bus stop right there….

    Seongsan Ilchulban. Seongsan Ilchulban is a volcanic cone and crater connected to Jeju-Do by a small isthmus. It’s edges rise from the sea in nearly vertical lines, now softened by a hundred thousand years of erosive forces. One cannot enter the crater, which, because of the particular conditions of this crater’s volcanic activity, includes neither lava nor scoria, but instead lush greenery and some rare (and protected) biota. But you can climb to the crater’s edge, using a path and then stairs.

    As I’ve already said, I’m not a mountain goat. I climbed and paused and climbed and gasped and eventually reached the top. There were views over the crater and the interesting rock formations that edged it; and views out over the sea to either side; and -- as I had hoped -- the sun was just beginning to set over Hallasan and it was, indeed, a lovely sight to behold! :-) Too, I was able to enjoy the ever changing images that the setting sun created while I descended from the crater’s edge. (There is a well marked ascending route and a well marked descending route.) Near the base, I enjoyed seeing a few horses grazing in a pasture and a young cat tilting its head this way and that as it watched a 4” long red-legged centipede cross the path.

    A separate path led to a cove where one can (I believe) see a demonstration by women who carry on the tradition of diving for abalone if one is there at the right time of day. It was WAY too late for that, but I walked far enough to appreciate the views over the cove.

    I must again comment on some of the people I encountered: While awaiting the bus at the beach, a gentleman stopped to offer me a ride and insisted on giving me some very fresh tomatoes. As I approached Seongsan Ilchulban, a young woman called out to me to say that she had seen me at the folk village earlier that day and ask if I had enjoyed it. Near the top of the crater, a young couple stopped to say hello and let me know I was almost there, and later, when I reached the top, offered to yield their viewing spot to me (I declined). After I left the crater, a young man who was working at a coffee shop not only used his smartphone to get information on buses back to Seogwipo, he also walked me through several intersections until he could point to the bus stop. At that bus stop, which serves buses that are going both clockwise and counterclockwise around the island, several people made sure I knew to NOT board the first bus that arrived and directed my attention to a sign that had the information I needed. Such welcoming helpfulness!

    I had a wait of about 40 minutes before my bus. There was a 24/7 shop across the street, so I bought a few things and found a spot nearby where I could sit and enjoy a “picnic” dinner that included the delicious orange and tomatoes that I had been given earlier in the day. The bus came as scheduled, and I settled in for a long (about 1’15”) ride. I walked around Seogwipo a bit before going to my hotel, taking note of it’s “restaurant street” where some people were still enjoying their meals and an outdoor café that looked enticing, but I was too tired to give it a try.

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    kja - I couldn't do a trip like yours but I am a bit envious. I like to have all schedules available. For my trips to Japan, I have been able to find info online mostly in English but sometimes in Japanese which I am able to translate with the help of an online translation tool. Not that I go that far off the beaten path although I have been to Kyushu and Shikoku on two different trips where there is less English available. Also sites such as japan-guide and the TA forums are really helpful for Japan - I wonder if there is similar for Korea.....their TA forum looks a lot quieter but I might start reading it...
    Thanks again for continuing your report - I look for updates daily...:)

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    I'm reading along kja. Have never been a tourist in Korea apart from the last week of May this year! So all your sightseeing is opening doors for me. Please keep going.
    My (Japanese) husband was transferred to DaeWoo shipyard in 1982 for a year. It is not normal for Japanese wives to accompany their husbands on such transfers so the powers-that-be were a bit surprised when I just got myself over there and turned up. We had a 9 month old baby who I carried on my back Korean-style, and who slept in a drawer as we had no crib for him. It was very primitive, no expat facilities at all. No paved roads, no supermarkets, traditional Korean houses like we saw in Bukchon, very iffy electricity supply. The local people were lovely just as you say. I spoke Japanese to the older people and English to the young ones. Wish I had tried harder to learn Korean; I don't think Hangul is hard to learn.
    The only 'sights' I saw were Pusan and Seoul/the DMZ, and the train journey in between, so it is now time to catch up. Our recent trip to Seoul was another business thing 32 years later, but this time I had a week of sightseeing to myself while he was stuck in meetings.
    Are you going to Pusan next??

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    @ Mara – Oh, how I loved the ease of obtaining information about transportation in Japan! I planned everything from door-to-door (with back-up options, too!), as I was also able to do for Switzerland – planners’ fantasies come true! But so far as I know – and I looked! – nothing quite so extensive is available for South Korea at this time. VisitKorea is similar in many ways to japan-guide, but not quite so informative, and it did hold a few inaccuracies that threw me off a bit (e.g., the times of the cruises along the Han River). Still, I was able to plan more than I have for some of my trips and was happy to get as much information in advance as I did.

    And BTW, I can’t imagine why you COULDN’T do a trip like mine, if that’s what you wanted to do! :-)


    @ gertie – OMG, to go to such a “primitive” area, without knowing the language, and with a 9-month-old!!! Even if faced with only difficult choices at that moment, it seems to me that you are one brave lady! Awesome!

    Yes, Pusan (which I’ll call Busan) is next up. Thanks for joining me on this journey and for your encouragement!


    Day 14: Jeju-Do, in/around the Jungmun Resort

    My plan for this day was to see some of the things in and around Seogwipo and the Jungmun Resort, and I began by JUST catching my bus. Always a good thing! With the help of my driver, I got off at the Yakcheonsa stop and, for no particular reason that I can identify, I simply started walking forward. Hmm, I said to myself, didn’t I see the temple from the bus when I first arrived on Jeju-Do? Shouldn’t I be able to see it by now? And OH MY, this day is a scorcher! I finally saw someone I could ask, and the gestures clearly indicated that I should go back. Oh no! I had just walked well over a half-mile in the wrong direction in the blazing sun. :-( I turned back.

    Yakcheonsa. I was fortunate to approach this temple just as a service was about to begin and the sounds of the bell began to fill the air. There were several monks chanting inside, and a large group of people – monks and tourists – taking part in the prayers. I knelt for a while in a distant corner that offered me reasonably good lines of sight without (I hope) disturbing anyone.

    At least according to some sources, the main hall of Yakcheonsa is the largest in Asia, and I have no reason to dispute that claim – it is BIG! The design of this relatively new temple (built, I believe, in the 1990s) seemed to be dictated by tradition, but no attempt appeared to have been made to hide the fact that it was modern, and I appreciated that.

    As the service proceeded, I took some time to walk around the grounds and found several very pleasant spaces. And the main entryway – which I had skirted upon hearing the temple bell – was quite lovely, with stairs leading from a large, landscaped, pond, complete with small waterfall.

    Around Jungman Resort. My bus driver made sure I got off at the main stop for the Jungmun Resort. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that there were SEVERAL Jungmun Resort bus stops and that I had already passed the one I actually wanted. All I knew was that I didn’t think I was in the right place. I pulled out my guidebooks and maps and soon discovered my error. But it seemed there was a bright side – there should be a TI desk nearby! So I walked and walked, forward and uphill and around, and I saw NO sign of a TI desk. I finally gave up. :-(

    I opened my maps again and determined how to reach the Jusangjeolli Cliffs, which is where I had hoped to start my exploration of this area. I identified a route that would give me at least a little bit of shade for part of the route. Need I mention that the shade ran out LONG before I reached my destination? At the bottom of a long hill, I crossed a bridge over a stream and then started walking on unshaded sidewalks that swept this way and that around large building complexes. It seemed like quite a long walk! Long enough for a bus going in that direction to pass me (sigh).

    Jusangjeolli Cliffs. These cliffs, which are formed of hexagonal columns of lava, are stunning and were worth every overheated moment it took me to reach them! :-) Waves crash into the inlets that these cliffs form, and there are interesting variations in the heights and diameters of the columns, and good signage in several languages – including English – providing visitors with information about their formation. I’m so glad I saw them!

    Cheonjeyeon Falls. My next goal was to visit the Cheonjeyeon Falls, which are part of a stream that carved the valley that I had walked above and across. How I hated thinking about going back into that unshaded stretch of sidewalks! I went as far as I could along the shore, then slowly made my way through the worst of the heat-radiating sidewalks, grateful that they were, at least, relatively flat. Finally reaching the bridge, I crossed the coastal road and entered a park-like area at the base of the stream.

    The area I entered – the lowest area -- seemed to be a nature reserve or bird-watchers’ park or picnic area or all three. Most walkways were wooden boardwalks positioned above marshes; the walkways intersected with each other and with shaded picnic pavillions. I saw ducks and cranes and, swooping from the cliffs above and then winging back upwards, some kind of bird of prey – hawks? I’m not a bird-watcher, but I certainly appreciate seeing the magesty of winged creatures, and this was a very pleasant place from which to do so. (Despite the mosquitoes -- thank goodness for Picaridine!)

    I began to climb to the top of the ravine and soon rejoined the pathway I had walked down earlier that day. Near the top, I could see the arched Seonimgyo Bridge, which spans the gorge. Its sides are adorned with large figures of nymphs that appear to be made of some kind of nearly white/silver-ish metal. To be honest, I thought it overdone, but maybe I just didn’t see it from the right angle….

    Then, crossing that bridge, I came to a path that led down through a lovely wooded area.The first set of falls I saw – which I think are known as the “second” falls -- were lovely. Several streamlets fell some distance before striking rocks near the edge of a pool, and there was a little pavillion from which one could see the falls (or at least one could if one waited long enough for everyone who was having his/her picture taken to step away).

    Climbing back out of the ravine and then taking a different path down, I came to the “third” (?) falls in a setting that was quite different from what I had just seen. The far side of this pool is edged by the kind of hexagonal columns that formed the Jusangjeolli Cliff, but here they seemed to be light grey, not dark charcoal (because of differences in their exposure to water?). The “waterfall” was just a barely visible bit of water falling only a small distance with what seemed incredible discretion – but if I understand correctly, the flow can be quite dramatic at times. The clear, still waters of the pond and the dramatic formations of the cliff walls created a very picturesque setting.

    As I was leaving, I heard someone say, in English, “Hello again. Did you like the falls? We saw you at Seongsan Ilchulban yesterday….” This time, I did recognize the speakers :-) – it was the young couple who offered me their prime viewing spot.

    Yeomiji Botanical Gardens. The nearby Yeomiji Botanical Gardens include a set of five large greenhouse areas (devoted to flowers, water, cactus, jungle, and fruit) on the ground floor, a tower overlooking the area, and an array of outdoor gardens. These botanical gardens were not the best I have ever visited, but they held many pleasant areas and interesting plants and lots of beautiful flowers. The tower offered some striking views over the surrounding area – and showed me that the grounds included a Japanese garden. And what a lovely Japanese garden it was! I spent some very pleasant moments there.

    Seogwipo Port. I took the next bus to Seogwipo’s port. It was clearly a working area – a place where fishers docked and unloaded their day’s catch and where other maritime work occurred, not a place for pleasure yachts or tourism. I was fascinated to see that small sapplings were attached to the masts of several fishing boats, something I also saw later in Busan. My guess is that this symbol of the land was a traditional ornament intended to sustain the hopes and faith of fishermen who were far off shore.

    Dinner. Sylvia, my B&B host, suggested a fish restaurant in Seogwipo, the name of which I cannot now find. When we discussed my options, she said that the types of fish for which Jeju-Do is best known are typically served for two or more people, but she thought I could get fresh halibut sashimi here. It was excellent! The halibut, the banchan, and the service were all delightful. I paid about $20 for my meal, which included a large beer.

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    Day 15: Jeju-Do to Busan

    “Pleasure Boat.” I began my day with a very pleasant boat ride from Seogwipo’s harbor and back. It took a bit more than an hour, afforded some views over the cliffs and rock formations of the nearby coast, rounded an island or two, and offered a distant view of a waterfall that drops straight into the sea. It was a nice, relaxing ride.

    I then picked up my luggage and went to the airport, where I checked it temporarily. I stopped at the TI desk for some additional information; the woman there remembered me – she had placed the call to Sylvia for me.

    Jeju Mokgwana and Gwandeokjeong Pavillion. I had just enough time to visit Jeju Mokgwana (a former Jeju government office complex) and the Gwandeokjeong Pavillion (the oldest wooden building in Jeju, just outside the main gate to Mokgwana) in Jeju-Si (Jeju City). There weren’t too many people there that day, but there was one large group of monks from, perhaps, India or Nepal -- their saffron robes seemed beautifully out-of-place. The government complex has been almost entirely reconstructed, but I found it interesting and pleasant nonetheless. Some buildings could be entered (I especially liked the view from the 2nd story of one); some held dioramas or arrays of artifacts. And there were some splendid old trees on the grounds.

    ***Old Grandfather statues (Dolhareubang). Jeju is known for these basalt statues, which are believed to be depictions of shamanistic protectors; they are considered part of the cultural heritage of Jeju-Do. I had known of them before my trip; and I saw a LOT of recreations of them in various parts of Korea, but especially Jeju, where they seemed nearly ubiquitious. I think one or more of those outside the Gwandeokjeong Pavillion might have been originals, but I’m not positive!

    Transition to Busan. I returned to the airport in plenty of time for my flight to Busan. (Actually, I was much earlier than I probably needed to be, but I wasn’t looking for another TAR moment!)

    Once in the air, there was a fair amount of cloud cover, but every so once in a while I could see an island or two below, or a bit of rugged coastline, or part of a fishing fleet. As the plane approached Busan, the cloud cover diminished and the scenery became increasingly enticing: Ridge after dragon-backed ridge; flood plains nestled between ridges; sunlight glinting off rivers and sea and rice paddies; waves rolling and breaking against rocky cliffs and sand bars and fingers of land; islands, some connected by bridges…. (gertie – I bet I saw the bridges connecting Kojedo to Tongyeong and Busan!)

    Once in Busan, I easily found the light rail station; from there, it was easy to transfer to the subway line I needed, particularly because so many people volunteered their assistance. :-) From the subway, it was easy to find an elevator to street level. And from that elevator, I knew I was just blocks from my hotel. Which direction was not so clear. It took just a moment or two to flag down a taxi; the driver looked at the Korean name for my hotel and its address, shook his head, and pulled away. The next driver recognized the name of my hotel and said he knew where it was. But then he drove this way and that and it should have been only a block or two away...? Oh, of course: One-way streets make a difference! Minutes later, he helped me enter my hotel.

    Angel Hotel. Here’s my TA review of the Angel Hotel, which is in the Seomyeon district:

    “I spent 4 nights in a standard double for single use at the Angel Hotel and, given my priorities for Busan, was very pleased with the location – it is within a few minutes walk of 2 different subway stops (including one with elevator access) and very near some tasty restaurants in a lively section of town. My goals for Busan included several sites in and around the city, so ready access to its subway system was important to me. If your primary goal is to relax on one of Busan’s beaches, this location might not serve you as well.



    “Staff spoke limited English – more than enough to make me feel welcome and to orient me to the neighborhood. Breakfast was nominal (a buffet with coffee/tea, fresh juice, and make-your-own-toast), which one collects in the lobby and takes it to your room to eat. BTW, there were at least two (and maybe more) places within a block or so that served a range of coffee/tea/other beverages and decent pastries at very affordable prices.



    “The room itself met my needs – it was comfortable; had sufficient counter and rack spack in the bathroom, and had a bathtub (not just a shower).”

    Dinner. The receptionist suggested a restaurant very near by. Wonderful! The short-rib stew with enoki mushrooms was delicious, as were the array of banchan, and the price very reasonable (with a large beer, about $14). :-)

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    kja - you are correct - I guess I could do a trip like yours if I wanted to....I don't think I want to though... ;-) Maybe a couple of decades ago....but now I am happy going to different areas of Japan....but next time I will almost definitely go to Seoul for a couple of days - pretty cheap flights from Japan....

    The food there seems very reasonably priced - you didn't really mention the prices of your hotels etc. but it seems like they were probably reasonable as well. Did you specify a double room for single use? I haven't done that since I stayed in hotels in Paris before I rented studios....how does one do that in Korean? ;-)

    What about getting won? Could you use your ATM card in banks there? What about credit cards? No problems?

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    kja, wonder how long there has been a light rail in Busan? Certainly wasn't when I was there, nor a subway neither. I arrived by ferry from Shimonoseki in Japan and left by train to Seoul. I expect the train line is all super fast and efficient these days.
    I'm not a meat-eater, so the food I remember in Kojedo and Busan was fish: there were a lot of restaurants where they invited you to choose your own fish from the ones swimming around in the tank. Still happens? And we had fugu, the very poisonous puffer fish which in Japan can only be prepared by licensed chefs. I didn't ask about the chefs or licenses in Korea, but I'm still here 32 years later to tell the tale :)

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    @ Mara – One can do worse than continuing to visit various parts of Japan! :-)

    Yes, food was icredibly inexpensive – or at least, I thought so! And my rooms were reasonable, too -- I think they ranged from about $40 to $100 per night -- though of course that’s partly a function of my selection process. I think I mentioned that I didn’t look at Western chains or anything high-end. I just wanted something clean, as well-located for my purposes as possible, affordable, and otherwise “better” rather than “worse." As a solo traveler, I’m really just looking for a place where I can rest my head and wash up. I used booking.com for almost all my reservations; that site allowed me to specify that I was looking for a room for one person and see information about the rooms (e.g., whether they were doubles or not) before booking. I don’t remember specifically seeking doubles, but all of my rooms were. I booked a few hotels through their English-language web-sites with follow-up e-mails; again, I had information about the rooms before I made my selections. The only remaining room was in Yeongju, for which I didn’t find any way to book on-line. In fact, I found very little information about options there. Two of my guidebooks mentioned the Rich Hotel, so once I was in Korea, I asked the staff at one of my hotels to call and reserve a room for me.

    Credit cards and ATMs were no problem. Well, I was disconcerted to be unable to find a CIRRUS-network ATM at the Gwangju intercity bus terminal, but I no difficulty finding one elsewhere later that day. I only used my credit card for my more substantial purchases, and the only problem I had with it was at the hanok where I stayed for my last few days in Seoul: The proprietor said that her card-reader was not functioning; I agreed to pay cash.

    I did have one problem with money, though: I wanted to make sure I had a supply of small-denomination coins in case I needed them for a locker or whatever, and as I accumulated them over the course of any given day, I typically kept them in a side pocket. By the middle of my trip, I had a nasty bruise from where they kept hitting me. =-o


    @ gertie, my oh my, I don’t know that you would recognize Busan! The extensive, 5-line metro system there opened its first stations in 1985; according to Wikipedia, it now has 128 operating stations. Per the same source, the light rail line opened in 2011, connects Busan and Gimhae, and has 21 stations. The high-speed (up to 300 kilometer/hour) KTX rail system does not cover all of South Korea, but travels between Seoul and Busan in 2’18”. And yes, it’s all fast and efficient and really easy to use. :-)

    And yes, almost every fish restaurant I saw anywhere in South Korea had huge tanks from which one could select one’s meal. (Do watch for my description of the Jigalchi Fish Market in Busan, coming up soon.)

    I must admit that I have no intention of tasting fugu any where, any time! I may have an adventuresome streak, but license or not, there are enough perfectly safe fish in the sea to satisfy my needs. ;-) Still, I must ask: Did you like it?


    Day 16: Busan & Tongdosa

    Busan Museum. Like the several National Museums I visited, the Busan Museum (which is NOT part of the National Museum system, at least as I understand it) was in a modern and spatious facility with well displayed items that covered the region’s prehistory onward and used good signage in English. But unlike the national museums, the Busan Museum covered history. The coverage of wars with Japan was much more extensive than I had seen elsewhere, where it had been presented only to place objects or traditions in context. And there was a section devoted to the Korean War, something I didn't see at any other museum. (I'm sure there are such museums, although I didn't visit them.)

    U.N. Cemetery. From the Busan Museum, it is a just a short walk up to and then down through a park-like area to the U.N. Cemetery, guarded by uniformed soldiers. At the gate, I was asked my nationality and then asked to untie my clothes. What?!? Oh! I had completely forgotten that I had a cardigan tied around my waste, and the soldier did not think it was sufficiently respectful for me to wear it that way. No problem! I certainly meant no disrespect, and whether my attire that day was or was not intially respectful enough, I appreciate that the soldiers who man that gate pay attention to such matters.

    I first visited the Memorial Chapel and Memorabilia Hall, where signs made it clear that the purpose was to acknowledge ALL countries that participated in this war and ALL the service members who put their lives on the line. I don’t think anyone who paid attention could fail to get that message. And, as a U.S. citizen, I don’t think anyone could miss the acknowledgements of the enormous losses that the U.S. suffered in that war. But I didn’t lose a relative there, so I can’t speak to that issue – or to any other aspect of this cemetery – as some might.

    The cemetery itself is on a large, verdant slope edged by shaped evergreens; if there was a memorial marker that did not have a rush bush, I didn’t see it – almost all of the rose bushes were small, but the colors and sizes varied from one marker to the next; I found it a poignant way to individuate the memorials to those who might so easily, with the passage of time, become “just another” of the fallen.

    I had known, before I visited, that most U.S. soldiers’ remains had been repatriated, so I wasn’t surprised that the section holding the graves of U.S. soldiers was quite small. (The graves of those from differing countries are in different parts of the cemetery and are marked by flags and sometimes other national memorials.) What I hadn’t expected was an entirely different section of graves, also divided by nationality, that appears to include those of servicemembers who died after the war. As I now understand the applicable U.S. regulations (and I could well be wrong!), qualifying servicemembers who served in Korea and who asked (or whose family members asked) for burial at this particular site may be eligible for interment here. And it wasn’t just servicemembers from the U.S.: This area of the cemetery held some (not many) graves of people from quite a few countries, all with dates of death long after the armistice.

    There is also a Wall of Remembrance that records the names of all the non-Korean soldiers who died during the war, ordered by country and (for those from the U.S.) by place of birth (even if outside the U.S.), and then alphabetically by last name. I found it a peaceful place to honor the sacrifice of so many, from so many places.

    I didn’t see many Westerners there. I saw a LOT of Koreans. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a country where some families have never been able to reconnect even 60 years after armistice and where the majority of the living population has never known what it is to live in a country that is not technically at war.

    Tongdosa. Tongdosa is the second of the 3 “jewels” of Korean temples that I visited, and I believe it is South Korea’s largest temple. It is extensive! I went there by subway, then intercity bus, and then by foot through a few blocks of an urban area, followed by about 1.5 kilometers beside a stream in a wooded area. There were quite a few people enjoying the setting, including many families who were picnicing on large rocks in the streambed, and children running around whooping and jumping and splashing…. The path was lined with inscribed stones (and inscriptions on stone outcroppings and cliff sides) and, close to the entrance, stela memorials to noted monks who had spent time here.

    I won’t walk you through this very impressive temple; I’ll just note a few things that really stood out for me:

    Several temple halls had features that I believe are not very common -- eaves that were supported at each corner by a canted pole; roof tiles that were individually stabilized by a stone in the shape of a lotus bud; lanterns that still hold celadon oil lamps; some awesome and unusually shaped stupas that are believed to house relics of the Buddha …. There were also lots of features that I’ve seen at some (but not all) other temples – dragons within the eavework and lovely woodwork and wonderful finials….

    The temple’s museum includes some very impressive treasures. The museum also had a special exhibition of some particularly noteworthy large-scale temple paintings of the sort that often hang behind a seated Buddha sculpture.

    ***Korean Buddhas are bearded! It was at Tongdosa’s museum that I first realized that Korean Buddha images have beards (generally a small patch of hair just beneath the lower lip) and moustaches. =-o I don’t think I’d ever seen facial hair on a Buddha before, although since returning home, I have learned that it is not unique to Korea. I had no idea!

    There was a group of six Westerners at the temple – more than I had seen in days! I think they were speaking French, though that is hardly relevant. But every time I, or anyone else, came anywhere near, they converged upon one another, as though forming a defensive core. ?!? Any number of Koreans greeted me and some spent several minutes interacting with me. I’m glad those other Westerners saw something as special as Tongdosa. I hope they learn, some day, that there are places where it can be both safe and rewarding to let one’s guard down at least a little.

    There was a food stand next to the museum that sold delicious little treats – pastries shaped like walnuts (but larger), stuffed with walnut paste. In comparison to other food purchases I made in Korea, I thought the price for one a bit high – until I realized it was for a whole bag of them. :-)

    As I was about to leave, I turned to admire the sun beginning to set behind the mountain that backs this temple, and as I did so, I noticed a monk enter the bell tower and begin the preparations for the evening ringing of the bell. I found a good place from which to watch. As he did whatever it was that he was doing, other monks arrived, as did other tourists. After a while, the evening call to prayer began – a gong strike, then a bell, and then OMG, the drums! Tongdosa’s are enormous – literally, taller than a man – tall enough that a man has to reach upward to strike the upper parts. (Buddhist temple drums are positioned so that the surface one strikes is vertical.) At least 3 different drummers took turns; as one was ready for a break, he moved to the side of the drum’s head and another drummer joined him and began playing before the first one walked away, so the drumming was continuous. And it was musical and inspiring and absolutely awesome and lasted for at least 20 minutes. And then the fish was played – and of all the temples I’ve visited and all the fish I had seen, I had never actually seen one played, so that was cool! And then, after just a strike or two of the gong, the monk who was responsible for ringing the huge bell began his performance, which required strength and agility and amazing footwork. All of this, BTW, performed by monks who were wearing robes, so the sleeves and bases of the garments flowed out with each strike of drum or bell…. What a privilege it was to experience this event!

    I left just before the final strikes of the bell were completed, and it was delightful to walk back along that stream-edged path with the sounds of that bell echoing off the rocks and disappearing into the trees. I am one lucky person!

    Dinner. I found my way by foot, bus, and subway (and the kind attentions of several South Koreans) back to Seomyeon and then walked around, enjoying the area’s vibrant activity as I browsed restaurants. I selected one that looked like it had a good crowd of happy diners and chose the day's special, which turned out to be some kind of pork dish. The best part of this meal was, IMO, a delicious crab soup. All-in-all, neither the main dish nor the majority of the banchan were as good as what I tasted elsewhere – but it was still quite tasty and, with a large beer, cost all of $10. Not bad!

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    Interesting report on the request to 'untie your clothes'... I remember going to the DMZ in 1978ish and being told my jeans were not suitable attire. The tour leader had a supply of skirts for deviants like me to wear... it made me look like something out of a 1940s spy movie. Apparently that is the image the south wanted the north to see. Wonder if it has changed. Are you going there?
    And yes, the fugu was delicious. I have had it subsequently in Japan and I still like it.

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    Your report is so interesting! You manage to fit so much into your days! I must admit I am a lazy tourist and I am taking notes on the Jeju segment but I doubt I will achieve seeing all of those sights! I am going to send my son a link to this report as I think he may find your take on Gwangju and Seoul good reading.

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    @ gertie – Now I, too, wonder whether the standards for acceptable attire at the DMZ have changed! I can’t answer, as I didn’t go there. Maybe someone else has?

    BTW, this "installment" includes my experience of the Jigalchi Fish Market in Busan....


    @ SeeHag – You are very kind! I found my experiences interesting, but I have a bit of difficulty thinking that my words about those experiences would be all that interesting.

    Yes, I do fit a LOT into my trips! I find the opportunity to travel priceless and want to take full advantage of every possible moment. That’s another advantage I find to solo travel – sightseeing is my ONLY purpose! Your visit to JejuDo will be quite a different thing, and I would think that the chance to spend time with your son and his wife, and to become acquainted with her family, would be more than enough reason to be very selective in your sightseeing. I would be very pleased if my observations help you select a few places to visit – or, for that matter, a few places to rule out.

    By all means, send the link to your son if you think he would be interested! And encourage him to let me know his reactions.


    Day 17: Busan

    Noticing that rain was forecast for the next day, I spent a few moments over breakfast reconfiguring my plans and then set out. And oh!, look at that!: a Starbuck’s that is open early in the morning! That could come in handy!

    Haeundae Beach. There is a subway station just a couple of blocks from Haeundae Beach, which many consider South Korea’s finest beach, and what I saw when I got there was … a small stretch of sand topped by seemingly impenetrable fog. I couldn’t even see the water! I stopped at a very helpful TI office right there, and by the time I left, the fog had begun to burn off. I walked along the paved promenade, appreciating the spotless WCs, “safe beach” changing facilities, and occasional bit of outdoor art.

    By the time I got to the western edge of the beach, most of the haze was gone and I could appreciate views of waves washing into this long, sandy beach. I spent a few moments on wooden walkways around the cliffs at that end, with glimpses of a mermaid statue and people fishing. I then walked along the beach, looking for a nice shell or two. It was fun to watch some children playing near the water’s edge, and a few others running and flying a kite.

    Geumjeong Sanseong, the fortress above Busan. I took a subway and then a bus to what I believe was the fortress’s east gate. A very nice park ranger who spoke only a few words of English pointed to a large posted map and suggested a route that was about 5 km in length. This route led to a path one could take to a temple I hoped to visit – Beomeosa. From what I had read, I knew I didn’t want to climb FROM Beomeosa TO the fortress, because it was described as an unceasingly steep 2-km long path. But I’m OK with walking down -- off I went!

    For the first 2'20" or so, the path took me down a bit, and then up a LOT, and then down a bit, and then up a LOT, etc. There were times when I looked into the distance, and saw a path going up a further and higher hill, and each time, I said to myself, "please, oh PLEASE, let my turn-off be before that!" Never happened. I climbed and climbed and huffed and puffed and eventually reached the (thankfully) clearly marked summit. At least there would be more down than up from that point on! The views were stunning, looking out over ridges and around ice-cracked rock formations and down into the valleys where I could see parts of Busan and it's waterways. Worth every step!

    And then I started down, down, down…. It took me nearly an hour to descend what was essentially an unending stone stairway, with only a few small stretches of anything else (e.g., a relatively flat area near the fortress's north gage). The steps were often so deep that they required extra care, and the last stretch was through a forest beside a creek that was piled high with car-sized boulders – WOW! Apparently, that is no accident: The site for Beomeosa was selected, centuries ago, because of this river of rock. It was oddly reassuring to know that the boulders hadn’t fallen just yesterday. ;-)

    And through every stretch of that entire hike, from bus stop to temple, I encountered Koreans marching along in either direction as though on a moving walkway. Awesome!

    Beomeosa. What a welcome sight! I hadn’t completely run out of water on my long, hot walk – but only because I began to ration it early on. :-( I was so VERY glad to find the temple’s spring, and OMG, it was so fresh and cold and satisfying!

    Beomeosa has some unusual features that I found very pleasant. As examples, I liked the images of flowers and birds above the main altar; the extensive use of green in the paintings of another building; and the gate formed by a single row of very fat supporting columns, rather than the usual design with weight-bearing columns on both outer edges. There was also a tall pole that held a loudspeaker and some lights that had been bedecked with fir branches.

    Nonetheless, to my eyes, Beomeosa did not have the beauty or grandeur or charm of most of the other temples I visitied while in South Korea. It wasn’t at all unpleasant; it just wasn’t, IMO, top-tier. YMMV.

    Return to Busan. A relatively short downhill walk brought me to a bus stop, and a nice couple quickly confirmed that I was in the right place to catch a bus to the nearest Busan subway station. Later, they also walked partway with me to the subway.

    From there, I went to the stop that was closest to Busan Tower. In a small, Westernized, pedestrian-only shopping street nearby, I saw a sign that read, “Celtic Pub.” :-) If I hadn't been so tired, I might have done a bit of a jig right there! I had a cold Sam Adams, served with little pretzels and a second story view of people who were shopping or window-shoping or strolling below. I am sometimes amazed by how restorative an unexpected treat can be!

    Busan Tower. The very tall Busan Tower, which tops one of the hills near the city’s harbor, has an observation deck near the top. And glad tidings: One can take an escalator from street level (by the Celtic Pub) almost all the way to the base of the tower. :-) There were some stairs at the top, but not too many.

    I bought my ticket and was soon whooshed upward. Such wonderful views! I was there in time to watch night descend upon this beautiful city, and IMO, Busan is, indeed, beautiful. I could see it’s harbors, and the bridges that crossed their narrowest points; and the vibrant heart of “downtown” Busan; and the lights coming on the clusters of high-rise apartments climbing the city’s hills; and the deepening darkness of the forested hills that have so far escaped (or are too steep for) housing developments…. It was a very clear night, and if there are better times for views over Busan, I don’t care – these views were gorgeous!

    Jigalchi Market. I thought it might be too late for a stop at Jigalchi, the most famous fish market in Busan and perhaps all of South Korea – but what did I have to lose by trying? So I walked fairly quickly through Yongdusan Park, from which the tower rises -- just long enough to see that there were couples enjoying a quiet romantic moment and families finishing their picnics and a few people playing badminton on public courts. Back down the escalators, through an underground passageway to avoid a busy roadway, a few blocks on surface roads with an increasing number of streetside vendors, and voila.

    I can’t say that Jigalchi was substantively different from the many other fish markets I saw in South Korea, except that it was HUGE and the indoor part didn’t seem to have the usual, seemingly random array of shops, instead being almost exclusively devoted to fish and shellfish. That, and – as every guidebook I consulted mentioned – it has restaurants that will cook your newly purchased fish on the floor above. :-)

    By the time I reached it, the market had begun to shut down – less than a half, perhaps only a third, of the vendors were still there. But it was still a decidedly lively place, and I was far from the only person walking around. As a woman, I decided that I would try to patronize one of the stands operated by a woman, and once I got a sense of the “lay of the land” (as it were), I selected a woman whose face seemed especially kind and whose fish seemed especially lively. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to communicate what I wanted with sufficient clarity; she thanked me and directed me to a nearby male vendor who spoke some English. He seemed to understand and soon used a net to flip a fish from the tank in which it had been swimming onto the floor. As he raised his arm, I turned away; I heard a loud “thwack” as he killed the fish with some kind of wooden implement. Then he picked the fish up in a bit of netting, confirmed that I wanted it to be grilled, and led me upstairs, where he gave the fish to one of the many women who earn their living by cooking seafood at one of many stands on the 2nd floor of the Jigalchi Market.

    Soon, an array of banchan appeared. Looking around, I could see people eating lobster and shrimp and other shellfish and various types of fish, large and small…. What a place! And then my fish arrived, and OMG, I don’t believe that I have ever eaten a fresher or more perfectly grilled fish. :-) It had been gutted and deboned, but it still had its skin and it had curled under the heat, so its head and tail were lifted above the plate -- it looked ready to jump off. I have no idea what kind of fish it was – the skin was a dark charcoal color; the flesh was white and almost “fluffy”; the whole fish was maybe 9 inches long and 3 or 4 inches from underside to topside. Wonderful!

    I told the fish vendor that I was willing to spend up to 10,000 won for my fish; the fish, its preparation, the banchan, and a large beer cost less than $20.

    While walking to the subway station after leaving the market, I passed several vendors who were tending street-side stalls. At one point, I turned to snap a photograph just as a rat tried to grab an eel off a table. =-o I gasped, it let go, and I don’t think the vendor saw any of it. Much as I love walking through outdoor markets, I’m glad I do my shopping in a grocery store!

    I took the subway back to Seomyeon. As I consulted the station map to make sure I knew where I was in relation to my hotel, a young woman offered her assistance; we walked most of the way together and I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with her.

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    kja, that fish market and having the one you picked out cooked for you sounded really cool! And the price is sure great as well. Thanks for answering my questions in your post of yesterday.

    I think I figured out the difference between what you do and what I do - in Japan I have been able to take public transport to almost every place I wanted to go. It seems in Korea this is much more difficult - also I read through your China report about how you hired a taxi and driver on more than one occasion - I couldn't imagine doing that - it's not my style, and I would be very nervous, not for my safety but to be ripped off....or scammed. I hate taxis - the only time I take them in NYC is when I have to see my doc and I'm too ill to take the subway....lol...Although I did take three taxis in Japan this trip but only from the station to the hotel or hotel to hotel since I had two pieces of luggage....

    Did you do a Japan report? I am curious if you did the same type of traveling there....you are a brave woman....for sure!

    I am already doing research for a trip to Seoul next spring - all due to you! :)

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    I'm still here and still enjoying your report. I love reading your words. I feel like I'm tagging along just behind you. It's hard to get such a good balance in a report but you cover things so well, give a great rundown of things and keep me "on the edge of my seat" and waiting for more Thank you.

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    I like your observations of the people along the way. That is one of my favorite aspects of travel. The helpful people, the monks drumming, the wary French tourists.

    Yes, our trip will be more about being with our new family but I know everyone will want to get out to see a few sights.

    Busan sounds beautiful! I hope to see it on a future trip.

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    @ Mara -- What a thought provoking response!

    So let me dispense with the easy parts first: No, I did not write a report on my delightful trip to Japan. I went there in 2006, before I had ever looked at Fodor’s Forum. For that matter, while I try to do something after each trip to give back and pay forward, this is only my second detailed trip report. I wrote one about my trip for China, and am writing this one, because I spent so much time in places that are almost never mentioned on Fodor’s, and I hoped/hope that others might find some value in my overlong ramblings.

    Quite honestly, I feel like I’m the one who should thank you for traveling with me and posing questions and showing interest in what I have to say – I really do appreciate it!

    I don’t think of myself as brave – I think of myself as self-indulgent. I admit that I have begun most (if not all) of my trips with at least some anxiety -- and sometimes more than frisson of fear! – but I also know that I do enough research to be reasonably confident that I am not taking particularly unnecessary or unreasonable risks. My personal choice -- and I think it is a very personal decision -- is that I would rather face certain small risks than fail to take an opportunity to see a place that I want to see. I’ve always reminded myself that, at worst, I can go to the safest place I can find and hole up there. ;-) I’m pleased that I’ve never felt the need to take that recourse.

    And for me, the “risks” have been worth it! – and let me be clear, I don’t think I have taken REAL risks. I was terrified before my first trip abroad: What if I couldn’t figure out how to buy food or get around? The simple discovery I could actually buy a piece of fruit was enormously freeing! And that’s the kind of thing I’ve found with every trip – for every small step into the unknown, I become ever more aware of how easy some things are and how much I can do to make things easier (or at least less complicated) and how incredibly kind and helpful people can be. And of course, some of the moments that weren’t quite so easy make for great stories that keep me laughing years later. :-)

    You’ve obviously paid enough attention to know that I really, REALLY prefer to plan every possible step of my trips, so you must realize that my journey to China was WAY outside my comfort zone! I was very fortunate to have some incredibly informative and helpful support from Fodorites when I planned that trip, including input from thursdaysd (who is, IMO, a decidely brave and inspirational traveler) and from Peter Neville-Hadley (a true expert on travel in China). In some ways, the majority of my “planning” for that trip was planning what to do when I couldn’t plan, how I would manage if my plans didn’t work out, etc.

    Despite all my fears and despite being unbelievably far from my comfort zone, that trip to China was fabulous, and as a corrolary, it was wonderfully freeing. Yes, I love to plan and I will plan every trip as obsessively as my time and available resources permit – but if I can’t, well, as long as I know my back-up options, I will no longer let the ability to plan determine where I go, at least not while I still have the energy and flexibility to have a reasonable belief that I can manage in the face of the unexpected.

    So, no, I don’t travel the same way on each trip -- I try to tailor my trip to my destinations, except that wherever I go, I try to see and experience as much as possible and to cover a variety of types of things. I use public transportation exclusively wherever I can, but will take road trips if doing so substantially increases my opportunities to see/do what I want. I strongly prefer to book lodging in advance, primarily because I hate using my time abroad to deal with that issue, and also because I love booking that little place with only so many rooms that gets great reviews and is really affordable and is ONLY available if you book WAY in advance…. I try to learn something about local cuisines before I travel and perhaps target specific restaurants and even, sometimes, book a few in advance. I will plan to my heart's delight when I can and only in broad strokes when necessary and will do what I can to plan what to do when my plans don't work.

    As for your much more pragmatic question about taxis: When I was younger, I never took taxis, and I still don’t if I have confidence that I can find my way from point A to point B without making myself too weary to enjoy what I want to see at point B. But if a short taxi ride in a metered cab will make my life substantially easier, I’m now willing to consider it!

    When taking a metered taxi in China, Japan, or South Korea, I never worried about being ripped off.
    - As I recall, I only took one or two taxis while in Japan; they were metered.
    - I only took one unmetered taxi in South Korea (from Soswaewon to Gwangju). Given what I knew of taxis in South Korea, I assumed that even if ripped off (which I thought unlikely), it would be nominal. Moreover, I agreed to a price before hand. In honesty, I don’t believe I was ripped off.
    - I think I took two unmetered taxis in China, and agreed to the price of each before hand. One was my all-day trip from Taiyuan through two specific temples and on to Wutai Shan. As I wrote in my report, I am fully convinced that I overpaid – but I did agree to the price beforehand. The other was a taxi from Datong to the Yungang Caves and back, and for that trip, several drivers entered a bidding war, so the price I ended up accepting was less than half of the originally offered fare. I don't know how much I overpaid; I only know that I paid no more than I was willing to pay and much less than I might have paid.

    BTW, note that I would NEVER EVER take an unmetered taxi in China without a REALLY good cause – it is almost certain that one WILL be ripped off if one fails to insist on a meter when one is an option in China.

    (The other two times I hired a car and driver in China did not involve a taxi -- in each of these cases, I signed up for a tour. In one case – in Datong – I made arrangements through a tourist office that had been flagged as “unusual” for offering a reasonably priced tour of the things I wanted to see there; I shared the tour with two other people. The other case involved signing up for a tour – as it turned out, I was the only person who did – to see something that was a really high priority for me and that I did not believe I could reach otherwise. I knew the cost in advance and decided it was worth it to me. And I have no regrets about these experiences – they allowed me to see things that I would not otherwise have been able to see at prices I was willing to pay.)

    So, basically, I guess I’ve had enough confidence in my research to believe that I know how to avoid blatant scams and enough of a desire to see certain things that I’m willing to live with the knowledge that I might overpay if that’s what ends up happening. BUT let me say that it’s really easy for me to say these things, given that I haven’t ever really been victimized by scammers.

    The bottom line is (I think) that we each need to find the line that feels comfortable enough for us to enjoy ourselves.

    If you decide to visit Seoul for a few days, I think you will find many things to enjoy there and am glad to think that my words have given you (and maybe others) the information you need to help you decide whether to do so or not. But I also meant it when I said that you can do much worse than spending the rest of your travel days exploring more of Japan, and I look forward to hearing your evocative words about those experiences.

    Sorry for such a very long response … your questions seemed worthy of serious answers. As far as I know, I've never been mentioned as a master of terse expression. ;-)


    @ MaryW – What a truly lovely compliment you have paid me -- thank you so much!


    @ SeeHag -- Thank you, too! I almost didn't mention those French tourists, but their behavior was so striking and seemed so inconsistent with the welcoming hospitality all around them that I couldn't resist. Otherwise, I can't imagine writing about my time in South Korea without commenting on the people -- they were such an integral part of the delight I took in traveling there!

    Close up, I'm not sure that I would say that ANY city in South Korea is "beautiful" ;-) , but seen from a distance or from high up, oh yes, Busan is, IMO, quite beautiful! My early take on Busan was that it was a big, industrial, port city with some nice beaches -- aka, not my thing! But a very gentle friend who is from Seoul said several times, in his understated way, that he thought I might like Busan. So I read more and decided that there was more than that I might enjoy than I had originally thought. I could, I think, have seen my favorite parts in 2 or 2.5 days, but was glad I gave it 3 full days (4 nights).

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    I enjoyed reading the story of the fish market, especially the bit about choosing the fish and hearing the 'thwack' as the vendor killed it. That kind of thing is a bit too much gritty realism for me too! Once in the market in Kojedo we thought we would buy some chicken. The stallholder pointed to a cageful of fluffy white squawking chickens and asked us which one we wanted. We decided we didn't.

    I have also enjoyed reading your comments on solo travel and I would say I agree with you. Like you, one of the great joys of solo travel for me is being able to do exactly as I like. If I want to do only sightseeing (and I do) then I can. No wasting precious time on other things like boring shopping or too much eating:)

    Re the planning, I too do quite a lot, depending on where I am going. For example, I always just go to the Greek Islands without plans or reservations because I am very familiar with them and confident it will always work out. There are so many ferries and lots of little places to stay that are of an acceptable standard for me.

    If I am a bit wary or just lacking in time, I have taken some organised small group tours: Explore, or GAP Adventures, like last summer to Armenia and Georgia. It just seemed easier to be organised in countries where I didnt speak the language and wasn't sure about the tourist infrastructure. These group things are a compromise and I enjoy them less and less these days.

    I did 2 months in south America earlier this year and I enjoyed best the bits I did on my own. Yes, you have to be careful with taxi drivers but there is a fair bit of info online these days. And when I do get ripped off, I always think they need the money more than I do with my first world lifestyle and income. And as for safety, I just go with my instinct. Have had one or two hairy moments but... I would say Japan and Korea are two of the safest countries I have travelled in.

    :) Enjoying your trip report and the tangential bits.

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    kja I have loved reading your trip report. I am new to the Asia forum but have enjoyed reading all I can about South Korea, especially Busan. My daughter will be playing piano/singing at the Park Hyatt in Busan for four months starting mid October. My husband and I are considering visiting her for a week at New Year. We live in New Zealand, my daughter in New York. Busan is about the same flight time as from NZ to Los Angeles.

    I will our report to her so she can have an idea of the subway, light rail, and places to visit when she is Busan and South Korea in general.

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    @ gertie – Wow, you’ve traveled so extensively! And it sounds like you have been very successful in finding ways to adapt your style to your destinations. I have yet to visit many of the places you mention – I’ll be looking to you for advice when I plan those trips!


    @ nelsonian – thanks for your kind words, and welcome to Fodor’s! Your daughter must have a streak of adventuresomeness, in addition to musicality, to spend several months in another country. I bet she’ll have a blast! And I think you and your husband will enjoy Busan if you decide to visit her while she is there. The “installment” that follows covers my last day in Busan itself, but there are a LOT of places that you can visit as days trips from Busan if you choose to do so, including some of the places that I visited after my time in Busan. Even Seoul is less than 2.5 hours away!


    Day 18: Busan

    As forecast, there was rain when I woke up and through much of this day. I got coffee and pastry at the Starbuck’s I had noted the day before heading out.

    Yonggungsa. Yonggungsa is, I believe, unusual because it perches in a sea-side cove. To get there, I took the subway to Haeundae and then a bus. This was one of the few buses I took for which I had no good information about how long the ride would take, so I felt compelled to pay attention to everything I could see to either side. It was a LONG ride, so by the time I got to the stop for Yonggungsa, I had seen so many similar intersections that I couldn’t have begun to identify the “right” one. There was only one up-side, that I know of, to my obsessive diligence: When the bus driver left us off about ½ block AFTER the entrance to Yonggungsa, I knew which way to go because I had just seen it. There was a short walk up a hill, and then a short walk down, and then a shop-lined lane leading to the temple….

    The entrance to the temple is lined by a row of zodiac statues, and even though it took a while to see them (because every visitor seemed to want to have his/her picture taken with every statue), they were worth admiring. And then there was an area with a stone pagoda, a much-loved statue of a woman with two babies, and a gilded-dragon gate that led to a descending stairway, so steep that stone lanterns would only fit on the wall to the side of every other step. After a slight bend in the stairway, there was a side passage, which I decided to explore later.

    And then, despite the haze and drizzle, the view opened to show, on my right, cliffs leading to temple buildings, and on my left, a small inlet and waves dashing against cliffs. :-) A bit later I watched two kayakers try to enter, and then exit, this inlet. One managed to fight the current before entering; the other had to work quite hard to find a way out.

    Yonggungsa is not a large temple, but IMO, it has some things that are worth seeing -- stupas and lanterns and a cave shrine and some striking outdoor statues, not to mention the lovely views. The area I intially skipped, also sea-side, held a wonderful open-air statue, glimpses of boats with sappling “prowheads” (like those I had seen in Seogwipo), and some great views of the main temple.

    I had considered Yonggungsa a low priority. I’m VERY glad that I made time for it! It must be stunning on a sunny day, but I appreciated the atmospheric effects as the air shifted from haze to mist or drizzle or back, interspersed with a few dazzling moments of clarity.

    I found my way back to the Haeundae area by walking from Yonggungsa back to the street, running across a 4-line road JUST in time to catch a bus, realizing that the bus wasn’t even taking the same route as the one I had tried so hard to commit to memory earlier, and then, after a long ride – oh my! I know that building! Of course, even as I was standing up, the bus driver turned to catch my eye. :-)

    Busan Aquarium. The Busan Aquarium has some wonderful features: There are lots of interesting tanks embedded in walls at eye-level; and a large area that afforded above and below water-line viewing of penguins; and a very, very large tank that showed reef life. This aquarium’s most notable arena is a huge tank through which there is a large walkway with see-through sides and a see-through top: Shark and rays and skates and sea turtles and some really, really, really BIG fish glide through the water. Awesome!

    I was there in time for a “shark feeding” demonstration. There was a small auditorium at the end of this looped walkway, and people gathered there to hear the announcers and watch divers. The event had a decided “performance” quality, with an obvious effort to engage the audience. The most dramatic moments may have been the feeding of the sharks; I thought the most interesting moments were feeding of the skates and rays. And of course, watching the enraptured children was a huge part of the fun.

    FWIW, I thought this aquarium impressive. I would like to say that I’m glad that it is an option for South Korean children, but with an admission price of more than 20,000 won (more than $20), I’m not sure that how widely accessible it is. (That admission price was WAY more than anything else I experienced in South Korea. I think some of the private museums may have charged the equivalent of about $9 or $10; many places charged only the equivalent of a few dollars.) And I must admit that I prefer the focus on the animals and their behavior at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium to the focus on entertainment at the Busan Aquarium; just my preference. I’m still glad I saw it, and it was a perfect way to spend a very rainy afternoon.

    More Busan Markets. I returned to the area around the Jigalchi Fish market to see some of Busan’s other markets, but it seems that my timing was poor. The Jigalchi market itself was much as I had seen it the night before. The nearby dried fish and herb markets were either already closed, or preparing to close, for the day, with just a shop or two still open. I suspect that many vendors closed up a bit earlier than they might otherwise have done because of the weather.

    All the more reason to savor another Sam Adams, right? Particularly because it was only a couple of blocks back to the “Celtic Pub.” :-)

    Revigorated, I was ready to head into Busan’s huge Nampo Market, or was it the Gukje Market, or….? Each of my guidebooks had described the area a bit differently, and I hadn’t been able to make heads nor tails of which area was what. So my first stop was a TI desk that was still open. The woman there said that they were basically all the same and that the whole area was known as “Nampo.” I walked through the various alleyways for a half hour or so, but I must admit that I soon became bored – most of the shops I saw sold clothing and other fashion items and accessories, whether imported or knock-off. Not my thing. The most interesting place I saw was a small temple – really, just an eaved building with three bays to the side of a parking lot. If there was anything truly special about it, I didn’t notice; I thought it noteworthy primarily because there were so few temples in South Korean cities.

    Dinner. I ate dinner in the Nampo district, but once again, if I wrote the name down, I haven’t found it. When I ordered, the server looked stricken – what was wrong? She soon returned with an English speaking coworker: The particular beef dish I had ordered was something the restaurant only prepares for two or more people. Could she recommend an alternative? She did, I accepted, and it was REALLY good! The beef was sliced very thin, was very tender, had a very light sesame topping, and was served with a touch of sesame oil on the side. I would happily eat that again! And of course, the banchan were tasty, too. :-) With a large beer, the price came to about $15.

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    Day 19: Busan to Haeinsa

    My plan for the day: Reach Haeinsa no later than 4 p.m., as required by my templestay reservation.

    I walked to the elevator access to the Busan subway nearest my hotel, took the subway to the train station, and then a high-speed train to Daegu. There, I easily found a block of lockers that I could use to store my luggage. I had separated out the things I expected to need for my overnight templestay and I had also been careful to make sure I had a lot of 1,000 won coins for the locker. How could I have been better prepared? Well, perhaps, by learning more Korean – but I’m not sure that even that would have helped!

    Lockers at the Daegu KTX station now use a fingerprint ID system. Cool! -- IF you can figure out how to use it! You stow whatever, shut the door, and then turn your attention to a central “control pad.” You have to let it record one of your fingerprints – and it seems that I’m REALLY bad at keeping a finger stable long enough for the scan to work. I had to try over and over and over until it accepted my print. And then you have to feed it money. Maybe it was simple for Koreans, but I don’t think so: a young couple was trying to store something just before me, and they seemed to struggle, too. They were kind enough to help me once they figured it out. :-)

    I then went to the information desk to confirm all sorts of details – I asked about, and was given, information about bus schedules and made sure I had written Korean words for all the transit points I might need, and only after about 15 minutes of questions and answers did I realize that the woman with whom I was speaking was a KTX employee – I was at the desk for TRAIN info, and yet this woman had responded politely and helpfully to each and every one of my questions, none of which were relevant to her job. How nice!

    I didn’t need to wait too long for the bus to the stop nearest Haeinsa. Once there, with just my overnight bag, I started up the hill. It was another hot day, so when I reached a large, shade-less parking lot, I just told myself to stay to the edges and walk slowly. I had nearly passed that heat-radiating concrete when I remembered that one of my guidebooks mentioned that Haeinsa’s treasure hall was well below the temple itself, close to the bus stop. Could it be?

    Yes, that WAS the temple’s museum – Yay! :-) AND it had lockers – but why was a staffmember trying to tell me not to use one? He kept pointing to a sign … oh, I think he’s telling me that I can’t leave anything there overnight. I used my few words, and in this case, most importantly my hands, to signal that I wanted to visit the museum itself. He seemed so surprised! Apparently, most people who go to Haeinsa skip the museum. I saw one other couple while I was there; they did the quickest walk-through imaginable! How unfortunate, because there are some really special things at this small museum, including some examples of Haeinsa’s famous wood blocks. I spent about an hour there, and felt truly fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the treasures it displayed.

    And then I began the walk up to Haeinsa. There was a long, gently sloping part, much of which was through a lovely wooded area besdie a babbling brook. And then there was a steeper part with many stairs – I trust that the published number, 108 is correct. I couldn’t bear to count them! I hate to admit how heavy that overnight bag began to feel.

    Haeinsa Templestay. Soon after entering Haeinsa’s main area, I found the Templestay office and checked in. A young man there explained the rules, including a rule that I had not previously known – meals were to be taken in silence. I quipped something like, “Well, temple food is so good that no one will have time to chat, right?” He shook his head and said something like, “Temple food CAN be good. At Haeinsa, not so much.” Hmm….

    He escorted me to my room: The entrance, which was beside by a parking lot, led to a tiny foyer where one could take one’s shoes off before entering a large en suite room through a sliding door. This bedroom had a regular (i.e., wooden and locking) connecting door to a VERY large room that also had a bathroom. I think the really BIG room may have been the “dorm” that JC98 mentioned. “My” room had no bedding, but there were piles in the dorm, so I took mattresses and quilts and pillows to my room. I then confirmed that there was no TP in either room. :-(

    There was a small shop within the temple grounds, so I went to see if it sold any TP or tissue. When the shopkeeper realized what I was seeking, she gave me a generous supply and refused to accept any payment. Before I left Haeinsa, I bought a bunch of small wooden rice paddles from her.

    I had a few hours to explore the grounds, so off I went! Haeinsa is the third of the “Three Jewel Temples” that I visited, and is particularly known for, and is a UNESCO WHS, because of the Tripitaka Koreana – a complete set of Buddhist scriptures in the form of wooden printing blocks. They are ancient and are housed in a structure that was specially created to protect them by sheltering them from the elements, while also ensuring proper ventillation. One can’t enter that building, but one can walk close to one side and see a bit of the interior. And there is good signage showing (for example) the differences between the front and the back that resulted from different patterns of light and wind, etc. Fascinating!

    This large temple also has some ancient stupas and stone lanterns and scenic corners and historic flagpoles, and a part of one courtyard was shaded by a “ceiling” of Dharma lanterns. One of the stone pagodas had bells hanging from its corners that chimed pleasantly when a breeze swept through. Charming!

    One of the few rules that I was to follow as an overnight guest of the temple was to show up for dinner promptly. I waited with the temple’s other guests – there were 8 of us all together – until the door was opened. A few monks were just finishing their meals to one side of the room; a few others were “on duty.” The food was served buffet style and included a wonton-like soup, rice, and several types of vegetables. Thinking that I might not like everything, I took just a bit more than I thought I might want of each dish. Indeed, this meal was the least pleasing of all the meals I had while in Korea – although the soup was tasty, and some of the vegetables were fine, others were bland and overcooked. Only after I was seated did it occur to me that it might seem ungrateful or wasteful of me if I left anything on my plate. So I added some red sauce and finished every last bite. Quite different than my exquisite meal at Shojoshinin in Japan’s Koyasan!

    A second requirement for those who stay just one night is to attend the evening prayer service, and really, this wasn’t an obligation – it was a privilege. I went straight from dinner to the main hall, where I knelt on a padded cushion to the back. Soon, there was the sound of a gong, and then the drums, and then the bell, and the monks and the other temple guests took their places. One of the monks seemed to be in charge of “protocol,” letting those of us who were guests know where to position ourselves. Finally, with another sound of the gong, the service began.

    The first chant was one for which I had been given not only the English translation, but also an English transliteration, so I could join in. A pair of monks “led” this chant, and accompanied it with the percussion of gourds. I found this chant, and those that followed, extraordinarily moving: There were quite a few monks in attendance, maybe around 50, and to hear them merge their voices – whether high or deep, strong or weak – with such reverance and joyfulness was very special. The monks, and some of the guests, had musical scores, which some seemed to use, while others seemed to know the chants by heart. As twilight approached, the light that initially streamed in through the temple doors dimmed and began to give way to interior lighting. Wonderful!

    After about half an hour, all the monks but two filed out. Those two remained, chanting with or without the guord, for another half hour. Most of my fellow guests continued their obeisances; I regret that my joints weren’t up to the task, though I tried to be as discrete and respectful as I could.

    After the prayer service, I enjoyed a few exceptionally quite moments strolling around the temple as night descended. But another temple rule was that one had to be in one’s room by 9:00 p.m.; I made sure to comply. I wasn’t sure whether that meant “lights out” or not, and so I also made sure that I had a flashlight handy just in case. The electricity was not cut, but I didn’t stay up too much later. Instead, I fell asleep on the delightfully cozy warmth of the ondol floor.

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    Enjoying your trip report very much. Korea is on my bucket list and hope to visit one day. I too am a Korean drama fan and have picked up a bit of the Korean language from watching the dramas (that's my excuse for watching:) Your report is very detailed and interesting to read. Did you feel at all uncomfortable dining solo, was told compared to Japan that it is less accepting in Korea?

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    This is wonderful kja. What a great account of a temple stay. I can feel the atmosphere, hear the sounds and smell the smells from your writing. And what lovely memories of drifting off to sleep on an ondol floor. I must always have been lucky with temple food as it is one of my absolute favourites, though I have never stayed in a temple in Korea; next time :)

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    @ hnl – thanks for you compliments! I did not feel uncomfortable dining solo in Korea, but then, I do so with some frequency and don’t pay much attention to how others are reacting. There were some dishes that were served for only 2 or more (e.g., those that involved an entire chicken) and I didn’t find any restaurants that served either “banquet” or “royal” cuisine for just one, but otherwise I felt welcome at each of the restaurants where I ate. It was clear that dining alone was not common, but it didn’t seem common in Japan, either. My sense was that when in a restaurant, people noticed me more because I was Western than because I was solo, and they were happy to help me figure out what to order and how to eat it.


    @ gertie – I relished my temple stay and am glad that my words communicated what a special experience it was. Even so, I was honestly surprised by the food at Haeinsa: Everything I read in advance led me to believe that temple food in Korea would be delicious, and I had savored an exquisite meal of temple food at Baru in Seoul early in my stay. I think the man who checked me in was probably quite on point when he told me, “Temple food CAN be good. At Haeinsa, not so much.” ;-)


    Day 20: Haeinsa, Daegu, and Jikjisa, ending in Gyeongju

    The last requirement of my stay at Haeinsa was to attend breakfast (in silence) just after 6 a.m. As with dinner the night before, some things were very tasty; others, not so much. For this meal, I was careful not to take any extras.

    Before leaving, I took the opportunity to visit some of Haeinsa’s hermitages. The first one I visited had a very pleasant balcony lining one side that gave access to a shrine and study and a delightfully shaded “sunroom.” As I was leaving that area, a monk signaled to me that I should take a side path, and I’m so glad he did! It led to an area with what I believe was a small shrine to healing and one of those large, interestingly shaped rocks that are sometimes placed in Oriental gardens.

    Another hermitage had an ancient stone pagoda and a platform with excellent views out over a series of wooded hillsides and a small garden with flowers in bloom, which several women were quite insistent that I should see.

    After a last walk through Haeinsa’s main areas, I checked out and walked slowly back to the main road. As I was approaching it, a woman stepped out of a shop, saying “ticket, ticket!” One can buy one’s bus ticket from her – I don’t know if one can do so on the bus itself. While I was waiting for the bus, one of Haeinsa’s English-speaking monks joined me. I enjoyed our conversation and was glad to be able to tell him how much I appreciated the opportunity to spend a night at the temple.

    Daegu. Once in Daegu, a very nice gentleman helped me find my way to a subway station with lockers (also fingerprint controlled) in which I could put my overnight bag. Mr. Young explained that his father had been a practioner of traditional medicine, and that he himself serves as a volunteer docent at the nearby museum of traditional medicine. He asked me to allow him to take me on a tour so graciously that I couldn’t help but accept.

    Yakjeon Herbal Medicine Market. As I already knew from thursdaysd (thanks for the warning!), this market has been so sanitized as to be nearly unrecognizable. Mr. Young and I walked along a wide street that was lined with shops, only some of which had small exterior displays, mostly of cut branches; inside, things were in plastic bags and cabinets. So unlike the traditional herb market in Seoul!

    Daegu Yangnyeongsi Museum of Oriental Medicine. This small museum has some very well-signed and informative displays of traditional medicine concepts and the various implements and items (stems, roots, leaves, flowers, seeds, etc.) that are used. Mr. Young patiently answered my questions and provided a wealth of additional information. The displays in this museum were designed for people of all ages, including children, by incorporating interactive elements, games of discovery, etc. Cool!

    Rice cake market. Having seen thursdaysd’s picture of a rice cake topped by the image of an octopus, I knew I had to visit this market! Sure enough, Daegu has a narrow covered alley that is devoted to rice cake shops, and many of them displayed large, colorful cakes topped by an octopus or group of shrimp or swimming fish…. Fascinating! Mr. Young said that these cakes would be for a couple’s wedding, and that the goal is to select a rice cake that shows something relevant to the groom’s occupation that also has an appropriate symbolic meaning.

    Mr. Young escorted me back to the subway station and made sure I was able to retrieve my overnight bag and find my way onward. He spent close to 3 hours with me, for no reason other than kindness and a desire to share information about topics he finds dear. How lucky I was to run into him!

    Jikjisa. By taking a subway and then a train to Gimcheon, and then a bus, I found my way to Jikjisa – or more precisely, I found my way to the bus stop closest to Jikjisa. The bus driver made sure I knew where to get off, but if there was a sign, I couldn’t see it! Fortunately, a woman who also got off the bus there had heard me name the temple, and when she saw me looking around, she pointed me in the right direction. And when I came to a corner, I looked back, and there she was, signaling which way I should turn. :-) I ended up walking along a short street with shops, and then into a sculpture park, and then into the wooded area surrounding the temple.

    Jikjisa is entered by a series of three lovely gates spaced along a winding path. Some huge pines shade the area and there was the sound of running water almost everywhere. This temple holds some stunning shrines, impressive stupas and lanterns, more blooming flowers than most of the temples I visited, and a treasury with a small collection of incredible pieces.

    I had considered skipping Jikjisa because I knew that stopping here would mean a very late arrival at my next destination. I am very glad I made time for it!

    Trip to Gyeongju. I walked back through the woods, through the sculpture garden, through the street of shops, and found the bus stop. When the bus arrived, it was the same bus driver who had left me off, and he not only recognized me, he greeted me with incredible warmth and with an interest in my reaction to Jikjisa. Of course, he made sure I made it to the train station without difficulty and he waved to me as he pulled away. While waiting for the train, a pair of women who were also waiting trying to give me one of their two apples; it was only with difficulty that I convinced them that I was fine.

    Once on the train to Daegu, I saw one of the only sunsets I saw during the entire month that I was in Korea: I looked out the window and saw a section of the western sky that was yellow at the top and transitioned to red-orange at the bottom, with a dragon-backed ridge in silhouette against the red at the base. Beautiful!!! And then it shrank to just a bit of a reddish-pink blur, and quickly disappeared. It was lovely while it lasted, but was surprisingly ephemeral.

    From Daegu, I boarded a bus to Gyeongju. It had been a long day, but a very rewarding one. :-) Fortunately, my hotel was within 200 meters of the bus station.

    Sugar Motel, Gyeongju. Here’s my TA review:

    “I spent 3 nights in an economy double for single use at the Sugar Motel and found the service at this hotel near Gyeongju’s bus stations wonderful.



    “As examples of the service: A few days before my reserved arrival, I received an e-mail with a detailed and extremely easy-to-follow map of how to reach the hotel from the Gyeoongju bus stations, marked in English and Korean (having both languages on a map is important, because it allows me to use it and also allows me to ask Koreans for help if necessary). The staff had also prepared a notice, in English, that they handed to me that suggested contacting them by e-mail if oral communication seemed inadequate. The staff spoke enough English to meet my needs quite well, but I appreciated this extra evidence of their efforts to accommodate English-speakers. 



    “The hotel is close to both of Gyeongju’s bus stations and to a few of Gyeongju's sites, but it was a mile or two (I’m guessing) – from some of Gyeongju’s best-known sites – its National Museum, the Observatory, Anapji Pond. It was also about a mile (perhaps a bit less) from Gyeongju’s train station. I believe there are buses if you don’t want to walk to those sites, and taxis were readily available in the area. 



    “I believe this hotel is one of Korea’s ‘lovel motels,’ which (as I understand it) are often used by married couples who live with parents until they can afford a space of their own. If so, it was certainly discreet. It was also appointed in ways that I (a solo femal traveler) appreciated – a jacuzzi bath, large and comfortable bed, breakfast delivered to the room, etc. And breakfast was delicious! Guests have two options, a “continental” breakfast (I forget the details) and the option I chose – a perfectly grilled sandwich made with ham, eggs, cheese, pickles… along with a container of yogurt, a piece of fruit, orange juice, and coffee – all delivered to the room at the time one requests. Perfect!



    “One minor head’s up: Given what I read before my trip about rotating and lighted ‘barbers’ poles’ in South Korea – especially those with images of women -- I suspect that some of the establishments in the area by this hotel were brothels. I never saw anything in the area (even late at night) that made me the slightest bit uncomfortable. Just something to keep in mind.”

    Ah, a jacuzzi bath! What a perfect end to a long, wonderful day. :-)

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    kja, thanks for your long reply above....you mean you took a trip without fodors (to Japan) who knew that was possible...;-)

    I envy that you can write such detailed and interesting even compelling I would say trip reports! Do you take notes for future reference? I can barely remember what I did yesterday....lol.

    I have read about the problem with non-metered taxis in China - I guess I don't even want to be bothered to go somewhere that doesn't have that much interest for me with additional hassles like that....I would like to visit China if only to see the Great Wall but I have breathing issues and don't think it is the place for me.

    I am continuing to love your report - thanks so much for your effort which must be huge!

    hnl - fellow kdrama fan - there are sites that give info about locations mentioned in various dramas in case you didn't realize it. :)

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    @ MaryW – I was, indeed very lucky -- he was great company!

    (BTW, another ssambap story coming up....)


    @ Mara – “compelling” – what a wonderful compliment! Thanks so much!

    Sometimes I wish I didn’t remember what I did yesterday (;-) ), but no – I am not relying on memory. I always keep a journal when I travel; I just don’t usually type my notes up.

    BTW, the problem with taxis in China is largely because of Westerners who fail to insist on using the meter (and so substantially overpay), with the consequence that many taxi drivers, especially in major cities like Beijing, now cater primarily to Westerners who don’t insist on the meters. It’s really quite a problem, and an unfortunate one as well.

    The pollution in Beijing is a very serious problem, too. I’m very fortunate to have visited while it was simply an unpleasant nuisance. It should give people – and certainly anyone with breathing issues – pause. Actually, that’s part of why I went to South Korea this year – Seoul is apparently beginning to suffer from not only it’s own pollution, but especially from smog blowing over from China. I wanted to see it before it gets any worse.


    Day 21: Gyeongju, Seokguram, and Bulguksa

    Seokguram Grotto. Per my guidebooks, to go to Seokguram, I was to take a bus to Bulguksa, and then change to a different bus. My bus driver made sure I saw the stop for Bulguksa, and as I looked around for the stop for Seokguram, I saw a Tourist Information office. I went straight there, where I was told that the bus stop was just across the street, and (they looked at the clock) the bus should arrive any minute! Thanking them as quickly as I could, I flew out of that office, remembered to stop to check for traffic before crossing the street, ;-) and used that opportunity to wave to the bus driver, who had just begun to pull out, but who did, indeed, stop for me.

    That was one awesome bus-ride. Up and up and up, around one hairpin turn after another (but all, thank goodness, with wide pavement areas and mirrored corners and guardrails), with some breathtaking dropoffs to the side -- and I do mean, literally, breath-taking! Wow!

    The bus stopped in a large parking lot where the mist-shrouded views to either side were spectacular and the smell of roasting chestnuts provided a welcome greeting.

    There was a bell nearby devoted to Korea’s reunification. For about $1, one could strike it. I paid, asked for guidance, made two huge practice swings and then let that trunk-sized ringer fly! I wasn’t perfectly on target, but oh!, that bell responded with a deeply resonant sound that echoed off the surrounding hillsides quite wonderfully. The attendant made sure I placed my hand on the bell as it settled, and I loved the feel of its vibrations long after the sounds had dissipated. And the attendant also made sure I saw the hollow pipe at the top – it was a KOREAN bell. :-)

    There was a long, wide walkway through a forested hillside to reach Seokguram – or rather, to reach a large plaza with a ceiling of Dharma lanterns. From there, one began climbing a staired path….

    I knew, long before making this trip, that the Seokguram Buddha is now covered by a protective structure, so my expectations might have been very different than those of others. Given that preparation, I found Seokguram deeply moving and absolutely awe-inspiring! When I got there, the sun was glinting off the statue’s simple golden urna, and the light bathed the statue in a way that accentuated the dappled nuances of it’s reddish-tawny stone. At least in that particular light, I thought it one of the most gently loving Buddhas I have yet had the privilege to see.

    I lingered for a while, glad that only a few other people were stepping into the viewing area and then out – and then I finally noticed the glorious carved reliefs behind and to the side of this Buddha. OMG! How many people pass through that place every day and never see them? The structure doesn’t fully obscure them, but the structure certainly does not accentuate them! I spent a LONG time in that little compartment. I'm so glad I was there at a time when I had to see it with hoards of others!

    Once I descended to the lantern-covered plaza, I stopped at a shop to buy a bottle of water. Not so fast! A man from Andong, who currently works as a guide at Seokguram, and a woman from Gyeongju who works at the shop, tried to give me a cup of a sweet local beverage. They then spent quite some time making sure that I had the information I needed to explore both Gyeongju and Andong. They commented on what I should see and what I should eat and where I should look for those foods and they told me about the traditions surrounding the Dharma lanterns and so much more….

    Eventually, I walked back along the forested lane to the entryway and then turned down a lovely path.

    Bulguksa. I saw a LOT of wonderful temples while in South Korea; this one has a special place in my memories for its unique and ancient features: The mortarless stone base and the double stairways of its broad main terrace and its stone pagodas (and perhaps some other features) that have survived from the Silla era (late 700s). I thought the designs and craftsmanship and engineering awesome! Of the two massive stone pagodas, the “male” one, which was not unlike many of the other stone pagodas I saw on this trip, was undergoing repair; one could see its disassembled pieces in a temporary structure within the main courtyard. The “female” pagoda was unlike anything that I have ever seen before, and I thought it stunning. It was hard to tear myself away!

    This large temple also had many other enjoyable features – a lovely, willow-shrouded koi pond and a pleasant area where mounds of tiny prayer rocks covered nearly every available surface around a massive old tree with lots of exposed roots and some truly impressive Buddhas and lots of long corridors edging the areas outside temple halls….

    And OMG, are those the same six French-speaking tourists who I saw at Tongdosa and who so consistently shied away from ANY contact with anyone else? I guess I’d rather think it was the same people than to think it was yet another such group. ;-)

    Gyeongju National Museum. Of the Korean National Museums I visited, Gyeongju’s was second only to the one in Seoul in terms of the scope of its collection. With several exhibition halls covering the region’s prehistory onward, it had an extensive and very informative (and beautiful!) display of Silla-era gold and other artifacts. When I was there, it also had a special exhibition featuring a Silla-era mudflap for a horse. Now, some of you (perhaps ALL of you!) may be thinking, seriously? A horse’s mudflap? Yes! Not many painted birch-bark artifacts survive anything close to 1500 years, and the painting on this extraordinarily well-crafted piece was exquisite! The exhibition included other items found in the same tomb, and information about how the conservators handled it, etc. Awesome!

    As closing time approached, I had just enough time to fast-walk by some of the exterior displays. One is a huge and famous (or infamous) bell, the “Emille Bell,” known for its resonant and mournful tone. There is a system of speakers around it that play its sound at regular intervals, and I departed this wonderful museum to the diminishing sounds of its evocative toll.

    Around Gyeongju. I walked by a large lotus pond (part of Anapji, I wondered?); took a peek at the ice house of Banwolseong (not that interesting, IMO, but it was more or less on my way and in pleasant park-like area); passed some areas showing bits of excavated foundations; strolled through what seems to be a relatively new, and expanding, flower garden; and spotted my first Silla-era tumulus. Gyeongju’s ancient observatory, Cheomseongdae, managed to exceed my expectations without matching my hopes. Worth seeing, though!

    Dinner at Guro Ssambap. Ssambap is one of Gyeongu’s specialties, and Guro Ssambap was highly recommended, but I had been forewarned that it might not serve solo diners. I found it, but the proprietor did not speak English. Fortunately, someone who was just leaving did speak enough English to help out. No, I was told, dinner is only served for two people or more. But I will pay for two, I said! (After all, my meals had been surprisingly affordable; I was prepared to “splurge” if necessary.) A LONG conversation between the proprietor and the helpful customer ensued, followed by what sounded like an adamant “last word” pronouncement by the proprietor. My “translator” told me, “She says that she will NOT argue with you about it -- you WILL pay for ONLY one.” :-)

    Like the dol ssambap that I had enjoyed in Buyeo, this meal involved lots of greens and sauces and seasonings and a staggering array of banchan. (I think the difference between Buyeo’s dol ssambap and Gyeongju’s ssambap is that the rice for dol ssambap is cooked in a stone pot, i.e., a stoneware ceramic pot that can be placed directly on a stove or burner. I also just realized that it is dOl ssambap, not dAl ssambap, and I had previously written. Oops!)

    I certainly can’t say I ate this meal with perfect manners – I never found a way to wrap or bite without risking at least a bit of food falling to my plate (see MaryW’s comment above!), but I didn’t think I was doing TOO bad, until I noticed the obvious agitation of one of my servers. What was that about? And then the server returned, with another customer in tow, someone who spoke a bit of English. I had been given TWO plates of greens, each of which contained some lettuces and some herbs. Apparently, ONE plate was to be eaten with the red pepper sauce and the OTHER plate was to be eaten with the soy/sesame sauce. =-o Who knew! I’m sure there is a reason, and I’m sure that those with a palate accustomed to Korean flavors might have recognized it … or maybe it has to do with Korean concepts of balancing foods for health? I really have no idea! What I do know is that I sincerely appreciated the effort that server took to make sure I understood. I thanked her and her conscriptee profusely and did my best to keep the distinction clearly in mind as I finished my meal. The server nodded approvingly. :-) It was another truly delicious meal, and I am very grateful that the proprietor allowed me the opportunity to experience it. BTW, counting my large beer, I paid about $13 for that feast.

    The evening was very pleasant, so I enjoyed the long-ish walk back to my hotel. En route, I passed several tumuli, all back-lit, many with surrounding paths where a few people were still jogging or walking, singly or in pairs. All-in-all, they aren’t the most interesting things to look at – they are covered with grass, but no flowers or shrubs or trees (although the flat areas around them might have a few trees) and there aren’t any guardian statues or other artifacts marking them. Really, they are just grass-covered mounds, some very small, and some much larger. Even so, each time I rounded a corner that evening and saw another, I couldn’t help but smile – so many, so widely dispersed through the city!

    I also smiled as I once again ended my day in my jacuzzi. :-)

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    kja, after reading your latest post I looked up the location...so Gyeongju was called Seorabeol back in the days when that area was Silla. Having seen a number of Korean historical dramas covering that period of history, I imagine going to that museum must have been amazing. The Met here in NYC had an exhibition last fall called Silla: Korea's Golden Kingdom with some wonderful pieces.

    May I ask if I didn't before - did you take pictures? Are you uploading them anywhere?

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    @ Mara – Yes, what is now Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla kingdom (and Buyeo and Gongju were capitals of the Baekje kingdom, which was also justifiably known for its craftsman). Did you go to that exhibit at the Met? I didn’t, but since returning home, I bought the book on it and was very pleased to find excellent coverage of so many of the treasures that I got to see while in South Korea. Most of the Silla-era objects are divided between the National Museums in Seoul and Gyeongju, so if you do go to Seoul, you can see/revisit some. And yes, it was indeed quite a privilege to visit these museums! :-)

    LOL – I took thousands and thousands of pictures! Some day, I will find time to go through them.


    Day 22: Gyeongju, with a day trip to Yangdong

    After another tasty breakfast, I set out for the 2-km walk to the Tomb of General Kim Yu Shin. It was not uninteresting – I crossed a bridge over the nearby river and the fields, thick with some kind of purple flower, that occupy its floodplain; then I walked along a tree-lined avenue with views out over the river and the city. But even early in the day, it was HOT. And try as I might, I seemed unable to distance myself from a young man who was listening to music as such a high volume that I found it almost painful. Then I turned into a forested park and climbed up a short way to the....

    Tomb of General Kim Yu Shin. I will admit that upon reaching it, it seemed that I had walked a long way, in uncomfortable heat, just to see yet another tomb mound. But I had come because it was surrounded by a full set of reliefs of Chinese zodiac figures, and when I looked closely at the reliefs, I had to acknowledge that they were worth seeing. And there was an impressive turtle-borne stela there, too – I believe it’s called a bixi? (I’d seen others while in Korea, but this was a particularly impressive one.). If only I didn’t have to walk all the way back in that heat! Had I seen a taxi, I would have taken it.

    In search of Gyeongju’s traditional market. There was a TI office by the bus stations, where I learned that a traditional market was quite close – just blocks away from my nearby hotel and not far from my next destination: All I had to do was walk the two perpendicular lines of a triangle, instead of walking the hypotenuse. I could do that! Wrong. :-( I don’t know how I erred; I just know I didn't find it and finally gave up.

    Daereungwon Tomb Complex. Although there are tumuli scattered through much of Gyeongju, this tomb complex is the area that is considered the best place to see them, in part because they are particularly dense here, but also because it includes the one tumulus that can be entered -- Cheonmachong. There was also a double-humped tumulus near the entrance I used, and in front of it a pond, and in front of that a huge group of really, really cute little children, maybe 3 or 4 years old, looking at it and getting their pictures taken one by one in front of it. A few were so shy that it took tremendous coaxing for their leaders to finally get a decent shot; others needed no further training whatsoever in how to vamp for a camera.

    I’m not sure what I expected of Cheonmachong, except that what I saw wasn’t it. Again, it was not uninteresting – I found it helpful to actually see the relatively small size of the interior space. But it wasn’t much more than that – a whitewashed space that held a few display cases with replicas of original items I had seen at the museum the day before. And lots of children who, like children everywhere, like to hear the echos of their voices bouncing off small, enclosed spaces. Bless their hearts.

    As I walked around the Daereungwon Tomb Complex, gaining a sense of the different sizes of the tumuli, I wondered what had happened to all the gold and jade and other priceless objects that had been looted from these tombs over the years. And later, every time I encountered a small hill anywhere in the area, I wondered if it, too, was a tomb….

    Anapji, aka Anap Pond. As I approached the large stretch of lotus ponds that I had seen the day before, I saw a map: Oh, this is part of Anapji! So despite the heat, I took one of the paths through the ponds, admiring a few places where lotus were beginning to bloom. There were so many insects that the surface seemed to shimmer and resonate with a low-pitched hum. It was, unfortunately, shade-less; but then so was the street, and this was so much more interesting!

    And there’s Anapji with its towering shade trees -- I’m getting SO close! :-) Oh no, there’s a fence. A big, solid, fence. :-( But not all that tall a fence…. ;-) I simply could not bear the thought of walking around to the entry way in the shadless heat, so I climbed over, feeling incredibly guilty with each step.

    I found Anapji a delightful place from which to escape the heat of day: The very large pond has ducks and koi, including some the jump out of the water every once in a while =-o and, in some areas, reeds and lotus. There are beautifully landscaped areas with trees and hills and benches offering lovely views, and there are more formal areas where rectilinear walkways connect the reconstructed pavillions. Only one of the pavillions could be entered; it held a well-signed display of artifacts from the site. Before I left, I stopped to buy a ticket to atone for "breaking-in."

    Yangdong. Yangdong Folk Village has UNESCO WHS status for preserving its Joseon-era traditions. Unlike the other Korean folk villages I had seen so far, it is not a place to which buildings have been relocated or reconstructed – it is a place where people still live and work and go about their lives, and they have chosen to do so while preserving a vanishing cultural heritage.

    One can go to Yangdong by relatively infrequent direct bus, or by any of several much more frequent buses that leave one off about 2 km from the village. I took the first bus that met my needs—one of the latter. My bus-driver made sure I knew where to get off and which direction to walk. It was still very hot – but it had been hot standing by the bus-stop, too; at least this way, I got to see the local scenery rather than cope with the exhaust from the vehicles along a busy city street.

    Once I reached the entrance to the village, I bought a ticket and got a map that showed the most notable houses. The ticket-seller crossed a couple off and made it clear that those were not open on this particular day.

    Scattered around a small valley where lotus seemed to almost cover and choke a small central stream, Yangdong has an array of “grand” houses, roofed in curved tiles, with eaves and upturned corners, and courtyards and gardens and maybe even a shrine. Yangdong also has some thatched-roof homes, which are much smaller and that form one side of a small fenced yard that also holds a thatched storehouse or two and maybe a small vegetable patch. The roads and paths wind uphill and down and around some side valleys, by walls that edge the larger homes and reed fences that edge the more modest homesteads and trees that mark unsettled property. Most of the “open” buildings (those tourists could visit) were among the higher-class ones, and each of them had at least some doors or windows open so that one could view the interior to see details of the construction or furnishings or whatever.

    There were a lot of tourists, and tour groups, there that day. At least one person from every tour group I passed stopped to tell me, in English, something he or she had just learned from his/her tour guide. Even some of the guides stepped aside to chat with me! And one of the adults accompanying a large group of children insisted on giving me a slice of watermelon – what on delightful treat on such a hot day!

    At one place, men were paving a new driveway. The paving material had already been poured; they were walking, arm-in-arm in a driveway-width row, to tamp it down and smooth it out. Who needs a steam-roller?

    At another building, a group of eight women were trying to use a tripod and time-lapse camera to get a picture of their time together. I happily volunteered to take a picture or two. I took a few shots and asked them to make sure that they were OK. As it turns out, my skill with a camera did not meet their expectations. OK – a few more shots. Still not good enough! I had seriously underestimated the challenge of getting a group of South Korean women to ALL agree that a picture was acceptable. I admit that my patience was beginning to wear a bit thin when they finally agreed that one was satisfactory. ;-)

    There were also some interesting buildings a bit up the hill on the other side of the valley. For better or worse, the one I remember most had a sign saying that no one was to enter and noting (in English), that they particularly hate Japanese people. Wow. It was a striking reminder to me that many living South Koreans suffered tremendously at the hands of, and lost a great deal of their country’s most beloved patrimony to, the Japanese.

    Before leaving, I stopped at a little “café” (for lack of a better word) – a place where a woman sold beverages and a few simple snacks from what I assume was her home. She had a small counter and the supplies she needed on a table just inside the gate, and there were some seats and a table in the very small courtyard in which her children were playing. As I ordered “rice water” (a very refreshing, slighly sweet beverage), I heard a number of women call out: It was the group of ladies whose pictures I had taken! They had apparently just been served, and they were adamant that they would treat me to whatever I wanted! I protested, they insisted; I decided to accept as graciously as I could. It was unnecessary, but it was still a very nice and much appreciated gesture. :-)

    I did not explore every nook or cranny of Yangdong, but I saw a lot and found it fascinating and am very glad I included it in my plans. And after a long, hot day, I was glad to reach the main gain in time for the next direct bus back to Gyeongju.

    Market. The bus I was on had a scheduled stop near my hotel, but when I heard an announcement for the market, and looked outside and saw it, I jumped up and ran for the door. The driver checked with me; I assured him I wanted to get off there after all.

    I can’t say that this market was substantively different from any of the other markets I saw while in South Korea, but I enjoyed it nonetheless and thought it made a nice break from the rest of my day’s activities. I took a ridiculous number of photographs, enjoyed exchanging a few words with the vendors (even if only to request permission to snap a shot), and again marvelled at the range of unidentifiable entities for sale.

    By the time I was ready to leave, I was completely disoriented, so I made sure I asked several people the direction toward the intercity bus station (which is where my hotel was). I admit that I was tired by then – it had been a long, hot day. Thank goodness I was only blocks from a shower!

    As blocks turned into kilometers, I slowly realized that I had not found the traditional market that had eluded me that morning, the market that was only minutes from my hotel -- I had found a different market. I kept seeing signs that gave me confidence that I was heading in the right direction, but I didn’t know how far I had to go until I was, in fact, only blocks away – nearly an hour later. I admit it: I was exhausted by the time I got there! I bought a beer before returning to my room, and am pleased to commend the restorative powers of a long, hot shower and a large, cool beer.

    Dinner at Sukyoung Sikdang. Sukyoung Sikdang is just beside the Daereungwon Tomb Complex -- not far from my hotel. And OMG, its bibambap was the best I tasted on this trip! :-) It was, of course, accompanied by a slew of banchan, and the owner insisted on deboning a fish that one of those side dishes included, while also making sure I knew what the rest of my meal entailed. He was welcoming and spoke English so well that he was even able to engage in some puns. Wonderful!

    After a last walk through one of the small side parks with backlit tumuli, I returned to my hotel for a leisurely jacuzzi bath and some much needed sleep.

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    I love those lotus ponds in Gyeongju. They get hot though I agree. I always travel with a folding umbrella and use it more for shade than rain. I try to find one that has a silver exterior which makes an enormous difference but they can be hard to find sometimes. I usually pick one up when I'm in Thailand as they seem quite common there. They aren't as strong as I'd like and I've had one ruined each visit to South Korea either in typoon weather or just wind in those very lotus fields - they have at least been cheap umbrellas.

    The Museum there is great too and has some really nice duck shaped vessels. I was lucky to be with a group of potters accompanied by a local potter who is a "Human Cultural Treasure" in Silla style ware. He makes all the modern copies of the duck vessels and mounted horsemen that you see in the National Museum Shops. I love the SK way of preserving their culture. This man is charged with keeping alive and passing on the Silla style ceramic traditions.

    Your meal descriptions are making me drool!

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    kja, yes, I did go to that Korean exhibit at the Met - it was quite small but the objects displayed were wonderful!

    Wow, Kim Yushin - as little as I know about Korean history from watching dramas, he is very important - must have been interesting to visit the tomb...

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    @ MaryW – Sounds like I should have invested in a silver umbrella! And I love that you knew EXACTLY where I was. :-)

    I only learned a tiny bit about South Korea’s “Human Cultural Treasures,” and was curious about them. Their title is for life, isn’t it? How are they selected? And how does the fact that there is one affect the work of other artists and craftsmen who can’t attain that status so long as a designee is alive?


    @ Mara – Oh, I’m so glad that you got to see that exhibit! Silla work is not (I think) widely known, but is breathtaking in its artistry and craftsmanship.

    I read numerous references to Kim Yu Shin as I planned my trip, so I wasn’t too surprised at the number of people who visited his tomb when I was there – and there were quite a lot. He is obviously one of the people who stand out in Korean history.


    Day 23: Move from Gyeongju to Andong and Hahoe

    After another delicious breakfast, I checked out and took a taxi to the train station. I bought my ticket and then began looking for elevator access to cross to the next boarding platform. A woman told me there wasn’t one, but that if I waited, she would send someone to help. I said there was no need and began going down the stairs. I hadn’t known that Korean men can fly, but it seemed like this one did, he came that fast! :-) A station employee, he took my suitcase from me, carried it the rest of the way down that stairway and then up the one to the platform that I needed. And then he said he would come back to help me board when my train arrived. I thanked him, and assured him that doing so would not be necessary. Nonetheless, as the train approached, there he was again, and he did, indeed, help me board. So utterly unnecessary, and so kind!

    It took about 2 hours to reach Andong, where there is a TI right outside the station. They have a one-page handout with a map on one side, and on the other, information about bus schedules to and from various frequently visited sites, the amount of time it would take, etc. VERY helpful!

    Goryeo Hotel. Here’s my TA review:

    “I spent 2 nights in a double for single use at the Goryeo Hotel and found the hotel serviceable and well-located for exploring Andong and Hahoe.

    “I believe this hotel is one of Korea’s 'love motels' which (as I understand it) are often used by married couples who live with parents until they can afford a space of their own. If so, it was geared toward serviceable functionality: A large and comfortable bed; plenty of hot water from the wet-room shower; generous supplies of lotions and creams and shampoo, etc. – but no “extras.” It met my (solo female traveler) needs.

    “The hotel is well-located: It is only about a block and a half from Andong’s train station (where there is a Tourist Information office) and about the same distance from the bus stops for Hahoe, the Andong Folk Village, and other key sites.”

    Hahoe. After a bus ride of about 40 minutes, I heard the announcement for “Hahoe Station.” Watching a number of people jump up and head to the doors, I joined them. I was just getting off when I saw the puzzled look on the driver’s face, but it was too late – he moved on. The good news was that I was only about 0.2 kilometer from the stop I wanted, and it was along a pleasant and reasonably shady road.

    Like Yangdong, and included in the same UNESCO WHS inscription, Hahoe is a real, living village that has elected to retain its Joseon-era traditions. And like Yangdong, there is an entry area where one purchases a ticket. Unlike Yangdong, Hahoe has a HUGE area of shops and restaurants and tourist facilities.

    Hahoe Mask Museum. The Hahoe Mask Museum has an incredible, and very well displayed, collection of masks used in various traditional ceremonies from all over Korea, and for that matter, from around the world. There were ones designed to frighten and to delight; to instruct and to entertain; to hide behind or to charicature and accentuate…. The day I was there, the museum also featured a special exhibit of puppets and dolls. I love these kinds of things and find them fascinating! :-)

    Hahoe Mask Dance. The Hahoe Mask Dance, a ritualized village exorcism that has been performed for centuries, can be seen in a covered, open-air arena near the main bus stop. Staff handed seat cushions and booklets about the dance to entering audience members. As people settled into their seats, I realized that I was seeing more Westerners in that one arena than I remember having seen for quite a while.

    As you might have anticipated from what I’ve said of my interests, I was very glad to see this performance. Nonetheless, I found much of the humor not just low-brow, but surprisingly scatological, and if there was a compensatorily witty, or otherwise more elevated, level of humor, I missed it. And the musical accompaniment included a wind instrument that was very loud, off-pitch, and seemingly incessant. So there were parts of this performance that I found less than fully satisfying. On the other hand, I commend the talents of the performers (and they were very skilled IMO) -- I would have hated to miss it!

    Hahoe Village. After walking back through the commercial district to the main gate, I took a little trolley that traverses the 1-km or so to Hahoe Village, stopped at the office there for an audio-guide, and headed off.

    My first stop was the river below the village, where one can catch a ferry and then climb a hill to a look-out point. The ferry was just a small boat that a lone man operates. He waits at each side until there are enough people to justify crossing.

    While I was waiting, a man who seemed intent upon his photography stopped in front of me just long enough to place a plastic-wrapped Andong apple in my hands. (Andong is known for its apples.) He then proceeded to give me no attention whatsoever. How nice!

    I’m not sure if I mentioned that I had with me some tokens of my home city; just little things like key chains and magnates that I had wrapped as I had done before going to Japan. I’d given a few away already when I thought I could do so without initiating a gift-giving sequence; this was one occasion that seemed to me to call for it! So as we were leaving the ferry, and as this gentleman offered his hand to steady me, I placed one in it.

    The walk to the cliff overlooking Hahoe was very pleasant, and the views out over the village and the deep bend of the river in which the village sits were lovely. Well worth every moment of the climb!

    Back along the beach, I perched on a cluster of rocks to await the ferry. A couple with a little boy who was, perhaps, 4 or 5 years old, came by and started exploring that part of the beach. To my dismay, the boy literally stepped on my backpack, and his parents’ reaction was just to laugh. While in South Korea, I had frequently witnessed parents indulge their children; this was the only time that I saw parents permit clearly unacceptable behavior. I said “NO!” (in Korean) as clearly and emphatically as I could; he looked completely astonished. I had to say “no” again and gesture before he stepped off my pack. :-( Fortunately, he didn’t break anything.

    The ferry soon arrived and I returned to Hahoe. It seemed much more compact than Yangdong: Properties abutted one another, rather than sprawling over adjacent hills, and the lanes that separated compounds seemed more narrow. Like Yangdong, there was a mix of houses with tiled roofs and those with thatch and there were stone and reed fences that separated compounds and flower-edged courtyards. I also remember the man wearing traditional dress who carried himself with indisputable dignity and especially, the shaman tree, nearly hidden in a far corner of the village, bedecked with prayer ribbons….

    Dinner in Andong. There were several restaurants near my hotel in Andong; the one I had targeted was closed that night, but there was one that was obviously very popular so I decided to try it. My guess, from what I could see through the windows, was that it specialized in galbi – barbecued meat. I had barely been seated when a young man who was eating there with some friends came over to say that he would try to help me with my order. I appreciated his assistance, because it turned out that the server did not speak English. The only problem was that I couldn’t understand everything this young man said! I heard him say something about pork belly and starting with just one order…. Soon enough, a small serving of what did, indeed, look like pork belly arrived and was placed on my tabletop grill; kimchee was also placed on the grill where it would catch the drippings; and a set of tongs and shears was placed within my reach. I moved the kimchee aside sooner than I suspect is considered ideal and I let the meat cook until substantially rendered, and the ONLY problem I had was that I wanted more! So I tried to signal to my server that I wanted more, and it must have worked because another serving of meat arrived. :-) This was not my best meal of the trip, but it was good, and some of the banchan were absolutely delicious!

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    << While in South Korea, I had frequently witnessed parents indulge their children; this was the only time that I saw parents permit clearly unacceptable behavior.>>

    I observed this in both Japan and Korea. I think it is interesting that very young children are indulged in bad behavior but once the kids are school aged they are expected to work their little fannies off and get good grades. My son taught English to Kindergarten age kids and some of them were little pistols!

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    @ SeeHag – I’m glad to know I’m not the only person to observe the indulgent approach South Koreans (and Japanese) take to their children! That transition from hyper-indulged to high-expectations must be very difficult.


    Day 24: Explore Andong

    My hotel did not serve breakfast, but there was a café/pastry shop just a few short blocks away, the Mammoth Bakery. OMG, I would weigh a ton if I lived near this place! I tried a freshly baked, still-warm bun filled with cream cheese and learned an entirely new definition of “contentment.” :-) Even the coffee there was decent!

    Dowan Seowan. This centuries-old Confucian academy, now a museum, is not far from Andong and is, IMO, well worth a visit. The bus drops one off at the start of a short, lovely walk that provides views of a temple-styled memorial on a hilly finger of land around which a river curves.

    The academy itself occupies a set of interconnected terraces that climb a hill. I found any number of memorable elements: the two library buildings set on stilts to ensure proper ventilation; a “lecture hall” with stunning vistas; a scholar’s study with a tiny, square, man-made lotus pond full of frogs; a lovely gate (closed) to a shrine…. Add in lots of butterflies, a variety of birds, some huge old trees, and a few gorgeously blooming flowers -- what a lovely place!

    Once back at the parking lot from which I could catch a bus back to Andong, one of the women who ran a shop there offered me a cup of tea. How nice!

    Andong Folk Museum. I returned to Andong and then, without even leaving the bus stop, almost immediately caught a different bus to the Andong Folk Museum. I thought this museum (which was another well-signed museum with some exterior displays) was particularly good at showing some of the differences between local buildings. As one example: “Magpie” holes (triangular spaces on the short sides of 2 story, thatched buildings, just below the roof line) promoted ventillation.

    Andong Folk Village. It was just a few steps to the Andong Folk Village, the last of the outdoor museums I visited on this trip. It is another place to which buildings have been moved, in this case, in response to the construction of a dam.

    Shortly beyond the entry area, there was a large pond with various rose-colored lotus in bloom and a central focal point. Off to the side, 5 women, all dressed in black and white outfits that were clearly meant to mark a special day, were taking turns taking pictures of each other. I was happy to volunteer to do what I could to capture their time together. Quite in contrast to the group at Yandong, these women all professed complete delight in the first few shots I took -- and then, LOL, they each insisted on taking pictures individually, and in various groupings, with me.

    I spent a couple of pleasant hours climbing in and around and through various buildings. There were some nice views over the river that flowed by the base of the hill and a working water wheel and some buildings that were slightly different than any I had seen elsewhere, not to mention a toad and some birds….

    There was a walkway along the river that led to a bridge with a mid-stream pavilion – it looked enticing! But before I went, I took a few moments to consider my options: It seemed that if I left soon, I could still visit Bongjeongsa this day. I’m sure I would have enjoyed more time at the Andong Folk Village, but I didn’t think I would be missing anything that I would particularly regret not seeing. So I caught the next bus to Andong. I had time to return to the Mammoth Café for a latte before moving on.

    The bus to Bongjeongsa seemed to double as a school bus, and it went in and out of ennumerable little hamlets, bouncing over some very poorly paved areas, and even crossing some canals on what seemed to be unreasonably thin concrete slabs. How shall I put this… I had no reason to doubt it, but I wish I had shared that bus driver’s incredible confidence in his skills and knowledge of what was often an exceedingly narrow and seemingly precarious roadway. ;-)

    Bongjeongsa. The driver signaled that I should get off in a parking lot by the entrance to this temple. I paid my entrance fee and then began a slow ascent to the main temple area. Finally climbing a staircase under a delighfully plain, unpainted bell and drum pavillion (which was also unusual in having two stories on the downhill side and only one on the uphill side, where the main temple grounds were), I entered the temple’s small, intimate courtyard.

    Bongjeongsa has some of South Korea’s oldest extant temple elements – its oldest temple building and (I think) its oldest temple mural. Too, the wooden columns to the sides of the altar in the buidling with the mural still bear traces of painted dragons that appear to enwrap them. Between those two buildings, there is a 9th century seated stone Buddha, and nearby, a stone pagoda of a similar age. I saw just a few other people while there – maybe three visitors, one monk, and a woman tending to some of the plants. For most of my time in this lovely temple, it seemed like I had it to myself – such a treat!

    I enjoyed a leisurely walk back through the wooded hillside, and while I awaited my bus, I listened to the sonorous ringing of the temple bell calling the monks to evening prayers. I couldn’t help but thinking how very, VERY lucky I am to see and eperience these things!

    Dinner. I had hope to sample a steamed chicken dish for which Andong is known, but couldn’t find a place that served it for one, and the minimum price for en entire chicken (between $50 and $75 at the few places I checked) was enough to make me pause. In contrast, salted mackerel – another local specialty – was affordable. If not my favorite meal of this trip, it was still very good – a little drier than I would have liked, and not as salty as I had feared.

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    Hang in there, folks – just a few days to go! :-)


    Day 25: Move on to Yeongju and visit Buseoksa

    I once again began my day at the Mammoth Bakery, this time trying the red bean bun AND a walnut one along with my coffee – both were amazing! And, with a while to wait before my train, I FINALLY began writing postcards to friends and family.

    Transit to Yeongju. I had a direct train to Yeongju, and again, people at both ends were incredibly helpful. Once in Yeongju, I stopped at the only information desk I saw, and even though it was for transit (not tourist) information, two young women insisted on walking out of the station with me to point me toward my hotel.

    Rich Hotel. This is the hotel I hadn’t been able to book in advance, in the city for which I had difficulty finding advance information about lodging options. Here’s my TA review:

    “I spent one night in a double for single use at the Rich Hotel. It met my needs for one night. Only a block or so from the Yeongju (train) Station, it is in an area with a number of restaurants and coffee shops. 



    “My room was just OK: The shower was barely tolerable: It was designed to have a set of sprays from the wall (only one was functional, and it was broken, so the water flowed downward rather than streaming out), an overhead fixture (gone, with just a dribble of water coming from the hole that would once have held the fixture), and a hand-held nozzle (the only functioning component), that, when in it’s fixed location, was positioned too low for my satisfaction. There was a large sink with sloping sides, and no other flat surfaces in the bathroom, so there was almost no space for one’s toiletries. The hotel offered free wifi, but it didn’t work in my room, so I had to go to the main floor to check my e-mail. So basically, my needs were met, but not as well as I would have liked.



    “English was not spoken at the desk (and I'm not saying it should have been); as a result, I couldn't communicate with them about the problems I found with the room, nor could they offer a solution.”

    Transit to Buseoksa. My reason for going to Yeongju was to visit Buseoksa. Finding advance information about how to get there had proven particularly frustrating. Several of my guidebooks, and information from the temple’s website, led me to expect that there were at least three buses each way each day. Google Maps led me to believe that the three that went there all left very early in the day and the three that came back all returned quite late in the day. I decided in advance that I would check my options, and if necessary, consider hiring a taxi for the trip.

    The map I had didn’t show the intercity bus station, so I took a taxi – and thank goodness I did, because it was quite some distance away. There, the ticket agent, who didn’t speak English, communicated that there were no more buses that day – but she also signaled to a man who was chatting with some people at a noodle shop inside the station. She spoke to him briefly, and then he signaled that I should follow him. We went 2 or 3 blocks to a city bus stop; he pointed to some bus schedules posted on a shop there and went in to get the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper spoke a little English, and he told me that these buses (their numbers were included in the postings) would go to Buseoksa; he recommended one because it would take much less time to get there. Again, I am in awe of the efforts people took to help me!

    Buseoksa. I had just missed a bus, so it took a while, but the recommended bus did indeed take me to the shop-filled area outside of the temple. Once on the bus, I found the scenery interesting – more ridges and valleys and rice paddies and a lot of orchards – field after field after field of orchards growing plastic bags. ;-) Apparently, once each individual piece of fruit reaches an appropriate stage of development, a plastic bag is placed around it to protect it from insects or birds or whatever. Further evidence that there are things that can happen in a land where labor is inexpensive that just don’t happen elsewhere!

    I was surprised by the number of tourist shops and restaurants between the bus stop and the temple -- more than I had encountered at most temples in South Korea. And then I turned into the temple grounds, where – as I had seen elsewhere -- just a few vendors were to be found. One of them sold me an absolutely delicious apple – but only after surveying every apple she had to decide which one was best. :-)

    Like so many temples in South Korea, Buseoksa is uphill. From the time one leaves the mass of shops, it is an uphill climb – first a long slope, and then a steeper slope, and then stairs, and then steeper stairs, and then very steep stairs under and through a glorious two-level drum and bell pavillion … and once inside the main part of the temple, there are more stairs to climb and hills to ascend. And OMG, every step was worth it!

    Buseoksa is, IMO, truly lovely, with some gorgeous buildings; some impressive ancient stupas and lanterns; trees and flowers;and absolutely thoroughly jaw-droppingly spectacular views out over the surrounding area. It’s oldest building, just barely “newer” than the oldest one in South Korea (which I had seen the day before at Bongjeongsa), seemed to me a bit more elegantly graceful in its lines. The grounds hold a pair of very old seated stone Buddhas and some boulders that appear to be floating downhill (although they are quite stable). Way up on the hill, there were a pair of small shrines; I was about to step out of one when some people came in, so I stepped back – and only then realized that the entire back wall of that shrine is a mural. Wow! Once again, I felt incredibly fortunate to see this place.

    I continued to enjoy the stunning views as I made my way back down the long hill leading out of this temple, pausing for a while to chat with a very nice English-speaking vendor near the gate.

    Return to Yeongju. I easily found my bus back to Yeongju, and from the bus stop in Yeongju, I hailed a taxi to take me to my hotel, using the hotel’s card to give the drive the address. The driver apparently thought it was a different hotel with which he was familiar, and went there before recognizing the mistake. He stopped and asked for the card again. I gave it to him, and also showed him the Korean word for the train station (since it was near the hotel) and pointed to my map. He studied all that for a while, and then started driving again. When we got there, he turned off the meter, shrugged, and waved “no.” Wow -- he was ready to forego his fare entirely! I offered the same amount I had paid for the taxi from the hotel to the bus station; he initially declined, but then accepted it. :-)

    Dinner. Once back in town, I walked around for a while, exploring the area and window-shopping for a place to eat. I found a pleasant little place that sold, among other things, blue crab soup. This tiny eatery didn’t sell beer, but the woman said that I could buy one at a 24/7 shop next door and bring it in, so I did. The soup was incredibly good, and although it wasn’t accompanied by the array of banchan to which I had become accustomed, each of the three side dishes with which it was served was really tasty – kimchee, a bit of perfectly seasoned duck, and a delicious cold soup with hints of sweet and sour. The food came to about $9.

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    Day 26: Return to Seoul

    Return to Seoul. After stopping at a pastry shop for a sweet roll and coffee, I took a taxi to the bus station and then a longish (2.5 hour) bus to Seoul. While aboard, I savored my last glimpses of rural South Korea and finished writing postcards. Once in Seoul, I had a bit of difficulty finding the nearest subway station, but was soon on board. A transfer or two later, and I reached a station that wasn’t too far from my hotel. I hailed a cab, and the driver entered the address into his GPS system, but it was only enough to get him to the right neighborhood. I thanked myself for having had the foresight to find my hanok before leaving Seoul, and so could to tell him where to stop. :-) It was only a short walk.

    Haemil Guesthouse. Here’s my TA review:

    “I spent 3 nights in a double-for-single-use room at the Haemil Guesthouse, which I thought a charming and well-located hanok (traditional home).



    “This traditional hanok is small – just three rooms and a small courtyard. I found a lot of charm in this small space -- the plants surrounding the courtyard table, the goldfish swimming in their table-top ‘pool,’ the child’s costume on the wall of my room. And Lucy, the proprietor, couldn’t have been more gracious, even when multiple guests were vying for her attention. 



    “Breakfasts were very tasty, there were delicious late-night treats, and even a completely unnecessary (but very much appreciated) container of finger-food for me to savor after a very early morning departure. 



    “For my purposes, the location was superb: I was within easy walking distance of 3 different subway lines and multiple sites of interest to me. I thought it a tad difficult to find: I had been in Seoul before my stay here, and spent some time one night walking around to find it. I was glad I did! When I arrived with luggage in hand, I took a taxi from a nearby metro station, and even though the driver didn’t know where (exactly) the Guesthouse was, I did. 



    “To be clear: This is a hanok – a tradtional dwelling with small rooms and without Western style beds. You sleep on eastern mattresses, which are placed on the wooden floor. Some Westerners find this type of bedding too hard or too low to be comfortabe. [sic] If you don’t like it, you won’t have another option at this guesthouse – there is no space for a Western mattress! I used two mattress pads and found it comfortable enough for a short stay.”

    Although the proprietor (Lucy) was there to greet me, my room was not yet ready, so I left my luggage, got directions to the nearest Post Office, and headed out.

    Back in Seoul. On the way, I ran into one of the people who worked at the hostel at which I had originally stayed, and LOL, he clearly remembered me and greeted me with real warmth. I stopped with him at the hostel’s desk and told them a bit about my journey.

    As I went to the Post Office along streets I had walked before, I couldn’t help but notice how different it seemed: On my first few days in Seoul, it had seemed so new, so alien, and just a bit anxiety-provoking; now it felt familiar and welcoming.

    I found the Post Office and showed the woman my cards and she showed me the price: Wow, nearly $4 per card – I certainly didn’t expect that! But hey, everything else has been very reasonable, so I laid out my cash and the woman looked at it … and then showed me the price again: It was $0.40 per card. :-) She joined in on my laughter.

    Insadong. Insadong was almost right across the street, and I went there to tackle my shopping needs. I had gone less than a half block when I spun on my heels and returned to the start of the street, where there was a TI: Is there anywhere in this area where I can get a glass of wine or beer? Well, that question stumped those three staff people! ;-) They conversed and consulted listings and spoke on the phone and finally found a place.

    Insadong seemed to have something for everyone -- everything from rather tacky souvenirs to extremely high-end master-craftsman quality goods. It had more foreigners, and specifically more Westerners, than I saw just about anywhere in South Korea other than the airport at Incheon. While the main street was broad and had benches, there were also narrow side streets lined with wares; there was a lovely traditional courtyard surrounded by tea pavillions not far from a 3-story open-court mall filled with teenagers.

    I made a circuit of the shops, making notes on the things I thought might match my gift-giving aspirations. And then I went to the place the TI staff had identified – a place on the very outskirts of the area that had a few shaded outdoor tables. Perfect! I sipped a beer while studying my notes and formulating a plan.

    After that, it was fairly easy to complete my shopping: I knew what I wanted, I knew both the marked prices and what I was willing to pay, and I had back-up options in mind. I didn’t bargain hard, but I did bargain a bit, and was pleased that in at least one case, a merchant came after me to say she would meet my price after all. (She said it a bit differently, something like … “I have some other items available at the price you offered….” :-) ) I have no illusion that I got things at the best possible price, but I paid no more than I was willing to pay and I got a number of things for less than that. And the single best thing was that I finished ALL my shopping that afternoon -- what a relief!

    Dinner. I took my purchases back to my hanok, where my room was now ready. The proprietor brought me a delicious little treat as I settled in. She also recommended a nearby place for dinner: It was a small place specializing in galbitang (a soup made with beef short ribs and other tasty stuff), and it was, indeed, very good, as were the banchan.

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    kja....omigosh - staying in a hanok would make me feel that I was in a Korean drama....I guess toilet facilities are shared?

    This shopping area, Insadong, is an outdoor market? Or are you saying you could actually bargain in a regular shop?

    40 cents US for a postcard is pretty good - from Japan it was 70 cents. From Paris if I recall it was more like a dollar.

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    Caught up with you! Yes, I spent an afternoon in Insadong and really enjoyed mooching around. I'm not a shopper either.
    I know what you mean about returing to somewhere you had been before. Second time it feels very familiar when it was all new and strange first time. Was your hanok near Insadong? It's a convenient location.

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    @ Mara - Sounds like you are destined for a stay in a hanok! Mine – the Haemil Guesthouse -- had en suite toilet facilities, and I think several others do, too. When you plan your time in Seoul, I suspect that you’ll find several options that each meet most of your goals, even if none is perfect. And for a long weekend, you won’t have much to lose!

    Insadong is a shop-lined street, not an outdoor market (although some shops have a stand or two outside). Although most shops were not shared, there were a few retail spaces that several vendors shared, each with a counter or two or three – but not like an Asian market, more like the cosmetics floor of an American department store – each counter (plus) was devoted to a vendor, much as a counter in an American department store might be devoted to a single cosmetics company.

    And yes, I did bargain in these shops. It seemed to me that the worst that could happen is that they would say no, and I would either agree or not. No harm in asking, or at least, I assumed there was no harm as long as I was pleasant about it, and no one seemed to take offense. I think there was only one shop where my request was flatly rejected; the clerk said (quite nicely) something like, “I’m sorry, our prices are already rock bottom.” That store’s prices WERE lower for comparable items than any other store I visitied. The items about which I inquired were things I thought might be good “add-ons” if I found myself running short of gifts, not anything major and not anything for which I was willing to pay above a certain price (which was lower than the ticketed one), so I said I understood, thanked her, and left. It was all quite cordial.

    As for postage, 40 cents US for a postcard struck me as REALLY low – I have paid MUCH more! That's why I didn’t pass out when I thought she said $4 per postcard! ;-)

    BTW, the next “installment” includes my last glimpses of the Han River, which I know is something that has caught your interest....


    @ gertie – I’m glad you are still traveling along with me! If we crossed paths while in Seoul, it would have been around this time. I have an image in my mind’s eye of us passing each other in Insadong or you leaving a palace just as I enter it or whatever….

    My hanok was within a 10 or 15 minute-walk of Insadong – very convenient indeed! For my purposes in visiting Seoul, staying within a few blocks of the main Chandeokgung gate could not have been better, whether in a hanok (the end of my visit) or a hostel (the start of my visit) or a real hotel (and there are a few around).

    I love that feeling of finding familiarity in what was once alien – it seems to me a testament to the growth that comes with exploration and the challenges that come with novelty and the ways in which my personal vision of the world changed through the course of my journey. No matter the actual space I occupy, my inner universe is still expanding, and to me, that’s part of the reasaon for travel. :-)

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    I have just caught up with you! My sister has been staying with me this week, so we have been doing a lot of sightseeing and staying busy. Am now on the train to Washington. (Yes, wifi on a non-Acela Amtrak!)

    Such a great TR! I think you have convinced me to go back to SK. Especially as there were so many places I didn't get to last time that you enjoyed.

    BTW, I had trouble with the lockers in Daegu station too, even before the fingerprint pads were installed. When I had my fingerprints taken for my US naturalization, the guy doing it got very annoyed because I have worn most of the print off with too much keyboarding! I'm not sure I could get those lockers to work at all now.

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    @ thursdaysd – LOL, now THAT ws a lot of keyboarding! (i'm going to hazard a guess that you don't need me to tell you that.... ;-) ) Thanks for the kind words! I hope you and your sister enjoyed your time together.


    Day 27: Seoul

    After a tasty breakfast of bibimbap and a cup of coffee at a nearby café, I headed to …

    Gyeongbokgung, the largest of Seoul’s palaces. I bought my ticket and found a good place to watch the changing of the guard. Yet another reenactment, this one had lots of intent-looking men marching from place to place, many carrying flags. There was a call-to-arms by drum-beat, and great ceremony, and some wonderfully colorful costumes. Again, it may be for tourists, but I am a tourist, and I enjoyed it!

    The National Folk Museum is in a far back corner of Gyeongbokgung’s grounds, and the path is not particularly well marked IMO. I had reserved an English tour that was to begin at 10:30 a.m, just after the changing-of-the-guard ceremony, and I barely made it!

    I was the only person to join this tour, and my English-speaking guide could not have been better! Instead of the usual 1.5-hour tour, we spent almost 2’20” together, and I found her absolutely delightful and informative! Those of you who have travelled along with me will know that I have an interest in local customs, and that I had pursued those interests as I made my way through South Korea, starting with my visit to the Korean Folk Village on my initial stay in Seoul. Visiting this particular musuem at the end of my journey, and with the benefit of a knowledgeable guide, provided a bit of a “capstone” experience, allowing me to see things with a more clearly articulated perspective (local vs. national, pre-Joseon vs. Joseon, etc.). Awesome -- I couldn’t thank my guide enough!

    I had enough time to meander a bit as I returned to the entry gate for an English tour of the palace. There are, IMO, some very impressive elements to this palace, and I learned some things that I might not otherwise have known by joining the tour (e.g., that the traditional paints used on the eaves help preserve the wood). But I will also say that – for me – this palace truly paled in comparison to Beijing’s Forbidden City. I’m sure that a huge part of the difference is that Gyeongbokgung is almost entirely a reconstruction. Still, the imperial “business” halls seemed less imposing, even if measured only by the number of dragon-paneled staircases that led to them. And in contrast to the Forbidden City, where one of the things that impressed me most was the intimacy of the living quarters, the imperial residences at Gyeongbokgung seemed far less intimate – but maybe I just couldn’t place what I was seeing in context. That said, I still thought Gyeonbokgung worth visiting, and I appreciated the chance to see it with the help of an English-speaking guide.

    Once that tour ended, I had JUST enough time to reach the Palace Museum, also within Gyeogbokgung’s grounds, for which I had also reserved a tour – or so I thought! The people at its desk seemed truly surprised – they had no record of my reservation, and unfortunately, none of their English-speaking guides were available. OK, I thought, if no one is here who speaks English, well, that’s unfortunate, but I’ll go on about my way. But the staff were upset that my reservation had gone without notice, so they asked for a copy and they called in a supervisor and in the end, we got to the root of it: My reservation was for the National Palace Museum … of Beijing! =-o OMG, I do not know how that happened. But once the supervisor identified it, and we each looked at each other in dismay, I laughed and (thank goodness) they all did, too. I apologized profusely, rented an English audio-guide, and moved on.

    I thought the Palace Museum exhibits a bit thin, undoubtedly because so much had been lost to wars and fires. Perhaps the most interesting display (from my perspective) was a “self-ringing water clock.” I saw this odd and, I thought, rather uninteresting 2-story contraption from a distance, and was just about to turn away when it rang. OMG! With that fortuitous timeliness, I spent some time reading the signage and looking more closely at this wierdly interesting clockpiece, which seems to be driven by the spillage of buckets that tilt when enough water fills them….

    I spent a little bit more time exploring corners of the palace grounds that hadn’t been covered, or had been covered only quickly. My favorite area was by the dining pavillion, which was surrounded on three sides by a man-made pond that held a few stationary “centerpieces.” Almost every bench along its edges held couples, young and old, who were enjoying the scenery. As I watched some ducks fly up and land again, I realized that one of the things on that pond was not stationary – it was a floating island! A rectangle of sod, maybe 8 feet by 4 feet (give or take a LOT), topped by high grasses and other plants, was meandering about. How cool!

    Transit to Namsan / Seoul Tower. By the time I left Gyeongbokgung, it was after 5:00 p.m. I was only steps from Insadong, and from “my” refuge there, so I enjoyed a beer before moving on. My goal was to reach Seoul Tower in time for sunset, and I had read that getting there can take quite a while. So I wasn’t terribly surprised by how VERY long the wait for the cable car to the base of the tower was (WELL over an hour). But I somehow managed to time it right: the sun was JUST dipping toward the horizon as my cable car ascended.

    Seoul Tower / N Grill. I had considered making a dinner reservation at the N Grill, the restaurant at the tower’s top, but hadn’t done so – I wasn’t sure that I would reach the tower in time or that I wanted to spend a chunk of change for a meal that wasn’t Korean (it’s French/Continental). But there I was, whooshing upwards on the elevator, and the woman who controlled the ascent asked if anyone was going to N Grill, and I said, "yes." I decided to let opportunity rule: If they had a table, I would take it; if not, so be it.

    They could seat me! :-) It was not a window-side seat, and so I was not on the rotating part of the restaurant, but it offered magnificent views nonetheless. Even better: Not long after I was seated, a window-side table opened up, and the staff kindly moved me there, and I ended up with a full rotation from that seat.

    The views were gorgeous! As the sun set and lights came on, I saw different parts of the city come into focus and then, in a beautiful dance of colors, various parts of the city yielded center-stage to others -- and not just because of the restaurant's rotation! Once the sky darkened, the massive Han River claimed it’s place in the panorama: It formed a huge loop through the visible part of the city, separating brightly lit areas from others, with narrow lighted lines demarcating the bridges that spanned it. Breathtaking!

    Here’s my TA review of the N Grill:

    “I ate one dinner at the N Grill and thought the food good (but not great), the service excellent, and the views outstanding. It was by far the most expensive meal I ate while in Korea, and it cost more than I would have paid for comparable or even better food in (say) NYC, Chicago, or Washington, DC, but I knew the prices in advance and made the decision to go for the views. And yes, I thought the views worth it.”

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    @ Mara – You are correct, it is nearly time to pack your vicarious bags. :-( You have been a fantastic traveling companion! When I began this LONG trip report, I wondered whether anyone would read anything I had to say. I am so pleased that you, and others, decided to travel along with me! I’ll miss your wonderful questions... but let’s not jump ahead of ourselves – it’ll take at least one more post for me to finish up....

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    Well, we had an almost identical day! But how interesting that it was different probably because of our different personalities. I think I am a later starter than you: by the time I got to Gyeongbokgung the changing of the guard had almost finished. Yes, there were crowds of tourists pushing and shoving to get their pictures taken with the participants...who as you say, were splendiforously dressed in wonderful bright colours. I am not good with crowds and tend to walk in the opposite direction if I see a 'spectacle' that I am supposed to gawp at.
    So I too made my way into the temple and was almost swamped by big very noisy groups of mainly Chinese tourists. Lots of school groups. Very few non-Asians. I avoided the guided tours simply because I always do: hate being herded and told what to do and where to go. But it sounds like I should have joined the English-speaking tour. Not only were there few people, I might have met you!!
    So off I set with my guidebook and camera. Spent hours just walking around the gardens, sitting watching the grass grow and keeping away from the big groups. Once off the main 'concourse' this was not difficult.
    The Palace Museum was mobbed. There were vast numbers of tour buses outside and throngs of yelling schoolkids all around. I told myself I would go back later in the day but....
    Around 4pm I too set off for Namsan. I must have been a bit ahead of you. There were no crowds, no long lines. I walked up to the cable car station, got a ticket and got on the next car. No other gaijin either. Nice views from the top but again I was put off by the queues for the lift up to the Seoul Tower so didn't go! There were a lot of families taking the late-afternoon air and waiting for the sunset. After a fair bit of walking around and enjoying the views from all sides, I took the cable car down again just before the sunset. I was constrained by time: had to get back down and to the hotel for dinner! But I would certainly recommend a trip up Namsan. There are walks around the mountain and what looked like quite easy walks up and down. If I had had more time....
    Where are you going tomorrow???

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    @ gertie – LOL, we really were crossing paths that day, and probably parts of this one, too! I wonder how many pictures we have of each other. ;-)

    Like you, I usually skip group tours, relying instead on my guidebook(s), but I had heard so many positive comments about the English-language tours of Gyengbokgung and Changdeokgung that I signed up for them, and then added in some time for individual exploration. BTW, I got to the Palace Museum at about 4, and found it extremely quiet – there were just a few other people around. I guess timing really matters!


    Day 28: Seoul

    I began my day with a very tasty dish of rice with an egg and other goodies and then asked for some help from my proprietor. I think I mentioned, as an example of the difficulty I had while planning my time in South Korea, that I hadn’t been able to nail down WHICH two weeks in May the Gansong Museum would be open. (I’m sure you have all been anxiously awaiting the answer…. ;-) ) Lucy called for me, and learned that it was not open. :-( BUT some of its most prized items were on display as part of a special exhibit at the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park, and Lucy showed me where that was. She also helped me confirm a reservation I had for a performance at the Korea House that evening, because the e-mails I had received about it had been a bit confusing. We also made arrangements for my early morning departure the next day.

    Changdeokgung. I didn’t wait long for the English tour of this palace, which was led by a very nice young man. Unlike Gyeongbokgung, this palace is not aligned in a single axis, instead branching in various directions based on the lay of the land. I thought it had some very nice features, including a blue ceramic roof on one of the buildings that would have served as an office for the king and a lovely residence built for the last king’s concubine.

    Once the tour of the palace buildings ended, I joined the tour of Biwon, aka the “Secret Garden,” another UNESCO WHS. One can only visit this area with a tour; an advance reservation (which I had) is recommended. The tour group was quite large – maybe 40 people or so. We spent about 1.5 hours seeing the highlights of this hilly, forested area that held some lovely pavillions and man-made ponds and restful corners. Gorgeous!

    I stopped at a café within the palace grounds for a refreshing glass of “citrone ice tea” and then explored just a few more nooks and crannies before leaving.

    Tapgol, a park. On my way to this park, I ran into another person who worked at the hostel in which I initially stayed; I was greeted warmly and asked about my trip. :-) By coincidence, I had asked this particular staff person about Tapgol early in my trip, noting that one of my guidebooks said it would be a good place for people-watching. His response had been something like, “Well, sure, I suppose … if you want to look at a bunch of old men sitting and doing basically nothing.” ;-) I had thought that he was exaggerating. Not! But the 10-tiered stone pagoda that is the small park’s centerpiece was impressive. It was a bit hard to see through the glass structure that protects it, but it had some beautiful reliefs and elegant proportions. The park also held an impressive stela and some grand, old trees.

    On my way through Seoul. I walked a bit of the recovered stream that I had walked during one of my first nights in Seoul -- Cheonggyecheon -- in daylight. This time, I could see some of the huge fish that make a home here, watching them swim a bit upstream and then ride the current back into a shaded spot. I then walked through the Gwangjang fabric market -- what an astounding array of tiny vendor’s stalls, each seemingly filled from floor to ceiling with bolts of fabric!

    Dongdaemun History & Culture Park – Exhibit from the Gangsong (aka Kangsong) Art Musuem. As I understand it, the private G/Kangson collection was begun by a man who, during the days of Korea’s Japanese occupation, tried to purchase some of Korea’s most notable works of art before they left the country – and he had some remarkable successes. I felt incredibly fortunate to see any of this collection; to see some of its most valued pieces in a well-spaced display with good English signage and a good audio-guide was a real pleasure – and not merely because I had almost given up on seeing it!

    Namdaemun area. Next, I made my way by subway to Namdaemun (aka Sungnyemun), one of Seoul’s reconstructed city gates. It was a bit difficult to find and hard to circumnavigate (because it is surrounded on several sides by a traffic circle), but it might merit a moment if you haven’t seen other similar city gates.

    I then roamed around the Namdaemun market. The parts I saw had more dry goods and fewer foods or traditional items than other markets I had seen, but there were lots of lively street-food stalls and great people-watching opportunities and interesting things for sale and (you can trust me on this) PLENTY of opportunities to become seriously lost…. :-( But, of course, people were very helpful, so I eventually found my way back to the subway and on to Korea House, where I had a reservation for a performance.

    Dinner at Arirang. OMG, just across the street from the entrance to the Korea House was a branch of Arirang – a restaurant that Robert (@ AskOksana) had recommended! It met my needs perfectly – I had a delicious meal of mushroom bulgogi with a ton of banchan and a beer and attentive service. :-) (Thanks, Robert!)

    Korea House performance. The show at the Korea House features traditional music and dance with the full benefit of make-up and costuming and lighting and a degree of theatricality that lifted the performances enough to make them seem worthy, IMO, of my last night in South Korea. (The Korea House also serves dinner, but not for solo diners.) I had seen some of the dances before in various folk performances along my way, but most of the segments were new to me and quite lovely. Sadly, I think there were less than 10 people in attendance. I hope the performers knew that their efforts were appreciated!

    I returned to my hotel to begin preparing for my departure early the next morning. Shortly after I got there, I heard a knock on the door -- Lucy (my proprietor) was there with a delicious treat of Korean melon and makgeolli. :-) What a perfect way to end my month in South Korea!


    Day 29: Seoul to home

    It wasn’t easy for me to get up at about 5:30 a.m., but I did so, and I finished the last of my packing. I didn’t expect it, and so was very pleasantly surprised to find that Lucy was there as I left; she handed me a bag of finger-food for my journey. :-) It was only steps to the stop for the bus to the airport. I was also surprised to see that it was already almost full – I hadn’t even considered that! Thankfully, there were still a few seats.

    Once at the airport, I checked in, bought treats for my friends and co-workers, relaxed with a cup of coffee or two, and eventually boarded my flight. It was a LONG (~14.5 hr) flight. At least it had good service and decent food. It could have been much worse!

    By the time I reached home, I was completely and thoroughly exhausted, and not just from the flight! Throw in some jet lag, and it took my quite a while to get back into my normal routine. But OMG, I would not have given up a single moment of this wonderful journey just to be better rested upon my return!


    FINAL THOUGHTS:

    My fear, prior to this trip, was that I would end up thinking it a waste of my very precious travel time. With good fortune, I’ll continue to travel well into the future, but I already think that it will take until I’m about 105 to cover my A list if I maintain my current travel style – and that’s certainly not going to happen! ;-) So I KNOW that I will never see all the things in the world that I would most like to see, and that makes me think very carefully about each destination I select. I had a long-term, but nonspecific, belief that I would like to see South Korea, and as I researched my options, I kept finding things that I thought I would enjoy. In fact, I ended up with way too many things on my wishlist for South Korea, and had to both cut some destinations and extend the number of days I allocated to the trip. But there wasn’t any single, specific thing that I anticipated seeing or experiencing in Korea that was a lifelong dream, and I kept wondering why so many very well-traveled people I know, in person or on this board, had never been to South Korea at all, or had visited only briefly. As a result, I felt an undertone of dissonance throughout the time I planned the trip and especially as my departure date approached.

    I have NO regrets about having chosen South Korea! :-) Despite the loss of so much of its cultural heritage to wars and fires and looting, etc., I found a great deal that I thought well worth seeing – temples and museums and scenery and markets…. I encountered a diverse array of things (one of my goals) and saw a wide range of folk traditions and performances (another goal). The food far exceeded my expectations – so many, many wonderful dishes! And I have a supply of “shower towers” that I hope will last me for many, many years! ;-)

    Perhaps more than anything else, it was the South Korean people who made this trip so special for me, and I hope that I have given ample evidence of the incredible warmth and hospitality that I encountered. :-) I’ve said before, and I will say again – I have been the fortunate beneficiary of untold kindnesses from people everywhere I have ever gone, and even against that background, the people of South Korea stand out. I wish that each and every one of the many, many people who made this trip so memorable could know how much I appreciated them!


    BTW, with so many temples in the forested foothills of South Korea, I would think that fall would be a great time to visit – I bet the views of autumn foliage would be lovely! Or if one could hit cherry blossom season, that would also be special.


    Once again, many thanks to all of you who offered help as I planned this trip – amin, AskOksena, gil8713, JC98, LiveLearnTravelTeach, SeeHag, shelemm, and thursdaysd. Much appreciated!


    And many thanks to all of you who joined me vicariously for part or all of this journey by reading and commenting on my words – I have truly appreciated your interest and encouragement! (And a word or two from those of you who read this report after it is completed would always be welcome! :-) ) I ended up with the best of both worlds, because I was able to take advantage of the complete freedom that comes with solo travel, and I also get to share my trip with some thoroughly delightful companions. Thanks so much!

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    Thanks for taking me along KJA. I packed up my vacarious bag lst night (didn't take long) and had been anticipating the wrap along with your usual fine insights.

    You tell a great travel story, and I for one look forward to our next journey :)

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    @ sartoric -- greetings and thanks for your compliments! I'm glad to know that you enjoyed the ride and hope we travel together again soon! But I'm jealous: If there's ONE part of a trip I could do vicariously, packing might well be the one I would choose. My ACTUAL packing took a chunk of time, and just before I left, when I had SO much else to do! ;-)


    @ colduphere -- thanks so much! I'm not sure I want to go through another round of orals, though.... And while I can't swear to the accuracy of the KTX schedule (since I took the LONG way from Busan to Seoul), I can tell you that a LOT of South Koreans move REALLY fast, especially on routes that left me huffin' and puffin'. :-)

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    I'm not really ready to pack up yet I'm afraid. I have so enjoyed this journey. I have to agree that South Koreans are exceptionally welcoming and helpful but I've know a number of visitors who haven't felt that. Your experiences say as much about you and your attitude as it does about the wonderful residents.

    I plan on going to visit Namdaemun Gate this trip if only to see the roof tiles. I met an elderly man - 82 at the time - who was the last remaining maker of traditional roof tiles. When the gate was destroyed, the government decided that it should be rebuilt with proper handmade tiles even though modern copies look pretty much the same. The potter had more or less given up as he had little work and was getting too old for the heavy work. Its not work I'd wish on anyone as it really is heavy. With the order for the Gate tiles he needed help but as he had lots of daughters who didn't want to take over the business and no sons, he was stuck for getting them done. The government came to his aide and found a few young men who he could train up. It was going to be a 2 year job. When I visited they were making tiles but having many crack because of the intense heat of August.

    Anyway job done as the gate was reopened this year.

    I mentioned the Human Cultural Treasures - my understanding is that the government has selected crafts/arts etc that they want to see preserved. They then seek out the person who is considered the best in that field and appoint him or her as an HCT. It is their duty to transmit the skills to the next generation. They have students at different levels and from these eventually they will find their successor. The HCT is paid an amount of money to compensate for their time and it is of course a prestigious position. If they become to old or sick to continue (as opposed to just dieing off) they are classed as an Honorary HCT to preserve their dignity. I met a number of potters who have this status in their specific narrow field of expertise. Some of them do other work as well but are HCT for just one area. With only one exception they were all humble people who would go well out of their way to help and advise - pretty much that South Korean nature I guess. The one exception was still a nice man but rather liked to state his superior level probably with reason as he did have the highest status!

    With potters it seemed that many trainees are the sons or daughters of the HCT - these days probably the only ones silly enough to take on the job. Other potters did similar work to the HCTs as quite a lot of the work in SK is still traditional and much respected. I didn't hear any remarks about anyone's status but then I don't think they would say anything as it would be impolite and very unSK.

    There are also appointments as "Masters" but these seem to be done by a different process and its usually about being exceptional craftsmen/artists in their field which isn't necessarily a traditional one. The man I spent time with last year is a Master - truly one of the greats in his field anywhere in the world. Again quite happy to help and pass on his skills even to a foreigner. Such luck for me.

    Well I'm so glad to have been on your trip with you and its given me lots of information for my own upcoming one. Thank you.

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    Next day I set off through some back streets, quite off the main drags, hoping to see something of life in Seoul as it is lived by ordinary people. And there was lots to see! Mainly small workshops specialising in hardware and little motor-repair shops. And I crossed your waterway further up, lots of people walking along the bank.
    Finally got to Umhyeongung, in between the other two huge palace complexes. This one was quite small, no entrance fee, and looked like a series of long low buildings with individual rooms. These were rather spookily set up with life-sized figures of mainly women and children, indicating who lived there and how! No-one around, which suited me fine.
    Next I went to Changdeokgung. Of the two big temples, this is the one I preferred. It is like you say a place to meander and find nooks and crannies off the main drag! The Secret Garden Tour was very good: our group was huge, at least 70 people, so it was quite easy to lag behind and become disconnected. We seemed to walk a long way and cover a lot of ground. Our guide was a charming young woman in traditional dress. At the end we were more or less left to our own devices so I spent a bit more time walking around...though closely observed by the staff on guard.
    Right next to the entrance to the Secret Garden was the entrance to Changgyeonggung Palace. This was almost completely deserted. I wandered around the huge space scattered with buildings though not as picturesque as the previous ones. There was less greenery too, lots of big open gravel spaces.
    Back into Changdeokgung and spent more time looking for interesting angles on pictures. Big loud groups arrived, one of them with a loud-speaker system to call them to order. Time to go! I saw very few, if any, independent western tourists so you were probably not there that day kja!
    I finished my sightseeing hoping to see Jongmyo Park but when I finally found the entrance, it was closed until the following day. So I meandered back to my hotel, encountering some American tourists en route with huge suitcases who were looking for a particular hotel. I didn't know where it was, and although I showed them my map and suggested they jump in a taxi, they didn't seem inclined to do that! Certainly wasn't you kja :)

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    @ MaryW – Oh, I wish I had known that wonderful story about the Namdaemun’s roof tiles before I went – I would have paid much closer attention! And thanks for the information about Human Cultural Treasures – I really appreciate that South Korea is taking steps to preserve and maintain its traditional crafts. Given my experience with South Koreans, it doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that the honorees are almost all humble and generous with their expertise.

    Thank you so much for your kind words to me and for sharing my journey and for providing so many insights into South Korean ceramics. Best wishes for your continued success and many more opportunities to work with these extraordinarily gifted and knowledgable people!


    @ gertie – Aren’t the back streets of Seoul fascinating!?! Quite a different world than the main streets and IMO, well worth exploring, even though I got lost a few times. ;-) My tour of the Secret Garden may have been with a smaller group, but it was also more controlled – the guide made absolutely certain we all left at the end. ;-) I didn’t make it to Umhyeongung, but was welcomed to Seoul by my night visit to Changgyeonggung, so it holds a special place in my heart. I especially enjoyed its lovely pond.

    Thanks so much for sharing some of your fascinating experiences in South Korea over the years and for reading along. I’ll look forward to the next time our paths cross!


    @ Mara – and thank you again for joining me! I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of Seoul.

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    Thank you for the wonderful report! Reading it has made me even more excited for my upcoming trip. We finally have our tickets and we leave five weeks from today with a one week stop in Japan because my husband has a business meeting for a day and a business associate has invited him to golf while we are there. It means more plane and train trips than I would prefer but how can I not be excited about a week in Japan followed by a week in Korea!

    I agree with colduphere, this is a master trip report! Thank you for taking so much time and care in putting it together. I don't suppose you have a link to your photos? :)

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    @ SeeHag – I’m sure Mara will agree that you could do MUCH worse than spend a week in Japan! :-)

    If your son’s wife and her family are even a little bit like the people I encountered while in South Korea, then you will be blending your family with a very welcoming and warmhearted one. I’m looking forward to hearing your reactions to Jejudo – enjoy!

    Thanks for the compliments, and thank you for posting before I left and as I wrote my report. No link to photos – I haven’t even pulled them onto my computer yet!

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    Thank you kja. Yes, what a great trip report. It has been fun travelling along with you in Korea and finding out all the places I didn't go to this time. And something I have realised: the palaces and temples I saw in 2014 were simply not there in 1978-1982. They hadn't been restored. Seoul looked totally unrecognisable because it has been completely transformed in the past 40 years. For the better :)

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    Joining in on this thread VERY late. What an amazing trip report! And I am not using the word 'amazing' like I'm twentysomething, and it is merely ok, like how TGIF serves an 'amazing' Jack Daniels BBQ rib dinner. It truly is an astonishing record of a complex month-long experience with rich detail. I am so throughly impressed on how much you found out so much to see in S. Korea, and that you put it all together. Traveling with a language and cultural barrier is never a snap, and using public transportation is usually one of the more severe challenges. To borrow from the modern vernacular: Best. Trip Report. Ever.

    I was in S. Korea for two weeks. In my mind it makes for an ideal country to visit. First world in its communications, clean water, educational system, transportation, highways, comfortable and plentiful hotels and motels, a gazillion palces to eat, and quality infrastructure. But right up against this first world environment is the traditional: expansive markets where you will sometimes see items being sold from the ground, traditional buildings and villages (where people still live), at every restaurant and in every hotel ondol seating/rooms where people sit on the floor. temples where people are actually praying, well tended gardens and agricultural plots, unspoiled mountains, in cities large swaths of alleyways where people live and work, preservation and continued enrichment of folk culture, a uniuque cuisne which preserves its traditions for everyday consumption. and rural people living on seemingly little money. Get out of Seoul and prices drop dramatically. That pair of shoes lying on the ground at a market (sometimes in a huge pile) drops from $25 in Seoul to as little as $5 in Busan. In addition, S. Korea is an intensely mountainous peninsula with a dramatic coastline and hundreds of islands. All the makings of breathtaking travel amid an exotic culture and gorgeous scenery.

    For such a little country right off China and dominated for so many years by Japan, the culture is thoroughly and unapologetically distinct.

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    "To borrow from the modern vernacular: Best. Trip Report. Ever."

    Not if you believe a trip report should include irrelevant detail, unfinished thoughts, inside references understandable to only a few, strange humor and too much personal information.

    Putting those aside, yes I would agree.

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    @ gertie – The differences between the Seoul of 1978-1982 and the Seoul of today must have have been very striking. I’m sure you expected that it would be much more modern; it must have been odd to find that it was also "older," with so much of what was historic, but had been destroyed, having since been recreated. I’m glad you thought the changes for the better, as that is certainly not always the case with modernization.


    @ shelemm – Thank you so much for your words of praise! And thank you, too, for your wonderful description of South Korea – you capture a wealth of information in a compelling few sentences. I love your conclusion: “For such a little country right off China and dominated for so many years by Japan, the culture is thoroughly and unapologetically distinct.” Indeed! That was a point made by many of the guides with whom I interacted: South Koreans have a very long tradition of taking what they value from others, and then making it their own. :-)


    @ colduphere – LOL, if you didn’t find my humor strange then I certainly didn’t reveal too much of myself! ;-) Thanks again for your compliments – much appreciated!

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    >>>Dinner at Arirang. OMG, just across the street from the entrance to the Korea House was a branch of Arirang – a restaurant that Robert (@ AskOksana) had recommended! It met my needs perfectly – I had a delicious meal of mushroom bulgogi with a ton of banchan and a beer and attentive service. :-) (Thanks, Robert!)<<<


    You are most welcome, kja, pleasure and - rather appropriately - warm Seoul Friday morning greetings to you. To date, every Arirang business dinner of ours has been most enjoyable; glad my recommendation worked well for you.

    Once again, can't thank you enough for your brilliant and thoughtful writing. Finally got around to reading and savouring your report last evening. Rest assured, your S. Korean exploits and impressions have been duly 'bookmarked' for future and long overdue S. Korea holiday, as my Seoul business trips continue to almost exclusively entail hotels, office buildings and the Incheon airport (where I'll be later today, before flying home to Singapore). You experienced so much during your S. Korea journey and wrote about it so eloquently with such delightful humour; well done.

    Will reiterate my offer of lodging, dining and recreational options for you in our fine home of Singapore. Just know you would appreciate some of our sweet city-state's more intimate boutique properties. And, as always, pleasure to suggest seating and meal options (all classes of service) for our Singapore Airlines.

    [Concerning lodgings, will have more to convey in future regarding the Four Seasons' impending Seoul hotel. And, another fine international hotel group favourite of mine will soon be revealing more of her Seoul plans. Interesting Seoul lodging developments and additions at present.]

    Thanks again kja, for another wondrous collection of writing. Warm Friday morning - and early weekend - wishes to you and all from Seoul,

    robert


    ... Singapore Girl, You're a Great Way to Fly ...

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    @ AskOksena – I appreciate your compliments, Robert, and am glad you enjoyed my report. I sincerely hope that I tavel to Singapore one day and will count on you to help me plan that trip – I know it will be much more enjoyable as a result. :-)

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    kja, what a long and detailed report! I've only read through your Busan section since I was there last year for a conference. You managed to see so much more than I did when I stayed there for the entire week at a hotel on the beach. But I did go to the temple by the sea and the one in the mountain that you went to. That fish market sounds really good. Wish I had gone.

    Will continue to read more. Thanks for sharing.

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    @ JC98 – If you were in Busan for a conference, then I’m sure you had many things to do other than sightseeing. The fish market -- Jigalchi -- was definitely cool, but given your interest in Buddhism, visiting some of the temples around Busan was probably the best use of your limited free time in the area.

    Thanks again for your input as I planned my trip and for encouraging me to pursue a templestay. I certainly thought of you during my memorable night at Haeinsa!

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    @ Mara - Good for you! :-) If you are only going to Seoul, you probably won't need any special vaccinations or other pre-travel medical treatments, but that's between you and your physician. Here's the CDC link:
    http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/south-korea

    And the guidebook I found most helpful, the Seoul Selection guide, does come in a version that is specific to Seoul and that you can get through amazon:
    http://www.amazon.com/Seoul-Selection-Guides-Robert-Koehler/dp/899191358X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407100156&sr=1-1&keywords=seoul+selection+guides

    Keep me posted!

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    Sea Hag, I'm back! My son is once again living and working in Busan South Korea. This time he has a wonderful job with the South Korean government. I'm off to South Korea in September with my Korean DIL. I will get to meet her parents and grandparents.

    Remember those days way back when both our sons just went to South Korea? It looks like we both got Korean DIL's out of it. We are so lucky to have ours in our family.

    Sorry, to hijack the thread....

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    hester, I have wondered about you and your son and DIL! We are living parallel lives! We are going to Seoul the second week in September to meet the in-laws! My son was working for the Korean government when he met his wife. We are looking forward to our trip and celebrating the marriage with our new family.

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    SeaHag, Wow! We really do live parallel lives. I leave for Korea on September 14. But I will be going to Busan. I have met Hee Ju's (DIL) parents and Grandparents on Skype but it will be nice to meet them in person. I don't speak Korean and they don't speak English but that's OK. They raised a lovely daughter and it will be nice to meet them. Hee Ju and I will have lots of fun while Joe is at work. My husband is staying home this trip.

    On our previous trips we always stopped in Japan. We love it there. How a wonderful trip. Leslie :)

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    kja, absolutely insane trip report or in current vernacular 'awesome".
    I am just starting the planning for my first visit to S Korea and your accounts will help a great deal. Thank you very much.

    Curiously, one thing that caught my attention is your reference to TA and the reviews you made there on hotels. I too flip between TA and Fodors Forum for my research but I am now reminded that it is the quality of writing such as yours that sets this site apart and propels the read from mere research to enchantment. Bravo !

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    We just miss each other, we fly home the 15th! We will be facing a language barrier too. It should be interesting as we will be spending three days together on Jeju island. My son rented a large home and we and Sohee's siblings and parents will all share the place. I hope you have a great time too! I will wave at you as our planes pass!

    Sorry for the hijack kja!

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    @ christo - Enchantment?!? Wow - thank you so much! And LOL, one of the words I found most useful while in South Korea was "daebak" ("awesome"). :-) I'm very pleased that you think my report will prove helpful and am sure you will have a wonderful trip. Please keep us posted!

    @ hester and SeeHag -- no worries! My goal in writing this trip report was to be useful, and reuniting old friends is, IMO, a useful thing! :-) I hope you both enjoy your upcoming trips to South Korea and find many qualities to treasure in your newly extended families.

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    kja, I just read your Gyeongju section. Amazing that you remember all the details, and the names of buildings and places too. Just now I had to google Gyeongju to see how it's spelled! Do you take notes as you travel? I should have written a trip report right after I return to better remember the details.

    I traveled to Gyeongju like 3 years ago, and have already forgotten a lot of the names. For future travelers, there's a mountain (Namsan) just outside of Gyeongju with lots of large and small stone carvings of the Buddha that you can see along a hike. Some carvings were large as one side of a mountain. I remember the images were carved to ward off the marauding enemies in ancient times, first the Mongolians and later the Japanese. The hike was really cool through a forest with open vistas here and there, and the Buddhist stone carvings made it more interesting.

    And even on a mountain hike that you think is quite remote, you can always count on finding a drink/food stall or even a vending machine to replenish you! We got to a rest stop on Namsan toward late afternoon, and no one was around but 2 vending machines dispensing hot and cold drinks were on standby to serve!

    We took a taxi to Namsan but on the way back after the sun had set, a father who was hiking with his young daughter offered us a lift back to city center in his station wagon. The girl was so cute, trying to teach us how to say "hello" in Korean, and she got a bit frustrated when we didn't say exactly right.

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    @ JC98 - That's not my memory speaking -- that's me typing up my journal. ;-) Namsan (the one outside Gyeongju) sounds lovely. (There's also a Namsan in Seoul, site of the N Seoul Tower.) I sure wish there had been a vending machine or two along the fortress hike near Busan -- I could certainly have used one, and they did seem to be otherwise ubiquitous. I had trouble learning to say "hello" correctly, too, and am not sure I ever got it QUITE right, but it was definitely worth trying so that one could speak to people like this father and daughter and so many others.

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    A post-trip correction: Upon going through my photographs (oh no -- the lens of my camera was apparently damaged early on!) I realized that Beomeosa, a temple near Busan, had more to appreciate than I thought at the time. I must have been too tired and thirsty by the time I got there to notice some of the details.

    @ M. Bowman -- I just saw the compliments you offered on your blog -- thanks so much! :-) I'm glad you found my report worth reading.

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    Oh no ditto! Did you lose your photos? I started a habit of uploading them everyday from my camera to whatever else I have with me - during my recent trip in the US my tablet -or else my laptop.....

    When I was in Japan I had a memory card error at one point but I had already, thank goodness, uploaded all the photos to my laptop....

    btw, kja, I already bought a Korean phrasebook.... ;-)

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    @ thursdaysd and Mara -- Thanks for your sympathies! Unfortunately, the camera is a goner. Just a point-and-shoot, and an old one at that, although I really liked it. I didn't "lose" any photos - rather, I have thousands and thousands of pictures that all have a dark, fuzzy-edged, dirty-looking blob just off center. :-( Oh well, they still work for reminding me of things, and I didn't even own a camera for my first few trips.... Bottom line: I'd rather have the memories any day, and hope I have them longer than any pictures I might have taken.

    and Mara -- that's awesome! I'm looking forward to hearing all about your trip. :-)

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