So I just finished the first half of my train tour around Korea. Spending two weeks on the eastern side of Korea going from guesthouse hostel, couchsurfering, sleeping in Jjimjil Bangs, to finally an officetel in Busan.
The day I left Seoul was quite rainy and overcast. Little did I know that was simply the foreshadowing the weather to be throughout my trip. Even when it would clear up there was still a haze over everything that just lingered there. It was pretty annoying. That was actually the first time I missed Florida. Florida has clear skies and clean air that is so dam amazing. However, that faded fast as I continued on my eastern tour.
I had picked up the KoRail pass which is exclusively for foreigners visiting Korea that always unlimited rides on practically any route including the high speed KTX train. I picked up a 7 day pass which is the longest one they have. However, they aren't cheap. For a 7 day pass it was something close to $120...ouch. Also the train doesn't always reach the outskirt cities as well. Which resulted me in having to take the bus. I'll get into that later.
My first stop from Seoul was to Jeong Dong Jin 정동진. A coastal city and the end of the line. It's known for seafood as well as every other coastal town along Korea. However, there is supposedly a very famous park known for it's spectacular Sunrises. However, when I looked up from my phone GPS and out to the sea all I could see were clouds and fog. I checked the weather for the following morning and it was the same. So I said fuck it I'm moving on. I then caught a shuttle bus to Gangneung 강릉시. I booked a last minute guesthouse/hostel place for two nights using AirBnB and was presently surprised by their service. The owner picked me up from the bus station and took me to the hostel where he sat down with me and went through my itinerary. He gave suggestions and bus time and locations for where I wanted to go. It was really cool actually and helped a lot because I had no clue on how to get where to places.
My first place I wanted to go was Odaesan National Park 오대산국립공원, where I visited So Geum Gang - btw the "gang" in Korea is pronounced like "gong" not like gangster...the way Korean is written in English is really odd and doesn't make sense to me. The original Geum Gang mountain is in North Korea and considered the most beautiful mountain in Korea. However, Odaesan is almost as beautiful and was therefore granted the title of So Geum Gang aka the little Geum Gang. I have to agree with that title because damn it is beautiful.
The hiking trail in Korea is nothing like Bali. Here they have set paths and guardrails. I could have done a NES Mario style speedrun through the whole thing. However, I didn't because I stopped so often to take photos and try and capture the stunning views. The key word is try. As every photographer will tell you they can only capture a small piece of a gigantic scene. As a photographer though I'm hiking with not only my camera but my tripod as well, which gets a little awkward at times due to swinging around on my backpack.
There was only so much that I could possibly do in one day. One thing I told myself when I got to Korea was that I would try to go hiking as much as possible because the mountains here are awesome and I don't have any mountains in Florida. The only mountain we have back home is a giant landfill. Also simply because I love hiking and the outdoors.If I could have a wood cabin in the mountains you wouldn't see me for months at a time.
When I came back to Gangneung after hiking I was pretty hungry and decided to try some of the "famous seafood." Well unfortunately for me it's pretty hard to order for one in seafood restaurants in Korea when most of the main dishes are designated for group dining. However, my ever hungry ass was feenin' for some seafood. I stopped by the coffee cafe street, known for it's award winning cafes and annual coffee competition, which is right next to the ocean and popped into one of the open restaurants.
I decided to get up early and test my luck with seeing the sunrise on the beach, but yet again it was an epic fail. Super cloudy and foggy again and all I could see was a fuzzy orange circle off in the distance. I decided to continue on my journey and caught the train to Yeongju 영주. Yeongju is known for having this beautiful temple that sits at the base of a mountain that is famous for it's autumn foliage. However, when I got there I couldn't see shit again. The mountain was covered by the clouds and the buildings as well. It was really shit weather. I went back into town and decided go to sleep at a Jjimjil Bang 찜질방. However, when I went to the place it turned out to be closed down and homeless people had taken over to sleep. Deciding against that I found a cheap "love" motel for about $40 that was actually nicer than hotels I've spent $150 a night back in the states.
The following day I went to Uljin 울진. However, Uljin doesn't have any trains that run to it. So I had to take a bus which cost me about $10 and 2.5 hours. Not a bad deal considering the bus had these enormous lazy boy sized seats. When I arrived in Uljin I had already set up a place to stay this time around through Couchsurfing. If you don't know what it is look it up! I stayed with a local expat there named Amy who was super friendly and lent me her bike to use, which comes into play later.
The first thing I did when I got there was visit the fishing port.
The funny thing about much of the coast in the northern half of Korea is that it's lined with barbed wire and military bunkers to keep out the North Koreans from invading. I saw that almost the whole way down the coast when I was taking the train.
There's a few things Uljin is known, and by few I mean only three. The first being its seafood...obviously, the second is a cave, and the third is a hot spring. The cave is called Seongryugul 성류굴. It's this tiny cave that is on a mountainside that was found by some monk and a princess meditated there and made it famous or something like that. Overall though it's quite a pitifully small cave. It takes only 30 minutes max to tour the whole thing and that's if you're taking your time. There are some cool stalagmites and stalactites in.
After taking the extremely short tour of the cave I decided to head back into town and to the hot spring to relax. I looked at my phone and it told me it would take the exact same amount of time riding a bike to the hot spring as taking the bus. I figured why the hell not. So I picked up the bike from Amy and started an entire uphill ride for 20KM. Another poor decision made by me. When I finally got to the hot spring is was nothing more than a converted spa retreat center that had no outdoor spring. I made a loud audible "WTF!" when I saw that and was pretty pissed i rode 20KM for this. It wasn't all that bad though. The ride itself was actually quite enjoyable considering the landscape and scenery were amazing! That part absolutely made up for the fact the hot spring turned out to be a dud. Also going back downhill was super fun because I don't think I pedaled once.
My next stop was Daegu 대구. It's the 3rd largest city in Korea and hometown to my brother-in-law. Daegu had this Herbal Medicine Museum which I checked out to pass some time. It reminded me of all the times I went to herbalist doctors and they did their tests on me by looking at my eyes, inside my mouth, my palms, and taking my pulse. I have no idea what they did, but I do remember them prescribing the absolute worst tasting herbal shit I've ever had in my life. Every fucking time it was gross, and every time my mom would force me to drink that nasty stuff that I was sure was not doing anything for me. It was not only bad tasting when you drink it but it just left this foul aftertaste in your mouth that lingered there. Ughgehhasdh I'm not a fan of drinking it.
Daegu is famous for two foods, makjang 막장 and jjim galbi 찜갈비. I stopped by a local place to have some jjim galbi.
After that light appetizer I hit up the 83 Tower. It cleared up a little that evening which made for a nice view of the city at night.
Finally I made my way to the southern port city and the 2nd largest city of Korea, Busan 부산. There I met up my aunt, uncle, and two cousins who are visiting from the states. I booked a little officetel right next to the beach and it was relatively cheap and decent.
The first place we visited was Haedong Yongungsa Temple 해동용궁사.
There are several traditional open markets all across Korea. Busan is by far no exception to this.
The place we visited together was the Busan Gamcheon Culture Village 부산 감천문화마을. It's a neighborhood nestled into the cliff side of Korea that has existed since the Korean War as people were fleeing to Busan to escape from the invading north. It's filled with colorful houses and lots of art that makes it a popular tourist destination these days. There are few remnants of how the village looked like 60 years ago.
So now I'm back in Seoul planning the second half of my train tour around the west side. I came back a little early because the weather was just continuing to be crap if I kept going. So I'm waiting it out here till I go back out again, since there's no point in going when it's supposed to rain and be cloudy in the regions that I plan on going to next. Till then I'll be chilling in the capital. Peace out.