Last post we left you all with a fond (temporary) goodbye as we flew the coop of the village off on an adventure to explore Korea during our summer holiday. The 9 days of school-free bliss flew by – we saw so many amazing things, experienced uncountable random places and generally had what we might call the Best Trip Ever. Seriously. Each day was more perfect than the one before it and the amount of sightseeing and activity we managed to pack into each day was phenomenal.
On day 6 of our holiday, disaster struck. H-J lost the camera. In one fell swoop 500 photos of our adventure, together with the memories that these records prompt, GONE. Devastated does not begin to describe how we felt…not only had we lost the precious photos, we had also lost our camera and are too poor saving for our next adventure to replace it for a while to come. The future of this blog looked uncertain too – without a camera to capture the indescribable moments, we were flummoxed. No photos, no camera, no money and no blog…life got pretty sad there for a moment.
While sulking and mourning our loss, it struck us just HOW important both photography and the blog have become for us as we travel around having our random adventures. We skulked back home to the village unsure of our next move or how to rectify our situation. The phone was constantly by our side as we awaited a magical call from the police in Mokpo telling us they had found our camera. But then out of the depths, Dan was hit with a bolt of inspiration – we could still blog about the amazing trip we had just been on, we would just have to illustrate it ourselves!
Now of course we can’t possibly regain the complete sense of time and place that photos would portray. Nor do we have enough hours in the day or artistic ability to render perhaps the amount of visual stimuli we would have with photos. But we’ve sat down and in an attempt to at least regain some of the Lost Days, drawn our impressions of our adventure and of Korea. We saw more of the country in the last week than we ever imagined possible and every minute of it, other than the day when we lost the camera, was amazing.
So without further ado, we present you with the waterfallsandcaribous Illustrated Tour of the Best Trip Ever!
We set off at the crack of dawn on the Sunday, determined to make a stop for the morning at Songjeong beach before the insane Korean summer beach crowds descended.Arriving early enough to be among the first people on the beach meant that we secured a primo parasol spot right in the front row. Korean beaches, during the hottest summer months, charge $5 per parasol/beach mat but have them set up in such a way that once you have your spot, its yours for the day. Its actually pretty sweet. We couldn’t imagine jostling for position with the thousands that descend.
Off to a great start
Alternating between our groovy little possie under the brolly and the inviting water for a swim, we watched with fascination as both the beach and the water got busier and busier. A strange phenomenon also struck us – most of the Koreans were swimming in t-shirts, pants, hoodies, hats…even jackets and gloves in some cases. Regardless, we donned our togs, exposed our tattoos and frolicked amidst the ever growing number of yellow floaties and whistle-blowing jet-ski patrols.
Our wonderful morning at the beach concluded, it was time to set off on the ‘real’ part of our mission. Determined to head north and start exploring as much of Korea as possible, we decided that the first stop would be Daegu.
Daegu is the third biggest city in Korea, we hadn’t made it there previously and, best of all, we had recently discovered that hidden in the one of the department stores there was….JESTERS, the Australian/New Zealand pie chain!!! The chance for a pie was enough to get us on the 3 hour train ride to the middle of SK.
The village has been lovely and hot lately, hovering around the 31/32 degree mark with increasing humidity but fairly bearable. Daegu, on the other hand, was between 36 and 38 degrees. Wandering around with packs on our backs and sweat making our clothing see-through we noticed a growing sense of discomfort but shrugged it off. Throwing our stuff down after finding a cheap motel for the night, we headed off to eat pies. H-J had the Billy T (Mince and Cheese), while Dan feasted upon the Southern Man (Steak and Cheese)…and then, having been pie deprived for so long, we attacked round two. In our defence, these pies are quite small, certainly not the behemoths we’re used to in NZ. And god, they were good. So good, in fact, that we ordered two further pies of the Bacon and Egg variety, to go into the fridge and make an awesome travelling breakfast the next morning. Howzat for planning?!
Full of pie (the best sort of full!) and sick of being sweaty, we mosied back to the motel whereupon we stripped off and discovered the reason for the Korean people swimming in hoodies…we were both shockingly sunburnt. Having mocked these people for their beach attire we now realised that perhaps it wasn’t a weird fashion trend, that they knew something we didn’t. Slathering ourselves in aloe, we settled in for a quiet night, and a lot of (mental) self-flagellation for being such eggs. Responsibility in the sun is absolutely drilled into us in NZ due to the whole lack of ozone/10 minute burn-time thing but admittedly, we get complacent in other countries. Lesson learned.
The next morning, H-J donned the large pack as Dan’s sunburn was much more severe so got him out of carrying duty. Finding somewhere to stash our gears, our next stop was to check out Haein-Sa Temple, a famous attraction an hour bus ride away from the city. This particular temple is special due to its housing the Tripitaka Koreana. For those less religious-studies-degree-geeky than H-J, this is the world’s most comprehensive and intact version of the Buddhist Cannon. So basically its a bunch of really, really old books. Like most things that are super-protected, you can’t get near them but you can peek at them through slats in the already impressive temple buildings. Its a stunning site and definitely worth including in a trip to Daegu.
Back to the city it was time to embark on the next stage of our journey – a bus to Wonju, all the way up in the north of the country, to say hi to our friend Bella, one month into her own hagwon nightmare in Korea.
Its been a while since we’ve seen anyone from back home and we’re, like, SO expert on all things Korean now, we were relishing the chance to talk Kiwi and brag to a newbie about everything we’ve done and experienced. Five and a half hours later, we arrived, found a cheap motel for the night and headed to the bar to sink beers, eat snacks and catch up. It was an awesome night with a good friend (see our last blog and you’ll realise just how awesome that really is!!!).
After a breakfast of toast and donuts – hey, we’re travelling – we said our goodbyes to Bella and headed off on another bus, this time to Gangneung, our jump off point to explore the greater area of Gangwon-Do. By the time we arrived, Dan had, via the magic of Lonely Planet, discovered there was a coastal sea-train that travelled from Gangneung to Samcheok. The train carriages had been remodelled so that the seats were placed to face the extra-large windows, allowing for wicked views. This was too good to resist so we bagged the last two available seats and off we went.
If there’s an underrated attraction or two in Korea, this has to be one of them! The trip around the Gangwon coast is stunning, and the train is a real novelty in itself – winding its way beside the beautiful seaside, there is even a stop mid-way to allow passengers to jump off and take photos. Being the only two foreigners in the train, the attendant was really giving us the royal treatment too! He offered us “Western music” to listen to if we were disturbed by the constant Korean commentary; we declined, being absolutely content with the trip. When we disembarked upon reaching Samcheok, he ran after us to present us with two special Seaside Train mugs as a gift! Samcheok was off to a great start.
Having no idea of where to base ourselves,we jumped in a taxi and asked to be taken to the beach with the intention of perhaps finding accomodation nearby and exploring from there. However, upon arriving there and finding the most grotty and over-priced motels, we decided to head back to the down-town area. The best thing about the beach was the sign that greeted us:
Back to downtown, we successfully found a cheap roof for the night and set off exploring. Lonely Planet had this to say about Samcheok:
The only sightseeing spot in town is the Mystery of Caves Exhibition, in a building that resembles a wedding cake dripping with brown icing.
We had set aside the next day for the myriad sightseeing spots that were further out of town so couldn’t resist the pull of the ‘only spot’ in town to kill the afternoon. Being fairly newlywed, an gigantic wedding cake shaped building sounded pretty attractive too.
The place was deserted except for the extremely bored looking museum reception staff. Built for the 2002 World Cave Expo (who knew?!), this exhibition/museum houses more information about caves, their formation and their composition than you would ever perhaps want or need to know. There’s buttons to push and even an IMAX movie to view, though we missed the viewing time for that. It was hilarious and entertained us for an hour or so.
With night approaching, we headed back toward our digs, passing a colourful fountain spraying water high up into the air. Dozens of children were running in and out of the water, creating a wonderful tableau of colour, superimposed with children’s silhouettes, joy and spray. The photos we took of this were unfortunately some of the best photos we have ever taken…
The next morning saw us heading toward one of the main attractions in the Samcheok area – Haisendang Park, dedicated exclusively to showcasing phallic sculptures. Yes, you read that right, a Penis Park. Many giggles ensued as we walked through a gorgeously landscaped park, overlooking the sea below with penises peeking at us wherever we went. The sculptures ranged from fairly ‘standard’ looking, to highly elaborate sculptures containing, amongst other things, zodiac signs, people and animals. The park benches were often phallically shaped. There’s a shrine for…penis worship?! Bang smack in the middle of the park there also lies a Fork Museum. Well, that’s what the brochure said but it turns out that its actually a Folk Museum, dedicated to the history and lore of the nearby seaside village. No forks to be seen but a very interesting place nonetheless. More penises greeted us on completion of the museum wander and guided us in a gentle slope down the hill to the seaside. A lovely, albeit rather odd, way to spend a morning!
Options for direct travel out of Samcheok, other than back to where we came from, were fairly limited so we settled on Daejeon, back down towards the middle of the country but closer to the western side which we were yet to discover. Gangwon-do is perhaps our new favourite bit of Korea; the gorgeous coast lines, uncrowded beaches (even if you’re not allowed to feed the army!), weird and wonderful sights all made for a fabulous time. But off we went to see what else we could find….
Our friend, Lonely Planet, says that even though its the fifth largest city in Korea there is “little reason to stop here or linger, unless your simply starved of city life”. Now starved of city life we may be from time to time. But in its defence, we had one of the most fun nights in Daejeon. We scored a super good value love motel in a particularly seedy (and therefore interesting) part of town near all the terminals. For the paltry sum of $50 we got hooked up with a GORGEOUS ninth floor room, with all the amenities we’ve come to expect in such a place, along with the standard issue gigantic plasma TV…though this time with the added addition of 3D! Yip, 3D TV and luxury all for $50. Pretty darn sweet. We could have happily entertained ourselves there for the night but the streets were calling.
The area directly around the bus terminals is a pretty flash looking shopping district with fringes of a more red-light district. Something for everyone, you could say…We headed for the giant mall we had walked through upon exiting the bus – for what reason we’re not exactly sure but we’re glad we did. A spacies parlour enticed us with its air hockey table (score 6-1 to H-J) but also provided us with what are now the only photos left of our trip.
Thank goodness we decided we needed sticker souvenirs of our trip!
A beer and some fries down, we then decided that we needed to Korean-style things up a bit – the young adults here are all rocking a style at the moment that has them wearing glasses frames with no lenses. When Dan asked a kid WHY, the kid replied, “its my flava”. In want of our own flava, Dan duly purchased some rockin’ frames, and H-J, not wanting to miss out on the trends, availed herself of another necessary accessory – the fan adorned with K-Pop band. Not only would it keep her cool in the vicious summer sun but she too could be down with the kids.
Not content with this, we had to go one step further. Couples in Korea are notorious for wearing matching t-shirts…so naturally, this was the final touch to our new look. Discovering a shop that had way too many extremely inexpensive and cool t-shirts, we left with considerably less cash, more shopping bags and hip new t-shirts!
A short stop for some more beers, some Korean blood sausage and toast, then it was back to the boudoir to make the most of the 3D movie. ‘Saw’ in 3D has some pretty interesting blood splatters….
All in all, Daejeon for us was awesome. We may be a bit city deprived but we still think its a pretty cool place!
Hopping on a train the next morning, we were bound for Mokpo, at the southern tip of the peninsula. We figured we could base ourselves here and spend a day or two exploring some of the nearby islands. Well, that was the plan anyway…after finding a fairly substandard motel and dumping our belongings, we quickly discovered that one of our most crucial belongings hadn’t made it out of the taxi from the station – our camera. Yes, dear reader, this is the point of despair at which we began this blog. This is the point where the wonderful trip took a sharp downward turn and the holiday gloss was suddenly gone. A good 24 hour period was spent retracing steps, bugging the information centre, contacting taxi companies, even lodging a lost property report at the police station.
We retired to our motel room for the night, down in the dumps. The only endearing memory we have of this time is the super overwhelming strawberry covered wallpaper that covered every inch of wallspace in our room. If you’ve never woken up to wall-to-wall strawberries, don’t bother.
With no camera, a lack of gloss now cast upon Mokpo (it will forever be associated with “That Day”) and a severe lack of funds, the next afternoon we packed up our remaining belongings and started heading homeward, via Busan to meet up with Bella and her cousin.
We managed to regain some of the holiday spirit by having those two join us in the village for a couple of days so we could show them how the country folk (i.e. US!) live and drink copious beers to forget our woes. We even forgave Bella’s cousin for coming equipped with a bongo drum but the law was laid down that it was to remain firmly in its case for the entirety of their stay with us. Having friends to visit certainly snapped us out of our funk and it was somewhere in this period that Dan awoke in the middle of the night to announce his idea of saving this blog by illustrating our adventure.
So that’s it in a nutshell really. In the event that the Mokpo Police do call us one day and say they’ve recovered our camera, rest assured there will be glorious photos for you all to feast your eyes on. Given how long it has taken us to illustrate and put together this blog (and it’s been an epic undertaking to say the least), we are feeling the impetus to acquire a new camera as soon as possible!!! The saving begins…