Monday, October 15, 2012

Five days, no shower

Unfortunately, Korea does not celebrate American Thanksgiving (crazy right?!) But they do have their own Thanksgiving, Chuseok, which gives us a very generous five-day weekend. And while we don’t get to be home with our family to celebrate, this break gives us the perfect opportunity to have a little couple retreat. Our first year here, it was spent exploring the big city of Seoul and checking out one of their two big amusement parks, Everland. Side note: if you’re a foreigner, definitely check out Everland on Chuseok morning. You get a huge ticket discount and before noon, there are virtually no lines. Back to the story. This year we decided to go in the opposite direction and take a long road trip up the east coast of Korea and beach camp along the way. Our tentative plan was to head out at the crack of dawn on Saturday to beat the holiday traffic, head up to spend the day in Gyeongju, make our way up to Seoraksan National Park and the DMZ then finally make our way back down. From our island to the very tip of South Korea it takes roughly seven hours, so with five days to kill, we were in no hurry.
Along the way we...

Rented bikes in Gyeongju to explore the city. It was the best way to see all of the historical sites and for only 6,000 w (roughly $5.30) for three hours it was a steal! Not only is Gyeongju a great city to see some of the best historical sites in Korea, it's also excellent for viewing the Cherry Blossoms in spring. We'll definitely be going back for that.

Checked out some royal tombs while we were in Gyeongju. You can find smaller versions of these on most mountain tops for graves but pictures don't do justice to just how massive these were. We even got to see a cross section of one to look at how it was made but unfortunately no pictures were allowed. To put it simply, there is a large wooden coffin inside with the body and some relics and then huge stones are piled high on top until it formed the rounded shape that you see.

Saw the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia, built somewhere around 632 and 647. This is also in Gyeongju.

Walked around the grounds of Gyeongju Bulguksa Temple which is considered the Historic and Scenic Site No. 1 by the Korean government and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. If you visit there, there is also a supposably amazing Buddhist grotto about a 4km hike away from the temple. Sadly, because of time, we were unable to hike to it but they say on a clear day you can also see a great view of the ocean from there.

We also found some pretty sweet bridges on the Bulguksa grounds...

...and waterfalls

Found an overgrown apple orchard with the largest and sweetest apples I have ever tasted. We filled our bag and continued on our way. As soon as we got home, hubs started researching all the things we can make with our discovery...October will now be the month of apples.

Found a surfing spot on the side of the road. In the city of Yang Yang we were told that they had the best surfing in Korea. It's nothing compared to some larger known surfing areas of the world but for Korea it's pretty decent. For 40,000 w ($36.00) you can rent a surfboard and wetsuit with no time restriction. The boards were all rented out by the time we got there but that didn't stop hubs from jumping in the water to get some shots.

Enjoyed the fresh mountain air.

Found some amazing camping sites. The one shown on top was definitely my favorite. When you drive towards the northern part of the country, barbed wire starts to surround the beach front for protection against the North. This made finding a camping area more difficult but after much searching, we finally found this gem. We decided not to go to the main area of the beach and instead found a side road leading to this spot. Little did we know, we were nestled right in the middle of two military outposts. Our first encounter with the soldiers was when I saw two shadows walking down the beach...and then realized they had huge military rifles slung over their shoulders. Even if they were part of the military, it's still not the most settling sight. Later that night as we were getting ready for bed we hear a 'Shilehamnida' (excuse me). Once they saw hubs head peak out of the tent and realized we were foreigners, I could hear the soldiers start laughing and give him the go ahead to sleep there.

Found new ways to cool down our drinks.

Enjoyed our Eno hammock.

Stopped by a roadside coffee shop to enjoy the view and of course a caramel frappucino 

Found some...interesting sculptures at Haesindang Park. This park is located just south of Samcheok and is part of the Haesindang Fishermen Museum. There are several different legends but most have the same basic details. That a young women died in the sea in a fishing village just before her wedding day. Shortly after that, the fishermen were unable to catch anything. One day, a man came along and peed in the ocean and after that, the fish miraculously returned. People thought that the fishs' disappearance had something to do with the woman's spirit being angry because she never saw a...ahem. So to please her and keep the fish coming, people of the town put phallic statues on the shore around the area she died. Since then, the park has grown and now includes hundreds of them.

Cooked banana pancakes on the stovetop.

Drank some delicious coffee out of our Jesus mugs.

Woke up to see soldiers sweeping the beach, checking for anything suspicious. 

And marveled at the eerie sight of barbed wire fences lining the beaches in the north.

On Wednesday I'll be writing about Seoraksan National Park and the DMZ!