Korea is much in the news recently. I have stopped over in Seoul a few times, and came to like it (see Seoul October 2016). I scheduled in two weeks here in order to go beyond Seoul and get to know the area beyond a bit better.
It is easy to forget how close South Korea is to Japan. It is not a large country: about half the size of the State of Washington. Its population is, however, 8 times as great, larger than that of California. (in perspective, it is nearly 3x as big in area as Taiwan)
The second largest city is Busan, about 250 miles south of Seoul. I decided to start out by spending a week traveling around with a rail pass on the excellent high speed rail system. At top speeds as high as 193 mph, it takes just over two hours to go the length of the country. There are not yet any trains close to this fast in America. My first trip was from Seoul to Busan.
In my brief stay in Busan, I chose to visit Beomeosa Buddhist Temple, established nearly 1400 years ago, and climb on up from there about 2000 feet in altitude to the top of Godangbong Mountain.
Along the way, I met this friendly group of local employees of a medical products company, and walked up to the mountain with them.
This morning, I visited the “Korean Modern History Museum”. I learned a lot. I had not been aware that the Koreans suffered greatly under the rather brutal occupation of Korea by Japan from 1876 till 1944. Nor was I aware that there were popular protests about American influences and military in the early 80’s. It’s really pretty amazing how well they rebuilt themselves after WW|| and the Korean War. There’s a lot more to the ancient Korean culture and its modern expression than Kim Chi, Samsung and LG. The Koreans are very family-oriented, work hard, are competitive, and tend to exercise a lot and be fit.
As I am traveling fast on this survey trip, I will mostly do collages to give you an impression of the people and places, without going into detail about when/where/what. One thing I have noticed: there is not a lot of English spoken, so it’s up to you to communicate in Korean as much as you can, with the help of Google Translate and such. Get a high speed, unlimited data SIM for your phone, and use Google Translate with the camera feature to live translate written Korean. While not perfect, it helps when you face a sign or menu with no clue as to what it means.
South Korea has a fine high speed rail system. On my quick one week survey tour, I rode on most of these lines, mostly on the highest speed KTX trqins (I measured 193 mph, though 189mph is supposed to be the top speed). At these rates, you can go from Seoul in the far north to Busan in the far south in just over 2 hours. Very comfortably, too.
Unlike airports, no security lines, and you can walk in 10 minutes before departure, and walk on. Making reservations is very easy online, especially since South Korea has an enviably fast internet system. As the KTX trains have fast internet on board, I’m managing to get a lot of work done in transit.
For $1.20USD, this shop will give you one of these rolls sliced up, along with a bowl of broth and pickled vegetables. The best value I found in Korea. Generally, Korea is not inexpensive–food costs are similar to California. Train travel, however, is a bargain.
I’m now in Mokpo, near the SW tip of South Korea. Mokpo is the largest port. I decided to stay three days here so I can leave my ‘big’ backpack and do day trips with a daypack. I stumbled on a great inn. I’m not always including my accomodations here, just if they are exceptional. My last stay was not: a clean, tiny room no wider than the length of the bed and 3x as long. OK for one night, but it would be a bit claustrophobic for longer.
I’m staying at the White Windmill Guest House, a fine example of artful modern design. I picked it because it’s within walking distance of Mokpo train station, and right next to a lovely mountain park.
An attractive coffee shop is part of the Guest House, as well as an excellent restaurant where you have the included breakfast, and other meals if you wish. The quality of design and construction are first-rate.
My last day in Seoul I decided to check out Samsung D’light, a showroom of the latest and greatest technology from the Korean electronics giant. It is quite a show indeed. They are promoting virtual reality goggles, and one of the displays has you sit in a special effects chair while wearing a set of 3D goggles. It takes you on a simulated rollercoaster ride, which is so convincing I found myself grabbing on to the armrests for bracing, and getting just a bit motion sick! The resolution of the display could be better. When it is, this will be compelling.
Here is a bit of digital visual effects I filmed there:
It’s about time to move on. Next stop: Sapporo, Japan.
One last note: I have discovered a Korean restaurant that I like so much I go there every time I pass through Seoul. I admit to sometimes getting tired of the strong acidic and spicy elements characteristic of Kimchi and the spicy sour vegetables that accompany it. However, there is much more variety in Korean cuisine if you seek it out. Part of the reason I like this restaurant so much is that it is a high quality buffet, so you can sample a wide range of dishes. For $12.98 in USD including tip, it’s a bargain, too. It’s also a great place to watch upscale Korean people out on the town.
A nice part about eating at a buffet in Korea: you get to sample small amounts of many dishes. Koreans prefer to dine out in groups, so individual dishes you order often come sized for two people. In fact, more than once I was quizzically asked why I was dining alone!
Part of the fun of laying over in Seoul on a world flight is that you can zip into town on the Airport Express train for $7USD in 43 minutes to Seoul Station, and stay in one of many quality apartments in a few minutes walk from there.
It’s hard to find this restaurant, however. To get to this restaurant, come out of Seoul Station exit 2, keep walking past Lotte Outlets toward Lotte Market. At the corner nearest you, there is an escalator to the second floor:
The restaurant opens at 11am, and you should make a reservation if you want to be seated much later than that, as it is extremely popular.