A Travellerspoint blog

South Korea

Gyeongju, South Korea

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Gyeongju is often referred as a museum without walls, which is certainly apparent when you get out of the bustling centre. Gyeongju and its surrounding sites seem to be the cultural heart of South Korea. I stayed at Guesthouse Momojein which was great. Plus it's conveniently located south of the river and not far from the regions cultural gems.

Sights in Gyeongju

Cheomseongdae - One of the world’s oldest astronomical observatories, constructed in the 7th century.
Daereungwon Royal Tomb - A large grass covered mount that is an ancient burial tomb of a king where 11,000 artefacts were uncovered.
Gyerim - A woodland area right next to the site of the Silla kingdom palace.
Donggung Palace & Wolji Pond - Built in 674, this area contains ruins of a palace and fortress, along with gardens and a man-made pond.
Bulguksa - Built in 528, it's a stunning UNESCO World Heritage listed temple in among mountains. This is a bus ride away from Gyeongju.
Seokguram - Part of the Bulguksa complex (a 4km bus ride away at Mt. Tohamsan), Seokguram is one of Korea's national treasures. It's a temple that houses a Buddhist sculpture, regarded as one of the best in the world.

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Yangdong Folk Village

On my last day in South Korea I went to a small village, north of Gyeongju called Yangdong Folk Village. It's a 700 year old village which amazingly has been almost preserved throughout that entire period. There was a lot of destruction to many areas and buildings in South Korea during the Japanese invasion, however they didn't touch Yangdong Village. It's a living and breathing village with a few hundred houses that date back to the 1300's, with stone walls and thatched roofs. What made it even more special, was the fact that each house has its own little veggie patch. People in each home grow all sorts of fruit and vegetables meaning that everyone is living off the land. There are no shops or advertising and the entire town is UNESCO World Heritage listed, so thanks to their funding it should remain this way. It's a fascinating place and feels like you're walking through a Zelda game.

After exploring a village for a few hours I had some food, jumped on the bus back to Gyeongju and then caught another bus on to Busan for the next flight!

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Busan, South Korea

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After a fantastic time in Seoul, Byeongsu and I took the fast train south east of the country to the second biggest city - Busan. It's a 325 kilometre trip but only takes 2-2.5 hours if you take the KTX train. Busan has a more laid back feel to it compared with Seoul however it's still a big city with over 3.6 million people spread over a huge area due to the various mountains that are dotted around. It's known for nice beaches, hot springs, nature reserves and seasonal events.

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We stayed at Blue Backpackers Hostel in the centre of Busan which was clean, had good facilities and was only 25,000 won (~AUD$27). From there we spent the weekend exploring the city, local attractions & eating good food!

Sights in Busan
Haeundae Beach - A nationally renowned beach, that Korean's flock to in the warmer months.
Haedong Yonggungsa - An impressive buddhist temple in Gijang-gun built in 1376 during the Goryeo Dynasty, right by the seaside.
Gwangalli Beach - At 1.4km stretch of beach flanked by great cafes, restaurants and views of Gwangandaegyo or Diamond Bridge.
Jalgachi Market - A fantastic market full of all kinds of fresh seafood. A must see.
Taejongdae - A scenic natural park with rugged cliffs facing the open sea on the southernmost tip of the island - Yeongdo-gu.

Late Sunday evening Byeongsu caught the train back to Seoul to go to work whilst I went to the bus station and caught the 50 minute bus to the next destination - Gyeongju.

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Seoul, South Korea

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South Korea has been on the bucket list for number of years thanks to stories from other travellers, what I've read and interest in the North and South Korean situation. I flew from Taipei into Seoul pretty late and was immediately impressed with the airport and subway system which took me right into the city centre. Seoul, the countries capital is huge and it's difficult to comprehend the sheer size of this place. There are 10 million people yet the efficiency of the subway system and the fact that there a multiple business districts means connecting Seoul over such a large area means you don't notice it as much as say Hong Kong. It's a fascinating and buzzing metropolis with modern skyscrapers, pop culture, along with historic Buddhist temples, palaces and traditional street markets.

It was great to catch up with a good mate Byeongsu, a Seoul local that we lived with in Canada and who visited us in Australia only a month or so before. He took me too some cool parts of Seoul including Gwangjang Market, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Cheonggyecheon, a light show at the Han River and more. We ate raw beef, had a traditional Korean BBQ and generally a fantastic time in such a bustling city.

Like anywhere in the world that you travel to, you can either go on your own or as part of a tour but nothing beats being able to really understand a place through chatting to a local. Having someone to ask loads of questions to and finding out all you can about a place in terms of what they do and the way they live allows you to really understand more about their culture.

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Sights in Seoul

Cheonggyecheon - a 10+km long stream and recreation space in downtown Seoul
Gyeongbokgung Palace & Museum - Impressive palace built in 1395
Myeong-dong - Seoul's shopping capital with cathedrals and markets.
N Seoul Tower - The best way to get a grasp of the sheer size of Seoul.
Changdeokgung - World Heritage listed palace and one of the 5 grand palaces build during the Joseon dynasty.
Deoksugung Palace - with a regular Royal Guard ceremony.
Jogyesa - Impressive Buddhist temple & grand main hall.
Heunginjimun - One of the 8 historic gates of the original Fortress Wall.
Changgyeonggung - Another one of the 15th century royal palaces.
National Folk Museum of Korea - Interesting museum for Korean customs & culture
Namdaemun Market - Good for shopping.
Banpo Bridge - A two-level bridge over the Han river with a rainbow water show.
Kukkiwon - The Taekwondo World Headquarters, great place to check out a demonstration.
Bukchon Hanok Village - A traditional Korean village.

South of the river 'Gangnam' was also well worth checking out. It's where the wealthy live, so modern buildings, fancy cars and exclusive shopping is everywhere.

Similar to Taipei, I stayed in two different parts of the city. First in a hostel in the shopping area of Myeong-dong and then in Bukchon, a traditional Hanok Village. The Airbnb guest house in Bukchon was fantastic thanks to the nice couple I stayed with. They cooked up some delicious dinner, breakfast and took me on a walking tour around the local area.

Even though the city is huge, it's scenic as it's set among mountains that surround it's core. Going up into Seoul Tower allows you to see just how beautiful this part of the world it is. However there is a mountain range that eclipses the beauty of the mountains surrounding Seoul and it's called Seoraksan. It's about 2 1/2 hours on the bus east of Seoul.

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Seoraksan National Park, South Korea

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After getting some snacks in the local 7-Eleven, I jumped on the bus and got dropped off at Sokcho which is the nearest city to the Seoraksan National Park. Sokcho is located on South Korea's north east coast and following a quick look at the beach I got myself a couple of huge sushi rolls and took the local bus in towards Seoraksan National Park, just as the sun was setting. I stayed in a hotel called Norumok which was a budget hotel however it had everything I needed. There was a little kitchenette, ensuite, TV and the best part was that it was only about two kilometres from the National Parks entry. This meant I could walk there each day or catch a local bus, compared with the 35 to 40 minute bus ride you would need to take if you stayed in a hostel in Sokcho.

Similar to Taroko National Park in Taiwan, you can spend days exploring the Seoraksan, with load of trails and many multi-day hiking options. However due to time constraints I selected 3 of the trails I thought would be the best and most convenient.

It certainly didn't disappoint. The first trial I went on followed the river to Biseondae and then up Geumganggui Cave. I had no idea what to expect, but after two hours and a climb up the side of a cliff, it lead to a very cool cave which was literally a hold in the cliff. The cave contains a small temple and offers some spectacular mountainous views across the national park. The rain, low cloud and lack of any other hikers just added to the atmosphere. It was certainly a great place to eat lunch and soak up the scenery. I then walked further on towards Yangpok Shelter along crashing rivers and through lush greenery.

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The next day I went to the top of Ulsanbawi, a one way hike that takes around 2.20 hrs one way. The distance is not that far but the climb is pretty steep. You do have railings and steps all the way so technically it's fine. The 360 degree views at the top are incredible it's a properly special place. After returning ,I jumped on the cable car and went up to Gwongeumseong, a different mountaintop that offers even more incredible views from a different perspective.

Seoraksan is a special place and I recommend going there mid week to avoid the crowds. It's one of those places and times that you just want to bottle. After returning to Norumok, I picked up my luggage, caught a local bus back to Sokcho and then caught one of the frequent buses back to Seoul.

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