A Travellerspoint blog

The Sights and Lights of Korea

Getting to catch up with an old friend

sunny 15 °C
View 2012 RTW on Drifters's travel map.

After spending an exciting couple of weeks in Mongolia we were ready for our next destination. Since we have finally made it to Asia, I thought it would be nice to make a stop in Korea, mainly because a friend of mine who I very rarely get a chance to see anymore lives in Incheon. Plus, Korea doesn't seem like a real popular tourist destination, at least not for Americans, so I figured we might get to see some new and different things. We flew out of Mongolia early, on a relatively short 3 hour flight to Seoul. Upon arrival, we managed to make our way through the subway and train system here and find Mike's apartment, although he was still at work. (The metro here has got to be one of the cleanest, quietest, and most extensive in the world.) We posted up in a coffee shop for a few hours and waited for Mike to get home to greet us and graciously give me an extra key to his apartment. Anastasia and I were still pretty exhausted and dirty from our trek in Mongolia, so we were just happy to be able to shower and relax in a comfortable place for the day. However, we did manage to go out for a bit that first night to try our first of many delicious Korean meals, and on the way back home, we strolled through a huge food market in Incheon.

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Conveniently we arrived to Korea on a Friday, so our host had the next couple days off to play tour guide and show us around. It is hard to believe Mike has been living here for almost 5 years now, but it was definitely helpful to have someone here who knows the area and can speak Korean. During the next day, we headed over a few metro stops to visit the fish market in Incheon, which I think is the largest in Korea. It was quite an interesting experience just to see all the different types of seafood they have here. Plus they keep most everything alive, right up until the time comes to eat. We had a great meal of different types of clams, oysters, and shellfish, and were entertained the whole time because like many restaurants in South Korea you cook your own food at a grill right in the table. After spending a few hours in the afternoon catching up with Mike, we headed out to meet up with some of his friends and get a taste of the nightlife here in Incheon. I don't need to go into everything that happened, but I will say that a lot of Soju was consumed, I got to experience my first trip to a Norebang, (It is very popular in Korea and is basically Karaoke, but each group has their own room) and a good time was had by all.

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Needless to say, we got a bit of a late start the next day, but in the afternoon we headed off to nearby Seoul. We went to Gyeongbokung Palace, and watched a number of different street performers while wandering around the city, we even happened to come across a group of tents where they were handing out free Makkoli, Korean milky rice wine (Definitely the first time I have seen free and unlimited alcohol given out in the middle of a city square) We headed back to Incheon and had a fantastic Korean barbecue dinner of ubiquitous pork belly (Yam!). The next couple days, Mike was back to work and we spent most of our time relaxing and wandering around the streets of Incheon trying all the different snacks we could find. We spent a nice afternoon in Chinatown, although compared to the one in New York it wasn't too impressive. Then after feeling totally recharged, Anastasia and I headed off to explore more of the country, and give Mike a few days break from our constant presence in his apartment.

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We went first to Busan, which is about 5 hours ride by bus to the southeast coast of Korea, to spend a couple nights. We stayed at the Apple guesthouse in Busan, which is new and one of the best hostels we have seen yet on our travels. While we were in Busan we visited yet another fish market and tried another new dish of lake eel. (There seems to be a common trend with food here) It is definitely harder trying to order food and get things done without our handy translator Mike, but most of the people we meet have been very patient with us and are quite understanding. We visited Geumgang park and took a cable car up a nearby mountain to get a great view of the city below, then we hiked for a couple hours to get to Seokbulsa temple, which has some huge stone Buddha carvings, and to top off the day we also visited Beomeusa Temple. The next morning we were up early and left for Gyoengju City, which compared to everywhere else we have visited in Korea is very small and quiet with a population of only about 300,000 people. It was a nice break from the constant noise, people, and endless stores we have encountered in Seoul, Incheon and Busan. We strolled though a really nice park which contains a number of tombs of kings from as far back as the 6th century. The following day we got in some more hiking as we wandered around Namsan Mountain trying to find different tombs, and Buddha statues; however mostly in vain, because mountain was quite big!. Then we were back on a bus to Incheon. The trip back was a bit frustrating as it was a holiday weekend so traffic was quite bad; and to top it off, even though we bought and had tickets to Incheon Terminal, we were dropped off at Souwan terminal, which required us to get on another bus for about an hour ride into Incheon.

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Overall, we have had a good time here in Korea. It was great getting to see an old friend, and we got to experience some purely Korean things. (Anastasia is off right now enjoying the Jimjilbang, a fantastic Korean spa no one should miss) A lot of Korea felt a bit overdeveloped to me with a bit too much shopping, but the people we met were very friendly and kind, and we definitely enjoyed the cuisine and little cultural difference, such as exceptional cleanliness and easiness of commutes. However, I am very excited as I write this because in about 15 hours we head off to Bangkok and then the beautiful beaches of Thailand!

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Posted by Drifters 23:43 Archived in South Korea Comments (3)

Welcome to Asia

Our Mongolian Safari!

sunny 15 °C
View 2012 RTW on Drifters's travel map.

After a relatively comfortable and relaxing 5 nights on the Trans Siberian Railroad we arrived early in the morning at the station in Ulaanbaatar. We had already booked beds at a local hostel, and they were nice enough to meet us at the train station (Along with a couple other travellers) and drive us back to the hostel. Ulaanbaatar was bigger and more developed than I had expected, and by all the cranes and construction going on constantly, it looks like the city is going to continue to change and grow very quickly. We spent 2 nights in Ulaanbaatar and used most of our time there just wandering around and exploring the city. We visited a Buddhist Temple and we also went to a natural history museum, which was pretty interesting as Mongolia is home to a huge amount of dinosaur fossils. A good part of our second day was spent trying to book a tour or make arrangements to get out into the countryside, as that is the real reason we wanted to see Mongolia.

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The hostel we had booked, although clean, turned out to be very busy. So much so that it was hard to even walk through the hallway, much less eat breakfast or take a shower. Mainly because of that we decided to look elsewhere to book our tour. We just happened to walk by another hostel, The Golden Gobi, and when we went in we were greeted warmly by the owner, who then took the next 30 minutes discussing with us what we wanted to do in the country and going through all of our options. We only had 9 days left in Mongolia before our flight out to Korea, which really isn't much time to see a lot of Mongolia. However, we decided to take a trip down south to the Gobi desert, it would involve a lot of driving, but we would get to see some interesting sights along the way; in addition to seeing the huge sand dunes of the desert. We made a couple friends who agreed to come along with us, and make the trip cheaper for everyone. We went out to buy some supplies for the trip (Read Vodka) and then turned in early so we would be refreshed and ready to depart the next morning.

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I am not really sure what my expectations were for Mongolia. I guess I thought it would be very remote and a little bit wild. Although it is those things, it turned out to be so much more. The trip was really an adventure, and a good lesson in the culture of the Mongolian people and their nomadic lifestyle. Besides all the amazing landscapes we drove through, from the vast steppes, to mountains, to desert, we also had many new and different experiences. We slept in Gers, camped in the absolute middle of nowhere, herded goats, drank fermented mare's milk and distilled goat's milk (Mongolian vodka, or "sneaky water" as some Russians call it), got to participate in a huge horse branding ceremony and party with about 40 Mongolians all crammed into one Ger (Singing and playing drinking games), and even got to trek through the Gobi Desert on camels. Everyday we tried new things and got to experience a different way of life, and it was made so much better because of the great people we traveled with, including our hilarious driver Ogi and our guide and cook Soko. I now have a lot of new entertaining stories, too many to relay here, and some new good friends.

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The time we had in Mongolia flew by and I am very glad we decided to visit there. I very much would like to return soon, and I really recommend it as a destination to any adventurous travelers out there. The people we met, both locals and travelers, were some of the most interesting people I have met anywhere. Shout out to our new friends: Belgian Bros (We hope you are home safely and enjoying Mcdonnie and Vietnamese Lumpias), Party Bo (Missing you in Korea! We hope you found new shoes to replace the burned ones:), Wild Child (Take care of yourself and hold on to your passport in Russia!) and, of course, the constant source of entertainment Andrea (Travel safe and don't miss your IPod cord - I got it...)

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Posted by Drifters 20:46 Archived in Mongolia Comments (4)

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