Sokcho (속초) part II

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Seoraksan National Park

Having only 10 hours to spend in Sokcho on Sunday, I had to quickly make up my mind about what I wanted to see and do before I had to go back to Seoul. I purchased the return ticket for the bus first thing in the morning, because I was worried about the traffic situation going back into Seoul. I wanted to make sure that I would get a seat on a bus back to Seoul around 6 pm. Then I wandered out of the express bus terminal a bit unsure of whether I wanted to explore the city of Sokcho, the beach or a nearby temple. Luckily the lady inside the tiny tourist information spotted me and helped me out. I decided to take a city bus (no 7) out of Sokcho into Seoraksan National Park (설악산국립공원) and take a look at Sinheungsa (신흥사), a buddhist temple right at the beginning of Seoraksan National Park. The bus leaves across the street from the express bus terminal, costs 1200 KRW (less than 1 Euro) and the Park is the last stop. Depending on the traffic situation, the trip up into the mountains takes about 20 minutes. Don’t expect a quiet drive up a hidden valley. The closer you get the the entrance of the National Park, the more motels for hikers and restaurants you are going to see. The main parking space next to the entrance was that packed, that it took the bus 15 minutes to drive up the last 500 metres to the bus stop. It’s almost fun to see the busloads of tourists, decked out in colorful hiking gear, hurrying out of their busses into the Park. Having been to National Parks in the mountains in France and Europa, I was a bit worried about not being able to find much to eat for breakfast, but once again I was forgetting that this is Korea. There are about 4 coffeeshops, 3 restaurants, souvenir shops and various food stalls in the first 500 metres behind the entrance gates. In order to get access to the National Park and the temple, you have to pay 3000 KRW at the main gate. I got myself an iced latte and a sandwhich, then headed for Sinheungsa temple. On the way, you will see a bronze Buddha statue, which is way over 10 metres high and is supposed to express the wish of the Korean people for reunification of their divided country.

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“The Great Unification Buddha”

Sinheungsa temple is a lovely place, nestled behind a rocky creek. According to visitkorea.or.kr it was first constructed around the year 650 and has since been destroyed and rebuilt many times.

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After looking around the temple area, I figured that I wasn’t actually prepared to hike further into Seoraksan National Park. I wasn’t sure how easy the trails to the famous waterfalls or other places of interest would be, so I decided to at least take the cable car up the mountain. The cable car station is very close to the entrance of the Park and the round trip up and down costs 10.000 KRW (about 8 Euros). You get a ticket for a time slot, so if you visit during peak season, you might have to wait for a few hours to be able to actually go up. However, if you have time, definitely go up. The views are stunning.

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up we go

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view towards Sokcho

Once I left the cable car station, I followed a trail up the mountain. I am not the best hiker, so when the trail got steeper and a bit more difficult I started to worry. However, after about 10 minutes alternating rocky ground and artificial steps,the trees were opening up and I saw the top (Bonghwadae). I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

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fearless red lady

 

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What struck me the most (apart from the amazing beauty of place I had basically stumbled upon), was that there were no fences, ropes or any security measures in place. The rocks on the ground are quite flat and it’s relatively easy to make your way up towards the top, but as someone who is actually quite afraid of heights, I was getting quite anxious. Meanwhile, the Koreans next to me were fearlessly stepping on rocks and getting as close to the edge as possible to get the best pictures. Not to be outdone by toddlers and grannies, I managed to “climb” halfway up the rock and I have a selfie to prove it.

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actually terrified 

This was also the first time I had a bunch of “Hellos” thrown at me since arriving in Korea. It seems like the communal experience of braving a mountain makes people much more talkative. Or they just wanted to be nice to the sweating, anxious looking foreigner.

Anyway, the views were spectacular and Seoraksan National Park has so much more hidden away. I am planning to go back during fall foliage season and dedicated a whole day to exploring the trails and valleys further inside the park. Hiking doesn’t sound as bad when I can take an iced latte with me 😉

A bit more to come in Sokcho – part III

 

Long time no see and Sokcho trip – part I

Last weekend I decided to leave Seoul behind and find a nice, quiet spot somewhere in the countryside. The thing about Seoul is, that’s it’s never really quiet and the air quality hasn’t been all that great for the past two weeks.

I’m sorry that I haven’t posted on here more often, but I have hardly done anything other than work. Sitting in front of a computer screen for eight hours a day every day does take away the motivation to write more stuff, but I’ll try my best from now on. Living and working in Seoul has honestly for the past few weeks. I haven’t quite been getting over the constant level of noise and a little bit of a culture shock just yet. It doesn’t help that there is major construction work going on in front of my apartment and I kid you not, they only work at night. I don’t know why, but combine that with the muggy weather all throughout september, I haven’t been in the best of moods. However, I decided to just get over it and get out of Seoul, and boy, was it worth it.

When I did my research about where to go for a quick weekend get away, the overall consensus seemed to be that the beaches on the West coast of Korea (think the side that Seoul is next to) are dirty and not very special. I can’t tell, because I haven’t been to the coast on that side of the country yet, but ultimately I decided to go to Sokcho, a fishing town on the East coast with the reputation of having a pretty beaches. Sokcho is located on the East Sea (or Sea of Japan, but try to find a Korean who will call it that) and very close to the border with North Korea. Sokcho’s reputation as a holiday destination comes from it’s proximity to the Seoraksan National parc (설악산국립공원), a place I hadn’t really planned on exploring much.

I decided to take an express bus out of Seoul from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (동서울종합버스터미날) (get off at Gangbyeon Station 강변역 and head across the street), for the price of 17200 KRW, which is about 14 Euros (one way). The journey takes approximately 2 1/2 hours, including a short toilet break, but it really depends on the traffic situation. The streets in and around Seoul are usually very congested, especially on weekends and during holiday season. I have read horror stories about the same bus journey taking over 6 hours and I believe it. I was lucky however, even more so, because I got a great seat on what seems to be a luxury type of bus. It had more leg space than any bus I have ever been on, red leather seats that you can properly recline in and “single” seats for those of us who travel solo. Due to certain personal circumstances (a massive hangover from the night before), I wasn’t able to leave Seoul before 6 pm, so I very much appreciated the comfort for a small price.

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Arriving in Sokcho, I was quite surprised by the size of it, having expected a quaint fishing village. It’s a smallish seaside town indeed, filled with motels, casinos and restaurants. My motel (Songrim Motel) was located about 2 minutes from the small express bus terminal and 5 minutes from the beach. The room was small and functional and perfect for a short stay. I also found an opened condom box in the bedside drawer, so there is that (all the glamour). I headed to the beach for a quick glimpse of the ocean that night, but didn’t stay for long because it was getting a bit chilly. What I really enjoyed was that many korean families and couples were lighting up small fireworks and glow stick type things, creating a summery atmosphere. And yes, Sokcho is the only place in Korea where Pokemon Go works, so it was nice to catch a bunch of water pokemon by the beach.

Stay tuned for part II of my Sokcho trip.

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find the megacity in the fog – leaving Seoul behind

Sunday in Seoul

Hi there!

Just in case anybody at home has been wondering what I’ve been up to for the past week since arriving in Korea, here is a quick update. And because some of you have sent me messages about the recent NK nuclear test, don’t worry, I wouldn’t even have known about it if you hadn’t told me. The chance of being run over by a truck/car/scooter/angry old lady is real, North Korean threats have nothing on that.

Bukchon Hanok Village

For my first sunday in Korea, I decided to do the touristy stuff and visit Bukchon  Hanok village (북촌한옥마을), one of the remaining traditional quarters in Seoul. Apparently, the area is protected by law in order to preserve the old structures and buildings. Most of them have been converted into small tea houses, Hanbok (traditional Korean dress) rental shops and guesthouses. What surprised me was that quite many of them seem to be inhabitated by regular families who probably make a fortune of the masses of tourists filling the small streets.

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cobbled streets with great views
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view towards Namsan tower
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follow the curving alleys up the hill for tourist-free shots
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for an easy way to access Bukchon, get off at Anguk station and get a map of the neighbourhood at the information center
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every door has a fancy crest
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pre-wedding (?) shoot with a professional photographer – not an unusual sight 

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Since I am not too fond of climbing up steep hills in 30+ degrees weather, I decided to leave Bukchon behind and walk directly to another famous sightseeing spot in central Seoul: Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁). It was built in 1395 and it is the largest of the 5 Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty (shout out to wikipedia). The admission fee is a very reasonable 3000 won (about 2,50€) and it is, indeed, beautiful.

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The first thing you see when entering the huge palace area, are those beautiful temple structures, rich in detail and colors. After you pass a few temple gates, you get access to a wide spread garden, full of small bulidings and hidden corners to get lost in.

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still in the center of Seoul

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I can’t wait to go back in October, when the leaves turn all kinds of incredible colors. Of course, being tourist central, dressing up in a Hanbok is almost mandatory. It does make for great photo opportunities if you don’t mind being a creep.

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I stayed for about two hours, including a brief visit to the adjacent Korean folk museum. After that, I decided surviving on iced coffees sounds like a good idea only in theory and ventured on in search of food. Without a map and Wifi access I ended up at Seoul City Hall and the closeby Lotte department store. Luckily, Korean department stores tend to have a big food court with a variety of different local and foreign meal options. They are usually reasonably priced and have menues with pictures of the offered food – great for people who either can’t read korean or don’t know the dishes by name.

I’ll defnitely return to Bukchon and Gyeongbokgung once the weather clears up a bit. The recent cloudy skies (who am I kidding, it’s not clouds, it’s pollution) have made everything look grey and gloomy.

 

First day in Korea

Hi there!

I have decided to create this blog in order to document my 4 months of living and traveling in East Asia. I will (probably infrequently) post pictures, beauty hauls and food recommendations. This blog will also be used to jot down random thoughts about places I visit and things I experience. It will hopefully serve as a memory trigger in years to come, entertain my friends and family and maybe provide a bit of helpful information for anybody who decides to visit Korea in the near future.

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lufthansa // nice view, terrible food

Flying from Frankfurt to Seoul takes about 10 hours. It doesn’t sound like much, but flying Economy, every minute felt like an eternity. The plane food was disgusting, but who cares, Korea was waiting. Immigration was one of the fastest I ever experienced, they took a photo of my tired face and fingerprints and merely glanced at my customs form. Luckily I was picked up and guided to my Airbnb by my great friend Y, because it would have taken me ages to simply navigate through Incheon airport in my exhausted state.

My apartment is located in 신당 (shin dang), which seems to be less urbanized than the other parts of Seoul I have seen so far. Exiting the subway station, we came across an open fruit market, a bunch of tiny furniture shops and small eateries. In time I will explore this area further, but first a bit more about the apartment. It is located in one of the modern buildings that are being constructed on Toegye-ro (street) and Nangye-ro. The apartment itself is very practical and modern and it has everything you’d need for a 3 months stay. Even towels and hair shampoo are provided.

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new buildings for an affluent middle class

It is located a few minutes from subway line 2 and 6, which take me directly to areas of interest like Seoul City Hall, Dongdaemun Design Plaza or Hongdae. Navigating the huge subway system is a piece of cake if you get a T-money card. It’s a great system that I wish more countries would adopt: you basically charge the card (or in my case a Hello Kitty key chain – thank you Y!) with a certain amount of money and to enter the subway you hold it against a card reader. A basic fare is about 1250 korean won (1 Euro) and you can transfer for free up to 4 times in 30 minutes. You can also use in on buses and many taxis.

Food frenzy

Despite being just a bit tired, Y and I decided to venture out in search of food. After debating for some time, we decided on a department store next to Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a hub for culture and arts designed by the late Zaha Hadid (pictures will follow next time I go there with my camera). I got a bulgogi (seasoned beef), mushroom and cheese panini and Y got an interesting combination of a baked potato topped with vegetables, cheese, mayo and salad dressing. I believe it was called “Kumpir”.

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it’s all about the cheese

On the bus journey home, a lovely, but slightly pushy old lady noticed that the straps of my grocery bag were digging into my arm and all but demanded that I put the bag in her lap. She also rubbed my arm which weirded me out slightly – but maybe that’s just me being a typical Austrian.

Beauty Bonus:

This is how you get men to buy skincare:

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moisture essence toner for manly men