Friday, 29 May 2015

Buddha’s Birthday in Busan: Day 1

So last weekend brought the return of Buddha’s Birthday, which this year fell on Monday 25th May. In Korea this can only mean one thing - a national holiday for all! SCORE! Well actually not for all...I’m pretty sure the same rules apply here as they do back home when it comes to the retail and food industry, but for teachers like myself it meant a lovely little day off. I decided to make the most of this long weekend by taking a trip down to Busan, the second largest city in Korea. It is approximately 6 hours away from Seoul by Bus, or about 3 hours by bullet train, so we did what most expats would do, and took the Bus!

We left Seoul at around 11pm on the Friday night and were hoping to arrive in Busan for about 5am the next morning. The trip was organised by a company called Wink Travel who I would definitely recommend. During the trip, they provided us with a wealth of knowledge and information and genuinely made sure that we were all having a great time. We spent the days with them, and in the evenings they offered to take us all out to explore the local night life, which I of course didn’t turn down. It’s great if you’re interested in seeing that side of Busan too. The group runs regular weekend and day trips all over the country, so if you’re looking for a good reputable tour company then check out their Facebook page by clicking HERE

Diamond Bridge and Gwaangalli Beach at 5am

As planned we arrived in Busan at 5am on the Saturday morning, to the magnificent site of the Diamond Bridge. Our Motel was about 30 seconds away from Gwangalli beach, meaning that everything was super close and convenient. I didn’t really sleep much on the bus but at this time in the morning, I was no longer tired so I decided to seize the day and go for a casual stroll along the boardwalk. It was slightly overcast but this certainly didn’t dampen our spirits. We found a nice little cafe, and just watched the world go by with an iced latte and toasted sandwich in hand. Bliss.

The morning flew by and after a quick bite to eat at a cool little joint called Sharkeys on the seafront, we met the others at around 1pm and headed off on our mini adventure to our first destination; The United Nations Memorial Cemetery (UNMCK). This is the burial site for over 2,300 UN souls that perished during the Korean war, and is the only one of its kind in the world. It was beautifully laid out with the different monuments, water fountains and flags that represent the UN countries, and the serenity of the whole place made it totally perfect for taking a moment of reflection, and also for paying your respects. 


FLAGS! 'UN' flag at the end in light blue

Flag raising ceremony
After a couple of hours here we then headed off to our next location: Busan Citizens Park. A former Imperial Japanesse Army base and United States Army camp. This is the perfect spot to chill out in the sun. It was nice to have this down time during the first day as I was pretty exhausted from the overnight bus trip. The park itself has several interesting spots such as some really gorgeous gardens, a historical art gallery and also a pretty awesome maze. It also has a lot of diverse sculptures dotted around the grounds, all of which have their own story, so its worth checking out if you’re ever in the area.

 Busan Citizens Park

Standard sign post in the park 

Our final stop of the day was the glorious Samkwang Temple. This is one of the largest temples in Busan, and is covered (at this time of the year) by what seemed like millions of illuminated lanterns. The two fire breathing dragons at the main gates to the temple did not disappoint, and the 12 different animal signs of the zodiac were all present and in full attire. It was extremely impressive both inside and out so if you’re thinking of making a trip be sure to explore all of the buildings in-depth. As night fell, the entire vibe of the place seemed to alter and a different experience altogether emerged. The lanterns lit up the sky with every single colour imaginable, and there were even some traditional performances accompanied by live music, which made the whole event feel like a breath of fresh air.
 Samkwang Temple


One of the 12 animals in the Zodiac!

In the evening we went to a delicious Korean Barbecue place and then headed over to the university district to check out the local bars. After meeting many new people, and generally having a lovely ole time just saying YES to life, I couldn’t wait for the next day’s events to unfold. A fantastic end to a jam-packed first day in Busan, South Korea.

 Samkwang Temple and surrounding area

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

One of the many reasons I moved to South Korea was Google image! Wait...what did she just say? Google image was responsible for her entire change in location?! Yep, she went there! But seriously, when I was making the difficult decision to move to the other side of the world, I spent a ridiculous amount of time listening to KT Tunstall's appropriately named hit single ‘Other Side of the World’ and found many things to be true. Oh, and of course I spent a lot of time researching where exactly I would like to end up too. In this day and age, the internet played a huge part in my decision making, and I'm pretty sure I used Google image to look up just about every country in Asia.

I knew that I wanted to move to this part of the world as I hadn’t really explored it all that much before, and when I say ‘all that much’ - I mean NEVER! So I used Google to see what the different countries and cultures looked like, and if there was anything that would make me want to upsticks and move there immediately. I would spend hours and hours Google imaging just about everything. Cities, streets, beaches, food, people...some might say i'm a visual learner, who knows. It was only when I had been googling for a about a week or two that I stumbled across the wonderful country of, South Korea. And this was the first picture I saw that made me seriously consider moving here, an option...

Stunning right!

This is a picture of the beautiful Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, and it can be found within the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. As this is approximately 40 minutes away from where I live now, I was super excited to finally get the chance to go and visit it. The Palace was originally the main home for the Royals in the Joseon dynasty. It was built in 1395 and is the largest of all five palaces built at this time in the area. It served as a place of residence for the many Kings and also the government, but unfortunately over the years it has been severely compromised by various fires and at one point, by Imperial Japan.

Since then however, it has gradually been restored to its former glory and is now one of the most visited places in Seoul. So as you can imagine I couldn't wait to see not only the palace itself, but also the place that I had been dreaming of ever since I decided to move here; Hyangwonjeong Pavilion. So off we went on the subway to Gyeongbokgung Station, which is on Line 3. As soon as you alight from the station you’re literally right in the middle of it all, so there is no need to worry about finding it - its simply just too big to miss! The tickets were 3,000 won each which is about...wait for it...£1.50! Wow! Tourism in Korea is extremely cheap, compared to London anyway.


 Living quarters 

Gyeonghoeru (Royal Banquet Hall)

It took about 2 hours to walk around all of the buildings but to be honest we may have missed some out, as there isn’t really a particular route to follow. You could most certainly spend a lot longer here and even enjoy a whole day just wandering around and taking it all in. There is also The National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum within the grounds too, both of which I believe are free. The place is absolutely stunning and its somewhere where I will definitely be re-visiting again soon. The pavilion did not disappoint, and it was truly lovely to see it in person after so many months of google image...photo's are great, but they definitely don't compare to the real thing. 

 Outside wall...main entrance!

Another attraction that is worth a visit whilst in the area, are the two massive statues on the main road leading up to the palace itself. One of them is of Admiral Yi Sun-sin who was a Korean Navel Commander noted for his many battles including the ones against the invading Japanese. He is still seen as a hero by many Koreans today. The other is that of the great King Sejong, who was instrumental in the creation of 'Hangul' - the Korean alphabet.

Admiral Yi Sun-sin

Celestial globe

King Sejong

Both of these statues are pretty impressive and definitely worth checking out. So, if you’re ever in Seoul (why wouldn't you be) then pop along to see some of these amazing sites. I’m telling you now, you wont regret it. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Bukhansan National Park

So last Tuesday (May 5th) it was Childrens Day here in Korea, which means we all had a lovely little day off (well most of us anyways). It reminded me of how, as kids, we use to constantly ask our parents why there is a Mothers day and a Fathers day, but not a Childrens Day...or was that just me?! Well, in Korea there is one, and its a national holiday! Win! Koreans call all the national holidays here ‘red days', and on the calender the day is quite literally coloured in red. It's pretty easy to remember and great when you're a foreigner, as after 29 years I know my colours quite well, but not, my Korean. This bank holiday is used to celebrate the well-being of children, and often parents will use this day to take their little ones on excursions to zoo’s, museums or even a weekend trip to the beach. They also give them lots of gifts (how lovely).

I wanted to make the most of this day, so myself and a few friends decided to go hiking. It was a lovely sunny day, not too hot and not too cold so perfect conditions for this kind of activity. Spring is a great time of year for hiking, as in the summer it will just be way too hot to do anything at all really. So, up we got at the crack of dawn to embrace the day ahead with water bottles and suncream in hand. We decided to check out Bukhansan Mountain, which is about an hour away from where we live. The nearest station to Bukhansan National Park is Bulgwang Station on line 3, and it was quite easy to know where to go from there, as we basically just followed the other hikers. 

 Random sign!

The Map!

We got to the bottom of the mountain, and after a quick look at the map, off we went on the long uphill path ahead. The hike itself takes around 2 hours (there and back) and is for all different fitness levels. The trail we went on was quite challenging but definitely doable for beginner hikers too. The mountain is covered in trees and rocks so for most of the way you can use the trees for shade, and the rocks for support, which is extremely beneficial, especially to anyone who is scared of heights. It is important, like on any hike, to take your time, and we certainly did. Each rock and path way brought a new challenge which was both exciting and exhilarating. Once at the half way mark we stopped for a breather and took in the fantastic landscape that lay in front of us. 

Half way point!

Our trail

2KM ahead!

After a couple more obstacles and one or two moments of panic, we finally reached the top of Jokdunibong peak at 370 metres. Wow, it really was absolutely stunning. I was quite apprehensive about the whole experience to be honest, but as soon as I saw the incredible view of Seoul, the city that I now call home, it all suddenly became totally worth it. My fear of heights slowly drifted away, and I genuinely felt some sort of euphoria bubbling up inside of me. It was quite rocky at the top, and there were pretty much sheer drops everywhere you looked, but if you took everything slowly and concentrated on where exactly you were standing, it was safe enough. I would 100% recommend Bukhansan Mountain, its a great hike for both the experienced and novice hiker, and depending on what trail you take, will depend on how difficult it is. 

View from Bukhansan!

On the way down we found a different route which was much easier but not as exciting so I was glad it was that way round. Make sure to take lots of water, sun cream, sun glasses, some dried fruit or light snacks, plasters, a towel, some deodorant and a spare top on any hike you go on, as its better to be prepared than sorry. Oh and just remember these 3 words and you should be fine...take your time, take your time...

...take your time!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Everland Resort and Theme Park!

Think of a mixture between Chessington World of Adventures, Thorpe Park and Alton Towers and then you’ll understand ‘Everland’ in Seoul, South Korea. It is a magical place where dreams have literally come true not once, but several times I'm sure. So as you can imagine I was more than excited to be going. What adventures awaited me, only time would tell, and so I waited, and I waited, and I waited some more. Wow, Everland really isn’t anywhere near Seoul - it is genuinely in a far far away land called, well... Everland.

From Beomgye station on Line 4, it took us more than two hours to get to the Resort. So be prepared, and if you’re on your own bring headphones, Katy Perry’s ‘Prism’ Album (its a winner) and maybe even a small picnic, oh...and leave early. After this epic journey which included 3 changes, 4 trains and a free shuttle Bus from the station to the park, we finally arrived at our destination. People charged towards the entrance in hope of the small possibility that running would improve their chances of getting in quicker. Luckily for us
foreigners, we have our very own booth, and so the queue was only about 10 minutes long! Win! When we reached the desk we also found that foreigners get a discount too...just for...well just for being foreigners. So it ended up costing us 34,000won (approx £17) as oppose to 48,000won. 

Just great news!

Once our tickets were purchased and our high fives received, we were then ready to start our mini adventure at South Korea’s largest theme park. The park has all of the standard things that theme parks usually have and MORE! There are rides galore, a Zoo, and even a water park known as Caribbean Bay. We started off by hitting up some of the bigger roller coasters which were pretty awesome. One of which (apparently one of the world’s largest wooden roller coasters) was ‘The T-Express’. Unfortunately, as the queue was approximately 2 hours long (and that was just to reserve your tickets for later) we decided to pass on this one, and not spend our entire day queuing. Terrible news. 

One of the words biggest wooden roller coaster in the background there!

 Rose gardens!

American zone!

After a couple more rides and a little stroll through the beautiful rose gardens in the European zone - which was complimented with some lovely music from The Carpenters (joys), we headed off in search of the famous Liger. A species made from both Lion and Tiger, and apparently unable to procreate. Seeing that this queue was 2 hours long aswell, we decided to wander around the Zoo for a while, and boy am I glad we did. There we were, checking out some Monkeys, when all of a sudden one of the Zoo keepers started whistling and calling out what seemed like someone’s name. We looked up in to the sky and saw something truly awesome. An Orangutan had climbed out of his enclosure and had started making his way across some small wires and down towards where we were standing. It was unreal, and slightly unnerving as at any point I’m pretty sure the Orangutan could have jumped down on to the crowd below. We also saw an epic Sea Lion show and some other animals too, such as Polar Bears, Kangaroos and Snakes.
 They were definitely friendly!
 Sea Lion show!

 Orangutan tight roping!


Finally, we made our way to the Safari adventure. The queue hadn’t really gone down but not wanting to miss out on the chance of seeing the famous Liger, we waited. Once at the front of the line we hopped on our very own Safari, and took off down the path where we were greeted by Tigers, Lions and even some Grizzly Bear's before finally seeing a real life Liger. There are only around 30 of these Ligers in the world, so it was pretty amazing to see one of these creatures in the flesh. The Liger is a hybrid cross between a male Lion and a female Tiger and can only be found in captivity, due to the fact that they do not mate in the wild. Interesting fact for you all there. 

The Liger!

The end of the day soon arrived and so we prepared ourselves for the long journey home, over a quick bite to eat. In the end, this journey was totally worth it and I had a lovely ole day out. If you're worried about the language barrier, don't be. Everything at Everland is in English aswell as Korean, which makes it all a hell of a lot easier. I would definitely recommend this theme park as one of the places you should visit whilst living in, or visiting South Korea, so go and check it out. Oh, and remember to bring your ARC card or Passport for the foreigner discount...as you certainly don't want to miss out on that one! 

Bye for now Everland!

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