Friday, June 15, 2012

Seoul Done right

Seoul is the capital of Korea and holds all the lights and excitement that you expect from a major city. It is everything I imagined it to be. But it can also be incredibly overwhelming and draining and before this last weekend, I was yet to spend a really great weekend there.

Some of my favourite districts in Seoul are Myeongdong (for the shopping), Itaewon (for the food and foreign markets) and Insadong (for the real tourist in me). I've only seen a fraction of what Seoul has to offer, but I often find myself coming back from Seoul feeling exhausted and unsatisfied. This weekend however, was awesome.

We set off late Saturday afternoon on the 2 hour bus ride it takes to get there. We stayed in my favourite hostel so far, Big Choi's in Hongdae (another favourite for night life) and after dropping our bags off, we were on the underground headed for Itaewon. Here we grabbed a *really* quick bite to eat and then head to the theatre to watch 'Wicked'. I thoroughly enjoyed the show. The set was perfectly done; the costumes were spot on and the cast was flawless. It was part of a famous story I had never heard and so enjoyed the twists and turns along the way. After the show ended we made our way to a Saffa bar in Itaewon called Scrooges. Here I was greeted with bokke jerseys and afrikaans accents - I could not have been more in my element. They had the SA - England rugby match on, and I got to watch our boys run on and sing the national anthem at the top of my voice with friends and random South Africans. It was awesome. I then continued to enjoy the game (which we won) with an ice cold Hunters Dry and some Spring Bokkies. For those who don't know, you can't really get ciders in Korean bars so the Hunters were a real treat!

After finding some food on the street we ended up on 'hooker hill' at a little bar called Friends. We were practically the only ones there and proceeded to make friends with the lovely bar-lady, Grace, who fed us an unending supply of cheese puffs and made sure we were well looked after. She was a real gem. They played some old music for us (our request list seemed to go unnoticed) and we jammed all night, dancing like fools and laughing till it hurt. We eventually crashed into bed around 5.30. It was truly an awesome night and proof that when you least expect it, magic happens.

The next day saw hangovers and sleep deprivation and so after a yummy real burger at Retro Mamma's in Hongdae, I set off home. I needed my bed, and sleep.

Although Monday brought the typical Seoul hangover, I can't help looking back and smiling. Although intimidating and busy and crazy, Seoul is an awesome place where Koreans and foreigners come together and where you can often find just a little taste of home. It also proved another thing; often it's all about the people you're with, rather than the places you're at.

Thanks guys for a truly memorable, wicked adventure in Seoul :)

The Wicked crew

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Happy Birthday, Buddha

Wow. This post is WAY overdue and I really do apologise. Things have been a bit crazy lately but it's time I post a little more :)

So the weekend of the 26th of May saw the roads full and everyone in Korea heading to the beach, or anywhere really. It was the much anticipated long weekend (we were given Monday off) and I had my bags packed and ready for Namhae: my escape to the island!

We set off with a tour group in Korea called "Adventure Korea" and spirits were high that early Saturaday morning as we anticipated a weekend filled with 'fun in the sun'. The journey there was MUCH longer than we expected. The bus was delayed due to traffic in Seoul and it was only around 16:00 that we arrived at our first village.

The view from our house - village 1.

Here we were to spend the rest of the day participating in farm experience and enjoying the beach. The farm experience turned out to be half an hour of trying to slip into disgustingly hot plastic boots, so we could walk behind an ox in a muddy paddy. We nominated Meabh to be the chosen ox driver and lived vicariously through her ;) A rather drunk ajoshi throwing mud at people meant we decided to skip the rice planting, suck down some yummy noodles made by the villagers and head for the beach!

The sexy orange boots

Meabh taking one for the team
The beach was nothing like I've ever seen before. Was a pebble beach with icy waters, nestled between boulders. Was quite the hike to get down but was really good to relax and mess about a bit in the water. Okay on the edge of the water. Will and Adam were the only ones willing to swim out. Before we knew it, it was time to hike back and enjoy the dinner our house mother made for us, and then head to the 'bonfire' and karaoke they had prepared for us. Although there were activities arranged for us, we were all pretty tired and day 1 came to a pretty early end.

I like to call this one: Pebbles and the Poser

One of the really special things about this village was the home stay. A Korean family had opened up their home to us, and cooked both dinner and breakfast for us. We had some pictures with our house mom the next day and she was the perfect example of how warm and welcoming Koreans can be. We loaded back onto the bus ready for day 2. Before we left, the mayor of the village came and gave us each hand wrapped gifts of soap - one of the products they are known for. That was a really special experience and something we really weren't expecting!

House mom!
The second day saw us at Boriam Temple, on Mt Geumsan, which was beautifully decorated with lanterns in celebration of Buddha's birthday. We hiked down the mountain, enjoying some well deserved ice-creams at the bottom before heading to village number 2 for lunch! Our accommodation was right on the water's edge with an awesome view - it made up for the less than ideal bathroom situation. After lunch we were bundled into kayaks and set off to explore the ocean (or so we like to think). Nicola and I were soon left behind with no real knowledge of how to kayak. This lead to some screaming, frustrated-wave punching, and lots of laughs. Once we were able to gain some kind of control of our kayak (yeah keep telling yourself you ever had any real control of the thing) we met up with the rest of the group and made our way back to shore. Was a very interesting experience :) The rest of the day was spent shore side, soaking up some sun before going for a DELICIOUS meal of galbi (kind of like a braai - Korean style) and having a few drinks at the beach bonfire. Apparently the sea and sand takes it out of you as we were all asleep fairly early again that night.

Some pics of the day...

Boriam Temple
View from the top
View from our room

The next day was sadly the last, and we were up and eating muffins and yogurt (the first of which I've had in Korea) before being taken for some sea fishing! Our whole group (9 of us) were able to fit on one boat and spent roughly 1.5 hours out on the sea, trying to catch fish. Was a really cool experience and one that I didn't expect to enjoy so much. I caught 8 fish and just thoroughly enjoyed being on the water. We had to head back however to get packed in time for a lunch of fish and sashimi (made from the fish we had caught) before loading onto the bus for the (much shorter) trip home. We had a bit of a wait in Daejeon, so found an Italian restaurant called Eat Me which was really delicious and a great way to end the weekend! 

All in all it was an awesome weekend away filled with things I would never usually do. For those in Korea thinking of doing a group tour like Adventure Korea - be prepared for a very school tour type schedule and delays which can be frustrating but also very friendly staff who really do want you to make the most of your time away. I don't know if I'll do a tour again but it was good for the experience.

Open yourself up to Korea and you will find yourself surprised and amazed at all it has to offer.

So thanks for the birthday, Buddha. It was great!