Ranked from our least favorite to our trip highlight – these are the attractions in Korea that we loved and thought – Boring! Check it out.
10. North of Sokcho – Fisheries Museum – Charge (Getting there – take the #1 or #1-1 Bus from Sokcho – and just keep going and going and going. It’s about an hour ride, plus a 10 minute walk). We wanted an outing – and that’s what we got. Best part were the two 3D movies, otherwise the fish looked sad, and the tanks were too small. But the building is really neat looking, which kinda sucked us in. Go for the Maritime Museum in Busan if price is important, or the Busan Aquarium if you want to see fish. Forget this one.
9. Seoul – Namsangol Hanok Maeul (traditional Village) – Free. Best part – it’s open on Monday when almost everything in Seoul besides shopping is closed – and there’s a ‘costume’ rental on site. Koreans love to rent costumes and walk the village dressed in traditional clothes – and it’s a lot of fun to watch them. Plus – when we stayed in a traditional house in Gyeongiu – these traditional houses made more sense. There are English signs – and some of the rooms are ‘furnished’ – but most are either used for other purposes – like a ‘pay for’ tea ceremony or costume rental. Nice place to visit when everything else is closed – but that’s about it.
8. Seoul – Jongmyo (Royal Shrine) – Charge. We lucked into seeing this during the yearly Confusion ancestor Ceremony. If it hadn’t been for the costumed ceremony going on while we were there – I would rate this even lower. But meeting the ‘re-enactors’ after the performance of the rite was a hoot and a half as you can tell from the pictures.
7. Sokcho – Seoraksan National Park – Charge. (Getting there – Bus 7 from Sokcho goes to the main gate – and costs just 1100 Won ($1.10)). There are apparently 4 entrances to the Park – the bus from Sokcho takes you to just one of them. To get to the others – you’ll need to take a taxi. We decided that the main entrance was fine for us. We rode the Cable Car (Separate Charge) up to the top of Gwongeumseong. The guide book warned of long waits – but it was empty when we were there – no wait at all. At the top there is a lovely little temple down about 200 stair steps, and up from the Cable Car Station is a 20 minute hike to the peak of the Mountain. Marcel (5) and his Dad did that hike, I visited the temple. We then came back down and did 3/4 of the walk to Biryong Falls. Unfortunately, the path which was rated as easy walking, isn’t easy for a stroller – and that meant carrying baby Sophie. No fun. So we turned around and went back. The park is lovely – by Korean standards outstanding, but not up to standards of a Jackson Hole, Telluride, or even Stowe. Never-the-less – it’s a fun outing with kids. I particularly liked the tiny temple I visited, and there’s a huge Buddha near the main gate that hides a wonderful temple underneath. That was also worth a visit. I think the Park would be a lot more fun without a baby in a baby stroller. Maybe in a few years we will get to return.
6. Busam – UN Memorial cemetery, Peace Park, Sculpture Garden – Free. I actually really liked this – the movie is a tear jerker – but it does goes a way towards explaining one version of the history of the Korean War. And since my Dad was a Korean War Vet – that definitely added a sense of drama to the location. The statues are in very good taste, the ‘Peace’ Garden lovely, and I liked the sculptures from artists around the world. We didn’t get to walk in the adjacent ‘park’ – but it had bridges and ponds – and seemed quite the in thing with a much younger (kids) crowd.
5. Seoul – 5 Palaces and the Biwon – the Secret Garden. We visited all 5 palaces, and I can tell you – don’t. Visit just 2 – Start with Deoksu which is right across from City Hall, and do the tour. That will give you a very good grasp of the history of the Joseon Dynasty – and a peek into what was going on right before and during the Japanese occupation starting in 1905. See the changing of the guard. Then walk North to Gyeongbokgung Palace, check out the guards – but don’t bother to tour. It’s huge, crowded, and just a much larger version of Deoksu – then walk East to Changdeok Palace – and my personal highlight – the tour of Biwon – the Secret Garden. It’s stunningly beautiful. You don’t want to miss it. You must take a guided tour – but it is well worth both the money and the time.
4. Busan – Haedong Yonggung Temple – Free (Getting there – Subway to Haeundae Station, then take bus 181. Attached to the temple is the Fisheries Museum – a must see in my book). This was the absolutely most commercial temple we saw. Lining the stone pathway to the temple proper were various Buddha’s with signs – in English and Korean – explaining their benefits. There was a Buddha for traffic problems (including a flat tire), a Buddha for male children, plus many other’s – each with its own collection box. But that didn’t really detract from the absolutely outstanding location of this temple. It is perched on cliffs hanging over the sea – with sub-temples tucked here and there. I particularly liked the gold painted Buddha that sits out on a promontory – all alone. The most fun we had here was people related – of course. Jill got approached by a young student, who explained that her teacher had sent them on a mission to get a picture with a foreigner. Would that be ok with Jill? Once Jill proved that she didn’t bite – the word spread like wildfire – every single one of her classmates come over to get their picture taken too. Bet that teacher is going to be surprised to get 30 pictures of the same pair of little old ladies! Touring hint – To the left along the sea from the temple is the back entry to the Fisheries Museum which we loved.
3. Busan – Beomeosa Temple – Free (Getting there – Subway to Beomeosa Station, taxi costs under $5 to take you up the hill to the temple. Getting back, it might be easier to take a bus – we were very lucky to flag a taxi.) Looks exactly like a temple should look – and feels like a temple should feel. Because we were there just before Buddha’s birthday – there were huge – and I mean giagantic lanterns shaped like animals, dragons, lions, monks, etc. on the grounds – all waiting to be paraded thru the town. The main temple is in 3 halls – each more beautiful than the last. The wooden carvings on the ceilings must be seen to be believed, twisting dragons, flying birds – you name it. I absolutely loved this temple – and I know now that they have a temple stay program. If I ever return to Korea – I definitely would like to stay here.
2. Seoul – Cheonggyecheon Stream (Getting there – you can’t miss it – the stream (river?) runs through the center of Seoul) This is a beautiful bit of city planning – a lot like the new High Line park in New York City – it’s a stunning example of taking a problem, and making it into a positive urban renewal project. The Stream/Park/Walking trail runs most of the length of Seoul, and there are skipping rocks to cross the stream, wide paths for walking, benches for sitting – and at night they float lighted lanterns – some really really big – down the stream. Lovely. (The Insight Guide gives you some of the history of this new – 2005 – renovation – a remarkable story to read in itself.)
1.Busam – Aquarium – Expensive (Getting there – walk from the Haeundae subway stop). An amazing aquarium – and I’ve seen lots. They have shark feedings several times a day – a tank of weedy dragon fish – which I’d never ever ever seen before, the jelly fish section is outstanding on it own, they have a giant walk thru tank that besides the sharks – contains the largest manta rays I’ve ever seen – even scuba diving in the Caymens. They have turtles, they have eels galore, and everything, including all the descriptions, is in English and Korean. Afterwards there’s a free hot springs foot bath to the right along the Haeundae Board Walk. And if you are lucky – Korean bathing beauties to admire. So much fun.