Korean Attractions Smack-Down – What to see – and what NOT to see!

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.



Busan to Sokcho – Traveling the ‘interesting’ way…

We spent the last 5 days in Busan, the 2nd largest city in South Korea, located at the very bottom of the Peninsula – closer to Japan than to Seoul. But we arranged to meet Jill’s kids in Sokcho – 50 km (30 miles) from the DMZ. So we need to get from the far south-east to the far north-east. Our travel options including flying via Seoul, Train to Seoul and then bus to Sokcho – or intercity bus the whole way. At $43 per person – the bus was the clear winner.

So we made our way from Kim’s House to Nopo subway station – helped by strangers who found it fascinating that 2 grand-mothers would be traveling alone in Korea. They had little English, we had no Korean – but we shared number of grand kids – he has 4, Jill has 4, I have 2. We even disc used food – Kimchi good, Bulgogi better!

After a bit of confusion over tickets – we had reserved seats and a separate boarding lane – and didn’t know it- we ensconced ourselves in our seats – and the bus pulled out – 1 minute late and the driver was pretty upset about it. At least we think that’s why he was yelling at the dispatcher.

Like our trip here – it seemed like it would be highway all the way – 6 lanes narrowing to 4 lanes after about 2 hours of driving. And then just north of Phang, things got interesting. The bus swerved left and right and left – and on to a 2 lane road that wound up and over hills eventually dropping down to the sea. Instead of highway – we were now winding our way past adorable fishing villages and sandy beaches. The road continued to narrow – eventual to just one lane wide.

The views along the ocean are stunningly beautiful – beige sand beaches and pounding surf, interspersed with high views of the rocky shoreline.

There are numerous campground with tents like I’ve never seen – including a roof top model that required a ladder to get in!

As expected, there are Rice paddies and tiny farm plots on any arable piece of land (including the edges of the roadside), but unexpected were the hobbit hole houses – dozens of them – some extremely fancy with brick exteriors and stone domed roofs, others more simplistic but still functional.

The stunningly beautiful scenery reminds one of the most beautiful parts of the Maine coast – weirdly carved rocks and rolling surf splashing over the rocks as the tide comes in.

We’ve been traveling now for almost 3 hours – no bathroom stop in sight. But we’re not lacking for Crabs! Fishing village after fishing village clearly features the Crab – based on the huge flower crab at the entrance to one village, the crab pincers that formed the uprights of the bus shelters of several others, and the giant (say 40′ high) crabs outside one of the restaurants. There are bulletin boards sporting 3D crabs – one restaurant where the doorway was a pair of huge crab legs and several road side ‘eating’ places with huge boiling pots of crabs. But we are just passing thru, No time to stop and sniff the crab legs.

Somewhat sadly, the Koreans are in the process of building a highway along the coast – we can see evidence of their effort in poured elevated supports in the area we’re driving through, and north of Yeogdeok, the road turns into the newer 4 lane limited access model. This is a shame. While it will make the drive much faster – it will reduce the exploration nature of the trip, and I suspect will hurt the tiny villages that live to serve travellers on the main road north from Busan.

Yeah – 2:33 – and we finally get a rest stop. It’s been 3 and a half hours… You have got to be kidding me. There is a porto-potty rest room with 6 stalls on the lady’s side – and while it is clean – there is no toilet paper. Thank goodness for spare napkins. I grab a delicious Korean ice-cream cone, and it’s back on the bus. The driver reminds everyone to buckle up, and gives us a special hands-on example to be sure we understand and we’re off.

We’re back to 4 lane express highway – which occasionally dips down the ocean Unfortunately, the only interesting things are several fisherman drying their nets on the pavement, and the occasional swerve down to the sea for a glimpse of ocean. The beach we just passed was deserted. At first Jill and I assume it’s because it’s a tad cool even though the sun is shining, but on 2nd look I’m guessing that the barbwire fence along the length of the entire beach explains the lack of sun bathers.

I’m reminded that this is the part of Korea that the Japanese freely invaded for over 2000 years – This last time in 1905. I guess the Korean’s have a right to be a bit hesitant to leave it undefended.

I’m hoping that the beaches nearer towns are open to the public at least.

A geography observation, the mountain range that makes up the spine of Korea on the east runs roughly North South, but there are many East West running out cropping. To build the road, Korea had to build long tunnels – 2000 meter are more – going through these mountains. Kinda neat actually. The coastal plain can run from about 3000 meters wide to zero – so you can imagine the challenges the Engineers must have faced.

In 2018 this part of Korea will be hosting the Winter Olympics – but right now the cherry blossoms lining the road and the greenery cut into a 2018 Olympic logo are the only reminders of that upcoming event. Wonder if they will get to eat some Crabs?

Finally we arrive in Sokcho – get off the bus and following the advice of the RCI resort – try to get a taxi. Problem – the resort didn’t send us anything written in Korean – and of course none of the Taxi drivers understand English. We try at least 7 different cabs with no luck. But thank goodness – again – for the kindness of strangers. An expat and his Korean girl friend spot us trying to get a cab, and come over to offer help. They immediately realize that our problem is that the cabbie can’t read the address – and explain to them where to go. Now they are willing to take us! We thank them, and head off.

The Kennsington RCI resort is stunningly beautiful – and our one bedroom room is a palace compare to the places we’ve been staying. And our view of the ocean is spectacular. But there’s a few problems – even in paradise. The food here is seriously expensive – 4 times what we’ve been paying in Seoul or Busan. There’s no laundry – so its back to hand washing. Instead of free internet everywhere – I have to go down to the lobby to get access – and instead of unlimited towels – we have just 4 hand towels to last the week. Plus the kitchen has no basic supplies – not only no coffee or tea, but no salt, no oil, no pepper, no hot sauce. We’ve been spoiled by the guesthouse and hostels – so sorry Kennsington – nice lobby – but you lose big time on the service!

But we are determined to solve these issues – so while dinner tonight was instant noodles – just add hot water – by tomorrow we hope to have found a decently priced restaurant – or 2 or 3.

Signing off and going to bed – The intrepid traveler and the Soup Lady.