Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Happy Lunar New Year, everyone!

We had both Friday and Monday off of work, so we headed down to the southern coast in search of better weather and maybe a little adventure. At least we got one - it was a lot of fun and we saw a lot, despite the chilly weather (I don't know why we were expecting it to be so much warmer, but we were way off on that count).

We left Chuncheon early Friday morning and arrived in Busan about five hours later. First we went to Beomosa temple, which was only one stop away on the subway.

Between the snow and the holiday/weekday, it was very quiet at the temple, and there were a lot of interesting sculptures and art pieces to see.

After that we were off to the Hurshimchung Spa, which is one of the largest (there is debate about this) spa complexes in Asia. I had a wonderful massage and spent some time in all of the pools. If you don't know about Korean spas, they are definitely a unique experience. They are separated by gender and there are no clothes or swimsuits allowed in bathing areas. You're issued a "uniform" to wear in the common areas, and they have just about everything you can imagine - spas, saunas, massages, sleeping areas, food.

In Korea, you really only make reservations at the higher end hotels. However, the majority of places to stay are smaller and cheaper, and they are known as "Love Motels", most commonly used by young couples who live with their families. Jackie and I decided to save a bit of money and see what these are all about by staying at a different motel each night. For the most part, they were pretty clean and cheap (30,000-35,000 a night, which is about 25-30$). It was definitely a Korean experience.

On day two we went to the beach. Haeundae Beach is one of the most popular destination for Koreans during the summer months, but since we went in the middle of February there was plenty of room for us.

We went on a boat tour of the Haeundae area, past the Gwangalli area (another popular beach) and around some of the Oryuk-do mini-islands just off of the coast.

Saturday was the only day the sun was peeking out of the clouds, so we ended up choosing the right time. After that, we went to the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, which ended up being one of the most amazing parts of the trip.

The Yonggungsa Temple is in the cliffs along the coastline. The views are beautiful, and of course just as we arrived the battery on my camera went out. Here is a small idea of what it was like :

Sunday was the most difficult day we had because just about everything that could go wrong did just that. We started the day by heading the the western part of the city. We wanted to start the day at the Nakdonggang bird sanctuary, and a trip that should have take a few minutes turned into an hour and a half tour of the industrial outskirts of Busan. For being such a large city (with a few million people it's the second largest city in South Korea) we assumed that there would be more foreigners and therefore more people who would know where "touristy" places were or would maybe even speak a bit of English and could help us. There weren't.

Because no one could understand our shaky Korean pronunciation, we missed our bus stop. By the time we finally got to the bird sanctuary, we were cold and tired of waiting around for the other buses. It would have been nice, but we were hoping for so much since it took so long to get there and there weren't even many birds.

Then on the subway on the way back to the central part of the city there was almost a fight in our car. When we got out, we wandered halfway up a mountain trying to find a specific park until we had to give up.

We ended the day at the Jagalchi fish market, which had a lot of vendors even though it was Sunday on a holiday weekend. It's actually probably a good thing we didn't go during a busy time, because the smells (and some of the sights - like the skinned eels that were still alive) were already disturbing.

Overall it was a very interesting experience. Before arriving, I never knew how different all of the cities would be. Now I've got another major one crossed off the list, so hopefully I'll get to go to one of the more historically/culturally important cities next.

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