We love hearing from other travel bloggers and when the couple from Always Trekking contacted us we read their sweet background story and wanted to find out more. Both claim to have been infected with the travel bug quite early – Jonathan when kissing seals in the Galapagos Islands aged six and Natalia when rustling through the ruins of Acropolis aged five. Their paths crossed on a ‘dinky Mount St Louis hill’ where Jonathan decided to take pity on Natalia and teach her how to ski. Here we learn about their recommendations for South Korea, a country not always on everyone’s travel radar…
The amount of Foreign English teachers definitely outweighs the tourist presence even though Korea is a place definitely worth visiting. Korea is an interesting country that is caught up between strong traditions and accelerated development. It is a beautiful country with a rich, tumultuous history that should be given a chance by travelers. So if you’re dropping by Korea for a couple of days or for an entire year here are ten things you should consider doing…
Climb a mountain, any mountain
Korea is a very mountainous terrain, most mountains do have a hiking trail leading up to the peak and are doable with an average fitness level. The highest mountain on the mainland, Jirisan, is only 1,915m and can easily be done in a couple of hours. Hiking is an incredibly popular past time among Koreans, hiking stores take up a spot on every shopping street and if you are not decked out in the latest climbing gear you are doing it wrong.
Eat, eat, eat
Korean cuisine is unlike any other. It has taken centuries of tradition perfect the recipes. Korean cuisine is an assault on all your senses and it is quite wonderful. Eating just one dish you can experience blaring heat from chillies, sweetness from sugar and random tartness from kimchee. Don’t dare reach for the water during your meal, the saliva generated from the heat is supposed to ease your digestion. My personal favorites are Naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodle soup), Dak Galbi (university favorite chicken fried rice) and Pajeon (green onion pancake)
Visit the Haesindang park
A visit to Gangwon-do province in Korea would not be complete without a look at the odd park filled with gigantic wooden phalluses. The story originates with Korean folklore that deals with death, virginity and fertility. Also, be sure to check out one of Asia’s biggest caves (that’s right) nearby.
Party in Hongdae, Seoul
Seoul is an electrifying city filled with buzz and life 24 hours a day. Hongdae is a university area in Seoul busy with restaurants, bars and clubs. On every street corner there are live bands, performances and loud beats escaping from all of the clubs in the vicinity. Don’t worry about subway closures, some clubs don’t even open until 4am so you can wait for your ride while ripping up the dance floor.
Visit Buddhist temples
Not many temples in Korea have survived centuries of conflict in the peninsula. Most temples you will see have either been reconstructed or redone over the past century. You can still find temples within Korea still in their original form. One of the temples in Tongdosa survived the 16th-century Japanese invasion and still stands today. Regardless of their age and reconstruction, Korean Buddhist temples are still worth a visit.
Cycle across Korea
Korea recently invested in a cross-national bike route and now you can bike from Seoul to Busan through beautiful rice paddies and mountains. The route is still a little choppy in some parts (missing pavement at times) but it is a great way to see the countryside. The bike path is around 700 kilometers and incredibly popular among Koreans. As a commemoration of your achievement, the Korean government will give the cyclist a nice medal and certificate.
Go to Gyeongju
Gyeongju was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla and due to the amount of historical sites the city is deemed a “museum without walls”. The city is a beautiful collection of tumuli and temples. It is worth having wheels in the city as a lot of the sites, like the Bulguksa temple, are scattered outside the city. There are also many bike rentals in the city.
Fix your cellphone
Did you drop your phone on the pavement or did the rain soak through your jacket right into your precious phone? If you have a damaged Korean phone, worry no more. Pay a visit to any of the Samsung’s or SKY’s conveniently located repair centers and have your phone repaired by a tech official right before your eyes. It will probably cost you 8 dollars. Phew, that’s a load off my mind!
Pay a visit to Busan
Busan is the second biggest city in South Korea on the southeast coast. Although it is a busy and densely populated coastal city filled with spaghetti roads, beaches and seafood, it is often overlooked by travelers. Busan is home to the world’s largest department store, Korea’s largest beach, and the largest beach umbrella presence in the world. If you need some work done, it is also “the” place to go due to a very prominent plastic surgery industry in the city.
Enjoy the ridiculous
Korea went through accelerated development over the past 30 years. The country is still moving at an incredible pace. Development is everywhere you see, construction cranes are everywhere, new roads are being constantly built. Korea has got better internet, better public transit, better interconnectivity than we have at home. The clash between tradition and progress is evident in everyday life. The push forward sometimes comes at the expense of safety, but that’s what makes it so much better. Things get done. With traffic using the new highway network, old country mountain roads are the perfect place to explore on a motorbike. Expect to see traditional homes and farmer’s markets and other motorcyclists with helmets tied down to their bike instead of on the heads of the drivers.
All words and photos by travel bloggers Always Trekking.com