Wednesday, July 28, 2010

16 Days South Korea Adventure

Ulsan Bawi Peak, Soraksan Nationa Park.
Our 16 days adventure starts from Seoul, the capital of South Korea. We had a big group of 16 members in this trip. We spent the first 2 days in Seoul visiting the Jogyesa Temple, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Folk Museum and shopping at the Insadong street market. This street market comes to life on weekends. We then travel east to the coastal town of Sokcho, the gateway to the most beautiful national park of Korea, Soraksan. The best thing to do in Sokcho is to indulge yourself in the abundance life seafood. We are supposed to have a 2 days trekking at Soraksan with overnight at one of the hill shelters, but due to bad weather, the park was closed and the 2 days trekking was called off. The consolation comes in with some minor adjustment to our itinerary and extended stay at Sokcho, we managed to have a full day visit at this scenic park. The hike up to Soraksan’s Gwongeumseong peak from hill top cable car station was pretty nice, cool and easy. The weather was fine and clear after 5 days of rain. The hike up to Ulsan Bawi peak was much difficult especially the last one kilometer. The trail is almost vertical towards the peak. The scenery from the peak was breath taking. The gruesome hike was well paid off.

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Gwongeumseong peak, Soraksan Nationl Park
On day 6 we traveled to Samcheok, another costal town. Samcheok is famous for its
scenic coast line and caves. We just have enough time to explore Hwanseondonggul, the biggest cave in Samcheok with a waterfall inside. We continue south on day 7 to Gjeongju, a living museum and a UNESCO listed cultural site. We had 2 full days in Gjeongju covering the tombs of Silla kings, artifacts, museums, the living cultural village of Yangdong, Bulguksa Temple and Sokuram Grotto. We also visited a very unique park called Penis Park which is about 1 hour bus ride from Gjeongju. According to the folk legend, these penises of different sizes and shapes are erected by fishermen to appease a frustrated virgin drown in the nearby sea in return for better catch.

Penis Park, Gjeongju

On day 9 we moved to Jungsan-ri village, our exit point from Jirisan trek. Here we left our excess luggage at one of the guesthouse and proceed to Gurye, our staring point of a 3 days Jirisan trek, for the night. We took an early morning bus to Seongsamjae, our revised starting point which is about 6 Km shorter than original Hwaeomsa starting point. With this revised plan, we still need to trek about 16 Km to Byeoksoryeong shelter on first day, 6.3 Km to Seseok Shelter on second day and about 12 Km to Jungsan-ri exit via Cheonwanbong, the highest peak @ 1915 meters on the final day. The first 2 Km of the trek is relatively easy and it gets tougher and strenuous with many steep accents and descents. We were actually trekking on the rocky ridge of Jirisan hills. The group eventually split into 2 due to the different pace of individual trekkers. The first stronger group took exactly 10 hours to reach Byeoksoryeong shelter at 6.15 in the evening. The second slower group had to settle at Yeonhacheon shelter which is about 3 Km short to Byeoksoryeong. It would have been a worst scenario if we had started our trek from Hwaeomsa. The hill dormitory shelter has very basic amenities. Each sleeping lot is no more than 2 feet wide. Dry toilets are located some distance from the dormitory. Fresh water supply is 100 meter down hill. Lights out at 9.00 pm is strictly observed. I grossly under estimated the terrain of Jirisan trail. I wore an oversized Crocs slipper and after 16 Km of walking, both my feet were badly bruised and blistered. The second and third day trekking was painful for me due to the blister bruise on my feet but I still managed to finish at Jungsan-ri in one piece. The entire trail is very scenic and the whole national park is filled with many different types of Azalea plants. It will be more spectacular if all the Azaleas flower at the same time.

The team getting ready for 3 days trek at Jirisan National Park

Nagodan peak, Jirisan National Park

After colleting our luggage, we bus to Busan for a good night rest. Early next morning we visited the famous Jagalchi Fish Market, the biggest fish market in Korea and nearby Gukje Market. Later we explore Korea’s China town and spent the remaining afternoon at Lotte Departmental store, one of the biggest malls in Korea.

Day 14 morning, we board a KTX bullet train to Suwon a suburbs of Seoul. We spent the entire afternoon at the Hwasseong Fortress, with its King's Palace and 5 km long fortress walls. This is another UNESCO listed site still very much intact and well maintained.

Day 15 was reserved for the Korean Folk Village. This is a big complex with reconstructed traditional Korean village huts, museums, parks, playground and eateries. Traditional cultural farmer’s dance, tightrope dance, horse riding and Korean marriage are performed at different arenas throughout the day. We took the subway back to Seoul on Day 16 morning. After checking in, off we went to do our final shopping. We opted to do our final shopping at 2 of Seoul’s biggest shopping market, the twin market called the Namdaemun and Dongdaemun. Day 17 morning we hired 2 MPVs to Inchon International Airport for our flight home at 1100AM arriving at KLIA 435 PM follow by Air Asia flight at 9.00 PM arriving Penang 10.00 PM.

Traditional Farmer’s Dance at Korean Folk Village, Suwon

A big plus is all 16 people in this trip are very friendly and helpful. Most of them are regular travelers and very independent. Cost of living in Korea is high and things are relatively expensive compared to Malaysia. Koreans are friendly and honest people, no doubt most of them don’t speak English. Because of this, communication is a big problem. Ordering a meal is a risk. We just finger point at the menu and hope for the best. The good thing is that, they will recommend alternative if we point at the wrong item or inappropriate dish. Korea is a clean and tidy country especially at their smaller towns. Comparing the 2 national parks, I personally feel that Soraksan is better in terms of beauty and trekking condition. Jirisan’s trail is much tougher than I thought and very challenging to the less physically fit.

Crystal clear stream along the trail, Soraksan Nation Park

Trail to Ulsan Bawi peak, Soraksan National Park

One of the Silla King’s tombs, Gjeongju.

Typical Korean village house at Yangdong Cultural Village, Gjeongju.

Nagodan Peak, Jirisan National Park

Signage along the trail, Jirisan National Park

Fishing Port, Busan

Traditional Marriage Ceremony at Korean Folk Village, Suwon