Going around Gyeongju Part 2: a Vegan dinner, Anapji Pond twinkling in the darkness and saying goodbye to Anna

Dinner was at the ‘Healing Kitchen’, a farmhouse style restaurant with a garden area brandishing twinkling fairy lights and a wooden bench in front of a heart shaped stencil. A weird Vegan/Romantic coagulate vibe but once inside, the restaurant swung back to being instead quaint and pretty in pastel, as was reminiscent of the restaurants we visited in Seoul.

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The heart stencil in question    To quote: love is to receive a glimpse of heaven. Isn’t that chocolate?

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The pastel interior

Food was mixed. The mushroom starter was shared amongst us and I wasn’t crazy on it, but I very much enjoyed my spicy tomato pasta (though, like all Korean food, anticipate a strong kick of flavour).

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Mushroom starter                                             Tomato pasta

Our next stop was a return to Anapji Pond; Anna and her parents were keen to take us back but we weren’t initially to sure why.

And then we arrived to this:

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I know right- don’t you just want some club anthems? Disco lights illuminating the pond.

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And that wasn’t all:

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So Anna and I wanted to express how we felt… :

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Roaming away from the pond, coloured lights are still illuminating certain areas of vegetation:

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And then there was time for one last shadow photo:

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My travel companion, Anna and I

Gamsahamnida Anna!

Because the next morning, three would go back to two and my travel companion and I were about to experience the biggest culture shock to date (for me anyway, it’s unfair to second guess how he felt).

Bye bye Gyeonju, Daegu and South Korea. And hello Beijing, China!

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Going around Gyeongju: Part 1- (partially) dawdling during the day

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Being only 57km (approximately 35 miles) from Daegu, today we decided to take a city tour around Gyeongju. Anna’s dad kindly dropped us off at the coach stop where our tour was heading out from, and we soon set off for our first stop- a traditional Korean tomb which was the burial site of King Taejong Muyeorwang (the 29th ruler of the Silla Kingdom). This was one of two tomb sites we visited around Gyeongju.

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The tomb where the king was buried- to put it into perspective, the circumference of the tomb’s mound was 114m and it’s height is 8.5m.

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A tortoise shaped pedestal near the tomb

I labelled this post as partially dawdling because it was at attraction 1 where my travel companion, Anna and I fell behind the rest of the tour group 🙂 we caught them up again, but sometimes you just have that desire to view an attraction without lots of background discussion and I think that’s how we felt earlier on in the day.

Next the coach took us to Tumuli in Hwangnam-ri, Gyeongju. These are a set of tombs scattered around the Hwangnam-dong area, some of which are believed to have been created during the early Silla period.

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The grounds surrounding the Silla tombs

The main tomb in the grounds was nicknamed Cheonmachong due to a flying horse painted on the pendant of a saddle excavated from the tomb. The inside of the tomb was full of history and other artefacts retrieved from the tomb but unfortunately, photography was prohibited in there (and to be fair, I felt weird about breaking the rules somewhere honouring a dead person).  So below is a picture of the entrance to the tomb instead:

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The next stop was my favourite, but one that really comes alive at night (you’ll see what I mean in part 2). Anapji Pond is an artificially constructed landscape that boasts natural beauty- kind of oxymoronic but somehow it works. Built during the 14th year of King Munmu, it was destroyed but excavated in 1974. With some of the original features remaining and historical records, the garden has been restored and is very picturesque:

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Next we went to see the Seokguram Grotto and the Bulguksa Temple.

The Grotto was constructed by prime minister Gim Dae-Seong in 751, the 10th year of the Silla King Gyeondeok.

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Climbing to the Grotto and a water feature you are meant to drink from for luck and longevity

The Seokguram Grotto consists of an antechamber and round main hall, in which sits a large Buddha carved in granite. Again, I was unable to take a photo here but it was tough to see the Buddha properly anyway since it was busy and the statue sits behind a glass wall.

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A prayer room and being able to write wishes to loved ones on slabs, which was a nice touch

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Building works slightly ruined the ambience of the place though

Our final stop was the Bulguksa Temple, which was surrounded by some beautiful lakes and vegetation:

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Above images of areas surrounding the temple and below, the temple itself

We ended the tour part of the day being dropped in an unfamiliar hotel. But as we later found out Gyeongju at night is incredibly different to Gyeongju during the day 🙂

Dog-walking and discovery in Daegu- the personal side of travel

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Why travel? Such a multitude of reasons exist. On a personal level, one reason ranked especially highly for me- I wanted to actually experience where my friends came from, a step up from only hearing about where they come from. With travel you are tangibly there; you can look and hear and feel your surroundings, which is amazing because everyone, to some extent, is shaped by their upbringing. And I was incredibly heartened by how warm and welcoming both my travel companion’s family and Anna’s family were (it definitely explains part of why both are such wonderful people).

And so onto Daegu… there will be two sides to this blog post. First, what we got up to on our incredibly relaxed first day in Daegu and then onto some of the Korean customs I learnt whilst having dinner with Anna’s family (I checked with her thoroughly so I haven’t made any silly errors).

Our first day in Daegu was perfect; we were tired but greeted by Anna and her father at the airport. We got to her apartment and met her mother and Anna’s two babies- her dogs Marron and Noir.

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Noir sensing the presence of visitors             Marron being adorable…

I’m very much an animal person so it was a treat to be able to play with the dogs. Anna suggested we take the dogs out for a walk to Gangjeongbo, a relatively new landmark in Daegu which is significant in its role serving as a meeting point for the Nakdonggang and Geumhogang Rivers.

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 Fun fact: the name “Gangjeong” is derived from the past belief that there was sperm on top of the river.

With Marron in a blue collar and Noir looking cute in pink, the three of us walked around the park and had a catch up.

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Later that night, we visited Dongseongro- a shopping area in Daegu, with Anna and her brother. Alongside browsing in a number of shops, my travel companion, Anna and her brother had famous Korean style fried chicken which I’m told was really nice (I can’t vouch for it personally as a vegetarian but I’ll take their word for it).

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 On night two in Daegu, Anna’s mum made a spectacular vegetarian meal consisting of Korean dishes including Kimchi (or kimchee), which are spicy fermented vegetables, a gorgeous noodle dish, mushrooms in a batter and sweet and sour style sauce and rice whereby you add vegetables and chilli-paste. My tolerance for spice is compared to everyone else at the table was low so I went easy on the chilli paste.

I didn’t take any photos because I didn’t want to seem intrusive at the meal. However, the food looked beautiful, an array of different colours decorating the table. Another thing I learnt about was some Korean customs that are upheld during meals. If you are younger than your companions, you clink your glass under half of where your companion is holding their glass (if I’ve articulated that clearly). In addition, if you are drinking with someone older than you, you face away from them and cover your mouth with your hand while you drink. Finally, an empty glass is perceived as insensitive so people continuously check each other’s glasses and fill them with drink. This is usually the responsibility of the youngest (which, at that dinner, would have been me). But I can’t actually remember if I poured or whether Anna’s family took pity on me and my former ignorance of customs and helped me out. Either way, it was incredibly interesting to learn that these were the traditions and norms which surrounded a typical meal in a South Korean household. It was a lovely start to our stint in Daegu, with more exploration still to come…

Jubilant in Jeju Part 1; exploring the gem of a volcanic island south of South Korea.

To the south of South Korea lies Jeju Island; this volcanic island is one of the nine provinces that makes up SK and is an extremely popular tourist destination for inhabitants of both South Korea and China.

Jeju Island first appeared on our radar when my Korean friend Anna suggested it as somewhere to visit alongside Seoul and Daegu. I had not heard of it before but a quick Google search enlightened me about how Jeju was renowned for its famous lava tubes and general relaxed ambience. As we thought it would make a more rural contrast to the other major cities we were doing in South Korea, we touched down there for a few days after Seoul and before Daegu.

We were staying at the Hotel W Shinjeju in Jeju-Do which was in an excellent location, just a couple of minutes from a large number of restaurants, cafes and shops.

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Following on from my vegetarian issues in Japan (see “the struggle is real: attempting to survive as a Vegetarian in Japan”), my first port of call was to hit up Happy Cow. Here, we found a gem in the form of the Oasis bar and restaurant, which we liked so much we visited there twice over our few days in Jeju; the menu is very Western (you’ll find pastas, pizzas, salads and toasties amongst other things) but the staff have no issues with removing or changing ingredients to suit any dietary requirements you may have. As a self-confessed carbohydrate junky, I found the creamy mushroom spaghetti to be delicious- just enough to feel satiated without feeling like you have overloaded on rich stodgy food. The restaurant was also the location of a chip eating contest between myself and my travel companion (yes, I think that speaks volumes about the sort of travellers we are) and victory has never tasted sweeter (or so potato-ey- he will never live it down).

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Onto the attractions- with such a short amount of time in Jeju, we knew we had to pick and choose what to do. We considered NANTA theatre (50,000 KRW per person/ £30 per person) and Hamdeok Beach (but a beach is still just a beach) before we stumbled across Manjangul Cave, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which had the Geographer in me weeping with joy. The bus route to get to the Cave is simple enough from a central Jeju bus station but be warned- drivers expect tourists to know how payment for tickets works and are not particularly considerate to those who are unaware. Also, since very few bus drivers speak any English, the best thing to do is to speak to the tourist information staff at any of the central bus stations in order to ensure you know what to pay and how the system works. Our bus driver was probably one of the rudest people I encountered in my travels, and passengers were confronted with the most fearsome of situations- bus doors that closed without any warning whatsoever. It was almost hypnotic, watching passengers sprint onto and off of the bus in an attempt to avoid sustaining any form of injury. About an hour and 10 minutes later, my very relieved travel companion and I disembarked from the bus and found ourselves confronted with a dusty but scenic landscape, silent aside from the occasional whoosh of a car speeding past.

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Never has “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” felt more apt.

We felt like gods walking down the road overlooking such views whilst singing this.

We decided to walk to Manjangul Cave, which was about 2.5km away from the bus stop. Note that if you don’t wish to walk, there are plenty of taxis that will slow down upon spotting a person and offer to drive you there but we reasoned that the weather was nice and we both had a fair amount of energy so walking was a perfectly acceptable option.

During the walk, we passed Yongcheondonggul Lava Tube, considered one of the most valuable lava tubes in the world. The tube was only discovered by accident in 2005 when an electric pole was replaced and should you wish to visit the tube, you can observe a variety of carbonate speleothem such as soda straw, stalactite, stalagmite and cave pearl. You can also detour on foot to take a look at Kimnyoung Lava Tube. During our walk, we found Kimnyoung Maze Park. We were intrigued, and had more than a brief glance at the attraction but at that point, I honestly thought we would not end up in the maze. I was wrong, and we had an absolute blast reconnecting with our childish sides (which, to be honest, we’ve never really been that out of touch with). But more on the maze park in “Jubilant in Jeju Part 2” still to come.

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Sorry about the gum (wish it wasn’t there)                     The view along our walk

The Manjangul Lava Tube is part of the Geomunoreum Lava Tube system and has been awarded a UNESCO Triple Crown as well as being one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. On the day we visited, the tube was open from 8.40am until 5.40pm. For those craving something educational, Manjangul fits the bill perfectly. At the entrance, there is an information centre where the evolution of lava tubes are explained (skip the next mini paragraph if you just wish to read about what walking around the cave was like and look at the photos).

The process starts with the cooling and hardening of lava on the cave surface, forming lava crusts on the surface of the flows. Next comes the deepening of the cave as more lava flows then melts the existing bedrock, deepening the floor. After this, whilst lava flow stays at a consistent level, the formation of new lava crust within the tube becoming the roof of lower level tubes occurs. This forms a multi-layer lava tube. The last lava to flow through the tubes sticks and remains on the floor and walls of the caves before, over time, the ceiling of lava caves collapse, creating new windows or enlarging existing ones. Weaker parts of the inner cave partially collapse and block the passage.

On site is a convenience store, Korean Restaurant and toilets; despite the fact that food is available if you absolutely need it, having the foresight to bring a packed lunch is a very good idea. I believe the Korean Restaurant was shut when we went to the site (if not, it was just very deserted) and the convenience shop does charge a fair amount for even basic refreshments. The walk to the lava tube entrance is about another 1km, and the walking part of the cave open to the public is about the same distance.

The cave itself in full is 7.4km long, one of the largest in the world, and is exceptionally well-preserved despite being so old. Upon descending some steps, you reach the uneven and damp rock which lines the floor of the cave. Trainers and walking boots are a must here, and some people were even wearing jackets whilst exploring the cave. There are three entrances to the cave due to the collapse of the ceiling, with tourists using the second entrance. The main passage (which you walk through) has a width of up to 18m and a height of up to 23m.

Although the cave is unbelievable beautiful because of its natural charm, there are a couple of coloured lights here and there. However, by and large, the only lighting in the cave is natural and colourless- there for safety and guidance rather than turning something natural into an entirely new artificial entity.

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Underneath the various volcanic phenomenons, such as lava flowlines, lava stalacites and stalagmites, lava benches and lava rafts, is a description so that you can connect the visual image with knowledge about how the formations and decorations came to be.

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We spent a while in the cave before climbing up to the surface again. Although I felt like this:

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The day was not over yet. Next, we got to experience Kimnyoung Maze Park, an absolutely unexpected treat! If you want, I’d love for you to read on to Part 2 (which I’m posting over the next few days) for more about Jeju Island.

Thanks for reading 🙂