Still in South Korea: Samcheok and Gyeongju

Samcheok is a small town on the east coast of S. Korea. We headed there because it has limestone caves, beautiful beaches and a park that used to hold a phallus shaping contest and has all of the old entries from previous contests. The competition exists no longer due to Christian conservatives saying it was inappropriate. unfortunately, We ran out of time, and didn’t make our way up to the penis park.

This is just some of what we missed out on.

This is just some of what we missed out on.

We met up with Anna and Chance, our couch surfing hosts at their apartment on the hills of Samcheok. Anna and Chance have been dating for about a year and both teach English to middle schoolers. Anna teaches at the girl’s school and Chance teaches at the boy’s school. They were about to finish out their contracts and move on to Hawaii where Chance owns some land and Anna was eventually heading back to school for counseling in North Carolina. We went out for dinner with them and their other English teaching friend named Reilly. After dinner, we sat in front of a 7-11 and had a few beers, actually treating ourselves to the import, Hoegaarden, instead of suffering through another domestic. We all went to bed pretty early because they had to work the next day, but Anna invited us to come with her English school to the limestone caves as they were conveniently taking a field trip there. We agreed to meet at noon.

When we woke up the next morning, we started doing some research for the Jeju portion of our trip and we realized that the ferry from Busan to Jeju only leaves on certain days which meant that we would unfortunately have to leave Chance and Anna’s a day early. We got to the hotel to meet Anna and all of her students who had been having a special fancy lunch to celebrate the end of the English summer camp.

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The girls were so cute. They were all about 12-14 and their English skills ranged from decent to nonexistent. Many of the girls were really shy to talk to us. Anna’s Korean co-teacher soon changed that though, as she made us the school project. Each girl got a prize if they could ask us one question in English and remember our answer and report back at the end of the day. We got barraged with “How old are we?” “What’s our favorite season” “Are you married?” and “Where are we from?” It was pretty cute though and the teachers paid for our way to the caves and our entrance fee which was kind of them. The best part about the whole trip though was the bus karaoke that the little girls did. Everything from Britney Spears to “Barbie Girl” and it was hysterical.

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The caves were pretty interesting. We couldn’t understand the guide who was Korean but we didn’t feel like we were at too much of a disadvantage. The cave tour was just long enough as being in a cave for 10 minutes or 1 hour essentially feels like the same thing. After the cave, we went to the beach and it was a really nice one.

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I was swimming along, happy and refreshed when the lifeguard started blowing his whistle at us. He motioned for us to get between the rope. Well, I would have had no problem except that the rope was only two feet in the water and it only came up to my knees.

note the rope close to the shore

note the rope close to the shore

Life Guard patrolling the "dangerous" waters

Life Guard patrolling the "dangerous" waters

There were beautiful waves, the sun was shining and the pleasure of a late-afternoon swim was being interrupted. I tried to defy authority a few times before I realized he was relentless. The reason apparently is that the waves are too dangerous. These waves couldn’t even be body surfed in they were so pitiful. I’ve seen bigger waves on Key West when jet ski goes by and that should be saying something. Needless to say, I was pretty annoyed and mad and scornful of the police state that Korea sometimes feels like.

That night, we went out for dinner with Anna and Chance and had bibimbap and after walked up a hill near their house to check out the small town coming lighting up. It was nice view with the mountains in the distance.

The next morning, we bid Chance and Anna good-bye as we rushed off around 7:30 a.m. to catch a bus to Gyeongju which is apparently the cultural capital of S. Korea. It’s often referred to as a city that is a “museum without walls.”

We arrived around 3 and walked from the bus station to our hotel. I was immediately struck at the original architecture near our neighborhood with the slanted roofs with tiles and the traditional courtyards. It’s what you picture Asia to look like. Most of S. Korea doesn’t appear as beautiful, because of all of the bombs it’s had to withstand. Most of S. Korea, aside from palaces and temples has bland architecture very similar to the states, but Gyeongju is the exception. When we checked in at Sa Rang Chae guesthouse, we were pleasantly surprised.

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It was a traditional style home with a courtyard in the middle and we would be sleeping ondol (on the floor). It had traditional hand-crafted wall paper and bamboo curtains over the door. It was an incredibly beautiful guesthouse where a sense of peace pervades.

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We couldn’t linger long though because we had only one night in Gyeongju and it was already afternoon so we headed to the Shilla tombs which looked like weird Super Mario Bros. hills.

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They are all over the city and some are gigantic. One tomb was opened and cross-sectioned so tourists can understand how the tombs were constructed. Basically, the deceased emperor was placed with jewels in a plot in the center. Wood was built around him and then rocks were piled fastidiously on top to make a huge hill after which they planted grass on top. They even had smaller hill tombs for the horses of royalty.

We took a ton of photos, here are just a few from through out the day:

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After the hill tombs, we searched in vain for this vegetarian restaurant that we had read of called Baru. We were getting really frustrated and decided to return to our hotel to see if we had been reading the directions properly. We hadn’t and were pleased that it was our error and that the restaurant still exists. We took a cab since it was up a mountain and on the other side of town. We arrived at Baru and in true fashion, couldn’t read the menu but we let the lady insist in Korean, of course, that we get the most expensive menu item. We seemed unsure but it was only 8 USD dollars each so we splurged and her passion for this particular menu convinced us. Who knew that we were getting a feast? Let’s just say we were convinced too by the time we walked out of Baru. Basically, she started by bringing us Korean veggie pancakes, a sugar apple pancake, a salad with fresh watermelon on top, lettuce wraps with delicious fillings, and vegetable tempura. She followed these dishes by brining out the best sesame noodles I have ever had and some stuffed grapeleaves. Afterwards, she brought out a huge dish of sweet and sour vegetables with some special mountain mushrooms and acorn jelly. We thought this was the completion of our meal and were quite satisfied because she said “this last one.” We were getting ready to get up when all of sudden, she brings out a gigantic tray full of kimchi and two do it yourself bibimbap. We were shocked and so excited that there was more. When we finally finished this, she brought our fresh watermelon for dessert. This definitely counts by falling into one of those “memorable meals abroad” moments. It sounds silly but when we get delicious regional food, I think it reinforces just how amazing this trip is since we are obsessed with different foods.

I realized we should have taken a photo BEFORE we ate all the food.

I realized we should have taken a photo BEFORE we ate all the food.

We took a cab after to dinner to the hill tombs and had a pleasant after dinner walk to a Anapji pond  and saw the thousands of lilly pads and frogs that the city lit up. It was really awesome at night and the cities light shows didn’t stop there because we walked to a pagoda complex in another park right behind the pond and the beautiful pagodas were achingly gorgeous bathed in the multi-colored light and shining on the small lake in the middle of the park.

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great reflections

great reflections

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It was a perfect evening and we slept so comfortably on our bed mats on the floor. I’m so happy that we didn’t cross Gyeongju off out list when we found out our time in Korea was moving swifter than we imagined.

We departed around noon from Gyeongju on the one hour bus to Busan where we were to catch our ferry for Jeju that evening. We didn’t get to see much of Busan and only really had time for a quick lunch stop at an international veggie chain called the Loving Hut, one of which I was surprised to find out they now have in Orlando. The food was fairly decent and really cheap. It wasn’t mind-blowing especially compared to Baru, the night before. After we ate, we headed for the ferry port because we were cranky and had all of our stuff on our backs. I was annoyed that everyone kept staring at me. Normally, I find it odd that people stare at me, but it doesn’t bother me too much. When I have my gigantic backpack on and people stare or comment on how big it is, it DRIVES ME NUTS! I don’t know why but it makes me livid. Mostly because I feel gigantic and clumsy and sweaty and when they stare at me because they’ve never seen a backpacker before, it makes me feel even more annoyed. I really hate when someone says “Wow so big,” and I want to sarcastically reply but have to hold my tongue, but c’mon, I know how big it is since it’s breaking MY back, not theirs. They also just look at us like we overpacked but have no idea that we are traveling for an entire year.

Aside from my ranting, we got to the ferry terminal that goes to Jeju with no problems, checked in to the “Comfy Island” ferry and realized we were going to be, indeed, comfy sharing a solitary room with 212 people with no blankets, beds or pillows. However, you can do anything for one night, right? At least, we have to tell ourselves that sometimes. ☺

COZY ISLAND

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1 Response to “Still in South Korea: Samcheok and Gyeongju”


  1. 1 Lauren F September 26, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    i know what you mean about people saying your bag is too big. one time i went on a trip with su yang snore club and she brought like a mini backpack. and i brought my huge one. and she was like – wooooo why so big? that is too big! i mean, i wasnt gone for a year, but still you gotta have your things.


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