Why Gongju? Apart from the slight personal preoccupation with anything Baekje (read up on your Korean history) due to archaeological sites close to where I live, not much more. It is close enough to Seoul to do a day trip, and small enough to be a walking town. It is also 20th July 2017, one of the hottest day of the year, so I was expecting a bit of walk in the sun.
East Seoul bus station at Gangbyeon
Packed with two cameras, one digital rangefinder and one film panorama camera, something sorely lacking in the digital world, I’m off on a bus from East Seoul bus terminal. There’s a bus every hour. Perhaps more frequency at Nambu bus terminal but I prefer East Seoul. Ticket cost 9,000₩ in 2017 and it takes two hours one way. Left East Seoul at 10:10am and arrived in Gongju at 12:10pm and the bus will not make a rest stop. Don’t think it needs to. I don’t know if Gongju ever gets packed with tourists, at least on this day I could just walk up to the bus station, pick any seat I want in the bus and buy the return ticket when I feel like going back. Like a private chauffeur, although next time an electric scooter to get around town may make a bit of sense.
The first time I visited the walls was right at the start of my posting to this country back in 2010. That’s 7 years ago! I remember it was a foggy cloudy day then. Suwon is close enough to Seoul it could be done within a day including walking the entire wall. In my first trip I came by metro and then local bus. This time, I’m taking bus #1007 from Jamsil Lotte World underground bus terminal right to the northern tip of the wall (장안문) where there is a ticket office. Tickets cost 1,000 won (2017) and you get a map and a round sticker that needs to be shown so that you don’t get charged more at other ticket offices around the wall.
GPS plots from my trusty Garmin Colorado 300 GPS. Still a thing in 2017! This is the entire perimeter of the wall. Half of the wall is over hills & forest and the other half is cutting through the city – which means there’s enough convenience stores to refuel.
Let me try to describe the wall. The steepest part is in the east on Paldangsan, and the rest of the walls are pretty flat. There are watch towers along the perimeter and the patio type are open and makes for good resting places (for your sandwich, for naps, etc).
Instead of making this post too wordy, I’ll make it more gallery centric. Enjoy.
This weekend, there’s the quadruple coincidence of Labour day, the weekend, Children’s day and Buddha’s birthday this weekend giving most people two weeks of vacation. And in conjunction with an annual Jeonju Film Festival, the whole country seems to converge on a small little town.
There’s no secret that I love Jeonju. The town is small enough, people seem nice but all cars on the street are driven by descendants of Schumacher and the food is just lovely. Not overbearing, and just enough ingredients and the food seems to be made still the artisanal way by uncompromising and luddite old ladies. Sure, charge me a little more for the hand made goodness and 12,000Won bibimbaps, and since I travelled all the way to try something nice, don’t skimp on it.
Taking the bus on this busy weekend. Most parts of major highways in Korea has a dedicated lane for buses and large passenger vans. This will shave some tens of minutes off the trip compared to driving your own little stinky and crammed car smelling synthetic ester-fueled air “fragrance” for 3 hours. Since this is no where like Malaysia, no mid-sized 4 wheel car tries to reason silently that it is a full-fledged express bus.
There are two types of buses that ply the route. There seems to be a bus leaving every 5 minutes at the peak times of early afternoon from Seoul Express Bus Terminal. Most of them are 3-a-row “business-class” buses, and then there’s the odd 4-a-row bus that’s cheaper (12,800W this time, compared to 20,500W – I swear the price has gone up year-on-year). For me I can’t tell the difference between the two, except for the fact that you’re squashed closer to the stranger to the right. If you’re taking the bus on a date, perhaps it is a plus.
The first problem came around on arrival. It was 6pm. My favourite bibimbap restaurant Seungmidang (성미당: 전라북도 전주시 완산구 전라감영5길 19-9) had a long queue outside and they had to cut it short because they ran out of stock. Damn tourists.
Luckily there was the last batch of bibimbap at 가족회관 (전주시 완산구 중앙동3가 80 2층) just behind Seungmidang.
But it all was downhill from then on. All hotels and B&B were full for the night, even the small ones. No accommodation, the only other option was spa but even then there was no guarantee it will not be filled. And it was raining, and making walking around a bad experience.
So. No food. Long queues. Rain. No accommodation. Plenty of people. There was only one thing to do. Since everyone is leaving Seoul, perhaps Seoul is the best place to be for this long holiday.
And so it was, I took the 10:45pm bus back to Seoul. Arrival was at 2am, but it was great to be sleeping in my own bed again. Home sweet home, as they say.
First specimen was located close to the CU convenience store in the main town area. This one is a Daedong tractor. It has a logo that looks like it came from Star Trek. You know the arrow head that points up. It’s a faded red. A workhorse. This one has what looks like the key to the tractor tied to the left handle. Tempted but I didn’t take it for a joy ride.
Specimen 1: Daedong Handlebars and control console
Second specimen was located parked next to a hut next to the dry pond where some boats are stranded. There is no model but it does look similar to the first to I supposed it’s also a Daedong. In fact I did see the brand on the front lights but this one surely didn’t have the Star Trek logo embellished everywhere like no. 1. I’m guessing this is before Daedong was confident about their brand.
This is another one of those destinations that has been on my to-do list in Korea for at least a year. I first heard about it while reading another one Korean Airlines magazine article and I had it snapped and saved on to Evernote. It just says 자작나무 숲을 and thats about it. I know that it is somewhere in Gangwon-do and close to Inje town but there was no map and nothing in the English internet that could point me in the way.
An adventure into the Korean internet showed a few blog posts with GPS points that are all over the place. Back in 2012, I hatched a plan to take a bus to Inje, and then running about 20km to survey the place to look for this white birch forest. Luckily I didn’t do it eventually as it was around winter at that time and it did take some hike – uphill – around 5km one way to get to a location where the trees are a little more dense than usual.
To get there, first you have to drive all the way to Inje. There are no public buses to the entrance of the park, so don’t bother going public. I guess you could hitch hike, but I doubt many cars intentionally take that route unless they were either living there or going to the park. Rent a car. Its worth it. By the way, Avis in Korea is a company called AJ Rental, and they do have a branch close to the Inje Bus Station as I found out while having my lunch in that town. So in theory you could take a bus to the town and rent a car after that.
Anyway, at Inje, drive down southwest along the only highway through town. I believe it is highway 44. Take the turning towards the east at 38° 1.212′, 128° 7.855′. The road leads to a small road that eventually hugs the valley that gets narrower and narrower till it is almost a bottleneck. Keep on going.
Entrance to the park is at 38° 0.554′, 128° 11.698′. I had to park by the roadside when I was there. There’s a booth, but no fee to pay, you just have to sign in the visitor log. I was there in Winter, around christmas, and I don’t know if in other season the road is opened to cars to drive up.
So far so good. You follow the path uphill, and a few hundred meters after the booth, take the right part of the fork. It goes uphill for about 5km, sometimes you get flats, but generally it is uphill. In winter, you need spikes on your boots. Either that or walk on the side of the road. Cars are not allowed on it, unless you live there I guess since the whole way I only saw a truck with dogs in the rear bed.
The higher up you go, you’d start to see more white birch. Close to the road, it is quite sparse. Eventually you hit the 5km mark and there are plenty of white trees. That’s all there is to it.
Now for equipment. I brought with me a Sony RX1 with fixed 35mm lens and I had to rely on the might of that sensor to do some cropping. I would have loved to bring my full DSLR with me, and perhaps 100-300mm range of lens for that compressed look, but I doubt I would have enjoyed the uphill hike. I consider this a survey trip then. The end of the trail (but not the trek, it looks like it goes on farther) is what looks like a small car park and the path leads downhill among the white birches.
I realised it is not that easy to follow my words and GPS copy and paste for direction, and so if you have a software that reads GPX, you can download the file I recorded on the iPhone here. You will be able to view it in Google Earth or one of those free Garmin applications for the PC/MAC.
Enjoy Inje, please get in touch with me if you need more directions. I’m sure I’ll make another trip there one day with an extreme wide angle and a long lens.
Out of the markets in Seoul, the one I like the most is Dongdaemun. You can find anything you want there. I’m not talking about consumer stuff, of course you can find anything you want there if the market is big enough, but parts of this market has industrial stuff as well, and that makes for great photo opportunities. With black & white film, some parts of this market can have that classic vintage look to the photos.
The area in question is between Euljiro-4 and Euljiro-3 Metro station and south of the small stream on the map
So what happens on Sundays. First of all, in that area that is marked in English as “Sallim-dong” on the map above, most of the shops are closed. There are some workshops that are still open on Sunday – but it looks like the only reason is to catch up on the backlogged work. You can safely say that it is generally closed on Sunday. So there are all these alleyways that are devoid of human beings, but you can still get a sense of the spirit of the market. So over a few Sundays I made my way there, walked around, got lost a few times, and once I do, I just walk straight and eventually I’ll hit a metro station and I’ll find my bearings again.
Here is are some of the photos taken during the survey. They’re all taken with Leica Ms and I believe a majority of them were with 24mm, which I prefer in tight places and it retains a rectilinear look unlike something wider. Enjoy and leave comments if you wish.
These shops are close to Euljiro-4 station. Start of my walk. Nothing interesting yet. Walking into the small alleys, here’s the first workshop, sewing machines. It took me some time to meter this show, trying to balance the strong backlighting with the shadows inside the shop. And this is the reason I prefer film, you can control the contrast by development and prevent blown highlights. One of the thing I like about this market (and markets in Korea in general) are all these transport Daelim bikes.
The route is simple. The easy way is to take the subway, and according to an online calculator, it takes 30mins and 1250Won and you feel lethargic and unhealthy after the trip. Let me show you another way, about 6 hours, free apart from some bananas, powerbars and 2 litres of water and plenty of patience. In return you will get some nice sceneries and fresh air. With all the nice mountains around Seoul, there’s no excuse not to do it the old fashion way.
Other more reputable sites will tell you what is in Seoul Land. I’ve only been to the zoo and only because it was free that day. Will it be a surprise if I said there are animals there? In confined spaces. With plenty of noisy kids. Discovering that there are no birds to fling on catapults. So collect yourself at the carpark, run up Cheonggyesan 청계산 due east, come down where Dallaenae-ro 달래내로 meets the expressway, and then crossing some shops and farms, proceed up the second mountain Inneungsan 인릉산 and end up somewhere in Seongnam, close to the airbase and then run along the river up north to Jamsil.
For this trip, I took a backpack with some emergency kit and wore a Suunto Ambit. The screenshot above is what was recorded for the trip. The plots are quite rough but it should be able to hack together a plan for the trip. I find that the best map to use if you had a phone with you would be Daum or Naver since they have the map of the trails. Be aware that the maps are not entirely accurate, sometimes there are sub-path along the way that was created recently. Sometimes they are parallel paths and sometimes it looks like a whole mob went for a shit together and created a new path.
Now, to trace the path, take a metro to Seoul Land. Walk due south across the large car park, and run up to a slope where the cars enter and right behind the guard house there is a small path that branches out to the right. I didn’t find it in the beginning. The first time I took this route I bashed myself out of the jungle using another path. This new one is more “official”. What happens is that you walk along a nice concrete path till you get to an area that looks like an exercise area, but is actually the start of the trail, up the ridge of the hill which you will follow, and go uphill all the way to Cheonggyesan. For those that are a little more macho than others, you might want to try and run here, but I don’t think you will last the first small hill. There are a few peaks here, the flatter ones happen to all have helipads on them, but the tallest peak for this trip (where the Cheonggyesan icon is on the map above, has a stone landmark, and of course, a stall selling alcohol. Like most others on this route.
Once I get to Gyeonbu Expressway, shops start to appear. This is a good place to refill your water, but then it will not be a free trek anymore. Up to you. You know your limits. This is also where you can pick up some outdoor gears, some discount shops or outlets are here, and of course if you want to hang around like the locals, you can have some barbecue and alcohol after a long hike. I didn’t have too much time to stop, and I still had more than half a tank of water in my camelbak mainly because I have been drinking off two bottles of water on the side of my backpack. Still feeling strong, I walked through the village, I don’t have the name of the village, but relied on Daum Maps on my iPhone to get me through to the next trail head for Inneungsan. On the map it does look like this second mountain is longer trek than the first.
It was a relief to get to the area called Sinchon-dong close to Seongnam. But the best part of the trek is behind me now, and the rest of the way would be just running on pavements and breathing carbon monoxide. What you enjoyed for the last 20km is now going to be given up in the 10km run to Jamsil from here.
The idea for this place came about one day while I was browsing the contents of Korean Airline’s inflight magazine and I read about a small village north of Yeongcheon very close to the large city of Daegu. This town decided they needed an identity and a signature dish. And it so happens that there is an observatory right on top of Bohyeonsan 부현산 and apparently they nicked-name the village “Star City” for us English-inclined speakers, and since there seems to be quite a number of Korean parsley growers, they started making a fuss out of grilled pork belly 삼겹살 and parsley 미나리.
And as it always goes with me, time to check it out. Interesting combination. Stars and parsley. I recall the time I was in turkey close to the Syrian border where every meal seems to have a large side serving of parsley and how I loved it.
Well, the first problem is that Yeongcheon is quite a bit of a distance from Seoul. In fact it is smack close to Busan, for those that don’t know where Daegu is. I didn’t think that public transport is a good idea so I drove there instead. Door to door from Seoul figure 4-5 hours including stops along the excellent rest stops operated by EX. I’ll go on a longer post one day, but these rest stops are spaced 30-40km apart and they are like a fully spec-out mini malls.
This time I navigated with the help of a Garmin GPS for the zoomed out Kee of what’s coming in 10km and auto routing from Daum maps on an iPhone set to see what is coming up 1km ahead.
Ok now star village in Korean would be 별빛마을, literally translated. I don’t recall seeing that on the sign boards, would be better following the brown sign for Bohyeonsan Observatory. The highway exit close to Yeongcheon would be 북영천IC and head up north. Star village would be right at the foot of the mountain, you can’t miss it as you will get to see a big sign when you enter the village.
I don’t know if I should even recommend a place to eat this special grilled dish. It’s not that difficult to make it as long as you have fresh ingredients. So I’m taking an educated guess that any farm or restaurant in the village do a good version of it.
What did I do? I arrived at Star Village around 5:30pm, hungry, and eager to have something to eat. Turned into the first place I see that looks like a restaurant and they seem to say that they do have samgyeopsal and minari. Seems that you order the pork and then either 0.5kg or 1kr of parsley (aka Minari 미나리). And then out comes the grill pan, and the kimchi side dish and doenjang sauce. And may I add that being a village, everything is made at home and taste way way way better than anything you find in a big restaurant. In Korea, go rural and go small.
So. Pork grilled on a hot plate is nothing special. It is not even marinated. But the fresh parsley, how can I say it… Korean parsley doesn’t have that parsley-ish smell and taste that we are all used to. When fresh it is slightly sweet. So you grill the parsley a little next to the pork (I believe it’s to soak up the lard) and the you wrap the parsley around the pork. And it is freaking good. Parsley adds that little extra texture to the pork and sweetens the package. Naturally I started off eating the leaves and then realized the stalks are good too, in a different way. I’m not going to describe the taste here but rest assured, at least for me, it’s a Michelin 3 Star dish – apparently what they rate for something worth making the trip all the way to have a go.
And man were the village people friendly. Started asking for a place to stay and they even gave a call to a nearby community center and found that it was open. The name and contact is as follows 별빛문화센터 (011 9586 3928 tomz2001@naver. com). You get a room where you sleep on the floor, Korean ondol style and shared bathroom but it is clean and the manager, again is super friendly.
While at the restaurant we got to talk And got help from the workers at a nearby Bohyeonsan astronomy museum as they also had dinner at the same place. And it turned out to be a chance encounter.
So the museum is back down where I came from, and after dinner the next session was at 8 pm. The place is shut till the session time. People wait inside their cars. The reason is that in every session there are guides bringing guests around the tours and the planetarium.
As we recognized the people working there we got a special treatment. They gave a personalized tour, including a university student intern giving a lecture of the stars and constellations outdoors with a high powered laser pointer. I knew the big bear, or plow, but never knew where the rest were. And the laser pointer did its job. Got to use the telescopes too, not the large one they use for research but big enough to see craters on the moon and clusters of stars. All these were on roof top and you could see the retractable sliding roof covering the place. The sky on this night was clear enough to see almost everything.
Apart from this ground level observatory museum, one could also drive up to the top of Bohyeonsan. In the evening I was there, the car park was the only accessible place, the observatory on the peak of the mountain closed to public. I spent 30mins there taking photos and during that time they were other cars coming up close to midnight. I couldn’t say it was an ideal place to take photos there are towns polluting the lights along almost all horizons. And the wind here is strong too.
Well, for this trip I was only there for one night and I can sum it up to be a long long drive and had a unique dish where i probably went overboard with the amount of parsley I ate and ended with a great personalized tour of the observatory museum. The people here are great, no English unfortunately, so brush up your broken Korean before coming. There’s apparently a farm nearby for horseriding, which I didn’t get to check yet. Overall I loved it, but the 8-9 hours of driving in total probably requires a long sleep to recover from.
Recommended destination. As usual, drop me a note if you need help.
This small urban island is the home of many company headquarters, the seat of the Korean parliament and just about very major TV stations in Korea. Not to forget the occasional mega churches. Situated in a piece of land on the Han river, it is an island because a small stream cuts it off the mainland. So the southern part is just a stones throw to the mainland while the northern section requires a larger medieval catapult to get to land.
The western part of Yeouido has tight security, and there is where the National Assembly building is, where the politicians hang out. I don’t even bother to take out my camera as I’m sure security guards don’t like any pictures taken. There’s not really much to take here, mainly drab government building, that box with a dome on it and perhaps KBS station.
In the middle of the island is a large park and avenue, and it makes for a nice stroll when the weather is good. Which is the case. There are sculptures in the park and there are areas where you have to look out for cyclists and small kids learning to ride.
At the time of my walk, the IFC towers and shopping mall was just opening. As every IFC franchise in this part of the world requires multiple buildings, it’s worth going around looking for the best juxtaposition of sky scrapers for that fine art photo or two. In fact I don’t ever believe I knew that this place was being built at all. There were barriers the last time I was there, but every building looks the same in the 21st century. This one is no exception, except for the photographer looking for shapes to capture and opposing figures and interplay of highlight and shadows. I probably spent most of my frames here walking around the building.
Just me, walking around with Leica M2 and Nikon S2 rangefinders and two lenses (24mm and 50mm).
I just looked it up, jjim is translated as “steamed” but it is basically a stew with less soup than the usual, so it is really steamed with usually plenty of sauce of the spicy variety. Just about every shop sells this. Randomly picked this one on the way from Wando bus terminal to the ferry terminal. One of the cheapest I’ve seen, 38,000₩ for a medium plate that’s enough for 3 person with rice. It has abalone, squid, octopus, crabs, mussels, scallops and other seafood I cannot name served on a bed of bean sprouts and what looked like Korean water parsley (미나리) with hot chilli paste sauce. The sauce is more sweet than spicy, but tastes quite well with rice. Rice would e require at the end of the dish to wipe up all the sauce. The banchan here comes with kimchi that tastes more sour and you can kind of taste the fermentation. They like to serve the banchan here on a canteen type plates with shallow separates that serves four types at a time. Never seen this in Seoul other than canteens. Anyhow, tastes great and very filling especially when you finish off the sprouts.
Abalone porridge – Jeonbok Juk (전복죽)
It’s porridge, with sliced abalone, and greenish stuff that I later learned was the interior parts of the abalone that lies between the abalone and the shell. The stuff is then mixed into the porridge giving a sweet tasting gruel. Nicer in winter than summer but I’d happily eat this anytime. Price usually ranges around the 10,000₩ tag. Tastes even better if the shop puts more slices of abalone. Usually looks like less than a whole abalone in most shops I’ve tried it.
Served with different types of shell fish sashimi on a bed of lettuce. You’d dump in the rice yourself and put as much gochujang sauce and sesame oil as you would personally like and stir it into a nice uniform consistency. The shell fish gives the texture into every bite but I’m not sure that it lends too much to the overall taste. Other than being healthy, I can’t say that it’s a dish I like to order if I was a taste freak. 10,000₩ poorer for the privilege.
Instant Noodle with Abalone – Jeonbok Ramyun (전복라뮨)
Now this is a strange one. Instant ramen is popular cheap breakfast dish. Salty, MSG and a sinful serving or never expired noodles, but with two fresh abalones inside. Had this one when I got off the ferry on Cheongsando island. That’s 8,000₩ bowl of the best combination made with Nongshin ramen. They did add some bits of additional spring onions to make it look healthier.
Abalone and Seaweed Soup – Jeonbok Tteokbaegi
Two things Wando region is famous for. Abalone and seaweed in casserole dish. Tastes slightly salty, but not ramen salty. Probably a lot less salty than a jiggae too. Just nice as far as my taste goes. Served with rice and the usual banchan on canteen plates. Really good for hangover I think. Not that I plan to get drunk here though. Of course no need to do so to try this dish. At the shop I tried this, I counted 2 medium sized abalone. 10,000₩ dish. It looks great as a hangover dish!
Abalone Pancake – Jeonbok Paljeon (전복팔전)
I love paljeons. Even better when I spotted the abalone cousin on the menu. That’s one expensive pancake at 15,000₩. It’s made of batter with strips of whole spring onions including the oniony bits and the leafy parts and with uniformly spaced small abalones. I did not count the number of abalones but suffice to say, there’s enough to cover the whole 20cm radius pancake. Taste? With the soya sauce with chilli flakes as a side dip, really good. In fact so good I think this is my favorite Jeon so far because of the chewy texture. Look for it in restaurants. I got mine in Cheongsando close to the ferry terminal.