Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico

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Maybe this title is misleading. I always thought of the whole complex is called simply: Pyramid of the Sun. It sure is the main draw, in the sense that it is the largest thing in the whole park, but maybe Teotihuacan is more correct term of this place.

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One of the better panoramas I took at the park

What you get there is an old pre-Columbus city filled with pyramids built around a main walkway called the Avenue of the Dead. Dead only by name. It is a nice 1 hour bus ride to the northwest of Mexico City, and takes about half a day for a nice and easy trip. Budget 2-3 hours for the transport (return trip), and another 2-3 hours for for Teotihuacan itself. 

Before we start, please remember that the altitude at Teotihuacan is 2300m above sea level (measured on my GPS), so unless you’re from Quito, Ecuador, it is most likely you will tire a lot more easily than back home. So bring water, walk, rest, climb a bit and rest even more. 

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Tom Bihn Packing Cube. I love their goods. 

During the trip, I packed a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 Packing Cube backpack which is light and has this nice bottom compartment that fits a 1.5L bottle of water easily. Tom Bihn makes great stuff. Other than that, I had my camera, sketchpad, portable battery and a down jacket in the bag. 

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CDMX/Mexico City, Mexico

Welcome to Mexico City

When I was a kid, I was introduced to Mexico by this game on the Apple ][ called Montezuma’s Revenge. Apart from this, and the tex-mex style “Mexican” food, there’s not really much that people from Asia know about Mexico, apart from the drug-thing in the news. I was sure that there’s more to it… Mexico is so far from Asia, it is not one of those places that we make up our mind to go for a holiday. It is far…

And now here I am, in the part of the world I never expected to be. Thus I cannot miss the chance to visit Mexico City, what they call CDMX, and find out more about Aztec history and Mexican food. It’s just too bad that the reputation of CDMX is not really that great with all that is in the news, but I figured that if I stick to the right part of the city, I will be fine. 

In the 3 days that I have to spend, geography-wise I doubt I will have enough time to cover the entire city. Very quickly I knew that I had to stick to the CBD area, around La Condessa and Roma Norte and perhaps make a trip to the historical center. That should allow me to visit some nice restaurants, spend some time in the museums, etc. Quick Google search tells me to avoid anything north of Tepito, if I want to keep my head intact, so my imaginary border starts north of Centro. CDMX is so big I will not run out of things to do. As for food, I had to see what the fuss is about about Tacos, I need to get deep into Moles and Mezcals. 

As for reading materials, I started reading up on “Mexico, Aztec, Spanish and Republican” Volume 1 & 2 by Brantz Meyer. Always a good thing to read up on history and visit the areas of historical interest. I am never a fan of Instagram tourism.

Got to drop this image of Cancun – on the way to Mexico City
CDMX – Roma in the background where the office buildings are

On the map, the international airport looks it is right in the city, a little to the east. Apart from the high altitude, I do know that CDMX is one of the largest cities of the world, so I was expecting a long trip to Reforma, on the  western part of the city. No disappointment there. 

Entrance to Bosque de Chapultepec
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Gongju City 공주시, Chungcheongnam-do

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 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.

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Suwon City Walls (수원화성) Revisit

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. 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.

Continue reading “Suwon City Walls (수원화성) Revisit”

Lisbon, Portugal

This is my first time to Lisbon. It was part of a business trip, so as can be expected, it is mainly airport, hotel, meetings and then back to the airport. However, I planned to have an evening out in town on the last evening before flying out. Travelled light as I was not sure about security in the city (it felt safe, but take standard precautions). Packed a Leica M2, Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH FLE as I wanted maximum sharpness at f1.4 and brought along 2 rolls of 400TX film which I will push to 800 ISO to get acceptable exposure. Walked around down town and here are the results. Another thing to add is how cheap it felt to be in Lisbon – after being used to the cost of cities like Paris. A taxi from the airport to town cost less than 10 Euros, and cocktails in bars are 3 Euros each. Makes for a case for a return visit in the future.

 Marques de Pombal Metro Station Marques de Pombal Metro Station  Baixa-Chiado Station Baixa-Chiado Station  Chiado at night Chiado at night  Small town square in front of National Theatre of São Carlos Small town square in front of National Theatre of São Carlos

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Seoul – Dongdaemun on Sunday

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 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.  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.   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.  One of the thing I like about this market (and markets in Korea in general) are all these transport Daelim bikes.

Continue reading “Seoul – Dongdaemun on Sunday”

From Seoul Land to Jamsil, the hard way

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. 

 I love the Ambit. I had it recording at 1s intervals. I've used it up to 10 hours before, so the battery should be alright for this trip. 
I love the Ambit. I had it recording at 1s intervals. I’ve used it up to 10 hours before, so the battery should be alright for this trip. 

 Map of the entire trip plotted on a map from Google.
Map of the entire trip plotted on a map from Google.

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. 

 Section 1: Seoul Land to Gyeongbu Expressway
Section 1: Seoul Land to Gyeongbu Expressway

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. 

 Guardhouse just next to Seoul Land car park, you will need to go up a small uphill road to see it
Guardhouse just next to Seoul Land car park, you will need to go up a small uphill road to see it

 Behind the guardhouse
Behind the guardhouse

 And it goes uphill from here. But this is the easy part.
And it goes uphill from here. But this is the easy part.

 I would say it is a nice cool day today, plenty of hikers, no way to get bored. But I only saw one person running this trail today. And it would be me. 
I would say it is a nice cool day today, plenty of hikers, no way to get bored. But I only saw one person running this trail today. And it would be me. 

 First of many temporary trail stores selling rice wine and tidbits
First of many temporary trail stores selling rice wine and tidbits

 This section goes around one of the lower peaks before Cheonggyesan. I didn't run here because the terrain was steep and there was a little traffic jam. The trail is wide enough for one row in most places. 
This section goes around one of the lower peaks before Cheonggyesan. I didn’t run here because the terrain was steep and there was a little traffic jam. The trail is wide enough for one row in most places. 

 Running is fine here, but beware the rocks. This is close to one of the lower peaks, you can tell because the trees here look like they have been battered by strong winds more than once in their lifetime. 
Running is fine here, but beware the rocks. This is close to one of the lower peaks, you can tell because the trees here look like they have been battered by strong winds more than once in their lifetime. 

 First of 3 or 4 helipads that I will see today
First of 3 or 4 helipads that I will see today

 This is the toughest part of the hike, not too dangerous. Relatively speaking. 
This is the toughest part of the hike, not too dangerous. Relatively speaking. 

 Time for a banana break. And yes, I do recommend hiking poles. Uphill they do help transfer some of the load to your hands and provide the 3 point contact for stability, and running downhill they help with balance and you can slalom like skiing. 
Time for a banana break. And yes, I do recommend hiking poles. Uphill they do help transfer some of the load to your hands and provide the 3 point contact for stability, and running downhill they help with balance and you can slalom like skiing. 

 Not sure if these electronic turnstiles are working. There was only one set that I encountered. It could be for counting hikers. 
Not sure if these electronic turnstiles are working. There was only one set that I encountered. It could be for counting hikers. 

 And finally the peak. Actually this is Isubong 이수봉 peak and not Cheonggyesan. Who cares, Cheonggyesan is not on the way for today anyway. And it is all downhill from here.  
And finally the peak. Actually this is Isubong 이수봉 peak and not Cheonggyesan. Who cares, Cheonggyesan is not on the way for today anyway. And it is all downhill from here.  

 Probably the nicest route for the day, Azaleas in full bloom. 
Probably the nicest route for the day, Azaleas in full bloom. 

 Signs of civilisation after Cheonggyesan
Signs of civilisation after Cheonggyesan

 End of part 1
End of part 1

 Part 2: Inneungsan Trek
Part 2: Inneungsan Trek

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. 

 Going under the Gyeongbu Expressway
Going under the Gyeongbu Expressway

 Navigating using Daum Maps
Navigating using Daum Maps

 iPhones are useful, but since you don't want to keep it on all the time for battery drain, compass like this makes a lot of sense if you know which direction you should be moving. 
iPhones are useful, but since you don’t want to keep it on all the time for battery drain, compass like this makes a lot of sense if you know which direction you should be moving. 

 After crossing village houses, and farms, I finally get to the trail head for Inneungsan. This trail is a little less popular, and I wouldn't see many people at least for the first hour. It goes through a rural road so a map is important or you will probably never find the path. I've been here before so I have a bit of photographic memory left. 
After crossing village houses, and farms, I finally get to the trail head for Inneungsan. This trail is a little less popular, and I wouldn’t see many people at least for the first hour. It goes through a rural road so a map is important or you will probably never find the path. I’ve been here before so I have a bit of photographic memory left. 

 The start is easy enough, more foliage than Cheonggyesan, and quite obvious that the trail is less used since it is narrower and also less of the soil shows through. All along the way there are barb wires splitting the ridge into two, and on the other side is army territory it seems.
The start is easy enough, more foliage than Cheonggyesan, and quite obvious that the trail is less used since it is narrower and also less of the soil shows through. All along the way there are barb wires splitting the ridge into two, and on the other side is army territory it seems.

 Did I just mentioned military?
Did I just mentioned military?

 And another one. In fact there are lot of them around this mountain. 
And another one. In fact there are lot of them around this mountain. 

 Inneungsan peak. A helipad.
Inneungsan peak. A helipad.

 This was after the peak and it was downhill for at least an hour or more. I ran most of the way downhill, but around here I could feel my lower back starting to call out from fatigue. 
This was after the peak and it was downhill for at least an hour or more. I ran most of the way downhill, but around here I could feel my lower back starting to call out from fatigue. 

 Once you get to a clearing turn to the first left and you'll cross this grave site. Right after that you're back to reality. And it is Seoul again once more. I didn't take too many photos on this mountain precisely because once you have been running 4 hours everything gets boring . 
Once you get to a clearing turn to the first left and you’ll cross this grave site. Right after that you’re back to reality. And it is Seoul again once more. I didn’t take too many photos on this mountain precisely because once you have been running 4 hours everything gets boring . 

 Through a village at the end of the trail
Through a village at the end of the trail

 Section 3: From Seongnam to Jamsil - on road
Section 3: From Seongnam to Jamsil – on road

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.

 Yawn. At Sinchon-dong going up through Segok-dong.
Yawn. At Sinchon-dong going up through Segok-dong.

 Crossing the river towards Garak Market
Crossing the river towards Garak Market

 Garak Market, now this would be a nice place to stop for a meal, but I have other plans. 
Garak Market, now this would be a nice place to stop for a meal, but I have other plans. 

 Incidentally this is where I stopped recording my Ambit tracks. Time for some cargo loading after a long run. Legs are tired. But the mind is refreshed. 
Incidentally this is where I stopped recording my Ambit tracks. Time for some cargo loading after a long run. Legs are tired. But the mind is refreshed. 

So till another adventure…

Preview for Tromsø, Norway: 1-12 March 2013

 Hints of Aurora Borealis in Laksvatn to the east of Tromsø, Norway. 
Hints of Aurora Borealis in Laksvatn to the east of Tromsø, Norway. 

For a little more than a week in March, I made the trip up north, way up north to Tromsø, Norway to catch the aurora activity during this year’s solar max. What a trip it turned out to be. There was no CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) during that two weeks and I spent most of the time caught in a snow storm, but it was a trip to remember for a lifetime, maybe not as I have plans to go back there in the future. Anyway, while I work on my “opus”, enjoy this photo. 

Bohyeonsan Observatory, Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do

 Somewhere in the middle of this photo is the big dipper. Just about the only one I can recognize in a typical night sky. This was taken from the peak of Bohyeonsan close to the observatory. I agree, it could have been taken from the village too, but...
Somewhere in the middle of this photo is the big dipper. Just about the only one I can recognize in a typical night sky. This was taken from the peak of Bohyeonsan close to the observatory. I agree, it could have been taken from the village too, but…

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. 

 I took a picture of this map just in case I need to get around, and my GPS was useless. Never had the need to do that, but I post it up just in case. 
I took a picture of this map just in case I need to get around, and my GPS was useless. Never had the need to do that, but I post it up just in case. 

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. 

 You can't miss it when you see this sign, just go straight and you will go through a village. The observatory requires a drive up a mountain pass.
You can’t miss it when you see this sign, just go straight and you will go through a village. The observatory requires a drive up a mountain pass.

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. 

 While I never had a sip from that kettle, I guess this is where the hot water comes from. This type of heating system is seen in most countryside restaurants. I love it. 
While I never had a sip from that kettle, I guess this is where the hot water comes from. This type of heating system is seen in most countryside restaurants. I love it. 

 If I heard it right, this is a 2 year old kimchi
If I heard it right, this is a 2 year old kimchi

 The beanpaste here sure tastes different, like it has not gone through a machine.
The beanpaste here sure tastes different, like it has not gone through a machine.

 Grill some pork belly (unmarinated) with fresh parsley next to it...
Grill some pork belly (unmarinated) with fresh parsley next to it…

 And there you have it, a Yeongcheon speciality - samgyeopsal minari combo
And there you have it, a Yeongcheon speciality – samgyeopsal minari combo

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. 

 First weekend of spring, the flowers are in full bloom, and the parsley are in season.
First weekend of spring, the flowers are in full bloom, and the parsley are in season.

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. 

 Moon taken through one of the smaller telescopes at the observatory with an iPhone.
Moon taken through one of the smaller telescopes at the observatory with an iPhone.

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. 

 Nice clear night on 13th April 2013
Nice clear night on 13th April 2013

Jeonju, Jeollabuk, South Korea: Bibimbap Town

Directly south of Seoul, is the small town of Jeonju. There is plenty of history in this town, I’m sure, but this trip is not about history but about eating. No, I have not sold out yet, it is still a travel site, and not another “foodie blog”.
Back to the topic at hand… Jeonju is just 3 hours away from Seoul, enough to get there in the morning, have lunch and dinner and then come back before midnight, which is what I’m going to do.

At the Express Bus Terminal, the bus leaves from Central City terminal about every 10 minutes. There are two classes of bus, but I’d go for the more expensive service that cost 17,900W one way. According to the map, it is just about 200km away, but as usual, traffic jam plus heavy rain means that the trip took 3 hours. There will be a break half way to Jeonju, and the rest stop i surprisingly well equipped. There is a small supermarket, and plenty of shops selling sit down meals or korean junk food. They even have toebokki and sundae (korean blood sausage, not ice cream).

 Highway rest stop: Korean junk food… and it is good!
Highway rest stop: Korean junk food… and it is good!

The bus ends up in Jeonju’s Express Bus Terminal (전주고속버스터미널) in the north of the town. By now it is already quite late in the afternoon, around 2pm and I’ve not have my lunch yet along the way. At least it’s time for a proper lunch. There are plenty of taxis waiting at the bus terminal, which is convenient.

Seungmidang Restaurant
First Bibimbap mission takes me to Seongmidang restaurant (성미당) close to the Gaeksa landmark. It is hidden in a small street, but with a GPS you will never be lost looking for location 35.817413, 127.145264. Even at 3pm there is a queue here. The couple in front of me are Japanese, which makes this restaurant famous in Japanese guide books too. Normally I would avoid places like these, but maybe there’s no harm giving it a try.

 Seungmidang Restaurant exterior. I was so hungry I didn’t spot the “high end audio” shop next door.
Seungmidang Restaurant exterior. I was so hungry I didn’t spot the “high end audio” shop next door.

 Entering the restaurant...
Entering the restaurant…

There are 2 types of bibimbap here on the menu, raw beef and normal. It is not cheap at all. But at least the banchans are plentiful and not too bad tasting. And soon the main dish arrives in a brass bowl that is heated so much that the stuff inside sizzles. You mix is around and get the beef sort of cooked. The rice is already mixed with the gochujang sauce, unlike most bibimbaps I’ve had in Seoul. And the hot bowl creates a layer of hardened rice where it contacts the bowl. They call this nooroongji 누룽지, which I used to hate, but started to like after some time. What’s important is that the dish smells great.

 One way to tell a good restaurant is the sparse menu. This one is not the simplest one I’ve seen, but it still screams quality
One way to tell a good restaurant is the sparse menu. This one is not the simplest one I’ve seen, but it still screams quality

 Bibimbap before mixing. The red stuff is the beef. Gochujang is already mixed into the rice under all the toppings.
Bibimbap before mixing. The red stuff is the beef. Gochujang is already mixed into the rice under all the toppings.

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IMG_3351-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

After mixing, and pre-diving in… I could still smell the dish while writing this up.

One sentence reviews the whole dish: its damn good.

The gochujang sauce that they use is on the sweet side. Not terribly spicy, but the whole thing just balances together. I eat very quick. And best part of it all, the layer of burnt rice at the bottom with the burnt gochujang sauce. I notice locals pouring soup at the end to soften the noorongji, but I quickly developed a way to scrap the crunchy bits off the bottom. And it was good.

Well, I’m here as a tourist…
… so I better do what tourists usually do. After the nice late lunch, its time to walk around to let the food settle and get ready for dinner. Just a street to the north of the restaurant is the Gaeksa. Wikitravel describes it as an ancient hotel. It looks like a small building with an over engineered roof but I don’t see how it could be a hotel for a town. There are maximum of 3-4 rooms, so perhaps it is for VIPs only. Locals are just hanging around here having a picnic.

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IMG_3368-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

Gaeksa

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IMG_3371-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

More Gaeksa. And so I lied. There were not that many people here today. Perhaps it was forecasted to rain?

A few streets to the south east of the Gaeksa is a park where Gyeongijeon (경기전) shrine is located. I believe the attraction here is the portrait of Taejo Lee, the founder of the Joseon dynasty is placed. In the central building, there is indeed a portrait. Otherwise the buildings look very chinese inspired. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to tell that this was in Korea if I saw the exact building in China. Other than that, not much more I can say about this place. There are plenty of photo groups walking around with large lenses (I don’t know what’s with these people, walking around a park with a 70-200 f2.8. If they are shooting birds, I can think of better places than parks… not to mention they probably need a 600mm for all these small birds).

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IMG_3390-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

Strange logo at Gyeongijeon park. I don’t understand Korean yet, but it doesn’t look like “toilet” to me.

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IMG_3392-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

Now this looks more like a park

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IMG_3397-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

I suppose this must be one of the shrines…

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IMG_3399-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

… and yes it is, and this is the portrait people came to see. Perhaps photography is prohibited here. Anyway.

Time to move east to the Hanok Village. Short review: I thought that I would be looking at old buildings. What this is, is a mash of old and new reconstructed buildings. The attraction here seems to be more the shopping than the building. There are restaurants, shops selling handicraft, a nice shallow granite “stream” on the walkway and even an Italian restaurant. Nice place to take a walk, but disappointing historically.

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IMG_3422-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

Traditional meets modern

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IMG_3423-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

On the way to the Hanok Village, there are more bibimbap restaurants than any other

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IMG_3431-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

Smack in the heart of the Hanok Village. And I’m sure you were expecting some old stuff too…

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IMG_3441-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

For the benefit of doubt, lets assume this is a renovated old house. This is an inn. Which I presume is getting healthy business.

Why should I complain too much. The aim was to walk enough so that I can go on to the next restaurant for more bibimbap around dinner time before going back to Seoul. By the time I was done with the Hanok village, my watch registers 7pm. Sounds like dinner time to me. I backtracked using the cookie crumb feature on my Garmin and back to Seungmidang Restaurant as there is supposed to be another competing restaurant near by that is just as popular.

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IMG_3463-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

Evening in Jeonju, enroute to the next meal destination…

Gajok Hwegwan Restaurant
This restaurant is located at the south west corner of the intersection at 35.817154, 127.146157. The korean name is 가족 회관. You have to go up one flight of stairs to the second floor and enter an entrance full of pots of ingredients. This place is more of a factory than the first restaurant. Everything is piled high, waiters and waitresses with trolleys with banchan arranged and stacked up on trays ready to unload onto new tables very quickly. And the bibimbap arrived very quick too. Everything efficient.

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IMG_3480-LR-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

Restaurant’s army of ajummas at work.

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IMG_3471-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

Le Banchans

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IMG_3476-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

and more Bibimbaps

How did it go? I loved the banchans here. Probably better than Seungmidang. Too bad the Bibimbap was normal tasting. Still quite ok, but nothing magical like Seungmidang I believe it could be because of the gochujang here doesn’t taste as good. But overall it was a good meal, rescued thanks to the banchans. At least that’s how I feel.

Then again two bibimbaps in the span of 4 hours is probably too much for a day. After dinner, it was time to take a taxi to the bus station for the 3 hour long trip back to Seoul. I guess I’ll have to come back again to do the other restaurants in the future. And I think I might have tasted what is definitely the best bibimbap so far. And that’s a big feat for a small town!

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IMG_3483-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

Ticket back to Seoul

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IMG_3484-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

Night bus. Man, that TV screen is tiny from the back!

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KRJeonju-2011-08-13-23-05.jpg

Resulting path that I took around downtown Jeonju

*End of Post*