Hello from Seoul! It has been a crazy week and a half already. Before I dive into the deets, I wanted to let you know of an update that I’ve made to the blog. I have added a world map showing our tentative itinerary. Friends take a look and let me know if you will be traveling around the same time in the same area and would like to meet up or if you have any recommendations on things we should do or cities nearby that we should check out!
I mentioned in my last post that I would work on a video of our time in San Fran. Well that has not happened yet, but hopefully Hoch and I can put something together to share soon and I will post it when ready.
So now on to South Korea! Well to start, the flight from San Francisco to Incheon, South Korea was 11.5 hours and they are 16 hours ahead of San Fran so we ended up losing more than a full day just flying there. We left San Fran at 2:00 pm on Sunday and landed at 6:30 pm on Monday. I actually stayed awake the entire time, but rather than work on the San Fran video like I should have, I watched way too many tv shows and movies. The flight was not as bad as I thought it would be (we flew economy class), though my butt did hurt from sitting so much.
Once we landed, went through immigration etc. and then took a bus to meet Hoch’s parents at a bus stop close to their place. They were at the stop waiting for us when we arrived with the family dog, Snowball, and we went to grab a late dinner at a place called BBQ chicken. We ate a salad and fried chicken (funny combo) along with a couple of beers. Afterwards, we went back to their place for the evening and crashed.
The next few days were a whirlwind of new places, food, and culture. Hoch’s parents had planned a family road trip for us to start our time in Korea. So his parents, Ki, Hoch, and I loaded up the car for a 4 day road trip to the southern coast and back. Below is a map of all the places we visited. Red markers show places we stayed the night and yellow markers were just day trips. You can click on the markers for the city and a brief description of what we did there.
To those who have been to the green mountain state (Vermont), South Korean countryside looks very similar with beautiful, green mountains everywhere. For the most part we stayed on major highways, but also traveled on smaller local roads that sometimes were very curvy and you could see rice patties and other gardens along the way. For the road trip part of this blog post, I am going to separate what we did by the day since we were all over the place geographically.
Road Trip Day 1 – We drove to Tongyeong first. We had a breakfast of noodles on the road and had a seafood lunch once we arrived. We went to a local tourist attraction in which you can take a cable car to the top of the highest peak and see awesome views of all the islands along the southern coast. Afterwards, we went to the location of a naval command center and were able to see some of the old buildings/workshops and what took place in each one. We ended up getting some dinner to go (pork ssam AKA lettuce wraps) and ate at the hotel while watching Korean baseball.
Road Trip Day 2 – We started the day with a big breakfast in Tongyeong and then took off to head to Namhae for a hike. On the way, we made an unplanned stop at a beach that had footprints of dinosaur fossils. We walked along the water and saw several footprints and a couple of cave like taverns. Afterwards, we made it to the hiking trail, which consisted of several peaks, a small restaurant with a view, and ended at a monastery.
On a side note, hiking in Korea is huge! There are so many trails to chose from and so many people that do it. It really is like its own hiking culture or something. You see so many older women (known as Ajeummas) wearing these crazy, colorful, yet legit hiking outfits, huuuuge sun visors, hiking poles, the works. They hike in herds, sing songs, and look a little ridiculous.
Anyways, after the hike, we went to a grocery to pick up some items to go with the marinated meat that Hoch’s parents brought for the trip. We stayed at a campsite glamping style. We were in a cabin with running water and electricity for the night. For dinner we had Korean short ribs (ssam style), kimchi, and rice. Another side note, try these Korean short ribs from Trader Joe’s when you get a chance. They are pretty good and quick and easy to make!
Road Trip Day 3 – We had breakfast in the cabin before taking off for the day. Everyone had spicy ramen except for me. I tried it, and it was very good, but an entire bowl of it would have set my mouth on fire, seriously I don’t know how they do it. I had an egg and rice dish that Hoch’s mom made for me instead. After breakfast, we drove about an hour to a larger monastery, walked around a bit and then stopped to have green tea the traditional Korean way. The lady sat with us at the table to serve the tea and explained the sequence of how it is served (all in Korean of course, but I understood the gist). We grabbed lunch at a restaurant that was recommended to us from the ladies at the tea place. The restaurant specialized in bimbimbap, a signature Korean dish which is a bowl of rice with different vegetables, meat, and an egg (right up my alley :)). The place we went to was known for its vegetable bimbimbaps, so we tried those and they were very delicious.
After lunch, we drove to a tourist attraction similar to the Tower of London in London. There was a wall surrounding a preserved city. All the houses had straw roofs and some were set up as part of the attraction while others were still used as actual homes!
Afterwards, we headed to one more stop for the day. We drove to a wetland area that was turned tourist attraction. You could walk through the fields via raised walking platform which lead to a nearby small mountain. You then follow the trail to the top to see some awesome views of the area. At this point, I looked at my i-phone health app and we walked 8+ miles this day (by the way if my phone is in airplane mode, why does this app still work? sketchy stuff).
For dinner we headed to Gangjin for a traditional Korean dinner. We had our own private room, were sitting on the floor without a table, and all the sudden they bring out our table with several traditional platters for us to eat. The main dish was a dried fish which is how they used to preserve the fish back in the day. It was definitely a fancier meal. After dinner, we drove to Hwasun to stay for the night.
Road Trip Day 4 – For breakfast, we drove about an hour to a small city that has a street known for its noodles. It is supposedly really busy and hard to get a table for dinner and on weekends, but we went early enough that we may have been the first table of the day. After breakfast, we walked to a nearby Bamboo Forest and wandered around for a little bit. The original plan was to then rent some bikes to ride around, but we were all pretty tired from the day before and decided to cut the road trip a day short. We went ahead and drove a few hours to Daejon to have lunch at Hoch’s aunt’s restaurant. After lunch, we were on the road again and drove a few more hours to Andong, which is where Hoch’s dad is from. We stopped by Hoch’s grandparents and uncle’s grave site and the family paid their respects. Rather than leaving flowers, it is tradition to offer in season fruit, dried fish, and soju. The entire family did a short ritual offering these things (you do not leave them there) and then we were on our way. It was cool to see how their culture did these things. After this, we headed back to Seoul. We arrived close to 10:00 pm, hung out watching some tv and then called it a night.
So that is it for the road trip portion of our time in South Korea. The rest of the time we have spent in the Seoul area. I am glad we did the road trip first thing, it was a good way to keep us busy and get us on Korea time. We did wake up around 5:00 am the first day and slowly slept in later and later as the week went on.
Once we were back in Seoul, we took some time to relax, do laundry, and actually got in a couple of workouts. Some of the highlights of Seoul include a Korean baseball game, meeting up with a friend from back home for some Korean BBQ, and just seeing different parts of the city.
Some things you may or may not know about Korea:
- Beds are a fairly new thing here. Families are starting to get them, but a lot of people still sleep on thick mats (we did our entire time here).
- Not all places have shower curtains. There are drains on the floor outside of the tub, so the water can drain that way too. All bathrooms, including hotels, have a pair of rubber flip flops you can use if you do not want to get your feet wet after someone has already showered.
- Koreans recycle everything. They separate food waste and rarely use plastic bags. They have these waste bins that weigh your food waste and you pay for how much you dispose monthly, so it is an incentive to minimize food waste as much as possible.
- Korean meals consist of several side dishes with one main dish that you share with the table. It is a tapas culture. The only time you get your own bowl is for noodles, rice, and stews.
- Koreans drink a lot of alcohol. Most meals at restaurants involve soju (Korean version of sake) or beer. There is also Korean etiquette that goes with the drinking. The youngest person usually serves everyone. As soon as you finished your drink, they will refill it. You only pour drinks for others, not for yourself. When pouring and accepting drinks, you should use your right hand supported by your left. You should wait to have the first drink all together. And you should also turn to the side away from the eldest person when taking a sip. Not everyone is strict about this etiquette, but when dining with older folks, it is best to err on the side of caution.
- You should not call someone older than you by their actual name. Mom, dad, aunt, uncle are used (in Korean of course). It is better to say Mr. or Mrs. Shin if you are not related.
Some awkward Kimberly moments:
- I went to hug Hoch’s aunts goodbye and they were not having it. I just stood there awkwardly and then moved on.
- I must’ve had a little buzz after dinner one night. We were leaving a fancier restaurant and a guy was bowing at us as we left. I did not notice the bowing and just waved goodbye. Hoch called me out on it instantly and we could not stop laughing about it.
Ok, that is all for now! Hope you enjoy reading about everything so far! I have a lot more pictures to share, but wanted to go ahead and post this today since we leave for Japan tomorrow!
P.S. I’ve also been updating snapchat with our daily activities, so add me if you’d like to see those as well! My username is kkramseyncsu!