travel korea

Saturdays in Seoul (ep. 1) - Bongeunsa Temple + The Great Korean Beer Festival

Welcome to "Saturdays in Seoul"

A new lil’ vlogging venture…

...and, this time, my boyfriend Andrew is along for the ride.

Though we still have quite a bit of work to do as far as our coordination goes, (in more ways than one... watch 'til the end to see what I mean...), overall, we had a great Saturday and are really excited about creating more of these to document the rest of our time in Seoul.

 

*No Andrews were harmed in the making of this video*

 

WHERE WE WENT

 

Bongeunsa Temple

In episode one, Andrew and I start our day at Bongeunsa Temple, a calm oasis in the middle of the bustling city. It's my favorite time of year to visit the temples in South Korea... because the rows of lanterns are already hung for Buddha's birthday, but the hoardes of tourists aren't lined up to snap photos with them... yet...

Avoid the crowds and head there early, or stop in at night to see the lanterns all lit up.

Getting There

By cab: 봉은사 

By metro: Bongeunsa Temple Station, Exit 1. Cheongdam Station, Exit 2.

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Great Korean Beer Festival

After exploring the temple, we wandered over to the Great Korean Beer Festival, conveniently located by the COEX mall just across the street. If you missed it this weekend, don't worry - this year's beer festival is everyday from 12 p.m. until 10 p.m. through May 6th. 

COEX is pretty massive, and we weren't sure where exactly to go at first for the festival. You'll find this year's festival at the K-POP Square right outside of SMTOWN. Check out the food and drink selection before you go here.

Getting There

By cab: 삼성역

By metro: Samsung Station, Exit 5 or 6.

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Starfield Library

When it got a bit chilly at the beer festival we ducked inside COEX's Starfield Library to warm up (and charge my phone). If you're in the area, it's absolutely a must see.

Directions are the same as above.

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Unfortunately, the day wasn't entirely smooth sailing. When the hoodie I bought at H&M didn't warm me up, I was shivering so much I was nearly spilling my beer. Then Andrew told me it wasn't even cold outside, so I decided to stop rallying through the day and we headed home... where a full blown fever fully caught up with me. Being the complete perfect human that he is, Andrew got me soup, made us tea, and I was asleep by 10.

Despite this turn of events, it was still an awesome day, and, again, in my opinion, resulted in what may be the best video I've made so far.

Check it out for yourself!

If you liked this week's episode, be sure to give it a thumbs up, and subscribe to my channel on Youtube for future Saturday shenanigans in Seoul!

 

 

Escaping Seoul - The quietest, quirkiest, and quickest getaways

Life in Seoul is incredible. You can hop on the subway with no set plans and will absolutely always find something to do. The possibilities as to what you will find in this massive city are endless. Seoul is dynamic, it's fast-paced, but, to be honest, life in the city is downright hectic at times. Sometimes, this Carolina girl needs to escape the can of sardines that is Seoul to get some much needed breathing room. Thankfully, Korea’s many mountains and affordable public transportation make it easy and cheap to take a break from the city.

Here's a handful of my favorite quick escapes. They’re the quirkiest, quietest, (and creepiest) places I’ve been when I needed to take a  breather, and just cool places to go if you’re looking for something different to do.

1. Up a mountain. Any Mountain

For several reasons, this is my favorite way to escape the city. There are so many mountains and trails to choose from, so, even if you do go up the same one twice, every hike feels different. My personal favorite is Gwanaksan, which is conveniently just around the corner from my apartment. A short walk there, an hour or so hike up, and I can be at the top in time to enjoy the sun rise.

There is something about hiking to the top of a mountain that just provides a renewed sense of clarity. You're so relieved to make it to the summit that whatever problems you were stressing over before or during your climb up seem so small. If you go early enough and beat the crowd of ajummas and ajussis, it's also DEAD quiet... which is a rare find in Seoul... Not to mention the added bonuses that hiking is both a killer workout and totally free.

 

2. Glamping

A close second to a weekend hike is Korea’s glamorous version of camping. A couple girlfriends and I, with four bottles of champagne, face masks, and a family size container of cheese balls in tow, headed to Banu, a glamping site in Hongcheon.

With two full size beds, a loft, full kitchen, and an indoor bathroom, these “camping” pods were nicer than our apartments in Seoul. We played around in the grass in our barefoot (a luxury you will miss more than you think if you were raised in the country), roasted hot dogs over the fire pit on the deck, played with the camp site owner's puppy, and, when the mosquitos eating us alive got to be too much, went inside our trendy pod to play cards and watch old N*Sync music videos (while wearing our hilarious Shrek and Kung Fu Panda face masks).

The next morning, my friends awoke to the sound of me popping our last two bottles of champagne – (What can I say? Life is meant to be celebrated). We finished off our goods, and very reluctantly, (when the cleaning staff came knocking on our door), vacated our Banu home away from home.

If you need a quick escape from Seoul, I would highly recommend glamping. There are SO many glamping sites to choose from, but I found Banu to be really easy and convenient. It’s just an hour bus ride away, and you can book a pod on AirBnb!

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3. Yongma Land

In the suburbs of north eastern Seoul lies an abandoned, supposedly haunted amusement park. The whole place and it’s run down rides had a really creepy vibe… that is up until a band of Korean models showed up with their camera men and boom boxes blasting K-pop in tow. By the time I left, the creepiest thing about the place was me – the lone foreigner, wearing all black, hanging out on all the rides and slinking about the place. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

To get to Yongma Land, go to Mangu Station and take exit 1. After walking around for a bit I decided to just get a cab. I had no trouble finding my way back to the station from Yongma Land, but, for some reason, finding my way there was tough. After walking around for a bit I decided to just get a cab (and since it only costs a few bucks, it’s the most time and cost effective way to go).

 

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4. Gonjiam Psychiactric Hospital

If you're into abandoned and/or supposedly haunted places, you should also check out Gonjiam Psychiactric Hospital in Gwangju-si. Mental illness was, and is, really taboo in Korea, so this place is really out in the middle of nowhere. There's a big gate out front that says "Do Not Enter," but we crawled under and explored the old asylum anyway. (We later discovered that we could have just walked around the gate instead of crawling under it... don't make this mistake).

Gonjiam was more interesting than creepy. There were so many rooms filled with old calendars, tables, chairs, beds, and other random personal items that had just been left behind. The walls were covered in graffiti, and several empty cans of Cass, left behind by fellow trespassers, were scattered around the various deteriorating floors. The scariest part about this place was not knowing whether or not we'd get caught here... and the funniest part was hiding and scaring a Korean couple who wandered in after us. Weird way to spend a Saturday... but a cool one nonetheless.

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My time in Korea is beginning to come to an end, and, with just nine more weekends left before I leave the country, I want to cram them with as many good times and funky places as possible. What are your recommendations for a quick and quirky escape from the concrete jungle that is Seoul? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

Snowy Friendsgiving at Daedunsan

Mount Fuji or snow globe? 

Mount Fuji or snow globe? 

Last weekend for Friendsgiving, a couple girlfriends and I took a day trip out of the city down south to beautiful Daedunsan – ("San" means mountain in Korean). First and foremost, let me just say that I have pretty horrible luck with mountains. Last February, when I visited Japan, my friend and I took a bus all the way from Tokyo to Mount Fuji. When we got there, Mount Fuji was nowhere to be seen because of the massive snowstorm that was plowing down on us. We took a few pictures (not picturing any mountain), and made some baby snowmen before heading back to Tokyo.

Last weekend at Daedunsan was no different. As soon as we arrived at the mountain base, the snow started to fall. Up until that point in the day, we’d polished off a bottle of champagne in bus-mosas (mimosas on a bus), sampled Korean wine at Chateau Mani, and even soaked our feet in a red wine hot tub. It goes without saying that we were not at all bummed when the snow started to fall. All in all, Friendsgiving weekend was a success.

(Pictured below: The internet versus real life).

I haven’t always had the best luck with friends. For me, making good friends, especially abroad, is like walking through a landmine. After having many a friendship explode in my face, I’ve learned quality trumps quantity every time. It’s more important to find the people who challenge you, inspire you to do and be better, and, most importantly, who you have a good ass time with no matter what.

These two beauties are bomb in the best way. I'm so thankful to have stumbled across them. Our photos look NOTHING like the ones I'd seen of Daedunsan, and the day did not go at all as I’d expected... It went about 1,000 times better, & the post-winery, suspension bridge snowball fight was the best way to ring in what will surely be an epic winter.

Weekender in Geoje

When you hear “Korea,” you’re probably more likely to think kimchi, K-Pop, or kim Jong-un than you are to think “Island Getaway.” I discovered this weekend, however, that South Korea’s picturesque and easily accessible Geoje Island is actually the perfect place to spend a quiet weekend away from the city. 

Getting There

The longer I live here, the more I realize how extremely underrated South Korea is. One of my favorite things about this country is how easy it is to travel, both to nearby destinations, like Japan and China, and within the country itself. As I mentioned in a previous post, public transportation in Korea is amazing. Even though it was just a regular two day weekend, my friend and I decided to take advantage of a break in the rain, which, lately, has been relentless, to travel down south to Geoje-do, Korea’s second largest island after Jeju. [FYI: The suffix –do means island in Korean, so Geoje can also be written as Geoje-do, aka Geoje Island.]

Getting to the island was a breeze. We caught a 12:30 a.m. bus from Express Bus Terminal in Seoul down to Busan, and then had another short bus ride from Busan to Gohyeon Bus Terminal on Geoje the next morning. An overnight bus ride may sound horrific, but catching a late Friday night bus is actually a really good (and cheap) way to maximize your time on a short weekender. Highway traffic is nonexistent and the seats are surprisingly comfortable. Even with my long giraffe legs, I still had loads of leg room. 

[If you’re considering traveling to Geoje-do, there is a bus that goes straight from Nambu Bus terminal in Seoul to Gohyeon. Also, there are two bus stations on the island - Gohyeon on the East side and the smaller Jangseungpo on the West side - I didn't realize this until we were leaving. To save time and money, check which one terminal is closer to your intended destination!]

 

Getting Around

After arriving on the island we were greeted by one of the friendliest, chattiest, and most reckless cab drivers I’ve had the pleasure of riding with in Korea. "Most reckless" is saying something, as I’ve had my fair share of terrifying cab experiences, including three cab accidents in the last two months.

Between frustrated honking, hastily swerving around slow drivers, and repeatedly commenting that we were very beautiful, like David and Victoria Beckham... (his words - not mine), he still managed to get us to our destination unscathed... (in addition to finding out where we were from, where we live now, and pinpointing the precise location of North Carolina using google maps).

At the end of our very fast and the furious style drive through Geoje's winding roads, he then hopped out of the car and insisted on taking photos with and of us. Despite his questionable driving methods, I must say, his multitasking skills and selfie game were still on point.

From what I could see during my two days in Geoje, cabs and buses are the primary way to get around. In this time, I also realized that Seoul has really spoiled me as far as taxis go. If you do happen to spy a taxi driving down the road in Geoje, it's more than likely "reserved," so your best bet is having your hotel or pension arrange one for you. 

We did most of our exploring on foot, but, knowing how reckless some cabbies can be, tried to steer clear of walking on the roads. Thankfully, there was an adorable boardwalk that wrapped around the coastline, connecting all of the hotels, restaurants, and beaches along the bay. While this was extremely convenient, next time, I will definitely plan to look in to bike or scooter rentals, so I can get around the island more easily.

 

Accommodation

If you know me, you probably know that I am really low maintenance when it comes to accommodation. I am in no way opposed to sleeping on floors, in hostels, bungalows with mosquito nets and no aircon, buses, or jimjilbangs (Korean bath houses). Normally, when booking a place to stay, I just go for the cheapest option because I don't intend to spend much time there anyway. This weekend getaway, however, was all about R&R (which, after months of burning the candle from both ends, I’m learning is absolutely necessary)... so I splurged.

It’s very true that you get what you pay for. In addition to outstanding customer service and free breakfast, our stay at the beautiful Hotel Inspiration Point included our own garage entrance to the room (unnecessary but cool), a comfy king sized bed (crucial), a spacious bath tub (YAY FOR NO SHOWER BATHROOM!), and an incredible view.

Despite the name of the restaurant and the name of the meal we ordered, this is me... still somehow surprised by the size of the "Big Burger" (23 cm). No, it was not all for me, and no, we did not finish it.

Despite the name of the restaurant and the name of the meal we ordered, this is me... still somehow surprised by the size of the "Big Burger" (23 cm). No, it was not all for me, and no, we did not finish it.

The hotel staff was beyond helpful. Room service closed early, and there weren’t any nearby places to get food, so the front desk manager personally ordered us delivery AND brought it to our room when it arrived. He even helped us book our bus tickets back to Seoul (as, sometimes, the English website isn’t fully functional). I HIGHLY recommend this hotel based on it's customer service merits alone. That being said, if you’re looking for a relaxing place to stay on Geoje-do, Hotel Inspiration Point offers not only incredible customer service, but a killer view from every room. (They are also home to the restaurant Big Burger... home of the big burger.)

 

What To Do

From hiking to water sports, Geoje Island has no lack of outdoor activities. With so many things to choose from, I finally decided on doing something I have been wanting to do for quite a long time - RELAXING! I've been on several fun international trips this year, but they've almost always been crammed in between full weeks of teaching, tutoring, and trying to keep up with basic necessities, like meals and sleep. I love adventures as much as the next person, but, sometimes, when deciding "what to do" on your holiday, it's important to remember that doing nothing is also an option.

A visit to Geoje was just what I needed. It was quiet, laid back, and so unlike Seoul that I almost felt like I was in a different country. Weekends in Seoul still mean work for many people, Koreans and expats alike, so it was nice to see so many families and friends camping out, barbecuing, and just enjoying each others company by the beach. My friend and I followed suit and spent the majority of our time wandering around the boardwalk, (and the rocks beneath it), and sipping beers at the local GS-25. 

 

Would I Go Again?

Playing in one of said construction sites... Sorry, mom.

Playing in one of said construction sites... Sorry, mom.

As with most places in Korea, I noticed a surprising amount of construction and development occurring, just on the island's east coast alone. It will be very interesting to see what Geoje Island looks like in a few years time, (and whether or not it will become overrun with tourists like Jeju-do).

Though my time in Geoje-do was incredibly short, I can see why people love this charming little (but second largest) island. While I would love to go back again, there are literally thousands of islands dotting the coast of Korea. If they are anything like Geoje-do, I can't wait to explore them, too.

 

...So, yes, while South Korea may be more famous for its kimchi, K-Pop, and crazy northern neighbors than it is for island getaways, its many beautiful islands, like Geoje-do, along the gorgeous coastline are definitely worth noting as well.