Tag Archives: South Korea

Hiking in Seoraksan National Park

courtesy google images

Warranting a blog post all its own was my visit to Sokcho, South Korea for a weekend of hiking and lazing about on the beach in Seoraksan National Park.  Just a (roughly) 3 hour bus ride from Seoul, my friend and I, plus 6 of her teaching friends spent the weekend in Sokcho and shared a pension.

Pension:  A pension is like a hotel but it’s much cheaper and it includes kitchen items like a sink, silverware, dishes, single stove top burner, fridge.  It also has a plethora of floor pads and pillows to sleep on so a whole group of us could stay in one room.

We were able to book one right on the beach and also grill our own barbecue up on the rooftop, which sounds amazing but it was RIDICULOUSLY cold outside so after 8 of us huddled around the grill for warmth we finally cooked all the meat and made the veggies in our room with a fry pan. 

Walking the streets of Sokcho, Seoraksan Mountains in the distance.

Seoraksan means ‘snow-capped mountain’ and it was surreal to hike the trails partially covered in snow and yet walk the beach that same night!  I had never been in the mountains before.  Cliffsides in Europe, jungles in the Caribbean, bluffs in Wisconsin, but not real mountains.  I was in awe!

You know how we have Smokey the Bear? Well, Seoraksan has this parent/child moon bear to look out for your safety!

My lovely new and old friends! Back to Front, L to R: Andy, Lin, Luana, Caitlin, Amy, Josh, and Naomi!

The trail we took led to Biryong Falls, which means “Flying Dragon” Falls.  Legend has it there was a drought that stopped the water flowing in the town.  After the village made a sacrifice of a young maiden, the dragons were appeased and allowed the water to flow again.  It is said the fall looks like a dragon flying upwards toward the sky.

Can you see the dragon?

The trek back down:

Seoraksan also encloses Sinheungsa Buddhist Temple in the park.  Outside the temple entrance is a 62 foot Bronze Buddha called Tongil Daebul which signifies the wish of the people for reunification of its divided country.

Me and the Moon Bear!

That was my favorite moment from travel!  What were the favorite things you remember from trips you’ve taken or new experiences?  If you’ve blogged about it, feel free to share the link!

Happy Hiking Everyone!  Aren’t you glad it’s spring now?

What’s your #GuiltyPleasure #Food?

All of us have our favorite foods, delectables, and comfort dishes.  And of course it’s fun to try new foods too!  Here are some of the dishes I tried while visiting South Korea.

Twiggem

Twiggem is any kind of fried food.  My first night in Seoul we walked through the streets and alleyways till we found a little spot with a large assortment of twiggem to try.  Each guest is given a basket to fill with whatever they’d like to try, then it’s weighed and you pay by the pound.  *Don’t think too hard about it!*  I tried fried kimchi, mushrooms, fish, leaf wraps with rice and ham, fried zucchini, and fried lotus root.

Bulgogi

My favorite dish!  Bulgogi is Korean barbecue.  It’s cooked right at your table in a broth of vinegar and soy sauce with some pear zest in it.  Add onions, mushrooms, and leeks.  I ate it twice while on my travels and with it was served an assortment of green leaf salad, kimchi soup, a wasabi slaw salad, glass noodles with chilis and nuts, fish, and more kimchi (cabbage in a vinegar/chili sauce).

Shabu Shabu

Shabu Shabu is a Korean take on a Chinese Hot Pot.  It involves a pot of boiling broth brought out to your table and an array of foods that are cooked in the broth.  We tried everything from meatballs to beef slices, various greens, a whole plate of different mushrooms, peppers, rice cake, broccoli, and dumplings.  At the end, the remaining broth is mixed with rice and a fried egg, which was tasty but I barely had any room left!

Dakgalbi

Fish Market

Baby Octopus

The Dakgalbi Before

The octopus awaiting the fry pan!

The Dakgalbi After: Tentacles and All!

My first bite of octopus!

Dakgalbi is typically chicken in a chili sauce with a mix of greens, mushrooms, and rice cake in it.  We added baby octopus.  Neither my friend or I had tried it before.  I like it!  Tastes like squid – a bit on the chewy side.  🙂

Hotteok

My first experience with Korean desserts.  Hotteok (pronounced Ho-duck) is dough filled with brown sugar and nuts and fried till slightly crispy on the outside.  Mmmm.

Doncasu

Doncasu is pork cutlets, breaded and fried.  The side dishes with it included rice, corn, soup, and a spicy sauce.  The top left dishes hold different kinds of radish which are common sides that have been pickled and will cut the spice of the main dish.

Bibimbap

One of the vegetarian dishes I tried.  Bibimbap is rice and fried egg with various mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, corn, sprouts, and seaweed and a hint of a chili sauce that you mix up.  Yum!

Ojinga Sundae

Ahh, for Easter Sunday, my lunch was ojinga sundae!  Literally it translates as “squid sausage”.  It’s squid head that’s been cut off and scooped of any organs, filled with rice and vegetables or glass noodles, then breaded and fried.  Messy, but very tasty!

Those were my food adventures while traveling overseas.  But tell me about your favorite food experiences!  When was the first time you tried something out of the ordinary?  What are the foods you love?  What foods can you NOT stand?  What does your guilty pleasure plate look like?

Annyeonghaseyo! That’s Hello in Korean!

View from N Seoul Tower

Two weeks ago I asked you all what your guilty pleasure travel destinations were.  Your call outs included the New England coast, Australia, Alaska and Hawaii, British Columbia, France, Austria, Italy, and in an answer that cracked me up both August McLaughlin and Mark Petruska picked Minnesota!  Cheers to the midwest!  You both get brownie points from me!

I’ve always loved to travel.  I don’t get as homesick as most people I’ve traveled with.  It’s not that I didn’t miss my friends and family while overseas, but I get so excited to share with them the experiences I had abroad or buy unique presents to treat them with when I return.  Still, if you’d have asked me if I was planning a trip to Asia anytime soon, I’d have said a confident NO.  While the countries of the far east fascinate me, I’d never thought myself capable of overcoming the language barrier and finding my way around!

Doesn’t it amaze you that the things that usually scare us always end up being the most wonderful and impactful experiences of our lives?  Visiting Seoul, South Korea was like that.

First off, a week in another country is far too little time!  I deeply miss the bustle of Seoul’s streets filled with street food vendors, lots of lights, signs I didn’t know how to read and shoe stores everywhere!  I even miss the subway announcements!  “This stop is Samgakji.  Samgakji…This stop is Hapjeong.  Hapjeong.  You can transfer to Line 4 here.”

I admit I barely touched the surface of this foreign world, but here are the highlights from what I did get to witness.

The Korean War Memorial Museum

My first day in Seoul proved to be what Wisconsinites would call a “wintery mix” which means snow that turns into rain and rain that gets caught in the freezing winds and turned into snow again.  I think my umbrella flipped inside out at least twice while walking around.  In my head I envisioned the thousands of Koreans I encountered laughing to each other going “Who is this ridiculous white woman screaming in the street?!”

Since the weather was crazy that morning, my friend advised a Museum Day!  My first stop was the Korean War Memorial, which was incredibly interesting.

Brothers of Opposing Forces

I had heard that most Koreans were quite welcoming to Americans, and it made sense after learning more about the Korean War.  If it’s possible, I was overcome with a great sense of pride and sorrow and hope while touring this museum.  The Korean War lasted for three years, from 1950 to 1953, entailing of Communist forces against anti-Communists.  North Korea was backed by China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics while South Korea was backed by the U.S. and United Nations.

One of my favorite things about this museum included the United Nations room.  It was empowering to see the documents and film footage and stories of how the UN got involved.

I must say that this museum is very well put together.  There are many different ways to learn here from plaques to videos to audio tours to books.  And one section made a very strong impact on me.  It was called the Ruined City and it depicted what life was like in the Refugee Camps.  You actually can walk through a recreated refugee camp and see the houses made of cardboard and cans, the starving families, the members who had to hide in floorboards from the soldiers.  No one ever dreams of having to survive something like this, and yet this happened not that long ago; I know it still happens today.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

The Changing of the Guards

Pronounced Gee-young-buk-goong.  One of the largest and most renowned palaces of Korea, Gyeongbokgung means Palace of Shining Happiness.  Interestingly enough, all of what we tour today is a reconstruction, as the original 1394 construction was demolished by the Japanese in the 1500’s.  But Gyeongbokgung was home to some of Korea’s most treasured and tyrannical kings.  With three entrance gates, executive meeting lodgings, king’s quarters, queen’s quarters, a house for the concubines, spiritual pagodas, servant housing, kitchen area, and also a separate house for the king’s mother to live in (Hmm!), the grounds are quite extensive all set with the mountains behind them.  Check out the wikipedia site to view all the buildings and their purpose here!

The drum used to signal the guard change.

Fascinating side fact for you:  Korean tourism is MUCH cheaper than U.S. tourism.  Cost to enter the palace:  $3,000 won, or $3 US dollars.  And there are FREE English walking tours with guides!  Most of the museums are completely free with English audio tours available at request.

The palace also encloses the Korean National Folk Museum inside its walls, which is another example of incredibly well done history.  It’s another shining example of learning through different mediums.  There are recreated scenes from everyday life, hundreds of artifacts from silk screen printings to jewelry to pottery, video footage of various ceremonies, and the special exhibit while I was there had entire walls of earphones to listen to a traditional type of Korean music called Arirang.

The Second Gate at Gyeongbokgung Palace

The gorgeous colors of the Palace walls.

Inside the Folk Museum - Recreation of a Child's First Birthday

With the mortality rate being so high, a child’s first birthday was a grand celebration.  The pinnacle of the day was a ceremony to foretell the future of the child wherein several items were placed on a table:  money or grain, a book or writing brush, an arrow or bow, and a spool of thread or scissors.  Depending what item the child picked up determined their path in life.  A millionaire, a scholar, a general, or a seamstress.  Foods like rice cake were served which represented long life.

A decorated coffin which would be used by a family to send their departed down river in ceremony.  The bright colors and detail would reflect their wealth and good standing upon meeting the gods.

(Note:  The current religions of Korea are primarily Christian and Buddhist, however there is rising Muslim faith as well as practicing Folk religions from the early days which you can learn about at the Folk Museum.  These ceremonies are often led by a female Shaman and are called a ‘gut.’)

Pagoda outside the Folk Museum, inside Gyeongbokgung walls.

View inside the courtyard near the Birthing House, where expectant mothers would stay and be attended to to ensure the health of the newborn. Notice the hexagonal chimneys which would bring good luck to the palace's descendants.

Jogyesa Buddhist Temple

I have few photos to show cause I didn’t want to be the gawking tourist in a temple full of worshipers.  I mean it, the place was packed!  There was barely a place outside to leave my shoes, but I managed to find a single open mat in the back of the mass of praying peoples.  I guess I came close to Buddha’s birthday so many were out saying prayers and leaving offerings.  Jogyesa was one of the most beautiful rooms I had ever seen.  It is one of the largest single floor temples in Korea and home to three massive golden Buddha statues, the likenesses of Sakyamuni Buddha, Amitabha Buddha, and Bhaisaiya Buddha (who is the Buddha of Good Health – which those of you who know me, should know I paid particular attention to).  The ceiling was covered with paper lanterns adorned with painted peonies and carp.  Check out the Travel Adventures website for pictures of the temple inside and during holidays.

The outside of Jogyesa Temple

Decorating the entrance gate for Buddha's birthday!

N Seoul Tower

Streetside view of the tower.

It seems almost everywhere I go, there’s some kind of tower you have to check out!  LOL  But honestly, N Seoul Tower was pretty cool, if only for the fact that I couldn’t get enough of the mountains!

There are the highlights of Seoul, South Korea!  I’ll have more to post on my tour of the Demilitarized Zone as well as Korean food in the next week!  Sorry I didn’t update you guys regularly, but the overseas wi-fi turned out to be something non-existent from my phone.  I’m excited to read through what you all have been up so please drop me a line in the comments section!  I’m missed you all!

Annyeonghi gyseyo!
-Jess
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