England – Back on Home Ground

London, England, June 2017: Its been a long flight, leaving Kathmandu nearly 24 hours ago with a change of aircraft at Abu Dhabi. Etihad flight 11 is a red eye, leaving at 2.30 in the morning! I try to avoid these flights but a I needed to change my ticket and this was all that was left! Etihad operates a standard economy cabin with the same amount of leg room and seat size as all the other operators – not very much of either. Unfortunately for me I didn’t eat much much in the ultra expensive Abu Dhabi airport in the hope of some decent food on the flight. So it was pretty disappointing to be served with 1 small plastic sandwich shortly after take off. Yes, the inside was pretty grim being furnished with processed everything. Zero points for Etihad on the EY11 bound for London!

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Over London at last!Yes, in about 20 minutes we’ll be on British soil for the first time in 6 months. Here are some views of the city as this Airbus 380 meanders towards the final approach the London’s Heathrow airport.

Turning around London’s East End here are some pretty good views of the City Airport.

So how many London landmarks can you spot from these photos?

And that dear readers ends this travel season for 2017. I need to recharge my bank account and plan for travel season 2018 – perhaps you can inspire me with some interesting destination suggestions. Once again thanks for tuning into my random jottings and I hope the casual nature of the dialogue wasn’t too boring ūüôā

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Thailand – Mysterious Sunrise and Magical Sunset, Phuket

Nai Yang, Phuket, Thailand, May 2017: Online research will often reveal references to Phuket’s magical sunsets but very little about the sunrise. So lets put that right – right now. Being non-alcoholic it must follow then that I don’t have hangovers and thus can arise at silly hours of the morning. Like today for example, up at 4.30 am for an hours drive North to catch the Sunrise at 6. ¬†No i haven’t hired a car, or scooter but thanks to the generosity of the guesthouse owner, 2 of us are being driven to a view point somewhere on the Northeastern coastline just across the islands bridge with the mainland (Google Map)¬†.

Sunrise: Once across the bridge ,a route meanders through rustic villages situated between jungle clad hills Рits almost a step back in time. Narrow concreted roads, deserted this time of the morning as twilight breaks in the distance. Eventually a sign indicating the way up. Up into the hillsides to a viewpoint, and just in time to witness the mysterious, magical sunrise Рquiet, not a breath of air, not even the birds have woken yet!

What do you make of this? Worth the effort? Comment with your descriptions, thanks.

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Sunset: Sunsets on Phuket are a whole lot easier to catch once those hangovers are done with, or not as the case maybe. Just stumble over to a west facing beach and wait.

Wait for the magical sunsets like this one captured at Nai Yang.

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South Korea – Gamcheon Culture Village And Gamcheon Park, Busan Pt.1

Haeundae, Busan, South Korea, May 2017: Situated on the edge of downtown Busan, quite some distance from Haeundae Beach. It means a ride on the Busan metro, about an hour i’d say with a change of line about 1/2 way. Gamcheon Culture Village has a consistent place in the top ten of things to see in Busan and Googles photos look pretty unique – so let’s go, check it out and see if the place really does live up to expectations.

Getting to Gamcheon by metro is pretty easy since the whole system has only 4 lines. The alighting station is Toseong on the orange line. Leave at exit 6 and take the next right. A few meters along there is a bus stop where bus 2 or 2-1 or even 2-2 heads up to Gamcheon village. The bus is pretty crowded, infact no room at all – time for an executive decision, walk! Its an easy stomp, just keep heading uphill, turn left at the sign for Gamcheon. The whole thing takes about 15 minutes, lost a few grams in weight and saved a few pence on the bus fare. At the crest of the hill is a school on the left and on the right is the official Gamcheon Culture Village entrance. Left in front of the school leads to hiking trails in an upward direction and its that direction I’m going in right now.

 

Views from the hiking trails – breathtaking.¬†Looking down below is simply stunning. I’d estimate the height here to be about 2,000 feet with great views of downtown Busan and beyond. Quiet, peaceful and cool, id recommend this as the number 1 spot in the top ten list of attractions in Busan. Google doesn’t have an English name for this spot, lets just call it Gamcheon Park next to Gamcheon Village,

So, lets let the photos speak for themselves….

Next In Pt.2 More hiking this time back towards the Gamcheon Culture village.

 

South Korea – SongJeong Beach

Haeundae, Busan, May 2017: Having hiked for about 50 minutes along an old railway line heading for Songjeong (Google Map)¬†I’ve ¬†come across a little fishing hamlet with a cute little harbour – an ideal place to take a rest for 1/2 an hour. Now though, time to make a move otherwise I might never get to Songjeong! Back uphill to the old rail track then and hopefully its just a shortish hike to the next beach.

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About 20 minutes of stumbling on those wooden sleepers and Songjeong comes into view and it looks pretty good from here. A nice crescent beach with just a few mini skyscrapers on the skyline. A sudden surge of energy and I’m closer to that beach than I thought!

Not as developed as Haeundae but considerably busier with folk milling around enjoying the afternoon sunshine! Development in progress though as there are a few cranes littering the skyline, nonetheless a very pleasant place to be – Songjeong Beach, South Korea is rapidly becoming one of my favourites. The place has a more traditional seaside feel, something I can’t say about neighbouring Haeundae. ¬†As one comes to expect in Korea, food is everywhere along with a plethora of coffee shops including Starbucks. Predominantly seafood here along the beach front although there are a few vans hawking “Tea and Toast” rather expensively. So, with a concoction of spicy pasta in one hand a coffee in the other, time to pick a spot on the sew wall and scoff while watching a handful of surfers attempting to ride the wavelets rolling in.

Songjeong old station, worth a look while exploring the back streets. Unimposing and hard to imagine how thousands of holiday makers wold be able to cram into this small place. The last train rolled through here 2014 presumably then giving way to big development plans as some of the track has been removed. Plenty of originality still exists though with the station house being part museum and part craft centre.

Well, better get back to base at Haeundae. Bus or Hike? Bus, quite an easy decision since there’s only so much hiking and stomping one can do in a day! I have a feeling i’ll be back before I leave Busan. So while I wait for bus 181 here’s a few more scenes from Songjeong beach.

 

 

South Korea – Haeundae Beach Combing

Haeundae, South Korea, May 2017: Sun, sea, sand, skyscrapers and seafood pretty much sums up this place, ascertained within 20 seconds of arriving on the beach. Just a short stomp from the guesthouse, a largely deserted beach mid morning back end  of April Рmuch too cold for a dip in the ocean. But the air is fresh, almost sweet to the taste then suddenly a whiff of fish aroma. Its actually quite refreshing to stomp around on the golden sand in almost complete isolation Рno prostitutes, no massage girls and all the rest of it, no, just one big clean crescent shaped beach. End to end about 2 -3 miles and about 1/4 mile wide so plenty of room for the thousands of Koreans that flock here during the summer season. Personally, now is the perfect time to visit this Korean holiday hot spot. Why?, well just look at the photo below.

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Almost Empty!

Some unusual finds along the shore line. A clam, urchin, crazy seaweed and a hermit crab but sadly no gold coins! The beach ends at Mipo where for about £20 one can take a boat ride all the way towards the city during sunset, or observe fisherman mending nets or even faint at the very high price of seafood around here. To its credit, Mipo (Google Map) has the cheapest coffee by far and so with no hesitation time to sample a brew.

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All over Seoul and hopefully, all over Busan too. Americano coffee costs 3 x less than Starbucks!

So, that was a first look at Haeundae, and I have to say despite the plethora of skyscrapers the place has a certain appeal. quite why. well I don’t know as yet – a combination of factors undetermined!

Next… A hike to Beach Boys Town – Songjeong

South Korea – Moving to Haeundae Beach, Busan.

Haeundae, Busan, South Korea, May 2017: ¬†On the move again, this time its the city of Busan. Korea’s 2nd city and just 4 hours South of Andong. Easy enough to get to from the local train station here in Andong – just roll up 30 minutes before departure, buy the ticket with a credit card and jump on one of 3 trains for Busan. It’s a local train, 14,000 Won single ticket leaving at 11.50 arriving in the Busan suburb of Haeundae around 4 PM. So, armed with a tray of Korean chicken for lunch and enough tea to last 4 hours time to settle in, load the Ipod and wake-up in Haeundae.

How to get from Haeundae New Town to Haeundae Beach:¬†Now this is where its all going a little awry as the train approaches Haeundae. Closely following Google Maps, its clear this train isn’t going to the Beach Station but to another station right on the Northern edge of the suburb – somewhat disconcerting since the place is a fair distance from the beach and my accommodation! Thankfully the 3 staff members loitering around the ticket office spend 10 minutes debating the issue then come to a consensus – I need to take a bus! Bus 181 from an obscure location somewhere along an equally obscure street, obscure to the first time visitor of course. So, stomping around between the hi-rises in the hope of locating this bus stand – ¬†armed with the vaguest of instructions, all the ingredients for a pricey taxi ride.

Well, thankfully the bus stand appeared (Google Map) and as if my magic so did bus 181. Now all I’ve got to do is get off at the right stop – oh I wish I could read Korean! About 30 minutes to the Haeundae Beach stop, located next to the Haeundae \Subway which is next to the original train station (now disused) – oh well, got there in the end! (Google Map)

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South Korea – Andong, The End

Andong, South Korea. April 2017: As this visit to Andong draws to a close, here’s a few random sets of photos that didn’t fit within the blog ramblings previously.

A Very Old House:¬†While on a local stomp I discovered this derelict old house. I’m no architectural expert but I’d say this is/was a traditional Korean style house and judging by the iron work on the front door, probably of some historic value.

 

Pensioner Power:¬†Visitors to Korea will surely notice the gangs of pensioners that roam the streets during daylight hours! Here in Andong, from around 11 AM every day they’ll gather outside the town park function rooms and will still be there at 4 PM. Extraordinarily, they all look the same – same height, about 4 ft 8, bow legged and dyed black curly hair styles.

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Poking around the Railway Station:¬†Rolling stock that clearly hasn’t rolled in a while might provide some interest for railways fans with a spare 20 minutes. Andong station is small with no officials to hinder their¬†wanderings into areas not normally frequented by a white tourist.

 

More Old Houses: Clearly a preservation order keeps these very old houses in tip top condition. Essentially it’s a long-house divided into rooms with a courtyard and more very old rooms. A quick poke around here reveals evidence of overnight habitation – no beds, just a thin 1/2 inch mattress on the wooden floor. Situated on the edge of town, almost the last buildings heading out towards the Andong Dam.

 

Here, the final set of images from Andong. A stroll towards the river, a random route taking me under the railway line and across the towns 8 lane boulevard. Very little traffic, zero tourists and generally very quiet on a warm Tuesday afternoon. Nonetheless a parking enforcement car finds a violator to deal with. Any stroll around Andong will see wall art – ¬†it’s everywhere and pretty good too. Nothing like the scribble and garbage we have to endure in the west, no, these seem to be rather more professional murals. They certainly look good and add to the towns character for sure!

And so ends this visit to Andong. I’d say well worth staying here for a week if only to experience the quieter side of Korean culture – ideal for those that need to take some time out from a hectic metropolis.

NEXT STOP: BUSAN

South Korea – Andong Town Centre

CAUTION: This post contains images likely to cause distress to vegetarians, vegans, animal rights/welfare and those who may find cultural differences beyond White lands disturbing.

Andong, South Korea, April 2017: As this short visit to Andong comes to an end, lets take a look around the actual town and hopefully readers to this post will get a flavour and feel of a Korean town as opposed to the giant metropolis of its capital РSeoul.

The town centre is small so small that really anyone could traverse the place in about 20 minutes. Centred opposite the railway station its easy enough to stroll the almost deserted pedestrianized streets. A street dedicated to foodies with little sign of Americanisation, while the next street is a delight for those followers of fashion. Then just further along, a covered street with a kind of market feel, although its not a traditional market in the usual sense, but a few shops with goods spilling into the pavements while in the centre, a host of greasy street food stands. stall after stall of deep fried foods covered is a light batter. Processed frozen foods Рsausages, fish. Some of it comes boiled, about £1 per item.

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Korean Fish Cake – freshly frozen, tasteless although there is a soy and chilli sauce one can dip into! nearly¬†as bad as crabsticks….

Shop-a-holics in search of high-end glitzy malls will be sorely disappointed here in the town centre. So far the closest one will get to a mall is the local department store – Home Plus, for everything anyone could ever need and conveniently situated near the station. As with everywhere in South Korea, the place is pricey, although from around 7PM shoppers can pickup the odd food bargain.

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Andong has its traditional market, bit of a stomp west. Not much gong on on a weekday afternoon but as ever an interesting 10-15 minutes look around at the strange, often weird goings on around the stock pots.

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South Korea – The Andong Dam

Andong, South Korea, April 2017:¬† A landmark that lies on the eastern edge of the town and as-well as damming up the river the whole area is an extensive recreational park development. The workings of the dam are open to public scrutiny while trails and paths leading away into the bush and up to a viewpoint. A viewpoint that reveals a network of lakes, former gravel pits i’d say, or some kind of past mineral extraction. So, having hiked that wooden pagoda bridge across the flooded valley, stomped up the hill where lies the abandoned village, time now for a rest in the nearby tower – well, actually its a restaurant/supermarket with an observation deck. A good picnic and recreational spot for the locals, not a tourist in sight on this warm spring day, bright blue sky near the Andong Dam.

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Taking a rest and admiring the view from this tower near the dam. (Google Map)

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The surprising feature of this little hike is a distinct lack of hikers. A very quiet, calm place, busier by the actual dam, but up the road a little and the place is practically deserted on a Sunday afternoon. Further along the same road back towards town is the Andong folk Museum – there’s an entry fee but since these places don’t interest me a great deal and I’m already knackered and hungry, this is one place I’ll skip. So, a nice little hike with a good look at the natural surrounds on a bright and sunny day. Takes about an hour from the abandoned village.

South Korea – An Abandoned Village, Andong

Andong, South Korea, April 2017:¬†Having crossed the river on the wooden Pagoda bridge, ones instincts are to take the left hand path. about 5 minutes of a stroll between the rive, some deep rustic coloured maples and a rather large pine forest¬†cladding the hill. I’m heading towards what looks like a village, a hamlet of straw thatch dwellings extending up the hillside, very similar to those I saw yesterday at the Hahoe folk village.

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Unlike Hahoe, this place feels an element of authenticity. Clearly the village isn’t lived in, used, worked, whatever authenticity might mean here, but I’d say these dwellings were originally in the valley and moved before the place was flooded. Quiet, calm with just a handful of Koreans stomping up the hillside. So, lets take a look around this abandoned village – abandoned to the changing landscape of progress.

So, for a moment transport yourself back a few decades, and imagine the scene here as it might have been 1900’s.

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Its a wonderful view, looking back down the hill over the village and towards the river. further up and more evidence exists of past civilisation around here. A grand set of steps leading onto a plateau – here one can imagine a compound of dwellings for clan leaders, important folk.

Well, that was pretty nice. A few good photo opportunities without thousands of tourists in the way, without getting run down by pensioners electric carts and without those tacky gift shops, expensive restaurants. No this place obviously has been left with as much originality and authenticity as possible – well done to the gate keepers!

Getting here:  About 45 minutes walk from town or bus No. 3 or 3-1 from near Andong railway station  stops at the wooden bridge, 1200 Won fare.

Cost: Nothing. Free to cross the wooden bridge, free to walk around the village.

Eat and drink:  A host of restaurants and coffee shops before crossing the bridge, not cheap though. Nothing near the village.

Where is it? :   Google Map

Verdict: A delightful, non-touristy experience. 5 star recommendation