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 – much 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 – no 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

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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 – Seoul.

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 – sausages, 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

South Korea – The First 24 Hours in Andong

Andong, South Korea, April 2017:  My accommodation should only be a 10 minute walk from the station according to the Air bnb listing and after the 3 hour train ride from Seoul, a good walk is what I need right now. Conveniently located on the forecourt here is a tourist office but looking around the place there is a distinct lack of tourists – just me! All smiles from the 2 girls inside with their traditional Korean greetings. I get handed an A4 map of the town and a list of the local buses that will at some point pass the towns attractions – and what might they be, I don’t know yet, lets just see how this story unfolds!

Air bnb Shock: I’m shocked to find my accommodation is not as listed, completely the opposite in fact. So, instead of “1 private room with 1 single bed” turns out its a dormitory room with no beds. Yes, visitors here are expected to sleep on the floor on what I can only describe as a padded cloth about 2 inches thick. Having registered my utmost displeasure at the situation, the host found me a couple more of those 2 inch padded cloths and with the thick duvet on top of that, well, I actually couldn’t feel the ground. With promises of limiting any other visitors to the room, i might actually get a nights sleep!

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Temple Art and Free Food:  Having bitterly cursed the host, not out loud of course, I did actually have a good nights sleep on the pile of thin mattresses. They also provided cereal for breakfast with was welcome, saving me a small fortune on the food bill. Time now though to take an exploratory stomp around the area, get to feel for the place and figure out what I’m going to do with the next few days.

Compared to Seoul, the streets around here are quiet, deadly quiet with just the occasional pensioner stumbling around and the odd car whizzing through. The local temple is here too. These places are always good for a 10 minute nose around, pretending to be the cautious tourist which often ends up being invited in, a free local cup of tea and free reign to look the place over. This time however, if I come back at 12, they’ll give me a free lunch – an offer I just can’t refuse.

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I’m not particularly into art and all things artisan, but this has to be admired here at the temple. Wall art decorates pretty much every corner of this multistory’d building. Scenes and expressions clearly hand crafted!

And the lunch, well it’s tasty enough. Rice, seaweed and the invariable concoction of spicy vegetable mixes along with noodles and soup. How hospitable the Koreans are. I would never expect this in London.

South Korea – Deoksugung Palace, Seoul

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: The Koreans have the foresight to preserve their ancient heritage and there’s plenty of it! This is the third such ancient Palace I’ve come across since arriving in Seoul with the attraction here being a re-enactment of the changing of the guard. I don’t usually go for this kind of attraction but since its in the middle of downtown, only costs about 85p entrance fee and with the guards routine should make for some unique cultural photography. The place is located next to City Hall so its a pretty easy ride from Mokdong.

Looks like the Changing Guards ceremony isn’t taking place today, presumably because of the big demonstrations outside City Hall – read it here. Nevertheless, an hour spent strolling around the grounds of the Deoksugung Palace reveals some well preserved architecture from around the 1500’s, amidst the last of the spring blossoms.

Here’s a bunch some pretty and unique photos.

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South Korea – The Mountain Again

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: Yes, the mountain again – the place where one can feel completely free from the hustle and bustle of the city,s thronging crowds,  relentless traffic and those giant steel skyscrapers. Sometimes on a trip there are places worthy of a second visit and the Namsan Park is definitely one of them. This time I’m hoping to catch the sunset and grab a few night views as the city traverses day to dusk to night.

From City Hall station and following Google Maps, its about 20 minutes to the base of the mountain before the upward stomp starts in earnest. Locals can be seen enjoying the late afternoon sunshine while tourists are poking around in the bushes – ha, I mean taking a look at the nice springtime display of flowers and blossoms.

So, here we are just about to begin the climb up, but first enjoying the spring flowers…

So as the sun sinks ever lower, I’d better get a move on and join the thousands all stomping upwards towards the summit and the N Seoul Tower in order to catch the legendary Seoul City Sunset. About 20 minutes to reach the top, dodging the selfie obsessed locals trying to catch that perfect vanity photo under the falling blossoms. Dodging the locals dragging their poodles up the hill, and down as there are just as many heading away as there are up!

And so as the sun sinks the city changes colour, but the awesomeness remains just the same.

And as darkness falls across the city, its teenagers begin their smooching lips locked, with one arm extended holding a mobile phone – yes, like I said, a nation obsessed with selfies. The sunset, rather disappointing since a layer of cloud on the distant horizon blocks what might have been a spectacle, oh well, never mind. As the queues for tickets to ride up the Seoul Tower grow ever longer, I’m looking for some alternative spots to grabs those night views. Actually, quite difficult at times, having to barge in on some smooching to claim prize position!

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That was a pretty nice hour after dark. didn’t get any smooching but never mind, there’s always next time! Now though, its a stomp back down the mountain, across to Seoul station and back to base in Mokdong.

South Korea – Oh The Little Streets of Seoul

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017:  Seoul, a massive urban jungle, but its not all skyscrapers and housing blocks that one might find in Singapore or Taipei for example. Here in Seoul one can easily loose themselves for a few hours, days or even months (if google maps stops working) somewhere in the maze of little streets and alleys that covers the bulk of this city.  While shopping malls and skyscrapers might hold my attention for 5 or so minutes, its the little streets where the real character and charm of the city is to be found.

Here is once such little street in the district of Mapo (Google Map). Just North of the Han river, behind the plethora of high rise is a community of low-rise. Little shops of mosaic tiled exterior walls overflowing with goods out into the street. Its the low rise communities like this that so nicely dilutes the Americanisation that so often accompanies the modernisation of a city, Seoul being no exception. No Starbucks around here, just family owned independent business’s which ever way one looks.

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Good, Honest food – this bowl of Spicy noodles from a small street cafe in Mapo.

There is are eateries just about every few yards here in Mapo, and everywhere else I’ve been so far. While the high end fancy creations can be eaten on main streets between the skyscrapers or in the tourist neighbourhoods, here on the little streets, food is a bit more down to earth. While the menus might not overwhelm ones taste-buds, I’d say food around here is more for the everyday Korean.

Despite the rise and rise of hyper markets (E-Mart, Home Plus) across the city there’s still a place for traditional markets where one can see everything from escaping octopus to various part of a pigs anatomy! Whilst strolling around the Mokdong neighbourhood I came across the Nambu Market – a little street, covered for about 1/2 a mile lined either side with produce, fish, meats and all manner of strange stuff that would make  the average British visitor look away!

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Ha, here I timed this just right to see an Octopus escaping from the blade of a knife!

Eels are quite popular around here, as are various kinds of root vegetables.

So, to find the character and charm of Korean life go and explore local neighbourhoods where that Starbucks, or Mcdonalds will fade from your memory, for a few hours at least!