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 – 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 – Hahoe Folk Village, Andong Part 2

Andong, South Korea, April 2017:  Having endured 40 minutes of an hour long Mask Dance show, time to move on. Quite interesting for the first 20 minutes but unless one has a Korean interpreter around then the thing can become somewhat tedious. So its off to the famed Hahoe Folk Village to presumably see the folk! (Google Map)

As the crowds head off through the village I’m heading off to the fields on the edge. The rural landscape with a hilly backdrop makes for a couple of nice photos. Very quiet, peaceful infact as there’s no sign of life at the nearby farmsteads. Now wouldn’t you at least expect some chooks to be running around the yard!

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Moving further along and one stumbles on a little church. Maybe its a preserved relic or perhaps its still used, hard to tell, but it makes for a pretty unusual photo.

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Yes, quite a picturesque scene here, with giant bees buzzing in and out, a few wasps and several butterflies, but no sign of theses folk! Moving on then and its getting just a bit busier as the pathways meander towards the village centre. Squealing kids and a gaggle of pensioners on scooters almost running me down.

IMG_4251 In reality there isn’t a great deal of visibility as most of the properties are obscured by high walls. So, if one is really keen of seeing straw thatched roofs then come here, your in for a treat! Occasionally, one comes across a property that visitors can actually see, well, at least the full frontal, but dare not step over the rope barrier!

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Actually, the guard dog here looks quite placid, part of the deception perhaps. Here’s a few more photos of the Hahoe Village….

Complete with village shop – only this shop isn’t selling commodities and necessaries, instead visitors will find a host of knickknacks and souvenirs. so, right now I’m cutting this visit short and going to head for an earlier than planned bus, because quite frankly I’ve had enough. My earlier skepticism about the place hasn’t diminished any. To label the Hahoe folk village as ‘Authentic’ is perhaps misleading. Certainly evidence of some habitation here but I suspect in the main were looking at preserved relics and some reconstructions from times past, hence 3000 Won to see it all!

Getting here: Bus No.46 from near Andong train station, 1200 Won each way

Cost: 3000 Won to enter.

Food and Drink: Expensive restaurant in the village, other options near the ticket office.

NOTE: The mask dance (read Here) only performs Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays in the summer months, then just weekends through the winter.

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 Blossom Business, Jamsil, Seoul.

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: Visitors to Seoul at this time of the year, April, will undoubtedly notice the spring cherry blossoms. They’re pretty much everywhere lining the shopping streets, motorways and railway lines. Parks and open spaces too are adorned with blossoms along their cycle tracks. One of the shopping streets here in Mokdong is lined with what seems an infinity of white blossoms – yes, its impossible to see where it ends!. According to Google, there are a few spots around the city worth making the effort to go and see the blossom displays. where Koreans mingle, celebrate the arrival of Spring and smooch to their hearts content! Jamsil is one such location where cherry blossoms beside a lake make for a nice photo location.

Jamsil is the farthest I’ve travelled on the Seoul subway – 50 minutes and still only £1.35. So now lets climb up to the street and see why this place is worth the visit.  Exit 1 opens out onto a wide 8 lane boulevard and a plethora of skyscrapers, giant office blocks and of course shopping malls – gold plated!

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A quick look in the mall, just for curiosity you understand. About 8 floors of gold plated opulence. Its obviously the place to hang out if one is rich with expensive tastes as its the high end luxury part of Korean life one finds in here. Personally, i don’t need to dwell on this any longer, slightly nauseating if anything. Time to get out of here and join the blossom trail.

So, what do Koreans do on a warm, sunny Monday morning in spring – come here to Jamsil judging by the crowds. Yes, the place is packed with young Koreans enjoying a walk hand in hand under the cherry trees while a thousand or so pensioners get in the way!

And when the girl gets board with all the smooching, the boy can treat her to a ride on the fairground – yes, this city park even has a roller-coaster and various other insane looking rides. A mini Disneyland one could say.

About an hour to circumnavigate this huge man-made lake in a rather picturesque city park in the shadow of a giant tower. Another tower where a ride to the top isn’t cheap – about £10 for that birds eye city view, accessed through one of these giant shopping malls. Perhaps this mall is worth another look, get as high as legally possible and look for a window. Well, there’s a window all right, and an outside deck also. Head up to the 8th floor where one will come across a concert hall, its coffee shop and some soothing classical music being piped around the place. So, to the outside deck and the alternative birds eye view to the tower next door.

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And to finish off today’s excursion, a stroll along the Olympic Boulevard amidst more skyscrapers, to the next station along the line – well, truth be told I had hoped to walk to neighbouring Gangnam, but it’s just too far!

Getting there: Jamsil Station Exit 1,2,3 or 4. (Google Map)

Cost: Free to wander around the park. About £8-10 for the Lotte Tower Viewing Deck. About £26 for a fairground ticket.

Eat and Drink: Expensive.

Alternatives: Concert hall next door to the Lotte Tower has free  birds eye views across some of the city.

South Korea – Namsan Park, Awesome Views of Seoul

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: Its a mountain, its in the middle of town and its where visitors go to get a birds eye view of Seoul. According to Google there are 3 ways to get up to the peak – cable car for £7, bus for £1 or walk for free. I’m not a fan of cable car rides, specially the expensive gimmicky type and since there’s no information on where the walking trails start, I’m inclined to take the bus. Shuttle bus number 3 to be precise, from Itaewon (Google Map). So, armed with what I hope is reliable information (if you can’t trust Google, who can you trust?), its off to the for another adventure in South Korea’s capital city, Seoul.

Well, you’ll be pleased to know I’ve made it to Itaewon station in one piece. Heading up to street level and looking out for the landmark Hamilton hotel and opposite that should be a bus stop.. Its easy to spot, a giant square block dominating the place. 20 minutes for the next bus says the electronic flashing sign – well, part assumption here since the only characters in English are 20! And while waiting for the bus a quick look around and my first impression is – well, this could be a high street in England! MacDonalds, KFC, Body Shop, it’s all here and filled with white folk. Additionally there are quite a few US soldiers running around, must be an Army camp nearby.

As soon as passengers leave the bus the views across Seoul are just amazing. There’s an immediate sense of exhilaration as the vista beyond unfolds in every direction…

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And here’s the view looking towards Gangnam…

The N. Seoul Tower, a communications tower situated right on the peak. Those with head for heights can take a ride to the viewing deck for an even greater birds eye view of Seoul. Personally, the only thing to be gained here is a better view of the Gangnam area and Han river, partly obscured by the neighbouring hill.

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Its a nice place to relax, even though at times one is jostling for space on the photo platforms/ Yes, hundreds of pensioners and school children make the short trip up for a lunch picnic and to watch a little bit of Korean culture…

Getting There: Shuttle bus 2, 3 or 5 from various points in the local area – info here. From Itaewon, Yellow Shuttle Bus 3 from opposite Hamilton Hotel, Itaewon station exit 4. (Google Map)

Cost: £1 all the way to the tower. £8 entrance to the N. Seoul Tower elevated viewing deck. The park itself is free.

Eat and Drink: Very expensive burgers and BBQ chicken. Even more expensive restaurant food. Coffee same as in downtown at around £3.30. 

 

South Korea – Oriental Charm in Seoul

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: Dull, overcast with drizzle in the breeze this past few days. Today however a warm sunny morning inspires some serious street pounding. Bukchon is a village situated North of the city centre and has escaped the wrath of developers bulldozers and modernity. As such. here is preserved a small area of oriental charm within a metropolis of high rise and skyscrapers. Quiet, quaint and charming its a neighbourhood of tradition. Traditional Korean houses, many of which are doubling up as business’s. Restaurants, cafes, galleries and wine, not to mention a coffee shop every few yards. Nonetheless, despite its upmarket efforts there’s still a feel of old world charm here. So, far a calming hour or so, take a wander around Bukchon Hanbok Village and try to immerse in times past. According to Google, wandering the streets of Bukchon is at the top of the @to do in Seoul’ list, and fair to say there are quite a few tourists around the place.

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Main Street of Bukchon

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Come to Bukchon for quaint and qurky coffee houses

Getting to Bukchon: Seoul Subway is the easiest method for tourists. Head for Anguk Station on line 3, the Red Line. (Google Map)

Cost: Subway $1.40 – $1.65. Free to Wander around the neighbourhood.

Eat: A lunch counter on the main street has steamed veg dumplings – 3000 KRW for 10. (Google Map)

Drink: Gigantic Coffee has a huge Americano for 2000 KRW, on the left before Starbucks. (Google Map)

Nepal – Time To Move On

Pokhara, Nepal, March 2017:  Yes, time to move on as my 3 month visa nears its expiry date. Here’s a short recap plus a few photos that didn’t really fit anywhere else in the blog.

January: Blue skies, great views and just a handful of tourists. The nights were cold but by day the temperature reached late teens – perfect for getting over that Jet-lag. Mid January sees the start of Spring with the emergence of hibernating reptiles along with some flowering trees. It is however the dry season and dust just everywhere – especially if one is hiking away from the town.

February: As January rolls into February so the days begin to hot up reaching 21-23 c. Its still pretty quiet, the main tourist season still a few weeks away. With the rising temperatures comes a change in the weather with most days being quite hazy obscuring those scenic views. By mid-morning clouds have completely covered the mountains with the occasional afternoon shower. Early hikes, around the crack of dawn,will still results in some stunning views.

March: February turns into March and the tourists have arrived, but not in any great numbers much to the frustration of local traders – they’r still blaming the 2015 earthquake. From my observations there’s is definitely an over supply on all fronts of the tourist industry here in Pokhara – and its a pretty big one at that. Mid March when the place should be swarming, it is infact rather quiet with food shacks and even posher restaurants empty most of the day. By night, there’s rarely a place that can be called busy. However, for just one weekend the place is absolutely packed – with natives, the Holi Festival weekend. Yes, the place takes on a completely new character as the streets are filled with music, water and paint powder.

And so ends this visit to Nepal for now as I head off to Korea in a few days. I will return in May for another month taking a closer look at what its really like to live in Nepal when one is on the bottom line. I’ll leave you now with some odds and ends – a small reflection of life in Pokhara.

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Nepal – The Annapurna Mountains at Dawn

Pokhara, Nepal, March 2017: Today is one of those rare days when the weather is perfect in every sense. Perfect for trekkers, hikers, photographers and perfect for those that prefer to just watch as the rising sun brings those mountains to life. Having wished for such a day ever since I arrived here in January, its here – cool, crisp and cloudless air combined to suggest the perfect opportunity to photograph the Annapurna mountains.

So, on my cycle at 6 am heading for the best spot I know to see the mountains from Pokhara – at the end of the airports runway!

Awesome, magical views. I’d say this has to be the next best thing to actually trekking all the way there. Perhaps in some respects, better views from afar – what’s your opinion?

And so as the sun rises the whole range takes on a completely different character.

Next..if you thought these were awesome, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Nepal – Dhanpush in a Day Pt.3

Pokhara, Nepal, February 2017:

Dhanpush at last!

Actually, the hike wasn’t as traumatic as others I have undertaken. The hike to Sarangkot for example was a 3 hour mammoth effort and mostly in thick forest. This hike by contrast is only 1 and 1/2 hours passing through scenic rural spots. Now though, here we are in Dhanpush and immediately one feels a sense of tranquility – no people, no traffic, no pollution, clear blue sky and of course a view to behold, the Annapurna mountain range.The village is pretty, quaint even. All is quiet as the mid morning sunshine reflects on the stone and slate houses alongside cobbled paths. Well, I’ll let the following set of photo’s speak for themselves…. .

Dhanpush is situated on a ridge fronting the Annapurna mountains. A little misty towards the sun at the ranges Eastern end, but where the sun reflects on the snow towards the West then the viewing and photographic opportunities are quite something.

Here in this set of images we can marvel at natures wonder that is the Himalayas….

Continuing the trek through the village, along the cobbled paths which suddenly turn into a single dirt track leading down towards terraced fields and eventually the bottom of a valley. Its clear that the place is quite spread out as the ridge curves right and leads on to the Annapurna trail. so far I haven’t spotted any of these famed tea houses as thoughts of a nice cup of tea get ever stronger. Although the sun is beating down there is a chilly breeze up here and some hot tea right now would be most welcome. An old timer spots me and smiles. I smile back and ask where I can get tea. He smiles again and beckons me up the little path, more suited to mountain goats! The ‘village elder’ mumbles in Nepali to a woman tending the baby and very soon I have a mug of hot Nepali milk tea – what a treat!

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Next….in part 4, trying to find some lunch, village life and on he way down.