I spent the first 6 weeks of my trip in Korea. The country today is far different than the one in which my parents were born and raised. I spent the bulk of my time in Seoul: the busting, energetic economic engine of Korea. However, I also visited different parts of the country where the lifestyle is quite different from the capital.
Seoul is lively and dynamic. With a population of 10 million, there are very few places where you feel alone. Coming from a city that is comparable in area yet 76% smaller in population, the lack of space was quite a shock. You are literally bumping shoulder to shoulder with someone at every corner, and it feels nearly impossible to find a seat on the subway which seems to be busy at all hours of the day.
Architecturally, the city is quite ugy and was built with little attention to aesthetic considerations. The majority of the apartment buildings (and there are many) look the same: giant rectangular slabs of concrete. This is very unfortunate since the city has so much potential to be a fantastically beautiful place; it is surrounded by forested mountains and bisected by the Han river. Still, the city has many pretty pockets scattered throughout such as parks, trees and lakes. I was fortunate to visit in April when the cherry blossoms were in bloom.
I visited three palaces in Seoul: Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung and Biwon. Biwon (aka the Secret Garden) was by far the most beautiful since there was a massive forest surrounding the palace buildings. The trees reflected in the water and was reminiscent of impressionist art.
Despite the presence of these older structures, Seoul is very modern and hi-tech. Most apartments have electronic toilets and keypad locks. In buildings, elevators actually measure the weight they are carrying and refuse to budge if it exceeds the maximum capacity. And if you press the wrong floor, most elevators have an undo option. On the subway, people are usually text messaging, playing games or watching videos. They probably purchased their electronics at Technomart, a building with eight floors of every possible electronic device you need: cell phones, laptops, cameras, mp3s, rice cookers etc. Each floor specializes in electronic equipment and consists of square blocks which are run by different owners, although they each sell the same products.
My sister joined me during the second week fo my trip. We visited Gyeongju which is located Gyeongsanbuk-do, the province from which my mom’s family came. Gyeongju is called the museum without walls since there are so many sites to see: buddhist temples, mountains, statues etc. Unfortunately, we did not get to see much since the weather was absolute crap on our first day and the second day was utterly crowded with people since not only was it a long weekend, but also the day before Buddha’s birthday.
We did see Seokguram which has a large Buddha carving (a UNESCO site), and Bulguksa, a temple once so revered for its beauty and Buddha statue that Buddhists from as far away as India would visit. It took us almost 1.5 hours to get down the mountain which in normal traffic woud have taken 5 minutes!!!
This is probably the highlight of the trip since the island is very pretty and we were blessed with good weather. The island can get touristy but it is also easy to find areas that feel relatively untouched. We saw beautiful sunsets, Mediterranean-blue water and waterfalls.
We were also quite active, riding horses, an air balloon, a submarine and a jet boat.
After my sisterâ€™s departure, my uncle drove to the southwest part of Korea for a final trip. We visited Boseong of Jeollonam-do province where there are green tea plantations. The green tea was artfully laid out.
There were many visitors from the southern part of the country, and I had a fun time trying to decipher their accents and clothing style.
I left Korea on May 26th with a heavy heart. Although I was glad to move on with my travels, it was nice to be surrounded by loving family. Plus, I was treated very well. I look forward to visiting Korea again, and hopefully I can see more of the country.
– T-express at Everland, the first wooden rollercoaster in Korea. My cousin and I rode it three times which was a mistake since it seemed to do temporary damage to my insides. I felt extremely nauseated in the car ride after the amusement park, and could barely eat dinner!
– Seongsan Ilchulbong in Jejudo: the view at the top is amazing. Not just what you can see below but the volcanic crater at the very top. The climb is breathtaking as well
– Jeongsan in Gangwon: a gorgeous drive through the mountins
– Boseong in Jeollanam-do: a green tea plantation so beautifully laid out, it looks like art
– Nami-seum: an island of blossom trees white and pink, and maples