Friday, December 19, 2008

South Korea 2008 - Northeast South Korea

One of Korea’s redeeming features, at least while traveling during the winter, is that it is eerily devoid of western-tourists – especially once you venture away from the big cities. This feeling of escapism was felt no stronger on this trip then when I made my way up the northeast coastline of South Korea. North-South Korea doesn't get many western tourists; however, they do get the odd uninvited visitor from the north. In fact, most of the entire coastline is fenced off with barbed wire and lookout points and beaches are lit up at night in order to spot intruders. The best place to catch a reminder of this threat is the coastal resort town Jeongdongjin, where the a captured North Korean submarine lies on display next to a US battleship. Jeongdongjin also boasts a quite spectacular hotel built in the shape of a vessel on a cliffside, making it a noteworthy stopover.
My first stop in this region was a night in Samcheok. Although there's not really a whole lot to see within the town itself, there are quite a few interesting spots to visit within its local bus-route proximity. Amongst these are the enormous limestone cave at Hwanseon Donggul and the rather exotic Haesindang Gong-won park at Sinnam where the locals erected, erm... erections, in dedication to a young girl who drowned in the nearby seas with her chastity still intact.
After Samcheok, I headed up to Sokcho and the glorious Seoraksan National Park. It was just my luck however that my one day in this hikers paradise happened to coincide with the worst weather I was to experience on the entire trip. It still didn't stop me from taking a nice hike through the park to one of its many mountain caves, as well as riding the cable car up into the mountains. There was also another memorable, if somewhat creepy Korean-cuisine experience awaiting me in Sokcho, where I ordered a ''squid sashimi' to go along with my spider-crab main course. Despite being decapitated into pieces, the raw squid pieces were still far from dead and wiggling and sucking inside my mouth as I chewed them down! Again, one of those 'only in Korea' type experiences.
For more photos/information on this segment of my trip, check the website here:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

South Korea 2008 - Busan & Gyeongju

There's no rest for the wicked as they say. After the long flight from Abu Dhabi to Seoul (via Doha, Osaka and Incheon), Dusty and I woke up first thing the next morning to catch the speed train to South Korea's southeastern port city of Busan, located in the Gyeongsangnam-do province. It was in fact Busan Aquarium - located in the heart of one of South Koreans favorite summer spots, Hae-undae Beach, that attracted us to this dynamic city. The Busan Aquarium, along with Scuba in Korea, allows guests to scuba dive into their main tank, which happens to be swarming with turtles, groupers and mainly... sharks!
Giant gray nurse sharks, sand tiger sharks, lemon sharks, leopard sharks, and white tip reef sharks are all on display and swimming around aimlessly in the tank looking out, hoping to get a taste of some of the viewers gawking from the outside. But while it may be true that some of these intimidating sharks look as if they wouldn't mind devouring a nice human for lunch, the dives are carefully timed between feeding hours so divers and sharks are able to share the tank in relative peace. Despite the obvious harmony and calmness, the audience on the other side of the glass gave us a rock star-like reception. The Busan Aquarium dive is a must for shark enthusiasts and so far no accidents have been reported......yet.
For more photos of the trip, check out my website:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

South Korea 2008 - Seoul

Seoul, or more likely nearby Incheon airport, is probably the first port of entry for many travelers entering South Korea. Being one of the largest metropolitan complexes in the world, the city itself may not really be considered 'attractive' and there may not sport to many 'tourist attractions'. However, there's plenty to see and do here including the Changdeokgung Palace, N'Seoul Tower and the Inwangsan mountain trails. It's at night where the city really comes alive. There's always a show going on - like the excellent martial arts comedy show, "JUMP" which Dusty treated me to and the city never seems to sleep. Seoul's vibrant shopping centers are open almost all night long. It's also a great place to get a taste of some of Korea's 'esoteric' cuisine - including the infamous dog soup.
One must-do side trip from Seoul is a bone-chilling tour of the demilitarized zone separating South Korea with its northern counterpart, better known simply as the 'DMZ'. The 4km stretch of no-mans land divides two similar cultures yet two completely different worlds. Nowhere else can the tension be felt any more than in Panmunjom, where top-ranked taekwando expert North and South Korean soldiers stare each other down all day in a game of international intimidation. The US military cadets who act as guides on the tour, put on by the United Service Organization, don't exactly alleviate the tension by constantly reminding us that world war three could break out at any minute if we so much as wink at the North Korean soldiers - not something you'd really want to add to your CV. A walk down one of North Korean incursion tunnel, apparently built to transport some 30,000 soldiers is a firm reminder that the cold war is still going on in some parts of the world. A less intense day trip from Seoul is the Korean Folk Village, near Suwon.
For more photos of my trip to Seoul, check them out here:

Monday, December 15, 2008

South Korea 2008

These photos were taken from my trip to South Korea in November/December 2008. I had about 10 days on the entire trip. The main objective of this particular expedition to the far east was to meet up with my little brother Dusty, who had just recently landed himself a teaching job in Seoul. However, I was able to turn what was a routine family visit into a nice little trek along South Korea's east coast. South Korea unfortunately gets a little overlooked by travelers when coming to this region as opposed to Japan and China. However, South Korea has plenty to offer travelers of all types.
After a rather arduous flight on Qatar Airways that went all the way form Abu Dhabi to Doha and then to Seoul, via Osaka – I finally arrived at Korea's Incheon International Airport. Dusty and I immediately headed off to Busan – South Korea's largest southern port. Our main reason for coming to Busan was to go shark diving in the Busan Aquarium on Hae-undae beach, where you can walk amongst giant gray nurse sharks, sand tiger sharks, lemon sharks, leopard sharks, and white tip reef sharks, as well as giant grouper and sea turtles . After Busan, Dusty and I headed up to Gyeongju- the old capital of Korea's illustrious Shilla Kingdom.
After parting with Dusty in Gyeongju, I made my way up along South Korea's northeast coast where I visited the country's finest hiking ground, Seoraksan National Park and Samcheok - where I made the side trips to the coastal resort of Jeongdongjin, the magnificent limestone cave of Hwanseon Donggul and stared in disbelief at the phallic monuments of Haesindang Gong-won park in Sinnam. Dusty and I met up again in Seoul where we ventured to the city's highlights: Changdeokgung Palace, N'Seoul Tower, Inwangsan mountain and the Insadong shopping district. We also took the USO's DMZ tour and took a couple of steps inside North Korean territory – an absolute must for geopolitical-aficionados.
It's not just the sites and activities that makes South Korea such an intriguing destination but Korea's got quite a unique cuisine. Hanjeongsik is the full-course Korean meal which includes rice, soups, meats, vegetable dishes and kimchi-the soured cabbage that has become Korea's staple dish. However, those brave enough may want to explore some of Korea's off the beaten track dishes. Dog is of course the most notorious of these dishes. However, it can actually be quite tasty – like a very lean beef. The same can't be said for steamed silkworm, which are sold in packs near the smoked almonds. My advice is to stay far away from these.
The most deadliest dish we consumed in Korea was blowfish. This highly toxic fish can cause fatalities if not served right but it's also a delicacy in these parts. We found a restaurant in Busan that specialized in pufferfish and I must say it was absolutely delicious! Squid is consumed at an alarming rate in South Korea – almost in a similar way as french fries are back in the States. Dried squid is sold everywhere; however, the biggest surprise must have been the squid-sashimi in Sokcho. Although cut up into pieces, the squid is still alive and moving, with its suction-cupped tentacles still fully functioning when you pop them in your mouth... one of the many 'Korea-only' experiences this country offers!
To view more photos from this trip, check the main website: