Yum mung pancake, cheesecake heaven, cats and kakao crayyyy-zeeness

The last few days in Seoul and sleeping on an air mattress was pure bliss – as was the massage at nearby spa.  CC and I were next to each other and the man attempting to unlock the rictus mess that was my back said to her aghast, ‘why are her muscles so tight, what has she been doing?’.  Well, carrying frickin’ ridiculously heavy rucksacks and sleeping on beds of rock it would appear.  Also turns out my sacro-illiac joint decided to join the party and the left side migrated north somewhat, thereby throwing everythin0g else out of whack – so at least we know now (I say, aching like a beee-atch after being manipulated – read ‘stretched’ by the physio).

There was eating to be done during our time left together and eating we did, from Bindaetteok – Mung bean pancakes, which we ate at a market stall, squeezed onto benches designed for little people with short arms, they have a different radius for the sweep from plate to mouth it appears, luckily I managed not to miss my gob too many times as these were delicious.

Bindaetteok market stall

In the same place we found a kimchi lady (a lady making and selling it, not made of fermented cabbage).  She had freshly made mustard leaf kimchi for sale and assuring us that it would be safely transported back home (it nearly was, there was a slight oozing) I bought an old fashioned paaahnds worth to sit in the fridge.

We also spent time over in Hongdae, allegedly shopping for beauty products – Korea is facemask central, and you can’t move for the various stores selling product.  However we went to eat at an amazing cheesecake cafe, Mobssie, where the menu is only in French, so it must be good, right?  Oh yes!

Cheesecake and cwaafee
Cheesecakes and cwaafeee

The cheesecake on the left was fresh from the oven and hot, hot, hot.  Patience is a virtue, allegedly, but we were decidedly lacking so we tucked in at the point it was still at molten lava temperature, and it was worth it.  Having o’d on all things fromage-y and sweet, coupled with the caffeine, we set off to enjoy the buzz at the nearby Kakao store.

Yes, I definitely spelt that right – Kakao Talk is the Korean equivalent of Whatsapp, and they have a series of Kakao Friends who are a big hit with everyone and the whole concept store sells everything branded with the friends.  Your whole life can be Kakao’d, day to night…

Tonight Matthew
Tonight Matthew, I’m Ryan, I think…I can see fuck all in this sleep mask

Plus you can have your pbotos taken with large models of the characters too.

Not all of them are what you think they are – Ryan, in the sweater, is actually a lion with no mane, the rabbit is a radish in disguise (!), Jay-G, with the big yellow hair, is a hip-hop loving mole.

Ryan overdose
Hoodie Ryan overdose.  Is it me or do some of them look a bit like angry teenagers?

The sugar and caffeine did the trick and we went a bit wild in-store.  I ended up with a rather large stationery haul, because you can never contribute enough to cutting down the trees of the world.  Thank you tax-free shopping!

CC’s mum treated us to dinner at the restaurant where she works.  I can see where CC gets her cooking skills from. Looking at the other tables I thought they were merely ordering a whole heap of food, but turns out people mostly order the set of multiple dishes. Turns out this was for us too, along with the inclusion of some bibimbap.  There was so much food for us that it’s brought on a giant wooden tray that slides over the whole of the table.

Panaramic shot of the table – all (!) that’s missing is the bibimbap.
Total food overdose.
Now complete with bibimbap but we had already started on the noodles and veggies.

Fishes x 3, crab, rice, kimchi, salads, shrimps, veggies, more kimchi, seaweed, steamed spinach, noodles and the bibimbap, plus to top it off we were indulged in some cheongju.  Cheongju is a rice wine, and  was a lot easier on the stomach than soju, and went down a lot quicker too, despite having to ladle it into our pottery cups using a wide mouthed spoon.  I guess it would have gone even quicker if it was in a decanter.

Chin chin
Chin chin with Cheongju

We did our best to clear the table but there was some left over.  It was either that or be hospitalised and have our stomachs pumped.  I tried to practise my Korean to say ‘thank you’ (kamsahamnida 감사합니다 )and also ‘I ate well’ (jalmuggutssahamnida 잘 먹었습니다), however the cheongju had done its work and despite me parroting the phrases repeatedly, by the time we got to leave I turned into a nodding echo of CC, mumbling through to the hamnida point both times. My ear for languages is seemingly shared with Van Gogh – the one that he cut off and threw away.

Our other great meal was at the 24hr joint around the corner from the flat.  It sold a broth made with pork ribs, gamjatang, but without the potatoes (which is what it’s named after). The meat had been cooking for so long it just fell off the bones.  The broth was full of the flavour of the meat and the spices it had been cooked in, and you served it up with rice, and an amazing wasabi sauce.  I was so happy, I’d definitely died and gone to food heaven.  There is no photo of this, only a video of the hot bubbling mess that was the food, (and not me, gurning at the dinner), you can look at it here.

The trip was coming to an end and I was heading back a few pounds heavier, both myself and my luggage. The stash of purchases meant that my bargain bag was turning into a liability sooner than you could say ‘uneven pavement’, and whilst I’d managed to squeeze everything into it that needed squeezing it ended up a bit like me after too many sojus – unsteady on its feet and needing to be leant against something so it wouldn’t fall ouver.  It also proved incredibly fragile as evidenced by it readily falling apart en route to the train station.  Now too heavy to carry, after the wheel brackets detached and the screws fell out, I was still able to ‘wheel’ it by treating it like an invalid, holding it upright at all times, moving it along with no sudden movements and ensuring the ground was smooth / bump-free. My mantra was ‘just get me to the airport’, where I was able to pay to have the wheels secured with packing tape, although I couldn’t do anything about the random screw that was suddenly sticking out of the side of the bag.

CC and I said our goodbyes, I’d already said good bye to her family, and the pets.  I really would miss being with this super friendly people who took me into their home for the duration.  I couldn’t not have asked for more, except for maybe a little less food, but that was down to me and my greed!

Mr & Mrs (RIP) – Feling went a big shy…

I had visions of watching the conveyor belt at Don Mueang slowly churning out the contents of my bag – face masks, face scrub, Ryan and the gang, a pound of kimchi, my pants all piece by piece followed by the remnants of my cheap-o bag.  I had no choice but to bite the proverbial shopping bullet and get myself a replacement, and duty free was the only option, so lighter of pocket and relieved of my small rucksack now relegated into said new purchase I wheeled myself down to the gate and boarded my flight back to Thailand to collect my other bags, repack, and hopefully repair my broken back before jumping on the plane to London and home.



Spa-clean in Gyeong-ju

A bus ride from Busan, on a dull overcast day and we were in Gyeong-ju, known as the ‘museum without walls’ due to the number of tombs, temples, rock carvings, pagodas, Buddhist statuary and palace ruins that exist there.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Apparently you need a few days to explore Gyeong-ju, we were there on a whistlestop 22hrs and our first stop was not to whistle but to get clean as the proverbial at a spa in town.

For a tenner we got spa towels,  top and bottoms in baby pink, with XXL for the lardy and access to 4 floors of the 5 floor spa (one floor is for the men, and we wouldn’t be wanting to go there).  After a shower we then had access to the 3 pools at various temperatures – frickin’ hot to the point of wooziness, frickin’ cold to the point of shivering and goosebumps, and ambient perfectness.  I plumped for ambience complete with jets aiming to remove the knots in my upper back. There was a sauna but lounging in a pool seemed perfect, and required minimal movement.  From there I could observe other ladies being brought refreshments.  Others were scrubbing areas of their bodies that should never be aired, let alone given a vigorous going over with the equivalent of a brillo pad, it was DIY hammam-ing at its finest.

We got our outfits mixed up
We got our outfits mixed up

I could have stayed in the pool for the remainder of the day but didn’t have a book to read and my look for the day wasn’t going to be wrinkled prune, so after 45mins of wallowing I forced myself out of the pool.  Deciding against the human Dyson dryer that you could stand on and get blasted dry, I opted for the traditional towel, and once clothed and feeling about 10lbs lighter having removed a few layers of dirt, we headed upstairs to the resting space.  Here you can lie down on mattresses, or head into the cinema room where you get to sit in a comfy chair and watch a film of your choice, or else you can pay a couple of quid and get yourself practically strapped into a ‘massage’ chair and have pieces of metal that are barely covered in material try and force their way into your soft body tissues.  CC fell asleep during the torture, I aimed to put into practice some mindfuless and acceptance that pieces of metal inserting themselves into fleshy parts was ok, whilst simultaneously screaming silently and counting down the minutes till the chair released its steely grip.

Suitably knackered and time against us we binned off the trip to a UNESCO protected temple (always next time, right?) and headed out for a late lunch at a nearby restaurant Sukyoung Sikdang, which turned out to be the second favouritist restaurant in Gyeong Ju, according to TripAdvisor.

We were so intent on food to avoid full on meeeeeltdown we completely missed this signage.

A tiny little lady served up the food to us, as we sat (or rather I lolled) on tatami mats.  The set up was traditional with the low tables, and underfloor heating, and small cushions to sit on.

The bibimbap was amazing, as evidenced by the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures. After stuffing ourselves senseless I utilised what was quickly becoming my standard escape approach of roll, release legs, revert to vertical and we headed off to our guest house via a local bakery.  Not just any local bakery though.  This was the first red bean paste bread (hwangnam-ppang) bakery to be set up in Gyeong-ju.  The bread was invented in 1939 and is a famous speciality of the town. The bakery is family run by the Choi son of the founder.

The box lid strategically hides those already eaten.

CC stocked up for friends and family.  Each day fresh batches are made on tables by hand behind the serving counter, using the original recipe.  Often the queues are out the door but as we were there at the end of the day we got lucky and were in and out pretty quickly.

Our next stop was the guesthouse, which we got to just as the heavens opened and it started to chuck it down.  Our beds were set up the traditional Korean way, with a blanket on the mattress and a thicker blanket (no sheet) to sleep under.  We got a bonus with electric blankets too and a heater in the room.  Woo hoo – happy days!

Our day was not yet done, on a promise of chicken and beer with other guests for when we returned, we headed out into the rain to go to Donggung Palace.  The palace is supposed to be a great example of Silla architecture. Gyeong-ju was the capital of Silla, the ancient empire that lasted from 57 BC to 935 AD. The palace was a secondary palace used by the Crown Prince, with the main palace of Wolseong located nearby.  In the centuries after both palaces were destroyed and it was only in the early 20th Century when archaeological excavations were carried out were the ruins of these palaces discovered.

Donggung Palace

It was beautifully lit up, and even the rain couldn’t dampen the view, as we wandered around the artificially created pond that sits in front of the remains of the palace.

Unfortunately we weren’t going to get the opportunity to revisit it the next day as we were leaving before midday, however just being able to see it at night made up for that.  As did the little shop that was open on our street that was selling the tastiest rice flour and almond powder biscuits.  The various flavoured biscuits were each cut into the shape of a particular historical artefact from Gyeong-ju, whether it was the astronomy tower, or images from famous tiles or artefacts found during the archaeological digs.

Tasty, tasty, so very tasty

Managed to inhale a couple of these puppies before dinner….they were definitely a winner for me.

The next morning we left fairly early to get back to the bus station, and to have some breakfast beforehand, as the guesthouse offering was somewhat sparse.  None of the shops appeared to be open until after 10am, but we got to see the town and the architecture as we wandered our way back to the centre.

Traditional building
Traditional building of Gygeong-ju

All around the town are various mounds, which turned out to be tombs of all the various leaders of the Silla empire.

That's them thair tombs in the distance.
That’s them thair tombs in the distance.

With coffee inside me and finely waking up we were homeward bound to Seoul and for the last couple of days of my visit.  Shopping and eating awaited.


Busy eating eel in Busan

We took the train to Busan, Korea’s second city and to the east of Seoul, on the coast.  This trip was going to be about the fish.

Our AirBnB was a guesthouse not far from the Jung-Gu metro stop, albeit after the climb out of the metro, we then had a climb up a serious series of steps to get to the guesthouse and then climb some more steps to the room.  Luckily their second floor was the UK’s first floor, so that meant two sets of stairs less to climb – woo hoo – you take what you can get when you’re as knackered as me! And I was taking in as much oxygen as I possibly could to help me up all those bloody stairs.

Partway up the stairs en route to our guesthouse was this smug b’stard.

We dumped our bags and headed out for dinner at the nearby Jagalchi Market, Korea’s largest fish market. Even though it was early evening it was still pretty busy, with the mainly female market stallholders displaying their remaining fishy wares (oo-er) – octopus, tuna, dried fish, even whale meat (!), as well as lots of molluscs, sea squirts, sea cucumbers, crabs all in bowls, or tanks waiting to be picked out for dinner.  I was too busy looking to take too many photos.

I spy octopi...
I spy octopi…
Drying fish
Drying fish
Red mullet
Red mullet?

This was where I decided what else I wouldn’t eat whilst in Korea (the whale meat wasn’t even close to being on the agenda so doesn’t count, no, the first thing being the snails that were served up at the sashimi restaurant we’d been to the previous night in Seoul), it being octopus, as I saw somewhat too graphically parts of writhing and turning in a bowl after being sliced up for someone’s dinner. It wasn’t even a whole tentacle, but parts of one.  To watch it furling and curling was too much.

These definitely weren't moving, they were deceased, dead, dried, dessicated.
These definitely weren’t moving, they were deceased, dead, dried, dessicated.

I was obviously getting to be a bit of a fanny, says the girl who had eaten hongeo-hoe the day before (fermented skate, and as skate excrete urea through their skins it reeks of ammonia). Hongeo-hoe (more like honk-ing) was a shocker – it looks fairly innocuous then you put it in your mouth and realise that it’s practically solid due to the cartilage that it is mostly composed of so that makes it impossible to chew, or swallow, or bite down on.  Then you start to get the stink of ammonia in your mouth, burning down to your stomach and the only way is either back out onto the table or (gag) down,where it burns it way through your now wrecked stomach lining. Urgh…thank heavens for soju….

Fish, fish or fish?
Fish, fish or fish?

Meanwhile, further into the market the restaurants were in full swing, with some of the owners calling to those passing by attempting to lure them in to eat.

We wandered along looking at what was on offer.

Each stall had its speciality on show at the front, with prices up on the walls.  The stalls were very basic looking but were doing brisk trade.  We settled on eel for our tea and sat down to wait for our eel served 2 ways – plain and with chilli.  No cartilage here.

Eel for two

Once the main meal was done as much as possible, the leftovers were taken away and mixed with rice and returned to us to be warmed up over the gas burner.  Once it was sufficiently cooked we were let loose on it to scrape off the stuck bits.  The owner and their friends were suitably impressed with my impression of a starving person using a spoon to scrape at the rice burnt onto the foil, and thought I was practically a native, and kept giving us extra bits of freshly cooked eel.  We obviously looked a bit underfed….  Yet again, we were stuffed.

The next morning after skipping the lukewarm shower and trying to unkink my locked up back muscles that come from sleeping on a solid rock hard bed we were on the bus to Haedong Yonggungsa Buddhist Temple, which is right on the coast.  It was originally built in the 1300s but seemed to have been fully refurb’d with concrete fairly recently.

It was heaving, as it was the weekend, there were coachloads of lil’ ol’ folks all turned up wearing duck-down jackets, massive visors, and trainers or full on hiking gear all milling about and trying not to hit anyone with their visors.  There were also families, a few motorbikers on Harleys and the occasional tourist.  We had to queue next to the twelve statues representing the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac to get in, and watch as people posed next to their representative statue.  Mine is rat and he looked too much like Splinter from Ninja Turtles.  Could have been worse, could have been the snake that looked like a sheep in armour….

Is that Splinter from the Ninja Turtles on the right?

Then we had to go past a nine storey pagoda that was for prayers for Traffic Safety.  It could probably have done with being a bit bigger and more prominent, maybe on a roundabout on the road in front of the traffic-ly traumatised.  We were then heading down a steep set of 108 steps, which apparently represent the 108 agonies of earthly desire of Buddhism.  There should have been an extra step to represent my agony of a  bad back and my earthly desire for a decent mattress.

Bit busy today
Let’s hope everyone is abiding by the handrail policy. Oh no, that’s right, they aren’t – they’re playing Pokemon Go in a temple!!!

Once over the bridge to the main temple complex there were numerous more tourists and numerous statues, including 2 golden peee-igs who were regularly being patted on the arse.  For luck, apparently.

Least someone had a smile on his face today
Least someone had a smile on his face today
The view up the coast
The view up the coast.

Down by the water there were terrapins being harassed by small children, and randoms were trying to clamber over rocks and avoid major waves to get the ultimate selfie moment – a snap of them being washed out to sea..  All truly spiritual and calm-inducing, if you’re on 5mg of Valium.

Fish sausage on a stick
Fish sausage on a stick Mr Dibbler?

After the fun of being among the screaming hordes, we treated ourselves to a fish sausage on a stick (as bad as it sounds) and after waiting in another queue for a lunch of THE coldest noodle soup in the world (it turned up in a metal bowl that was fresh out the fridge, I had to warm the noodles up in a cup of broth served separately, till that became tepid from overuse).  Apparently cold noodle soup was quite the thing back in the day, and judging by the queue still was a thing, if you liked freezing your mouth off.  The Korean dim sum helped to warm us up a bit before we headed out to go to Haeundae beach to meet a couchsurfer for the afternoon.

Looked good - fucking freezing.
Mul Milmyeon – looked good – fucking freezing though.

The sun was shining and the beautiful white sandy beach was a perfect place to soak up some vitamin D and watch a bunch of foreigner freaks (mainly US grads teaching English) celebrate the Indian festival of Holi by dancing like loons to some tooooons.

Haeundae Beach
Haeundae Beach – a mile long and wonderfully wide, so you can avoid the eejits throwing powder paint.

Basically it seemed to be any excuse to get pissed and plant hand prints on girls’ tits, judging by the behaviour of everyone coming off the beach covered in paint and the fact that every girl’s t-shirts had handprints in the breasticle area.  Strange how none of the boys had handprints around their testicle area.

Is the irony of this lost on anyone else?
Is the irony of this happening lost on anyone else?

Our lil’ couchsurfer was going to show us the sights and delights of Busan, until he ‘fessed up to not being a Busan native and was there studying for government exams.  He was locked away for 6days a week and was venturing out on a Sunday in an effort to interact with other humans before he forgot what it was like to do so.  Tourist responsibilities fell back onto Corean Cimchi and therefore we set off to see a bit of nature at Taejongdae Park, which had a little pullalong train that we could hop onto and thus avoid a long slog uphill.

Choo choo
Choo-choo, all aboard the Bof….

We hopped off at the viewing platform, where you could look out to see to tankers parked out to sea and the cliffs, then the kids wanted to head off down toward the lighthouse whilst this ol’ dear had a breather on some nearby seats.

More view
More view
The view from the, er, viewing platform.
The view from the, er, viewing platform.

I was about ready to keel over but our day wasn’t done and after a strong brew and the opportunity to warm up – it was blowing a bit this side of town, we headed off for our dinner back toward town. Yet another astounding eating experience – what this country can do with a dead animal is nobody’s business!

This time around it was Suyuk Baekba, which is boiled meat, in this case thin slices of pork, like bacon, which came with tofu, kimchi, white rice and a soup.  Any British person served bacon is guaranteed to die from a pig overdose, and happily so.

Unfortunately sitting at a low table means getting up from very close to the floor, never a good look but even more difficult with a stomach full of pork. We set off to burn off some of the calories at the nearby beach of Gwangalli where the  Gwangandaegyo Bridge lights up as part of sound and music show on the hour. A gentle stroll to the sounds of dance music which finished with a suitably rousing can-can drew our evening to an end and we said our goodbyes and went our separate way to our host, and all of us headed off to own solid beds.

Gin-gan-Gwangalli, gin gan-gooo
Gin-gan-Gwangalli, gin gan-goo – Gwangandaegyo

We walked past here, best sign ever…

We didn't eat here
Best restaurant sign ever

The next day we were off again, by bus this time, to Gyeongju for a night.




Soju, selfies and Jeju

We flew from the attractively named Gimpa airport, the old international airport of Seoul.  Straight there on line number 5.

I was obviously very out of place, being the biggest person on the train and with unbrushed and undyed hair, no make-up and constantly blowing my nose rather than sniffing politely.  Virtually every Korean woman and most men are impeccably turned out. Make up is an art form as is the 7step beauty routines that many Korean beauty companies recommend. You’d be lucky if I did 2, and only if one of those was sliding my eyes past what was showing in the mirror. Not wearing make up marks you out and I certainly was stand out with the black smudges of tiredness under my eyes, looking like death warmed up and a Rudolph red nose. Also, heaven forfend, I had a tan. Not the deathly whiteness so much favoured (partnered with American tan tights though…). Frankly, I was an embarrassment.  No wonder CC was sprinting ahead of me out in public, and I don’t blame her! Even my hair had rebelled by this point, to the stage where I eventually had a trim at a local hairdressers – reurning to my Sideshow Bob look of a few years back, winner!

It was a short hop to the island of Jeju, and from the airport we were picking up a car.  The airport was particularly empty – all the flights from China weren’t heading that way anytime soon, so it was majority Korean.  Jeju is the seaside island break for a lot of Koreans, as well as hikers heading up the highest mountain in the country, Hallasan.  Wouldn’t be doing that even though I’d schlepped my walking boots all the way with me just for this trip!

This was the point where CC had to ‘fess up to not being the most confident driver, that two day driving course really hadn’t imbedded a strong driving discipline.  That coupled with living in a city where public transport is so endemic and a car is unnecessary, it’s not surprising she wasn’t used to driving.  She initially had a penchant for wanting to seemingly mount the right kerb but as they say ‘practice makes perfect’ and once we were out of the main town the open roads and lack of traffic allowed for CC to get up to speed both literally and metaphorically.  Our sat nav was insistent on talking to us and I soon learnt the Korean for roundabout (ro-ta-ree-a, e.g rotary, although CC was confused and thought the lady was initially saying lotteria – which to be fair, with some of the driving going on, road use on Jeju often was). What was apparent was that most road users hadn’t learnt how to use a rotaree-a and thus various methods of how to deal with them were in operation, with the most favoured being to just get over it as soon as possible and hope that there’s no traffic on it at the time.

Ahhh scenery
Ahhh – scenery. The small stacked stones are offerings from passengers of cars that have successfully made it this far.

First stop was the beach, well, a beach and more precisely a windy and sandy one.  It was full of other tourists with the same idea – get to the first attractive beach and start taking selfies.  Unfortunately for CC, and fortunately for me, we had come without a selfie stick.  How sad…and we initially had to request a fellow tourist to take some photos, until the God of Camera-Phones heard CC’s pleas and she found a discarded one in the mini-dunes.  Deep joy.  With the wind whipping the sand in our eyes, and me layered up in jumper, eiderdown jacket and scarves, we attempted to ‘strike a pose’, or in my case – gurning. CC has particular views on selfies and they must look good, or else there is punishment – more posing….

IMG-20170323-WA0163My preference
Far away from the camera – and my face partially covered, the best way to be. And no, didn’t need a wee, even though it looks like I do.
Tooooo close for comfort. At least you can’t see the fear in my eyes. But you probably can see the outpouring of snot from my nose.

(Painful) interlude over we downed coffees and after a bit of Chuckle Brother maneouvering – me to you, to me to you with the car reversing out of the car parking space we headed off to the supermarket for snacks, and soju.  Soju is one of Korea’s national drinks, made from rice, and can be bought in anything from smart glass bottles to cheap white plastic bottles. Container is not an indicator of quality it appears.  The taste has been described as resembling that of slightly sweet, watered-down vodka – sort of like sugar dissolved in rubbing alcohol – yum.  The danger comes with the flavoured versions, grapefruit (like flat Fanta), tangerine (synonymous with Jeju – the land of oranges – the government promoted tangerines as a major export item in the 60s!), and other fruit flavours, before you know it, your legs don’t work and you’re wondering why the floor is so close to your face.

We finally got to our AirBnB house,  after a stop off at the market for lunch and a wander, in the traditional village of Seongeup (on the eastern side of the island) in the late afternoon.  As well as staying in a traditional village we were staying in a traditional thick black lava rock walled single storey house with a straw roof, complete with underfloor heating, karaoke tv and hard bed. Outside the stone grandfather statues (Harubang) stood guard at the entrance.

I think CC got the better bet sleeping on the floor!  The host meanwhile was amazing, providing recommendations for places to see, eat out at and generally giving ideas for what to do.  It really did feel like a home from home, even if we weren’t going to be putting on the coloured afro wigs and give it large on a microphone to ‘Let it Go’. Exhausted by the day’s exertions it was a home stay evening with Korean evening drama, soju and strawberries – tres decadent, no?

We started the next day late, we were on holiday after all.  Once the pain from the bed kind of wore off we headed up the road to what turned out to be a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant – who’d have thunk it!  Yetnalpatjuk serves up red bean porridge (patjuk (팥죽) as its local fare. If you wanted it as dan patujuk then you would add sugar to it and people on the next table were doing so with gusto but I wasn’t up for that, and preferred it au naturel, even if it meant it tasted like rustic, commune porridge.  The portion size could have drowned a small baby, although the reality of anything sinking into was unlikely, it was so solid.  It was served in beautiful eathernware bowls, and the traditional style dining room was surrounded by random bird ornaments.  If you’re not a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds you might feel uncomfortable.

Lunch – this one I was a bit sad about, although the crockery was amazing!
The restaurant
Not exactly helpful that all buildings in town look the same….

We headed back out to explore some more of Jeju and Moon had suggested Sagye Beach. Right on the waterfront was a statue of two Haenyo women talking to Mrs. Gorbachev to commemorate the Gorbachevs’ visit in 1991. The Haenyo are the famed Korean women divers of Jeju, and are considered one of Jeju’s valued treasures.  There were a couple of ladies left still selling their catches.

The harbour
Mount Sanbangsan
Mount Sanbangsan – one of volcanoes of Jeju

We hopped back into the car and drove past a load of nutters paying 1000won (about a quid) each to stand in a field of rapeseed flowers and take photos.  Seems to be traditional fare in springtime – people paying to stand in a field and take selfies. We meanwhile stood at the end of the pier for our posing:

One of us was taking it seriously….

Our day wasn’t done – we were on a full itinerary of things to squeeeeeze in to our short stay, so after checking the scenery we headed off to the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, along with everyone else it seemed.  Old ladies were hiking the 1 kilometre along the tarmac’d path wearing enough kit to head to Everest base camp to see a waterfall that is about 70ft long.

That'll be the waterfall
That’ll be the waterfall – what you can’t see are the screaming hordes standing in a queue to take photos next to it.

There was a queue – a frickin’ queue (!) of people to stand and have a  photo taken of them ‘catching the water’ from the fall, or to just pose their arses off.  Thus we quick snapped it and high tailed it out of there as we had places to be, that place being a market to buy homegrown oranges to take back to Seoul and then we were ready for dinner.

We had decided to get a bus to a nearby restaurant for bbq.  Big ol’ mistake.  We arrived, after 30mins, to a corner of somewhere in the pitch dark.  It was 7.30pm.  We walked into the restaurant.  Got very excited to smell the cooking.  Got very dispondent and hangry when we got told the restaurant had stopped serving and was shutting at 8pm.  Bollocks.

Back out in the dark and we could not find the bus stop! Let alone know what time the bus would be coming, except at some point in the next hour or so.  Sheeee-it.

Back in the 70s Nelly would have knitted the Ark and Noah out of any situation.  In this one on Jeju, CC super googled us out of hicksville, back to home, to the car and out on the road to Pyeong-dae and barbeque pig – woo-hoo, with a new find Gat Kimchi.  Gat Kimchi is made from Mustard Leaf, and thank god Korean restaurants do free top ups of the sides as I was prepared to o’d on it and the lettuce.  Never been so happy as that evening eating peeeee-iiiiiiiig.

We left full and happy, so happy, and full, and did I mention happy?The sky was amizzin’ – probably looks shit below but it was wowzers!

Is that aliens in the sky?
Is that aliens in the sky?

But we weren’t done with that being the only fabulous meal of the stay, oh no, that was for tomorrow too en route to the airport.   After a 30minute walk in the forest – because, you know, we had time and we may as well tick it off the list we headed back to Jeju town to drop off the car and then stopped off at Dragon’s Head Rock (Yongduam Rock) and had lunch, amazing fresh soup with pork, noodles – joyousness.  So happy with FOOOOOOD!

More poi-k

We definitely were leaving Jeju on a high after that lunch.  We rolled ourselves back out, had a look at the lunchtime offerings by Dragon Head’s Rock – raw seafood as fresh as possible served on the rocks, literally, as the waves hit the shoreline.

Staggering over the rocks with all our luggage and full stomachs, we to find a taxi and we were on our way back to Seoul, just for a night before we headed out to Busan, Korea’s second city.


Seoul Searching….

See what I did there?

Soooooooo 12 days in South Korea and it’s a country that is on the revisit list for sure. Not just because it’s home to Corean Cimchi and her family who opened up their small but perfectly formed home to me nor the unbelievable array for foods on offer but because despite an itinerary that’d make any Asian proud, I barely scratched the surface of what to see and do. That’s down to the fact that South Korea has much to offer, I was short of time & we were spoilt for choices.

I arrived on the Sunday looking and feeling like shite, I’d turned into my very own snot-making machine with sore muscles and a fever. Being in a country where nose blowing isn’t polite I spent the trip being highly inconsiderate and having to decongest whenever there was any exertion, e.g. breathing or putting one leg in front of the other. It was either that or drown in mucus. I know that the Koreans would rather drown but I had serious eating and sightseeing to do so I was all up for remaining able to breathe.

We took an airport bus which afforded us a view of the rather grey skies of Seoul and the rather hideous Sunday drivers. Unfortunately they tend to drive that badly the rest of the week too, the old driving test being 2 days of getting to grips with 2 tons of metal with 3 pedals and away you go out into the world at large to reek havoc on the roads. It was rush hour so luckily the madness was somewhat curtailed.

CC lives to the east of Seoul in Gangdong, and across the Han River that bifurcates the city just like the Thames does to London. It’s a low-rise part of town, with wide roads, a busy market, shops and entertainment area.  If we were to talk in numbers then the family were in a 3 room apartment, on the 4th floor of a 5 floor building and was housing 6 of us for around 7 nights….CC lives with her sister and mum, aged little dog who is a very demanding old auntie and Feling the 4yr old grey cat (never met a cat who loves to sniff at everything with such deep interest)…and for a period of time the lardy lump that is me was squeezing in there too. The flat was like the tardis, deceptively large – with a laundry area tucked behind the sisters’ bunk beds, a shoe cupboard that’d put Imelda Marcos to shame and a walk in fridge freezer that all those 3 lovely people could have squeezed into if it wasn’t for the groaning shelves of food that took up the space.

CC’s mum is a chef and works at a traditional Korean restaurant and the first night I got to experience her amazing cooking with a banquet of food that covered the small table on the kitchen / living room and which made me realise that any weight lost over the duration of the trip would be coming right back at me whilst in Korea. CC rustled up some bulgogi which we ate with lettuce and a flat leaf called Perilla, plus a couple of types of kimchi. Also on the table was dried squid, seaweed, a miso and tofu soup. Oh my, where to start – with trying not to be a chopstick chump – failed. No wonder their fridge was so big – it was leftovers central – the food would have fed a wedding party and the waiting staff.

Evening meal - day 1
Evening meal, and a struggle bus option of chopsticks.

It was not as cold out as I’d expected it to be – although the wind was sharp and cut through you at night. It was a welcome change from the incessant heat of the past few weeks, and it became perceptively milder as the days wore on – Spring was sprung fo’sure.

Monday was our day out into Seoul – a bit of cul-cha – and my recognition that I was totally ferked from being on the go in the preceding weeks and that there wasn’t going to be any let up. Not with my guide and itinerinerary-wonder CC in charge. I was quickly to become a breathless and aged laggard. Seoul’s underground system is particularly deep under the city and seemingly built with less thought to the infirm, thus long stairs are the norm into and out of stations.  Escalators are few and far between as well. Staggering up from the metro I was often wondering if oxygen masks would be readily available at the top of stairs and not just on the platforms in large glass cabinets.

We went first to the north of Seoul to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, Gwanghwamun Square and Gwanghwamun Gate.

King Sejong the Great
King Sejong the Great

At the Square, set back from the statue of King Sejong the Great, who created the Korean (Hangeul) alphabet and that of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, famed for his victories against the Japanese, there were placards, puppets and tents still in situ from the demonstrations against the former president Parks.

At Gwanghwamun Square
At Gwanghwamun Square – Korean Spitting Image.

It seemed to be winding down, although there were still tents set up as a memorial to a tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry that happened in April 2014.  The government had been heavily criticised for the response to the disaster at the time and the tents were a reminder ahead of the raising of the ferry that was due to happen late March.

From the entrance through the southern gate we went inside to explore the palace. It was originally built in 1395, however it was systematically destroyed by the Imperial Japanese following their annexation of Korea in 1910. The Korean government has had a policy of rebuilding historical monuments since the 1990s, so what was inside the walls was a reconstruction of a percentage of the original palace, some 500 buildings over a 40 hectare site versus the 7,700 that existed and had been restored in the 19th century,  under the leadership of the Prince Regent.

The entrance to the palace

Most of the buildings were not accessible, you could only view them from behind a barrier, however we were able to visit the rooms at Gonnyeonghap to see an exhibition relating to the murder of Empress Myeongseong by the Japanese in October 1895.

Inside Gonnyeonghap
A reconstruction of how the Empress’ rooms would have looked, inside Gonnyeonghap.
Portrait of the Empress, behind a screen of flowers
Portrait of the Empress, behind a screen of flowers

She had been seen as a great strategist and political influence, who had been trying to forge closer links with Russia in an attempt to loosen the ties Japan had with Korea.  She was seen as a threat and the exhibition was to commemorate her life and her assassination by the Japanese and the subsequent burning of her body nearby.  The King left the palace a couple of months later never to return and the Japanese government demolished the building completely in 1909. You kind of started to understand why Korea may not have the best relations with Japan, and after the visit to the Seodaemun Prison History Museum on my last day it was even clearer.

Many of the sightseers appeared to have made a bit of an effort wearing traditional Korean costume.  Turned out that dressing up meant discount entry.  Women were floating about princess styleeee in hanbok with wide skirts, decorated with embroidery,  beading or faux gems.  Guys wore traditional hats and kimono style jackets.  The dressing up wasn’t left to the Koreans either, the few Chinese kicking about (there’s currently a travel ban enforced by the Chinese government) seemed to favour a discounted opportunity to wander the palace too, as did a few Americans. When the wind gusted it revealed their jeans and trainers underneath – the more preferred clothing option of Seoul it seemed.

Reservoir Dogs - Seoul Style
Reservoir Dogs – Seoul Style

From the palace we wandered to Insa-dong area for a cup of Korean tea (which contained plums, pine nuts, and some other dried bits and pieces).  Not tea as you know it but both were supposed to contain health-giving ingredients.

Tea for two
Tea for two, with floaters…tasted good though.

The area of Insa-dong is preserved as a traditional area, all signage in Korean, including major companies such as Starbucks.  Lots of shops were owned by artisans with handmade product for sale, and it had a calm, uncluttered feeling despite the tourists milling about.  I think it was the money in the air, it wasn’t a cheap area.

For a complete contrast we hit Myeong-dong. Here was shopping central and both the school kids and tourists were out in full force, along with street food-sellers selling green lipped mussels bigger than my (admittedly midgety) hands, sausage on a stick, dried squid on a stick, Korean crepes, snack heaven. It was heaving, claustraphobically so, worse than Oxford St the weekend before Christmas.  I was just thankful that the Chinese were currently not allowed to travel to Korea as it’d been even worse (turns out, they’re all in Bangkok clogging up the malls there – that I can confirm ).

We fought our way through the melee toward a hill in the distance and Namsan Tower aka N Tower. It’s site states that it ‘has become a resting place for the citizens of Seoul and a tourist attraction for foreigners with the living nature of Namsan.  I think that means they were too knackered to do much other than sit down after they hiked to the top. It was starting to get cold but we were ensuring we weren’t going to be feeling it any time soon as we were walking all the way. To be fair CC offered the chance of taking a bus but I thought I’d make the effort, as a result it was slow-going,  I was worse than I thought energy-wise, but we finally made it just as the sun disappeared behind the smoggy greyness of the overcast Seoul day.

Sunday setting over Seoul
Sunday setting over Seoul
N Tower - top of the hill
N Tower – top of the hill

The reward for the struggle up was not in heaven but at the bottom if the hill at a fried chicken restaurant. Chicken and beer (Chimaek – a compound word formed from Chicken and Maekju, the Korean word for beer) is traditional fare, so is serving up the chicken with chopped raw cabbage generously doused in ketchup and mayo, which then got mixed together.  The chicken didn’t disappoint, unlikely that it could tbh, we’d missed lunch and were totally hank.


Chicken and beer
Chicken and Beer – couldn’t ask for more – except maybe the sauce and mayo not on the cabbage….courtesy of CC

Day 1 was done and dusted bar random Korean tele – no show is less than an hour long and ideally two. Next stop after a wee day of rest – Jeju Island, famous for wind, women and rocks, or was it rocky, windy women?  Certainly no-one mentioned the penis headed statues carved from volcanic rock, but that’s for another day.