Hey, fourth weekly post in a row! Is it possible that I am actually on my way to becoming a regular blogger? Huzzah!
Since most of my colleagues usually take the opportunity to travel to other Asian countries during school breaks, it's easy to forget how much fun it is to travel around Korea. So when this long weekend came up, my friends Elias, Lauren and I decided to visit Andong (the Cultural Capital of Korea), since it's reachable by train and bus. We were joined by Laura from Germany, a student teacher who's been doing an internship at the school for the last few months. We were pumped to spend some time in the countryside, where the "real Korea" is alive and well!
We got to Suwon Station at about 9AM. Though it was still cold out, I was pleased that it was a sunny day and that the yellow dust was lying low:
Elias, who used to live in Daegu, suggested that we stop off there on the way to Andong so that we could go to Mount Palgongsan, where the tallest statue of Buddha in the world is situated. Getting there was a bit of an adventure. We took a taxi up a remote hill to the gate, and as we were getting out the driver demanded that we give him an extra 6000 won because there was nobody waiting to go back down. At first we hemmed and hawed before Lauren told him in no uncertain terms that we would pay him based on the meter only. (Lauren is a useful travelling companion because she's got guts.) We all scurried out of the taxi and he cursed loudly and eloquently in Korean before taking off back down the mountain.
Fortunately, the experience of the Mount Palgongsan more than made up for the unpleasant cab ride. It was beautiful, scenic, and above all, clean, which you appreciate after months of breathing in smog and dust. It's a great place to hike and check out the natural sites.
These scary looking guys were guarding the gate to the park.
We hiked down to a bridge where an older Korean gentleman was kind enough to take a group shot:
Me, Laura from Germany, Lauren, and Elias
As it turned out, the mountain had extensive hiking trails that led to temples throughout. We didn't hike that far ourselves, but the first group of temples we found was beautiful. Inside, people were praying to Buddha. I went into two different temples that day, one where a monk was chanting, and it was a lovely experience.
After visiting the temples, we continued our hike down a long path over a bridge. The park was decorated with lanterns throughout in anticipation of Buddha's Birthday, which is coming soon.
The Buddha statue itself was disappointing at first, as the area around it was being repaved and we weren't allowed in. Fortunately, we went round the back way and wandered beneath him at our leisure (there are some advantages to being foreigners!).
After being so thoroughly rejuvenated by our hike, we were a bit concerned about how we were going to get back to the bus station. Fortunately, when we looped down the back way, we discovered a city bus that ran directly to the bus station. We jumped on and were off to Andong.
Unfortunately, we wasn't able to find the vegetarian restaurant that supposedly exists in Andong, but we found ourselves some good food nonetheless!
These are called banchan, or side dishes. The sweet black beans are my favourite.
We had hoped to visit a traditional sauna, but we ended up running out of time, which was unfortunate as there were so many of them around. This "25 hour" sauna was a particular favourite of ours:
The next morning, we were up and out the door to visit Hahoe (pronounced Hah-hway), a traditional folk village right in the midst of Confucian Korea. It was here, we were told (repeatedly) that Queen Elizabeth II visited when she came to Korea. We were allowed to go right up to the tree that she planted, but since it just looks like a regular tree I elected not to photograph it. However, I did photograph this house, built in Confucian style with separate living quarters for men and women.
Elias took the opportunity to check out the kimchi pots in the yard. Traditionally, kimchi is made and then left in these pots, which are sometimes buried for years. The result is healthy but potent stuff.
After the village, it was time to head back to Daegu so we could take our train back to Suwon. While we were on the bus, Elias thought that we should stop at a French restaurant in Daegu that he knows. I was dubious at first, as Korean attempts at Western food often have mixed results, but since Elias is a man who knows food, I thought I'd best go. The restaurant was fantastic! I had bruschetta and a smoked salmon salad while Elias and Lauren had steak and lamb respectively. Everyone was well satisfied.
The best part, of course, was the dessert. Homemade vanilla and mint ice cream! YUM! (You can also see Elias' chocolate mousse in the back.)
All in all, it was a great weekend! I hope that we can take another such excursion soon, although Laura is headed back to Germany next Sunday, so unfortunately she won't be able to join us.
Not much in the way of culturally Korean activities for next week, but I am excited because I am going to the Jamie Cullum concert in Seoul next Saturday! If you've not heard this man, listen now and love: