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The Perfect Korean Hike

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We’ve done a lot of hiking and hill-walking during our time in Busan, but until our trip out to Hoedong Lake, we hadn’t actually experienced a truly Korean day of hiking. This was the last big excursion we’d be undertaking in Busan, and we couldn’t have hoped for a more authentic day out.

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When our friend Seong Yeop invited us to check out the Hoedong Lake with his father, we immediately said “yes”. But within seconds of beginning the hike, I knew we were in trouble. This wasn’t going to be the lackadaisical, relaxed stroll we normally indulge in, frequently interrupted by photo stops and water breaks. Nope, Sean’s dad had darted out in front, and was setting an insane pace which Jürgen and I had a hard time matching. He was completely geared up and taking no prisoners.

Through the woods we marched, and along the beautiful lake. Used for drinking water, it’s off limits to swimmers and fishermen, and colored a dark green which reflects the woods. Halfway through the hike, we came upon a small restaurant and sat down for a break. Plates of pajeon and dotori muk muchim (acorn jelly salad) were set in front of us, along with two bottles of makgeolli. After the strenuous hiking, the makgeolli hit hard, and I was visibly wobbly when I stood up, much to the amusement of Mr. Lee.

But we felt replenished after the break and, as Seong Yeop promised, the makgeolli buzz wore off quickly. Soon enough we were hiking up a seemingly endless hill for a view over the lake. Gorgeous, and by this point I was starting to get into the rhythm of the speed-walking. The rest of the trip went by in a flash, but I think we must have done about ten kilometers, all told.

After getting back into the car, we drove to a restaurant where we were treated to ginseng wine out of little cups the size of thimbles, and delicious bowls of chicken soup. The chicken was incredibly tender and fell off the bone at the slightest touch from our chopsticks. Wonderfully nourishing and strangely refreshing on a hot summer day, this is apparently a popular thing to eat after a day of hiking. I was completely full upon finishing, but had to make room for dessert at the final stop of the day: an awesome cafe specializing in patbingsu, or ice shavings topped with red beans.

Our day out with Seong Yeop and his dad was one of the highlights of our entire three months in Busan. I guess you haven’t gone hiking in Korea until you’ve gone hiking with Koreans! We had a blast, and it’s a perfect final memory from our time in the city. Thanks guys!

Location of Hoedong Lake on our Map

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July 30, 2012 at 9:53 am Comments (6)

Further Afield in Gyeongju

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We’d spent the first of our two day trip to Gyeongju within the city confines, and dedicated the second day to sights further afield. After a breakfast of questionable nutritious value at Dunkin’ Donuts, we hopped on the bus that would take us to the sea.

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The Underwater Tomb of King Munmu had such an evocative ring to it, that we put it on our itinerary without bothering to do any research. How could something called The Underwater Tomb of King Munmu be anything other than fascinating? The bus ride to the coast took well over an hour, and deposited us on Bonggil Beach. There were a couple restaurants, some watermelons left on the sand, a group of large stones protruding out of the ocean, and a few people camping nearby.

We asked the campers where we could find the tomb, and they pointed at the rocks in the water. The King had apparently asked for his ashes to be scattered there, so that he might one day arise as a dragon to protect Korea. Quite a disappointment. I suppose I had been expecting something more like the Mumm-Ra’s Tomb:


Mumm-Ra vs. Munmu – the names are where the similarities stop (Image Source: toyarchive.com)

After waiting nearly an hour for the bus to return, we made our way to Bulguksa Temple, which is possibly the most important Buddhist temple in the entire country and definitely among the most beautiful. Seven of Korea’s official National Treasures are found here, including a pair of stone pagodas which date from the temple’s original construction in the 8th century. It’s a large complex with a perfect setting in the forested hills east of Gyeongju, and extremely popular with Korean tourists.

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We spent a long time exploring the grounds at Bulguksa and, on finishing, found ourselves presented with a dilemma. Should we do the two-hour round-trip hike to the Seokguram Grotto, or return to Gyeongju and visit the National Museum. There was only enough time for one, so we wussed out and chose the museum. This has enraged the Korean friends we’ve told, as most rank Seokguram “unmissable”, but Jürgen’s ankle was still healing. And we were tired from the trip. And… and… and… excuses are easy to find when you’re trying to avoid physical activity.

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And anyway, we were happy with our choice. The Gyeongju National Museum was fascinating. Dedicated to the Silla Kingdom, whose ruins we’d just spent two days exploring, this was a fitting final chapter for our trip to the former capital. Split up into five different halls concentrating on ancient architecture, art, and recovered artifacts, you could easily spend a couple hours here.

Locations on our Map: Tomb of King Munmu | Bulguksa Temple | Gyeongju National Museum

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July 14, 2012 at 1:00 am Comments (2)

Anapji Pond at Dusk

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A man-made pond in the middle of Gyeongju, Anapji has been impressing people for over thirteen centuries. We strolled along the pond while the sun was setting, when the park is at its most gorgeous.

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Anapji was built in 674 by the great King Munmu of Silla, who used it as a pleasure retreat from his nearby palace. The lake fell into disrepair after the fall of Silla, but was completely recovered and restored to its original state during the 1970s.

Five traditional pavilions surround the pond, which is now enclosed by stone walls. At night, the lights come on, bathing the woods, water and pavilions in beautiful color. This is the most popular spot in Gyeongju for a nighttime stroll; we were shocked by the line of people waiting to get into the park. Definitely worth penciling into your evening plans when you’re in the city.

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July 13, 2012 at 2:19 am Comments (2)
The Perfect Korean Hike We've done a lot of hiking and hill-walking during our time in Busan, but until our trip out to Hoedong Lake, we hadn't actually experienced a truly Korean day of hiking. This was the last big excursion we'd be undertaking in Busan, and we couldn't have hoped for a more authentic day out.
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