A few weeks ago our school enjoyed a week of summer vacation. I, being determined to see the world, was bent on going somewhere… ANYWHERE outside of Seoul. After doing some research, my coworkers and I realized that leaving the country this time of year is much too overpriced for our humble means. Even a trip to Japan costs twice as much as normal because everyone is on summer vacation. Annnd we didn’t book a flight months in advance. So my dream trip to Vietnam, Taiwan, or Bali was out.
After doing some research, I saw that foreigners can get a special Korean Rail pass for very cheap. AND perfect timing, the “Youth” discount cut off age is 25! So I purchased a 5 day train pass that would get me on any train to any place at any time (within 5 days) for about $100 USD. Sadly, my coworkers who had intended to join me on this adventure opted out the night before we were supposed to leave.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to tackle this strange new place on my own and ALMOST decided not to go because first of all, I can’t speak Korean. So that’s a downer. Second, I couldn’t read it. But I had already decided on my various destinations and knew it would be worth the risk. So after some kind kind friends helped me book some hostels the night before I left AND helped me set up my cell phone service (thank you, June), I was ready to travel Korea.
You know me, I’m independent… Or just introverted. You pick.
Day il 일
My first stop: Busan. The second largest city in Korea, known for its beaches and seafood. They also have great hiking, a Buddhist temple on the cliffs, and the place where the East and the West sea meet.
After checking into my hostel, I went directly to Igidae park, where you can hike along the sea. Because June had so kindly set up my cell phone service the night before it wasn’t difficult using UNLIMITED DATA (thank you, Korea) to figure out how to get there. I don’t think I would have made it 24 hours on this trip without 3G. The hike was beautiful. Korea’s really good at maintaining a sense of nature in such a condensed country. You can always find a good hike or outdoor activity within minutes of a city center.
After Igidae, I decided to go to Taejongdae Park to see the lighthouse and Eastern/Western sea view.
One thing about being a foreigner, traveling alone in Korea, is that people seem to take pity on you. Like, “Poor white girl, are you traveling alone? Want to be friends?” And I made some REALLY great friends because of it! At this point in Taejongdae, I met Justin. He ate dinner with me that night and went with me to the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple the next day. Making friends is wonderful. I highly recommend it. Especially Korean friends. I can’t get over how kind, accommodating, and intentional these guys are. Language barriers don’t seem to matter at a certain point- it’s just relationships.
Day ee 이
That fried pancake looking thing is actually a Chinese snack called “hotteok.” It’s got brown sugar in the middle.. Delicious. Oh and that’s Justin. That night, he introduced me to his friend from New York: Janice! A Korean-American (AMERICAN) who speaks perfect English and perfect Korean. I love her. The entire time we were talking at dinner that night Justin kept saying, “I can’t believe you guys are getting along. People I introduce never get along this well.”
In the two days and nights I spent in Busan, I walked away with some great memories and life-long friends.
Day sam 삼
Next, I took the train to a random city south of Busan (Jinju). From there I had to somehow find the bus to Tongyeong and then find my way to the Ferry Terminal to get on a boat to Bijindo Island. It was stressful, to say the least. I didn’t know what bus to get on, where it was, or what time I had to go. But somehow I knew it would work out. Plus, if it didn’t, it’s not like Korea is a dull ugly place with nothing to do. There’s always something to do, see, or eat. So when I got off the train thank the Lord there was a kind Korean man who spoke English (one of the TWO people on the bus including the driver haha). He told me to get off at the next stop and kindly drew me a map to show me how to get to the bus ticket window. He said the bus will say “Tongyeong” on it.
Yeah, of course it said Tongyeong, but of course it was written in KOREAN. But thankfully the internet taught me how to read Hangul on my train ride to Busan two days prior. And, it all worked out. I arrived in Tongyeong rather quickly, the “tourist information” lady who spoke almost no english told me I had to rush in order to make the 11AM ferry to the island. Sheepishly, I showed a cab drive the area on the map she told me to go and made it to the Ferry Terminal 10 minutes before the ferry took off! Luckily, there were still ferry tickets available and I boarded just on time.
Bijindo Island was featured on CNN last year and I felt the need to visit. It was like paradise. Fairly empty beach, really cool sandy bridge between two islands, sun, fine sand, clear-blue water and a really terrifying hike (but we’ll talk about that later).
Do you see that photo of the spider? Well if you know me you know I have an intense fear of spiders. My photos of Bijindo Island COULD have been much more spectacular except I couldn’t finish the hike to the peek because… spiders.
There was a point that I had accidentally turned on the video on my camera and you can literally hear me talking to myself saying “OK, you can do this. It’s ok …” amongst continuous heavy breathing. I felt that with every step forward, I was facing my deepest most irrational fear. And to no avail. Half way up the mountain I turned to see a brown spider chilling in his web… Get this… The body of this little demon was BIGGER than my hand. I remember thinking, “how does the web even hold that thing? He’s the size of a brick!” I’m sure he was just waiting for me to walk by. As soon as I saw him, I turned around and screamed “Oh HAIL ANIYO.” And ran with all my might back to sandy beach and into the sea, where I was safe.
So, on the ferry ride back to Tongyeong I met this wonderful girl (DalLae) who told me she climbed to the top of the mountain. She showed me pictures and they were incredible. I felt sight remorse for not facing my fears and getting to the top. But at the same time I might have died of a heart attack before dying of an actual spider bite. Perhaps next time, Bijindo, I will tackle your spidery vault. DalLae ended up showing me all around Tongyeong. She took me to dinner in a market (food that the city is known for). And then led the way to the Dongpirang Wall Painting Village. This place not only resonated with my artsy side, it also boasted beautiful views of the city. I was awestruck and quickly fell in love with the harbor town.
After Tongyeong, DalLae and her friend kindly drove me to the bus station and helped me buy the right ticket back to my hotel near the train station in Jinju. It was a perfect day. The next morning I jumped on the train to Boesong!
Day Sa 사
GREEN TEA FIELDS! Of course I couldn’t leave without trying a green tea latte (the best I’ve had),
AND green tea ice cream (to die for).
Day oh 오
My next and final stop was to visit with my dear dear friends Justin and Alicia Woodside in Gwangju. Alicia was a roommate of mine at Biola. She’s fantastic. Actually, they both are. They’re the ones that introduced me to the idea of Korea and clearly, I’m glad they did. I walked away feeling so blessed and encouraged by them. They fed me delicious Korean food (their province is known for having the best food in Korea), taught me how to maintain a good balance in work and personal life, and brought me to DR FISH. Where these tiny flesh eating fish ate all the dead skin cells from our feet. It felt so strange and wonderful all at the same time.
I adored my time with the Woodsides and hope to see them again before they head back to America next month!
After that, I took the train back to Seoul. It was a jammed packed, glorious, five day summer vacation. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. God always has his way of making things work out. Just gotta go with the flow.
Love to you all,