Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Thursday, September 01, 2016 00:19:38|
Asia 2016: 14 - Sokcho to Seoul, South Korea
Sunday, August 28, 2016
It was a cold, foggy, rainy morning. We debated whether or not to take the cable car up Mr. Seorak, 3rd highest in Korea at 1,400 meters (4,592 feet), but eventually decided to go for it. It was short drive, following a creek along a forested road. Once in the gondola heading for the 1,200 meter (4,000 ft) top station the weather cleared enough to clearly see Sokcho in the distance and the Shinheungsa Temple complex far below. Back down, a rainy walk got us to the giant bronze sitting Buddha. SJ says it took 100 tons of bronze to build it.
The long drive to Chuncheon was broken when we spotted a very high waterfall not far from the highway, so we turned onto a secondary road leading to it. The water came from a high overhang on top of a cliff, falling in a graceful arc to the river below.
After stopping for a view of Chuncheon from the hills we tried the grilled chicken, a local specialty. It deserved its reputation! Canoeing on Cheongpyeong Lake was on the itinerary but due to cold and rain we opted for the hotel. SJ later went in our place; as we had paid in advance he could use our tickets.
A short walk down the road from the hotel brought us to a nice restaurant done in wood, with burl tables and chairs, where we had drinks and a very good meal. The Chuncheon Hotel is great, although the location is fairly remote.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Pickup was on the itinerary for 8 AM, but fortunately we had agreed on 9 AM, as the prepaid breakfast did not start until 8 AM. Most hotels start about 6:30.
We stopped at a landing further down the lake to take one of the frequent ferries to the "Naminara Republic". The option was a high tower with a zip line to the island. Seasonal rains would fill the river bed and transform the land into an island, but once the Cheongpyeong dam was built on the Han River it became a full time island of 460,000 sq. meters (5,025,000 sq. ft.) It has a hotel, restaurant, animals including ostriches, a small train and lots of things for children. They claim the principal export of the republic is imagination and fairy tales.
The island's name is Namin, after General Namin, who graduated from military school at 17 in the 1300s, became a general in his early 20s, minister of defence when he was 25, then was falsely accused of being a traitor and killed at 26, along with his mother and 24 other family members. The false accusation was discovered in 1818 - that didn't do him a lot of good, but he got an island named after him.
Lunch was at a dumpling restaurant with only 6 tables and a lineup waiting to get in. It was worth the wait - we shared two types of dumplings and a won ton soup topped with over a dozen delicious mussels.
After lunch we went to the telecom tower on a high hill in Seoul. Marilynn wouldn't ride to the upper levels, but she really did miss something. At the first level there is a large commercial area with food stands and shops. The next elevator rocketed up to the top observation deck in 30 seconds. Here were spectacular views in all directions. The weather had improved, it was a bright, clear day and I even remembered my binoculars!
At the Aventree Hotel we inspected the room before checking in, as our luck has not been good in hotels where we stayed for more than one night. The assigned room was OK, but small, and the shower would have flooded the bathroom. The second best room in the hotel looked great, so we paid for an upgrade and got a super room with a large balcony, separate shower and toilet areas, two sinks and lots of room..
In the evening we went for a walk, and a few blocks from the hotel came to an area of narrow pedestrian streets filled with bars and restaurants. We stopped for a beer in a couple of places - Marilynn is still having trouble finding wine, as it is not popular in Korea. One place we passed had port bellies rotating on a spit over a wood fire, so chose it for dinner. The food was great, and we were soon in conversation with four young Korean guys at the next table. One who spoke good English had worked for some time with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, and now a represented them in Seoul.
As the night wore on they taught us the Korean word for "cheers", so we practised it regularly with everyone clinking glasses with each round. The conversation was animated, with even with those who did not speak English flying high. The evening ended with an exchange of contacts, hand shaking, hugs and good wishes.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Pickup was earlier this morning, 8:30, as we had about a 50 minute drive to the DMZ (demilitarized zone between North and South Korea). All of us transferred to a bus which then took us to the 3rd tunnel, one of several dug by North Korea under the DMZ in preparation for another attack in the late 1970s. Four tunnels were discovered, and it is suspected more exist.
This tunnel is 1,635 meters (5,363 ft) in length, with 1.2 km (3/4 mile) on the North Korean side. We walked 435 meters (1,427 ft) in the tunnel with me doubled over to get under the low ceiling. Fortunately we were issue hard hats - mine took a fair pounding. Just short of the actual border the tunnel was closed by a strong concrete wall, the first of two. The second one is at the actual border.
An electric open trolley descended the 73 meters (240 feet) to the tunnel over a distance of 1.2 km. It looked like miners being brought up at the end of a shift with everyone wearing their hard hats! It is possible to walk to the start of the tunnel, but it is a long walk.
Another stop was at the train station, still in use, 700 meters (2,296 ft) from the DMZ, that was built as part of a rail link to the industrial park built by South Korean businessmen near the North Korean city of Gaeseong. That ended a few years ago when the North Korean Government closed the whole operation, putting their own people out of work, and making this station the end of the line.
We also visited an army lookout point lined with pay to view binoculars that overlooks the actual border. It is only a short distance to the border, and a small North Korean hamlet is at the edge of the hill where the lookout is built. The abandoned industrial city was clearly visible.
After returning by bus we drove to a small town for a good lunch in a Turkish restaurant. Shopping was on the agenda for the afternoon, but I opted out and so did Marilynn, who didn't feel like it. Instead I used the hotel laundromat to catch up on laundry.
SJ was back to pick us up at 6:30 for a 45 minute drive to a river cruise boat operated by Eland. The one hour cruise up the Han River in the dark passed under a number of bridges at a stately pace before returning. Seating in the main salon was 6 abreast on each side, then upstairs there was some seating but the area was open and we were not dressed for the cold. In the forward part of the upper deck a skilled bartender did an impressive routine with bottles and glasses, however I don't think he sold alcohol on the cruise. An excellent 4 piece jazz band played in the main salon.
By the time we got back we did not feel like going out in search of food, so had Burger King burgers for dinner. Marilynn and I bought a bottle of wine, shared while soaking in the jacuzzi in the bathroom.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Pickup was at 9:30 to see the changing of the guard ceremony at Gyeongbok Palace, however is was pouring rain driven by strong gusts of wind so we arrived to find it cancelled. SJ had two umbrellas, and I borrowed one from the hotel. We walked the grounds, which still have a number of original buildings. SJ said at one time it had 7,700 rooms, but most were destroyed in various wars. The palace was the location of the Chosun Kings from 1392 until 1897, when it became the Korean Empire with Russian and Japan vying for influence. Korea became a protectorate of Japan in 1905, and part of the Japanese Empire in 1910.
The itinerary was cut to a minimum due to weather, but SJ drove through the narrow lanes of Bukchon Hanok Village, then stopped on Insadong shopping Street where I found a pub while Marilynn and SJ shopped. A short drive got me to another pub while they shopped the Myeongdong District. Both have narrow streets lined with small shops.
Lunch was in a specialty restaurant in the older area of town selling small whole chickens in stone bowls of broth, making a very filling and nourishing chicken soup with lots of chicken. We then went back to the hotel to prepare for our departure tomorrow, and for me to catch up on business and writing.
In the early evening we walked to a narrow shopping street a block behind the hotel to find a popular little place for a light dinner and a couple of pints of beer.
Thursday, September 1, 2016
SJ picked us up at 11 AM to drive us to the airport. Marilynn's flight is at 2:40 PM, and mine is at 5:50 PM, but we both went at the same time. Immigration was quick, security was slow. Marilynn was upgraded to first class on an A380, the largest passenger plane ever built, and one I have been keen to fly on for some time. They wouldn't let me into the first class lounge near her gate, so we both moved to a business class lounge for Star Alliance, as both Asiana and Air Canada are members.
Once I saw Marilynn off, I walk for miles to get to a subway train to get me to a lounge in the same area of the airport as my gate. The moving walkways, services and access to areas of this airport could certainly be improved.
This afternoon I will fly to Toronto, leaving here at 6 PM Sept 1 and arriving at 5:50 on the same date, 10 minutes before I left - a bit like time travel. The next episode will be making my way to Resolute Bay to join the Kapitan Khlebnikov for a crossing of the Arctic Ocean to Siberia.AC