Korea: Land of Tombs and Kimchi

We stayed busy our second half the trip and I did not right any blogs.  Our trip home was stressful to say the least and left a little sour taste in my mouth and now after being back a month I am writing some blog I should have written while we were traveling.

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We left Haiensa and started heading to Gyeongji which the GPS said would be 2:30 and 6 dollars in tolls (1,100 won is equal to $1 so it is easy to convert as 1000:1 mentally). Somehow (I blame Katy) it took us off the highway and decided we wanted to drive straight through Daegu which is the third or fourth largest city in Korea. By the time we reached our next accommodations I was stressed to the max after a knuckle grinder 3:15 drive sans highways.

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A little hipster coffee shop

I quickly (my opinion) regrouped in Gyeongji and headed with Katy to caffeinated. Korea takes it coffee seriously with coffee shops all over the place and prices being pretty westernized at $3.5-6 for a latte. Katy says that some of the coffee is good, but a lot is weak and sub US quality. I am not doing the best at adjusting to the time zones and Katy has taken to feeding me evening lattes so I stay up to an “acceptable hour”.

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Our “bed” at the Happy Village

We stayed for two nights at the Happy Village Syebol which was located right next to some tombs in Gyeongji.   Gyeongji and Haiensa are two places not on the typical tourist path, but they are not really removed from them either. The locations and how spread out Gyeongji is make it harder for independent backpackers to visit things other than the main sites. Gyeongji was the capital of the Silla rule from roughly 0-1000CE. The Silla rule adopted Buddhism as the state religion around 650 (these dates are plus or minus 100 years) and has a ton of temples, tombs, and palaces scattered around the area. Gyeongji is now a city of 250K, but in it’s zenith had over a million people living in the area.

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After being caffeinated we wondered around the sites in town for a couple hours and then came back to the Happy Village.  We then went to dinner which was a $17 for the two of us and contained about 15 small plates.  After dinner we got some fish waffles which are waffles shaped like fish and filled with either custard or red bean paste.  They are either 2-3/dollar depending on your filling.  Katy’s attempts to keep me caffeinated did  not have the desired impact and we drank some of the alcohol we bought at the convenience store, played Settlers and then I promptly fell asleep.

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Please note the bowl of broth like liquid next to Katy is really an unfiltered rice beer.

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We got an early start to the morning and hopped into our clown car and started the day driving by driving to one of the most important temples in Korea, Bulguk-sa.  We got there pretty close to opening time (even after a detour driving around a random town looking for an open coffee shop, for some reason coffee shops in Korea feel no reason to be open before 1oam) and shortly after we arrived we met the hoards of tourists that were dislodged by the tour buses.  In this area most of the tourists were Korean.  One thing that noticed in the entire country was the lack of American tourists and a plethora of French tourists (the 10ish other people at the Happy Village were French).  We (this means google searches) could not come up with a good reason for this other than they get more vacation than us.  After that temple we then drove to a grotto where a buddha is displayed.  At this point we were really close to the east coast of Korea and Katy wanted to see the backwards Pacific.  Unfortunately the weather was kinda overcast and we couldn’t see the ocean.  After a few minutes in the car trying to figure out what were doing using a combination of the car’s GPS (which is not as user friendly as you would guess) and cell phones (using our wifi egg) we decided to head back towards town and go for a hike and get some lunch.

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Kimchi stew and a seafood pancake

We somehow managed to locate a place in the guidebook that is known for their three year old fermented kimchi  soup.  We have discovered that kimchi is actually a way of fermenting veggies and have had a wide range of kimchied (I made that word up).  This meal ranked as one of our favorites and we discovered that they use tofu completely differently than us in the states. They use it in conjunction with meat instead of a meat substitute.  This has resulted in Katy being a trooper and having to pick around in a lot of dishes.

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Katy trying to get caffeinated with vending machine coffee. Discovered it tastes a little worse than it sounds.

After lunch we went for a hike where we were severely under dressed since we didn’t have hiking poles or assorted neon athletic wear on.  Since the area was the center of culture for hundreds of years there were tombs and shrines all over the hike which was pretty interesting.

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Required pre hike stretches

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Just in case you start a forest fire while out hiking

After it got dark we went and wondered more of the city and discovered a few pedestrian only streets and somehow ended up at the noodle place we were trying to eat at.  Katy and I had a slight miss communication on where we wanted to eat which had her thinking I was leading her down assorted side alleys.  We ended the night with some fish waffles and called it another good day in Korea.

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