Asian Correspondent » Chris Backe Asian Correspondent Wed, 20 May 2015 11:20:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Beer me, please: A look at Reilly’s Taphouse (Itaewon, central Seoul) Thu, 27 Dec 2012 17:15:06 +0000

What’s that, you ask? You like beer too? You’d like to enjoy some good beer without feeling a beer snob or needing a degree in Beer to make a good choice? Make a beeline (beerline?) to Reilly’s for some good beer, good grub, and good conversation.

Despite the impressive beer list, there isn’t any pretentiousness about the served suds. There’s simply quiet confidence and knowledge, especially from the first Certified Cicerone (pronounced ‘sis-uh-rohn’) in Korea, AKA Troy Zitselberger. If you’re aware of what a wine sommelier does, this is actually pretty close – a cicerone serves beer, recommends food pairings, identifies beers by taste, has a good understanding of beer’s ingredients, and recognizes what flavors are appropriate and inappropriate. Simply put, he knows the beers so you don’t have to.

So which one to try? You’ll notice first off that there are no mass-market Korean brands on the menu – simply put, they simply don’t sell them. The most likely ones you’ll know are from local brewers:

This is one of two chalkboards featuring the available selections, most of which are available in draft form. If you’ve visited Craftworks or Magpie’s locations (just around the corner in the Haebangcheon neighborhood), some of these beers will look familiar. You can also suggest the tastes you’ll like and trust the man to get you something along your preferences. If that’s a bit too much trust to put in a bartender, the sampler paddlers offer tastes for a manwon.

YUP – some of Korea’s best draft beer in all its goodness… Speaking of which, ask about the beer boot challenge – it’s not a drinking competition, but a dice game played amongst your table. Suffice it to say the loser pays for the two-liter boot of beer, but there is some strategy involved to the game.

As for the food, expect appetizers, salads,  entrees, and sandwiches – all done a notch up from your usual pub grub. Elsewhere, the fish and chips are beer-battered; here, the beer used is Hefeweizen. Each menu offering comes complete with specially selected beer pairings.

Not a Philly cheese steak, but a Bulgogi Philly featuring shaved beef, gochujang, and fontina cheese. A bit spicier than expected, but otherwise quite good.

If you’re looking for cheap meat-and-potatoes, go to a college area – this is perhaps the best place to celebrate a victory in a classy way, or perhaps to enjoy the upscale pub like you did back home. It’s a notch up in price, however – expect a sandwich / entree and beer to be 20,000 – 30,000 won per person. If you don’t live in the city, but are planning a trip, you can find good deals on a hotel in Seoul by booking online in advance.

Highly recommended.

Directions: Itaewon station, line 6, exit 2. Walk 100 meters to the Smoothie King and look up – you should see Reilly’s as pictured earlier on the third floor.

Disclaimer: Chris in South Korea did *not* receive any freebies in writing / researching this post. #firstworldproblems

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Performance: Rocky Horror, Seoul Players, and a drag show (AKA Halloween in Seoul, Korea) – NSFW-ish Mon, 31 Oct 2011 08:50:00 +0000 Halloween in Seoul gets a little better every year.

Let’s call this one NSFW – this is Rocky Horror and drag, not the Little Mermaid. Yes, that’s me in the disco pants – perhaps another reason this isn’t safe for work.

Club After / Moonnight in Itaewon hosted the Seoul Players doing a live-action version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. No proper RHPS screening would be without a little ritual virgin hazing, of course. After getting labeled in the usual way (the ‘V’ on the forehead), they popped their RHPS ‘cherries’ on stage.

That the place got packed was no surprise, despite the crowded schedule of parties across Itaewon and Hongdae (and the rest of the country to boot).

Brad (Kim) and Janet (Travis) – I love seeing the gender roles reversed. Whether it was from necessity or the desire to try to do something different, it worked.

Columbia (Jeanne) with Magenta (Tessa) in the background.

You’ve got to love Frank (Johnthan).

Eddie (Ryan) in his always-too-short appearance.

The dancing parts were a bit hard to capture without lots of blur, but Eddie and Columbia slowed down a bit during their floor part…

Why yes, Rocky Horror (Abby), I do believe the audience is paying attention. She may not have the six-pack of the Rocky from the musical version, but it’s all good.

Magenta (Tessa) and Columbia (Jeanne) making the speaker look sexy.

If all the aliens from Transsexual were like this…

They’re going home – and so did much of the crowd after the final number.

In case you were curious, getting pictures in natural light was not possible, seeing as how the light level was so low. The necessary flash wipes out the movie screening – that said, the live action is invariably the more interesting part of the show.

The drag show got started in short order, with a new crowd coming in with separate admission. If there were announcements about which queen was coming up next, I honestly didn’t hear them. The crowd didn’t seem to mind the continuous stream of drag queens, however, so I give them to you here as I saw them myself:

Plenty of other parties happened around town, of course, and more than a few headed to Hongdae after Rocky ended. Still, lots of fun, lots of costumes, and lots of alcohol – it’s a shame the holiday only comes once a year.

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Life in Korea: The Sinbundang line opens (Seoul) Fri, 28 Oct 2011 00:00:38 +0000

It’s official – the Sin-bundang / Shin-bundang line opens on October 29, 2011 at 3pm.

This is more of a PSA for the wonderful readers are into travel and life in Korea.

The Sinbundang line (신분당선) is essentially a shortcut from Gangnam station down to the Bundang / Seongnam area. Taking the Bundang line does indeed get you to the same area, but it takes longer. Currently, the Seolleung-to-Jeongja part of the Bundang line takes 36 minutes and goes through 15 stations. While great for connecting the residents in those areas to the greater Seoul system, sometimes you need something a bit faster.

The essential details from the above poster:

  • The line has six stations. From left to right: Gangnam station (line 2), Yangjae station (line 3), Yangjae Citizen’s Forest station, Cheonggyesan station, Pangyo station, and Jeongja station (Bundang line).
  • Trains run at the same times as the rest of the subway system – from 5:30am to 1:00am during weekdays and until midnight on weekends and holidays.
  • During weekday rush hours (7-9am and 6-8pm), trains arrive every 5 minutes; the rest of the day, trains arrive every 8 minutes.
  • On weekends and holidays, trains arrive every 8 minutes.
  • The subway’s fare is 1,600 won (using your T-money card), with a 50% discount given to children and 20% discount given to teenagers.
While not on the poster above, the line is also being branded as the DX line. No word on what the DX stands for yet.

The Sinbundang line will zip you from Gangnam to Jeongja – 17.3 km, or about 10.75 miles – in about 16 minutes.

Since the whole point of this line is to connect with other subway lines and otherwise make commuting faster, some changes are also coming to older stations. At Gangnam and Yangjae station, for example, plenty of posters prominently display how some of the exits will be changed.

In plain English, the changes to expect are the following:

At Gangnam station: 4 exits are added and 6 exit numbers are changed.

Exit 1 (to Yeoksam station) –> remains exit 1.

Exit 2 (to Baeng Baeng Sageori) –> remains exit 2.

OLD Exit 3 (KDB bank) –> turns into exit 7.

OLD Exit 4 (Seocho-1-dong and 2-dong) –> turns into exit 8 (also towards Seoul National University of Education station, or Gyodae station).

OLD Exit 5 (Seocho-4-dong) –> turns into exit 9 (also towards Seoul National University of Education station, or Gyodae station).

OLD Exit 6 (IBK Bank) –> turns into exit 10. If you frequent the Gangnam area, this is the ‘left’ side of the commonly visited street.

OLD Exit 7 (Yeoksam-1-dong) –> turns into exit 11. If you frequent the Gangnam area, this is the ‘right’ side of the commonly visited street – same side as McDonalds and the CGV.

OLD Exit 8 (National Children’s Library) –> turns into exit 12.

The NEW exits (3, 4, 5, and 6) are all entered and exited from the Sinbundang side of the station. Exit 4 and 5 face roughly southward, while exit 3 and 6 face roughly northward.

At Yangjae station: 4 exits are added and 2 exits change numbers.

Exit 1 (Seocho-dong) –> remains exit 1.

Exit 2 (Gangnam-dae-ro) –> remains exit 2.

Exit 3 (Gangnam-dae-ro) –> remains exit 3.

Exit 4 (Dogok-dong) –> remains exit 4.

Exit 5 (Yangjae Welfare Center, or 양재종합사회복지관) –> remains exit 5.

Exit 6 (Yangjae-dong) –> remains exit 6.

OLD Exit 7 (to Bundang / Seongnam) –> turns into exit 11. Note if you catch any red buses towards southern Gyeonggi-do, you’ll want to start using new exits 8 or 9 – they’re closer to the island bus stop.

OLD Exit 8 (Seocho-gu office) –> turns into exit 12.

The NEW exits (7, 8, 9, and 10) are all entered and exited from the Sinbundang side of the station. Exit 8 and 9 face roughly southward, while exit 7 and 10 face roughly northward.

But wait! There’s more:


The red line is the one that’s open as of October 2011. The other two lines are of the ‘planned, talked about, and possible’ lines. I’m not privy to the official chatter, so I’ll simply say the line may well extend to Yongsan in the heart of central Seoul.

Overall, the line looks to further connect the suburb to a fair portion of the capital city. Having seen the traffic tie-ups in the Gangnam-to-Yangjae section, I hope the construction aboveground fades away and traffic can resume its usual craziness.

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Destination: Odaesan in fall glory (Gangwon-do) Mon, 24 Oct 2011 09:28:15 +0000 Beautiful leaves – yep, they’re here!

After exploring nearby Woljeongsa, I aimed to explore a bit of Odaesan National Park. It is duly noted, of course, that a half day’s worth of exploring a large national park barely scratches the surface of what the park has to offer. You would need at least two full days to fairly say you’ve seen the whole park.

After crossing a stone bridge, you’ll take a left to visit Woljeongsa, For the Needle Fir trail I followed, take a right instead.

Despite the beautiful weather and the peak season of leaves, the trail wasn’t as full of people as expected. That it got more deserted along the way was fine by me as well.

The trail runs along a rocky stream – the sort you could probably hop across if you were of the daring sort. It hasn’t been developed as the main attraction, however, and seems to fit best in the background.

A sanshin shrine, holding the portrait of a mountain spirit:

The natural light didn’t reach inside much, but once your eyes adjust it’s easy to take in more detail.

A reminder that the leaves don’t uniformly change.

A little side path off the main dirt path – if anyone can read the Chinese I’d love to know what it says.

The gate to the path – 일주문 (il-ju-mun). Not pictured nearby is a sign describing an area that will be closed to the public until 2026 to allow nature to restore itself. Here’s hoping the sign is still around and readable in that time!

To be clear, there’s far more to see than even a full day of hard-core hiking would permit. While there’s enough around the immediate area to easily fill a half-day, it takes a bit of work (and time) to arrive via public transportation. If coming via motorcycle or car, you’ll find you can fit a lot more into a single day of traveling about the area.

Ratings (out of 5 taeguks): How do I rate destinations?
Ease to arrive:


Convenience facilities:

(Grab a drink or snack near the bus stop, or before you cross the stone bridge near Woljeongsa’s entrance).

Worth the visit:

Directions to Odaesan: take a bus to Jinbu bus terminal in Gangwon-do. From the Dong Seoul terminal (Gangbyeon station, line 2), buses leave every 30-45 minutes and take about 3 hours to arrive. Once at Jinbu bus terminal, wait for the local, light blue bus. There’s no number on this bus, but it says 평창운수 (Pyeong-chang-un-su) above the outside windshield. These buses go elsewhere, go ask the destination before getting on. Only 12 buses a day make the 15 minute drive to Woljeongsa; 6 of those go further up to Sangwonsa. Taxis are a bit rare, but easier to find around the bus terminal if you don’t want to wait for the next bus. Expect to pay about 14,000 won for the privilege. The bus fare, however, is 1,750 won while 3,000 won pays for temple / park admission.

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Destination: Woljeongsa and a Buddhist festival (Gangwon-do) Thu, 20 Oct 2011 12:47:04 +0000 Buddhist temple + surprise Buddhist festival + autumn leaves = gorgeous.

Located in Odaesan, Woljeongsa (월정사, ‘moon-vitality-temple’) was the host of a Buddhist festival I had no idea was happening until I arrived at the local bus terminal. One of three Buddhist temples among the five grand peaks, Woljeongsa is the first temple I’ve seen that has a Facebook page. At present it’s not much more than a quote from Wikipedia regarding its origins, but it’s an interesting touch.

Don’t forget to bow to all the 사천왕 (sa-cheon-wang), or the four heavenly kings found guarding many temple entrances.

Like most Buddhist temples, there’s plenty of history to read about that’s not displayed within. First established by Monk Jajang in 643 A.D., the man just wanted to see a Manjusri Bodhisattva. He chanted for seven days before having a vision of the Buddha giving him a poem – four lines in Sanskrit. The problem was that he couldn’t understand the poem. The next day, a mysterious monk came by, telling him the meaning of the poem and to go to Odaesan. Apparently, he didn’t believe the monk, because he decided to chant for seven more days. At that point, a dragon told him that the monk was a Manjusri, and that he needed to build a temple. The thatched hut he built after reaching Odaesan is what began the temple grounds today.

Virūpākṣa, or one of the four heavenly kings, visible through the aforementioned wooden gate.

Two of the others – these guys are everywhere!

Some of the temple food on display, as part of the festival. While some was wrapped in plastic to protect it from the elements, the 가을튀각 (ga-eul-twi-gak, or flaky fried kelp) was open.

Being the only foreigner around means having a hard time following the ceremonies, but the monk seemed to be welcoming the crowd and explaining the significance of the event… Which was about all I could understand.

An excellent quartet with piano accompaniment. A couple of their numbers sounded more patriotic, but I never found a program with the group name or their repertoire.

One of a couple hanbok-clad choirs. Since this is the center of the temple, it’s easy to hear the performances as you walk around… so that’s exactly what I did.

A gorgeously intricate stone lantern.

For many, the 15-meter, octagonal nine-storied pagoda serves as a highlight to admire. Its history dates back to Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty (perhaps constructed in the 10th century), and although the base has changed, this remains National Treasure #48. Inside is supposed to be 37 relics of the Sakyamuni Buddha – it goes without saying that you take their presence on faith.

The leaves, they are changing… The entire Odaesan area was gorgeous this weekend.

Just another fun and interesting picture on the side of a shrine – a tiger smoking a long pipe with the assistance of a rabbit… Wait, what?!

These newer buildings are meant for those coming to do a templestay – definitely a good reason to check this area out, although the program has become relatively standardized across the country. For more information about Woljeongsa’s templestay program, check out (Korean only) or the English page on

Another one of the entrances – 용금루 (yong-geum-ru).

As Buddhist temples go, this is as peaceful and serene as any. The unexpected festival brought out the crowds, of course, but get away from them and it’s quiet again. It makes for an excellent day trip, or a great start to exploring more of the Odaesan area.

Ratings (out of 5 taeguks): How do I rate destinations?
Ease to arrive:


Convenience facilities:

(Grab a drink or snack near the bus stop, or before you cross the stone bridge near Woljeongsa’s entrance).
Worth the visit:

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Destination: Songdo (Incheon) – South Korea’s ‘beta’ city Mon, 17 Oct 2011 16:50:26 +0000 What a difference two years makes.

When I visited the Songdo / Incheon Central Park area in June 2009, the area was a construction zone. To put it nicely, walking down the street would not have been possible had I gone during a work day. Now, traffic is flowing, the area has a finished look about it, and there’s finally something to write about.

To put it clearly, the area is still developing, and a couple critical things are missing. If a place was ever deserving of a software-like ‘beta’ label, this is one.

The Tri-Bowl – a gleaming symbol celebrating the Incheon Global Fair and Festival in 2009. It now serves a fascinating role as a Hello Kitty hall. The plastic bubbles in the water all feature the iconic logo, but at 12,000 won per person (and being a guy), there was no interest in going inside.

A free thing to meander about: the Compact Smart City. While far from a complete history of the area, the three-story building portrays Incheon as a bustling port, a welcoming harbor to the world, and a place of continual growth.

As if to demonstrate the technology (and money) going into the area, the large touchscreens offered ample information in four languages.

A four-meter-tall board of pretty.

Part of a photo exhibit showing off the winners of a previous photo contest.

Looking towards the future – the 2014 Asian Games will feature a $54,200,000 (USD) indoor volleyball court.

The next major section had to do with Incheon’s history of progress. This building, the Incheon branch of the Japanese First Bank, dates back to 1888. If the door were open, you could probably stand up inside these buildings.

Head up to the second floor to start looking at the future:

A stylized version of the Songdo / Yeongjongdo / Cheongna area, as connected by a few grand bridges.

A closer look at Cheongna – still a lot of unknowns and plans at this point – if anyone else had even heard of the plans here, let me know. With 17.8 square kilometers and a construction plan that finishes up in 2020, it’s still a long ways away from being completed. Intending to become an international finance and leisure city, it’s directly north of Incheon station and looks to be a bus ride away from Geomam station (AREX line).

Done with models and plastic figurines, we stepped out into the Songdo Central Park, which was right behind the museum:

It’s real, people – and the HDR technique was an excellent way to catch the brilliance of the area. The 88-floor building to the right is the North East Asia Trade Tower, and the 65th floor observation deck was showed off some of the G20 guests last year.

Never let it be said that fancy buildings means we forget about traditional things.

Who says fancy and traditional can’t coincide – at least long enough to pose for a picture?

After leaving Central Park (stay tuned for a separate post about another interesting sight in the park), we wandered down toward Tomorrow City and found this interesting artwork displaying 120 faces from around the world – entitled 지구촌의 얼굴 (ji-gu-chon-ui eol-gul – Faces of the Global Village).

Tomorrow City was closed, but no biggie – the architecture was still a sight to behold.

Looking straight up at a tornado-like funnel.

If you’re a tourist that likes to see places before they’re officially open to the public, you’ll probably enjoy Songdo. The construction is still happening, and you’ll see a couple signs of some rough edges still being worked out. The most glaring example: in an afternoon of walking around the park and the larger area, we never saw a single restaurant or convenience store. The only exception was the convenience store inside the subway station – beyond that, nothing. If you go, bring some stuff with you to hold you over until you leave.

Ratings (out of 5 taeguks): How do I rate destinations?
Ease to arrive:


Convenience facilities:

Worth the visit:

Directions to Songdo: take line 1 of the Incheon subway system to the Central Park station (get to the Incheon line from Bupyeong station on Seoul‘s line 1). Once at Central Park station, take exit 4 to street level and look left.

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Destination: Wolmi-do Amusement Park – at night (Incheon) Thu, 13 Oct 2011 16:47:52 +0000 Myrtle Beach, eat your heart out.

An excellent place to check out a more Korean version of the local nightlife is mere minutes away from Incheon station. Known as 월미도테마파크 (Wol-mi-do te-ma pa-keu, or Wolmi-do theme park) it’s a family-friendly outing much like Seoul Land and Lotte World.  The area is easy to explore, pay by the ride, or just people-watch throughout the night. The lack of alcohol was a nice touch too, although it’s easily obtained from any convenience store or restaurant around the area. There just wasn’t anyone selling it inside the park.

Easily the ride that attracted the longest line, and the most spectators, was – the ‘Apollo Disco’. Riders sit on the padded benches and hang on for dear life. There’s no straps or seatbelts (!!!), and I dare say half the fun of watching is watching someone get thrown out of their seat. Add the DJ taunting / teasing people and it’s a bit more entertaining. It also helps when people are dancing (or walking) in the center of the ring, as they do sometimes.

Some rides, while functional and working, just didn’t attract as much attention. If you like being one of the only people on the ride, however, you’re in luck!

Some impromptu, unexpected fireworks were a pleasant surprise.

Plenty of people were shooting off roman candles at the water’s edge.

Just one of the dozens at the water’s edge.

Gotta love the murals in the area – a little weird, but not overly scary.

It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but there are three Viking boat rides side-by-side-by-side – all part of the same park.

Some of the lights on display on the Culture Street of Wolmi-do. They’re pretty, but feel like something I’ve seen in Busan before.

Go before it gets too cold – there are no tall or huge rides, but it’s a pleasant outing when combined with Chinatown or Jayu Park. Try not to stay too late, however – on this particular trip, we had a tough time figuring out why buses continued to drive without taking on people and with their lights off. It was late (around 11pm on a Saturday night), but they weren’t letting anyone on. To make matters worse, the taxi drivers in the area made the taxi drivers in Itaewon look generous and kind. Those that weren’t reserved were well aware of their ability to pick and choose their customers. Be on the bus before 10.30pm to be safe, or be ready to struggle a bit with a taxi driver.

Ratings (out of 5 taeguks): How do I rate destinations?
Ease to arrive:


Convenience facilities:

Worth the visit:

Directions to Wolmi-do Amusement Park: Get to Incheon station (line 1), then take the only exit to street level. Look straight out the exit for a bus stop, then hop on bus 2, 23, or 45. Ride the bus for 7-10 minutes until you hear the English announcement for Wolmi-do. If it’s dark outside, keep your eyes peeled for the giant Ferris wheel and get off when you see it. For more information, check out or call 070-8801-8525.

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Destination: Jeju! Jungmun Saekdal Beach, Sanbanggulsa, and Loveland Mon, 10 Oct 2011 04:36:45 +0000 Author’s note: this is the fourth in a series of four posts on a recent trip to Jeju. Head back for parts one, two, and three if you missed them.

The latter half of the late-summer day was the perfect time to take in a few of Jeju’s most beautiful sights, starting with a wide beach:

Jungmun Saekdal Beach (중문 색달 해변) – at 560 meters long and 70 meters wide, it’s not the biggest beach in the world, but it’s perfect for an afternoon in the sun. One unusual factor was where the water was deeper and shallower – the deepest part was nearer to the shore, then stayed fairly shallow as far out as I went. There’s a spot just off the picture where the sand rested higher than sea level – one could literally go out in the sea, walk through the deeper part, up to the shallow part, and eventually have a seat in an area where the waves would lap up near you, but never quite you.

Sanbanggulsa (산방굴사) – the mountain temple on Sanbangsan features more stairs than flat land and a gorgeous view of the coast. One legend indicates this mountain was the peak of Hallasan before it was broken off and thrown here. A grotto shrine is also here, complete with a spring water well that drips from the ceiling. You’ll need it after the hike to the top.

Loveland (러브랜드) – nothing quite like going from a beautiful Buddhist temple to an outdoor park celebrating sex. All the pictures are SFW, but the giggles you hear as soon as you enter tell you that the park is NOT.  Above is one of dozens of outdoor sculptures – this is one of the safe ones. Aww, aren’t they so cute.

If you’re an adult, I sincerely hope you don’t need me to explain this one to you. Sit down, pedal, and, um, see what happens.

Very, um, abstract, isn’t it?

There’s enough on Jeju island to keep you busy for a week without ever feeling bored. Best of all, it’s an hour flight from Gimpo airport in Seoul or the Incheon International Airport (a 45-minute train ride from central Seoul) – dozens of flights leave every day.

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Destination: Jeju! Oedolgae, Jusangjeolli, and Cheonjaeyeon waterfall Fri, 07 Oct 2011 06:18:17 +0000 Author’s note: this is the third in a series of four posts on a recent trip to Jeju. Head back for parts one and two if you missed them.

The nice part of going on a guided tour is the ability to meet with like-minded travelers, visit a bunch of places, and (perhaps nicest of all), not have to think about how you’re going from A to B. As a (usually) independent traveler, that last point is nice to take a break from every now and then. The schedule on many a guided tour is tighter than I’d personally like, but that’s the tradeoff at play. In any case, it was a beautiful day at some of Jeju’s most beautiful places.

Oedolgae (외돌개) or ‘lonely rock’. The unfortunate resemblance to a portion of male anatomy was noted by the tour guide, though this was merely one part of an Olleh hiking trail. The size and shape was perfect during the Goryeo Dynasty. According to the legend, the Koreans disguised the rock to look like a giant military general, and the Mongol soldiers occupying Jeju-do committed suicide as a result.

Another legend comes straight from

It is also called Grandmother rock (Halmangbawi) as legend has it that an old woman waited for her husband to return from a fishing trip. When he didn’t come back, she became a rock. On the tip of the rock, some trees and grasses grow, resembling human hair. It will give you the impression that the old woman forehead, sorrowful eyes and nose can be faintly seen on the left side of the rock. The open mouth will make you feel like the old woman is calling for her husband.

Plenty of clean, crisp air, and not a tall building in sight.

The Olleh hiking trail hugging the coast of the island.

Jusangjeolli (주상절리) – AKA columnar joint rocks, AKA just freakin’ gorgeous. The scientific interest here is vast, thanks to the different formations.

Formed by hot basaltic lava that cooled, the 4 to 6 polygonal columned rocks are naturally created, yet look carved.

One of the only places you’ll see palm trees on Korean soil is nearby.

We’ll get to Cheonjaeyeon waterfall in a second – for now, the ‘Fountain of Five Blessings’ offer longevity, wealth, honor, love, and sons if your coin lands in the stone bag in the center.

Cheonjaeyeon waterfall (천재연폭포) was the next stop. Although three waterfalls were in the area, one was separated from the other two – naturally, I had to check that one out.

One more part! Stay tuned.

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Destination: Jeju-do! Manjanggul Lava Tubes and Crater Mountain Peak Fri, 30 Sep 2011 04:30:18 +0000 Author’s note: this is the first of four posts on a tour of Jeju-do. Stay tuned for the other posts!

Jeju-do. Part 1. ‘Nuff said.

While the oft-repeated title of ‘honeymoon island’ is true, there’s far more to see than newlyweds – or anyone else, for that matter – can see in a week. Korea’s largest island manages to cram dozens of museums, interesting attractions, beaches, temples, and ancient geologic formations into one 1,848 sq. km. island. This is almost the same size as Maui of the Hawaii islands, and a fifth the size of the ‘Big Island’.

During Chuseok, I joined a group tour taking advantage of the long weekend to explore some of Jeju’s most interesting sights. I’ve been to several places around Jeju, but visiting during the winter just isn’t the same. The camera – and the person taking pictures – is a bit better the second time around as well.

First stop: Manjanggul Lava Tubes (만장굴). About 1,000 meters of the 13.4 km-long lava tube is open to the public, which is more than enough to enjoy in the short time a guided tour offers. While the light level is exceptionally low, eyes adjust quicker than a camera’s ‘eye’.

A nearby sign describes these as ‘lava stalactites’. As lava flowed through this tube, it would melt a bit, not unlike wax melting on a candle.

Some areas feature a space where rocks fell into the lava flow, either melting down, getting carried along the lava flow, or become solidified with the ground. I’d rather not be around to see the rock that once filled this space!

The ‘turtle rock’ (거북바위), AKA a ‘lava raft’. Formerly a piece of rock that ‘floated’ along the lava flow, it settled here when the lava flow solidified. While the signs imply a resemblance to Jeju island, I don’t see it.

The next stop was a ferry ride away, and Udo deserves a post of its own. Stay tuned for that in Part 2.

After getting back to Jeju, the bus took us to Seongsan Ilchulbong (성산일출봉, AKA Crater Mountain Peak, AKA Sunrise Peak). The timing was definitely better this time around, as the sun was just beginning to set by the time we reached the top.

Just one of the many interesting rocks along the hundreds of stairs.

The view from the top – hard to believe that this was a volcano not too long ago.

The obligatory sunset picture – a little mystical-looking.

Stay tuned for parts two, three, and four in the coming days.

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Destination: Jeju-do! A side trip to U-do/Biyang-do Fri, 30 Sep 2011 03:14:01 +0000 Author’s note: this is the second in a series of four posts on a recent trip to Jeju. Head back for part one if you missed it.

Welcome to Cow Island – yes, Udo does sort of resemble a sitting cow from above. Thus, the name fits, if such a thing matters much. While Jeju features enough places to keep most travelers busy for a week, the tiny 5.9 sq km Island requires a mere half-day. Good thing, too – despite the minbak (family-run hotel) and pensions around, it’s easy to tell apart the locals from the tourists.

Some people enjoy island hopping, despite putting up with ferry schedules and more junk food (or soju) than legally allowed. That said, a trip to Jeju is nicely supplemented by a side trip to Udo; it’s even more exotic feeling than Ulleungdo, though not as remote.

The self-guided, if standard, half-day tour requires a scooter or ATV, easily rented from several places near the ferry’s port. An international drivers license isn’t required, but in the interest of safety, it’s best to pick something you’re comfortable with. Golf carts are available for the larger groups (up to 4 per cart) or the more timid. Once you have wheels, the coastal road extends both ways around the island. While whizzing around the island, take in the houses and fields featuring the black rocks stacked together in fence fashion.

Going with a tour group means there are dozens of others racing around the roads; going on your own, however, will give the words ‘peace’ and ‘quiet’ entirely new meanings. The wind and waves crash into the black volcanic rocks as they always have, oblivious to the electric cars and gas-powered vehicles.

One of several lighthouses on the island. Not pictured nearby is a decent Korean restaurant and some outdoor seating on nice days.

If you’ve bought the two-island tour you may as well get the third for free! Biyang-do (비양도) is connected to Udo via bridge, and makes Jeju-do looks huge. While there’s only a couple things worth seeing on the island, they’re worth the time and relatively small detour. The main road terminates nearby the island’s main interest – the black-and-yellow lighthouse.

The piles of volcanic rocks beckon the traveler to leave the wheels behind and walk towards the lighthouse. Walk the 300 meter concrete pier and enjoy the black pebble beach – but try to ignore the flotsam across the rocks. Getting to the top requires a fairly decent ladder climb, but the view is wonderful:

Ignore the trash and appreciate the relative isolation from seemingly everyone and everything. The smartphone still works, of course, but it really does feel like you’re light years from everyone.

Beyond the lighthouse, a stone lookout platform is (nearly) the tallest building on the tiny island, It would be easy to zoom by, especially on a limited schedule and with plenty of natural beauties around.

After a few hours of exploring, it was time for the ferry ride back to Jeju-do. Stay tuned for parts three and four – yes, I saved the best for last.

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Destination: Lake Park (Ilsan, northern Gyeonggi-do) Wed, 28 Sep 2011 05:33:16 +0000 OK, Chris, what’s so special about a man-made lake? Beyond it being the biggest man-made lake in South Korea, the 300,000 square meter (73 acre) lake is accompanied by a greenhouse with dozens of species of cacti, a 9,550 square meter Rose Garden, and plenty of room to stretch out and relax. The unoriginal ‘Lake Park’ name is a direct translation of the Korean (호수공원, or ho-su gong-won) – no biggie, since it’s the only lake in the area.

Pic: Chris Backe.

A half-hour north of Seoul, Ilsan is one of the the capital city’s satellite cities – one of several worthy places close to Seoul to call home or make a day trip. It’s not precisely a new area, compared to more recent development in other Seoul suburban areas, though the area still feels modern and exciting. These satellite cities, including Bundang to the south, stand on their own and seem as though they don’t need a Seoul nearby. That said, areas like these are connected to the Seoul subway system and have their own bus systems.

Pic: Chris Backe.

Back to the lake park – easily the main attraction for both locals and travelers, start by picking a direction. Head right if you feel like walking, or head left if you’d rather rent a bike for the visit. Bike lanes are separated from the walking lanes, making it easy to go through the park at your own speed.

You wouldn’t look at the lake and conclude it’s man-made unless you’re looking very carefully. It’s had plenty of time to develop naturally despite the artificial beginning. A fair warning is due, however: at a minimum it takes a couple hours to make a lap via bike (call it three hours if walking). There’s only one bridge across the lake, meaning you’ll want to plan ahead to ensure you have plenty of time.

Pic: Chris Backe.

While there are enough lights to be safe, the area begins to lose its ambience as the sun goes down. For most, it’s time to shift their attention to the nearby Westerndom – a strip mall with several stories worth of restaurants and stores – or La Festa – stores, restaurants, and more than a few bars. Both have a wide variety of food and drink, as well as plenty of opportunities to people watch.

Bring a picnic, a snack, or your rollerblades – Lake Park is worth exploring and being active the whole day.

Directions to Lake Park: take line 3 of the Seoul subway system north to the Jeongbalsan station. Take exit 2 (and turn left) or exit 1 (and turn right). You’ll pass through a concrete square with walkers, bikers, and possibly some skaters. Keep headed straight and you’ll eventually hit water and the trail around the lake. Admission is free; wheelchair and stroller-friendly – the trail is smooth and paved.

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