Friday, June 19, 2009

Korea - week 2

TONGYEONG - The bus was about 1.5 hours from Jinju, and the station is a bit out of town. We took a taxi to the Gangguan harbour (approx 4000W) and then walked about in search of a love hotel. The first two nights we stayed at the Tower, which was an obvious fake brick building with neon signs on the external west side of the harbour. We paid 40000W a night and got panoramic views and Internet, but the building was a bit rundown and security felt lax. We changed hotels to the Injon, which was right around the corner and charged the same money for a slightly nicer room with a worse view.
What to do:
Tongyeong is a real live fishing town with a famous live fish market. This, and all the live fish restaurants, are a sight to behold. We also enjoyed wandering through the sculpture garden (in the park on the external east part of Gangguan harbour. We also spent a pleasant couple of hours making our way to the Hallyeo Waterway Observation Cable Car entrance, riding up, and checking out the views over the city and surrounding islands.
But Tongyeong's real attraction is the ferry terminal. This Seoul Times article explores some of the possibilities: Options include a ferry to to Yeonhwasa (check times, for us 9am) for a great hike out to Dragon's head point via the Yeonhwa temple. Take your own lunch, and get a beer at the Yeonwha ferry terminal to celebrate your safe return (at approx 1530). This hike is discussed in the LP. Another option is to take the early ferry to Bijindo (approx 7am), and hike the western part of the island, following a well-marked trail to the summit. Bijino's village, situated on one side of the strip of beach which connects the two tiny islands, wins the Korea "Tidy Town" award and has a distinctly Greek island feel about it. Relax on the beach before hopping the (approx 11:30am) ferry to Somaemuldo, where you can do another well marked hike out to the lighthouse. Some nice photos of that hike: This three leg trip needs to be discussed with the helpful desk people at the Tongyeong terminal, and also must be explained to the boat captain on the way to Bijindo. That way, you can clarify what time the ferry from Bijino to Somaemuldo will depart. You need to keep your ticket stub (which says Somaemuldo) when you get off at Bijindo. Luckily, our boat captain had worked in Australia and had great English language ability. Remember to pack food as options on these islands are limited and tend to include raw shellfish. There is accomodation on the islands. Bijindo had a cute looking pension or two, and would be our recommendation as to where to stay. Somaemuldo was a bit overdeveloped, with multiple hotel options, but the town was somewhat muddy and unpleasant. It appeared there was an unused hotel in the town on Yeonwha, but the place had a unwelcoming air.
Tongyeong is a provincial city, and we often felt we were an annoyance to restaurateurs who might have preferred to avoid interacting with foreigners. Despite this, we had some memorable meals. A visit to the most popular squid kimbap store on Gangguan harbour is recommended - this is the restaurant with the picture of the middle aged Korean lady on the sign. For approx 3500W each you get all you can eat squid in red sauce of daikon with an array on nori-wrapped rice. We also had an amazing samgyeopsal meal between the harbour and the ferry terminal. We picked the restaurant because it was packed and smelled of frying meat, and for 15000 each we had a feast comprised of fatty pork cooked on an aluminum-foil covered hotplate, wrapped in lettuce leaves with lots of toppings, and several bottles of beer. At the end of the meal, the proprietor fries off rice and veg in the porkfat so the rice gets crunchy on the bottom - mmm, like dolshot bimibap but possibly more delicious. We also enjoyed a fish lunch at a busy joint by the Ferry terminal (just east of it, on the corner). For approx 7000W, we got 4 small grilled fish with red pepper sauce and a vast array of side dishes. We got all our breakfast pastries from Neuf, near the live fish market.
The bus ride from Tongyeong (one can catch the bus to the station from downtown if you can find someone to ask which line is correct) to Busan is about 1.5 hours. It arrives in the western terminal, which is on the metro line that zips you into center city. We took the metro to Yeonsandong, and then surveyed the love hotel options. We checked out the Good Morning haotel, recommended by the LP - very cute, but with an obvious foreigner population. Ian and Wendy offer directions: We looked at a room at the posh Vu motel - for 100,000W a night you get a huge suite with double sink/shower/Internet and general plushness. We stayed at a motel two doors down, for 40000W a night, which offered the standard Internet, double bed, fridge, decent bathroom, room service, water dispenser. Yeonsandong is a great base - it has amenities but in not overrun with tourists and has a fantastic selection of restaurants. We enjoyed another meat on grill meal on the main drag there.
What to do:
We had to check out the live fish market and shopping district around Nampodong, which was hopping on a Saturday. On Sunday, we took the subway to Nopodong and followed all the Koreans dressed in expensive hiking gear up the hill to the bus stop for the bus to Beomosa. Honestly, Beomosa was not that impressive after having seen a variety of other Korean temples, but it was alive with activity. More importantly, it in the same zone of the city as the Hurshimchung spa (across from the Nongshim hotel; approx 8000W) which is easily seen from the pedestrian overpass you take coming out of the Oncheonjang subway stop.

Not far from the Oncheonjang subway station is the entrance to the Geumgang park and cable car, which provides a remarkable view over the sprawling city. You can then hike to the South gate of the fortress, and from there to a variety of spots. Interestingly, many Koreans end their hike with a picnic along the trails behind the cable car station. Ladies have small kitchens in the woods and set out a tarpaulin and table for you. If you wander up the hill from the cable car station, you will inevitably run into these joints. We did not partake, but almost everyone else did.
We also enjoyed a walk and a beer along Hae-undae beach and Dongbaek park. It is an easy walk from the beach to the Vesta spa (get a map from the friendly tourist info ladies) where for approx 8000W you partake in lovely outdoor/indoor pools and saunas with a view of the sea. We enjoyed this spa more than the larger but less aesthetic Hurshimchung. (For a bit more info on the etiquette of Korean spas: ) Food:
The food in Busan was a bit of a blur - we enjoyed cruising the main drag in Yeonsandong and choosing a meat-grilling restaurant, always ordering the obligatory house soju. We loved a tiny joint in Oncheondong (see photo with happy crab sign) on the main north-south street that runs between the spa and the gate to the cable car entrance. The place was crowded at 5pm, had no English menu, and catered to middle-aged Korean men who hiked the same route every Sunday for the past 20 years, then descended the mountain to get drunk and eat crab stew in this restaurant. And while wandering around the university zone we stumbled on a place doing a "couple set" for 11000W which included salad, drink, and a huge place of spicy glass noodle chicken stew (very much like the Andong chicken we had in Gyeongju).