Seoul Weekend Getaways

Last year while living in Seoul, we were constantly searching for things to do just to get out of town. Seoul has a lot to offer, but it is still good to leave the big city every once in a while and explore the rest of the country. Though we are no longer living in Seoul, we thought we’d share some ideas for weekend getaways for people feeling the need to escape the city. Continue reading

Korean Noms – Pajeon

Recently, we took another short drive up to Suncheon, the city just north of us. We love taking day trips there as we are constantly discovering new things to see and do. This time, the game plan was to go to the Naganeupseong Folk Village just west of the city. Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge – Treasure

This week’s photo challenge by the Daily Post is “Treasure.” We were excited for this challenge as it is a chance to show off some of Korea’s own treasures. Korea has over 300 National Treasures and UNESCO has also designated many of Korea’s Treasures as World Heritage Sites. We have had the opportunity to visit a few of them and can see why they are so special. Continue reading

Instagram Challenge – Hwaseong Fortress

After another fun weekend we have another enticing Instagram Photo Challenge to tide you over until the full post is ready. We visited the city of Suwon where they have 5.74km of fortress walls that provided ample photo opportunities. Please vote for your favorite below and we will announce the winner in our full post featuring many more pictures of the Suwon Hwaseong. Continue reading

Let’s Go To… Namhansanseong!

Hey guys! As you may already know, in the past we had our weekly episodes of A Day in the Life where we showed you a bit of what’s it’s like to be an ESL teacher in Korea. Recently, however, our school has been undergoing some major changes and has been bought out by their corporate headquarters to become a branch. It has been really hectic ever since trying to get everything prepped for this new buyout, and so we have decided to take a hiatus from this segment while things settle down a bit more. Instead we thought we’d like to try a new chapter, called Let’s Go To… where we explore Korea and show you our days off  from teaching. Hope you all enjoy our first installment!



The History

The name literally translates into south (nam) Han (river in Seoul) mountain (san) fortress (seong). Most of the fortress today dates back to the Joseon period in the 17th century. The sixteenth king of the Joseon Dynasty, King Injo, fled to the fortress with his entire court and over 13,000 soldiers during the second invasion of the Manchu (the largest branch of the Tungusic peoples chiefly distributed throughout China). 3,000 monks also helped to defend the king, however the Manchus were able to wait until the food supply ran out and the king was forced to surrender giving his sons as hostages.

In 1954, after years of neglect, the site was made into a national park after many renovations and repairs. The area once had nine temples along with many command posts, but today a single command post, Seojangdae, stands as well as a temple, Changgyeongsa. Seojangdae is where Injo stayed during the Manchu siege. A second story was added to this building in 1751 and was named Mumangnu meaning the “Unforgotten Tower.” This refers to the unforgettable shame of the king’s surrender to the Manchus. There are other more recent temples on the path up to the south gate and fortress walls and the north, south, and east gates have all been restored.


The Hike

It has been the hottest summer recorded in Korea and so we haven’t really wanted to get out and go hiking very much recently. It’s not just the heat, Korea has some pretty awful humidity. We tried to hike Surisan a few weeks ago and ended up stopping halfway up because we were getting sick from the heat. When the humidity is that bad, it feels like you are in the middle of a rain forest. This week however, the heat finally let up a bit and we headed southeast of Seoul for Namhansanseong.

It took us about an hour and a half to get to the park from Anyang. We finally got there around 2:30. We got off the bus at the very bottom of the park entrance, and hiked for quiet some time before stumbling across a road. There we realized that, if we had stayed on the bus a little bit longer, it would have kept going and dropped us off halfway up the mountain!

It was about an hour and a half hike from the bottom to the south gate, but we were also stopping often to take pictures and video. We then hiked along the ridge of the mountain towards Seojangdae, but got a little lost on one of the trails we ventured down. There are so many hiking trails all over the mountain to explore and unfortunately it got too dark to keep going. Needless to say, this park is huge and was way too big for us to see in just one day, so we will definitely be going back again! We hear that it is especially beautiful in the fall when the tress are changing red and yellow.


Directions

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map


Ryan & Stephanie

Ganghwado Island Guide

If you are looking for a weekend getaway from Seoul, look no further! Ganghwado is a perfect little secluded gem that is both rural and also has plenty to see and do. You will need more than just an afternoon to fully explore this place, so go prepared to find a hotel and stay for a couple of days at least!

Located at the estuary of the Han River and the Yellow Sea, the island has provided strategic outpost for for defense against many invaders throughout history. The French, Americans, and Japanese armies have all attacked this island, and all but the Japanese were turned away. To this day, the fortresses still stand across Ganghwado. There is a lot of history on this island and so much to do, so we have created this guide to highlight just a few of them!


Oepo Village

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This tiny fishing village is located right next to the ferry terminal on the west side of the island and is where we chose to spend our night after exploring the area. It is one of the just a handful of places on the island with hotels and restaurants. The town near the bridge also has hotels, but is far away from anything we were planning to see. The southern beach, Dongmak also has a lot of pensions and hotels, but during high season, you will need to book them in advance.


Bomunsa

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On the far east side of the island, you can take a ferry to the small island Seokmodo. It takes about 15 minutes to gets there and then you must take a bus to the temple. Founded in 635 CE and located on top of Mt. Nakgasan, this place is well worth the hike! When we finally made it to the top, fog started rolling in over the mountain making everything look very dramatic. This was by far one of the most beautiful temples we have ever been to. One of the most interesting features of this place was seeing over 300 sculptures of seated monks, all with different facial expressions. If you choose to hike the 600 stairs to the top, you can see a 10m high carving of Buddha into the side of the mountain. Since we had to catch the last bus of the day, we did not have time to go to the top. Afterwards, we caught the ferry back to Ganghwado.


Jeondeungsa

Jeondeungsa is said to be Korea’s oldest Buddhist temple. The temple dates back to 381 CE and it is yet another of the many beautiful historic temples on the island. It is said to have been built by the three sons of Dangun Wanggeom, the founder of the Korean nation.

As you head up Jeongjok mountain, you can see a temple that is completely surrounded by a fortress. It is called the Samnang fortress and to get to the temple, you have to pass through its gate. The Goryeo Royal Family, during the invasion of the Mongols, fled the former capital of Korea (Kaeseong, now in North Korea) and constructed a temporary palace within the temple grounds.

While here, we saw a group of foreigners who were doing a templestay program as well! If you are interested in getting away from the city and checking out the island, check out the templestay website here to make a reservation!


Dolmens

The various dolmens on Ganghwado act a headstones for royalty. These are thought to be some of the oldest burial markers in Korea. These stones can weigh several tons and required impressive mechanics to put the top stone in place.


Dondaes

We did a quick hike up one of the cliffs next to the shore and accidentally stumbled upon the Saman Dondae. Dondae is a small defensive fort made of stone is strategically located on the borderline or coastline area to observe foreign activities and prevent invasion. In 1697, a number of Dondae were installed around Ganghwado to form a defensive system. This one is in the small town, Oepo, by the ferry terminal!


Mudflats

The west coast of Korea is covered in mudflats. As beautiful as sandy beaches can be, the mudflats in Korea have their own charm too. Many people in Korea love going out in the mud digging for lunch – clams and crabs. We did not go digging for such things, but we did get in the mud! We initially just wanted to get a little mud between our toes, but after the first few steps we sank down pretty deep! Quite a few times, we had to help each other out of a sink hole or two. Most of the beaches on the island have mudflats at low tide. This one we found was pretty secluded in the small town Oepo by the ferry terminal. There is another huge beach, Dongmak Beach, on the southern tip of the island that is also worth checking out!


Goryeosan Mountain

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In April, the best thing to do on Ganhwado is to check the azalea festival on Goryeosan Mountain. The entire mountainside is simply covered with these beautiful purple blossoms and you can spend an entire afternoon hiking through the flowers. Ganghwado is the perfect hiking destination since it is pretty rural and the air quality is much better than in the big city.


Directions

Since the island is so big and historic, it takes more than just one afternoon to see it all. We spent three days on Ganghwado and still wish to return to see more of this beautiful place. Getting there takes around an hour and a half bus ride from Seoul.

You can take the 3000 bus 200 meters  outside of Sinchon Station. Take exit #4 and walk west up the street (30 minute intervals). Or you can Go to Yeongdeungpo Station and take Bus 1 (15 minute intervals). Ganghwado bus terminal is the last stop on these buses.


English Tourist Map and Info

Once at the bus terminal, go to the tour information booth (inside the terminal near the bathrooms). The man there is SUPER nice and helpful and will take you inside his office and print off a lot of different photos and directions and information for you!