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Published: July 29th 2015
Leaving Japan was not a difficult choice, as I find that its time to leave a country when you know how expensive something is without converting it into your own currency, you can work your way around the cities subway with no problems whichever city you are in, and you know the response that you will get once you speak English to a local. If you read my last blog then you will know that I didn’t warm to Japan that much, so I wasn’t expecting much from South Korea. I got the slow ferry from Fukuoka to Busan and travelled for 6 hours in a cabin room with 2 old Japanese men who spoke no English, but helped me set up my ‘bed’ on the floor and the highlight of the trip was the TV on the wall that showed Western films with Japanese subtitles. This made me happy as I was in a lazy mood, I settled down to watch films that were straight to DVD and let myself relax for 6 hours.
Docking in Busan, the rush of people trying to get off first was expected so I waited in line and was in no hurry, as I was expecting the queues at the border/customs to be enormous by the time I got there, however the pace of letting people through was fast, efficient and I was through within 10 minutes.There are several airports that could a few lessons from these people because before I knew it I was outside the ferry port terminal thinking, right where the hell do I go now! Obviously with no planning I had no Korean money in my wallet and the ATM at the ferry terminal did not accept my Visa bank card so I exchanged what little Japanese money I had left with the Currency Exchange office which gave me enough to get the subway, I hoped! Once outside and after i was given basic directions, I arrived at what I assumed was the subway and had to ask the first person who passed me. The guy was in a hurry, late for whatever thing he was going for, but in his best English he told me to follow him, asked me where I was going, showed me how to use the subway ticket machine and then apologised as he was in a hurry. He had no reason to apologise as if it had been me, I would have probably just pointed the way and carried on. The subway in Busan is relatively easy to understand and I found my way to the area of the hostel with ease. With directions given in an email from the hostel I found myself looking at a skyscraper. I don’t often speak about the hostels I stay at but this one was a penthouse suite that had been turned into a hostel for travellers.It was without doubt one of the best places I’ve stayed in, as the views of the city from the lounge area was spectacular and for the price it was hard to work out why someone would do this, but who cares, I was living in a place for the night that most millionaires would love. Dropping my bags off in the 2 man room which I had to myself, I headed off to get some money from an ATM and grab some food as I was starving. Venturing out at 8 at night into a strange area doesn’t really bother me, headphones are in and I’m in my own world, but the bright lights of the city blew me away more then it had for Tokyo. I made a decision to find some food then head for bed and I wanted pizza, but no pizza was to be found so I had to settled for a chicken restaurant, which the area was spoilt for choice in the amount of places selling chicken. The place I chose was done because I had walked up and down the street a few times looking at cheapness of the menus and whether it looked nice before I went into the last one as I was feeling the fatigue creeping in and sat down with a menu that had pictures, alway handy, then the waitress bought me a beer, and asked if my choice was for one person. I looked around sarcastically to see if anyone else that had joined me without me noticing and said yes but after waiting I realised what she meant when she bought out a plate of chicken legs for a group of eight. This was a challenge and I was not going to back down, it did take me about an hour and a half to finish it and I was happy with the result. The look on the face of the waitress showed me that she was impressed! Belly full and with Korean money in my wallet, although I wanted to stay out to party as the bright lights were hypnotising me, I was happy but tired so headed back to the penthouse and to sleep.
I woke up the next day thinking that I should actually stay another night or two as I wasn’t sure what I was going to do or see in the country and I really needed to work out what was next but the hostel was fully booked for the next few days. I really need to start planning stuff but I was given the name of another hostel on the other side of the city in the Hyundai area, which was a bit cheaper. So off I went with backpacks heading to somewhere that I knew wasn’t going to be as good. Yet again I was wrong and ended up in a hostel outside of the subway station, 5 minute walk from the beach and it had a rooftop garden that my sister, who loves her gardens, would be jealous of. The only problem I had was the weather… it was rainy season in Korea and it showed with dark clouds, fog and every now again a downpour. After the previous day of travelling it was a rest day of sorting through emails, working out finances (my worst job) and talking to staff and other travellers. It always interests me when you talk to other people in hostels and find out where they have been, who they are and the stories they have to tell, even after 6 month. I have met so many people and they they have probably told the same stories of their adventures so many times but I’m listening for the first time and asking the questions they have been asked all the time. I’m the same when people ask me where I have been and I rattle off the list of countries that I’ve been to which I can now say in 5 seconds without thinking of it, but I realise that its the first time they've met me so its all new for them. This place was no exception and meeting an Irish bloke who was on his own world adventure but was doing it the opposite way to me was fascinating. I did venture out in the rain after a couple of hours to see what was about and the rain was still coming down but heading for the beach there were a lot and I mean a lot of Koreans who were obviously on holiday and were determined to enjoy themselves despite the weather. The beach is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Everything from the walkway/promenade to the cleanliness of the beach itself, along with the amount of Baywatch lifeguards, even though hardly anyone was in the sea just impressed me and even though it was obviously a holiday resort type city they had done their homework and made it the place it was. That night was spent in the hostel and I actually had an early night for a change! It didn't help from looking at the finances that I realised that money was going to be tight.
Next day was spent looking at the rain from inside the hostel but I knew I had to get out and so headed off to the United Nations Memorial site where the international military were laid to rest after the Korean War in the 1950’s. This is the only UN military burial site in the world, I have been to many Commonwealth War Graves around the world and this is on a par with them, the silence, the calm, the way it screams out that it should never happen again was all around. When I saw the British plot with the Union jack and the Number, Rank, Name and Regiment they had served with along with their age, I will admit as an ex army soldier that it filled me up with emotion. I’m sure that back in UK on Remembrance Day when they have the big parade of ex servicemen marching for their regiments or the wars/conflicts, that the Korean War is known as the forgotten war, which is a shame as the sacrifice these soldiers made on behalf of their government should never be forgotten. From there I went to the Busan Museum and to be honest I just wanted to find out about the war and how, when, why and everything that should be known, but the place was dedicated to Busan and what had happened within the city over its entire history. This is when you learn how ‘nasty’ the Japanese were all through the centuries. You learn that because Busan is the closest Korean point to Japan that it was forever getting invaded to a point where Japan held onto the city and forced their way through trying to delete the Korean culture and introduce the Japanese way. Its always interesting learning new stuff that you have no idea about and sort of gives an understanding of how Korean people operate, in that they refuse to act in the way Japanese are They are more open, more independent and they smile more. I found a new respect for Koreans from that one visit to the museum. Looking at the years of the Korean War, there was not a lot of information on it except that it dealt with more of how Busan operated during the war. I guess for the info I needed I would have to go to the museum in Seoul.
One of the bucket lists I had for South Korea, which i was told about whilst in Japan, was to go to the International Mud Festival which is held every year in Boryeong. Once again and you will get a pattern for this, no planning, and the cheapest hostel was 2 and a half hours away by bus.Working out the prices of the buses against the price of a hotel nearest the festival meant I was to stay in Jeonju. So backpack on I headed for a city that was not a tourist detention except for South Korean and ended up in the bus depot and with a lack of Korean language the taxi drivers all shook their heads at even when I showed then the address of the hostel, even though it was in English! Just as well that after the 7th taxi driver who didn’t understand that a bloke behind me asked me where I was going. He looked at the address, translated it into Korean on his mobile and worked out where I was to go to. The next taxi came along and jumped in with me telling the driver where to go and when we got to the area, he paid and told me to follow him and there I was. I cannot fault the Koreans for their friendliness and being helpful, I mean the Japanese have been like that as well at times. Walking into the hostel there were 2 western girls who had beer in their hands! I’m not a shy bloke when it comes to alcohol so I asked if I could join them and once I had dropped my bags off, I joined in. 2 hours later, after lots of Korean alcohol and getting to find out they were from Durban in South Africa and California and they were teaching English in Seoul, was when I went to bed as I was determined to go to the Mud Festival. I woke up late, which is probably no surprise and went for the bus to get me to Boryeong which involved 2 buses and I arrived at 1 in the afternoon to find that there was a lot of mud! The main event of the festival was an enclosed area which you had to pay to enter that had various events going on, like mud football, mud wrestling, mud any sport you can think of, with lots of people covered from head to toe in mud. If I had not been on my own, then I would have definitely got involved but as a lonely traveller you sort of look on in awe thinking why have I not got someone with me! it was still enjoyable and as it was on the beach, then even better to go forward and see a hell of a lot of people in the sea trying to get rid of the mud while police were trying to get them out! Strange affair and on the beach itself there was a massive stage where some latest K-Pop band were performing (miming) and they must have been famous as the Korean crowd went wild every time they moved! After the miming and dancing of the latest song came the Ibiza moment when the dance music kicked in and thousand of people in an enclosured area danced and bopped away oblivious to anything except the water cannons when they started. Lots of people getting wet while jumping up and down and covered in mud and all smiling is an image. The whole event is geared towards the foreignors and there were a lot, including American military from around the country. All in all an enjoyable day out but then I had to hit the buses back so a long 2 bus ride back to Jeanju.
I woke up the next day to sunshine and blue skies, the first time for me in South Korea and I had planned on a lazy day in the hostel but thought I shouldn't waste a day like this to get out and explore. Having no knowledge of the city at all, not even knowing where on the map it was, I headed out to a blistering hot day and walked a couple of streets and bang straight into the old town which was teeming with Korean tourists. It was a place that had not been touched by modern buildings and was amazing to walk down the streets with locals youths dressed up in Korean dress. Although there were plenty of shops it was touristy touristy if you know what I mean in that there were no heavy sale people trying to part you with your cash for a cuddly teddy bear in Korean dress. It was just a really nice area with a free museum telling the history of the local religion and how it became symbolic in Korean modern history. I had planned on only being out for a couple of hours to walk around the place but ended up out for most of the afternoon.It really blew me away for somewhere that most foreign tourists would love to explore but there was a handful, if that.
The next day I headed back to Busan, which is the only town/city that I’ve ever returned to in the 6 months that I’ve been out which must say something about the place with the only plan in my head being that I was to stay for a couple of days then head off to Jeju Island. I spent them 2 days once I got back of doing absolutely nothing, except lounge and chill in the hostel. I did meet up with a Australian guy that I had not seen since Hiroshima which ended up being a long night of drunkeness and chat. I did venture out on the next night down the beach mainly to get some fresh air and see Busan at night and the beach was absolutely packed. There was an open air stage that had some live karaoke, further down the beach there were several ‘busker’ stands where locals could go on them and perform for any audience that would stop and listen to them. The biggest crowd I saw was of about 30 people listening to 4 young teenagers of 1 boy, 3 girls all playing instruments and singing with beautiful voices. They were mesmerising and held all the people watching them captivated, even I donated some coinage into their small box. My last day and it was time to go to Jeju. I was rested and ready to leave so headed off to the ferry port with all the information that had been given by the hostel staff of timings of the ferry, where it left from and how long it took. All no good as when I arrived at the terminal I was informed that the ferry was ‘closed’ by the woman on the information desk who did not speak a lot of English. Closed? Just for today? I soon discovered that the ferry boat was broken and for the foreseeable future there would be no sailings to Jeju from Busan. I looked at my watch to find that it was just after 5 pm and I had no idea what to do. I had to find wifi to work out my next move and although usually I would panic, 6 months of travelling just got me to light a cigarette, sit on a step and look at the internet on my phone. It was getting late and if I did get anywhere out of Busan there was a chance it would be after midnight of getting there so in the end, I messaged one of the guys from the hostel and told him what had happened and asked it there were any spare beds as I knew they were expecting a load of people coming in. He replied quickly stating there was and to get back to the hostel! The staff as I walked in were a little shocked as my parting words as I left was “I love this place, and I will definitely be back soon”, but I don’t think they were expecting me so soon, like 2 hours after I left. So I’m now currently in the hostel wondering what to do for tomorrow. I have a few ideas that people have given me but I’ll sleep on it, tomorrow is another day!
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