M & K – The Philippines was in the high 30’s,Taipai was in the mid teens but Seoul was barely into double digits when we arrived. After 9 months of travelling in warm temperatures it was a little bit of a shock to the system. Fortunately though Seoul has a great metro system (although not as good as Taipai’s according to my train spotting wife) and lots of coffee shops to keep warm in. Before arrival I had no idea what to expect from Seoul. The city looks to have been completely rebuilt in the last 30 years. There was very little in the way of old buildings. We spent a couple of days here exploring the main sights ( a couple of palaces and a small old quarter which had homes build in the traditional wooden style using no nails) and as usual visiting the food markets …
From Seoul we took our first high speed train (high speeds in Korea can travel at up to 300km/h) two hours south to Gyeongju. Gyeongju is very near to the south east coast of Korea but it was way too cold to enjoy the beach. Instead we visited the nearby Bulguksa
Temple (a World Heritage Site), the burial grounds inside the town and Seokgoram Grotto. Both the temple and the grotto are about 45 minutes by bus outside of the town. Although they are worth seeing the temple is not as grand or impactful as many of the other temples we had seen elsewhere in Asia. Still worth a visit however. There are also many other smaller temples and shrines in the surrounding area but as we were on a whistle stop trip and didn’t have a car we elected not to try and visit them. Also after several months of visiting temples we are now pretty choosy about which ones we go to …...spoiled!
As we were arriving in Gyeongju in the early afternoon we didn’t book a hotel but decided to take our chances on a ‘walk-in’. There are two main locations - the lake area and downtown. The lake area has several large resort style hotels which are a little pricey and it is a little remote if you don’t have your own transport. The downtown has the Love Hotels …
Love hotels are common in both S Korea and Japan. They can be rented for
short stays of a few
hours or overnight and their stated purpose is to provide privacy for couples, many of who live in small homes with thin walls and several generations in situ. Obviously they are also used for rather more illicit purposes as well but there is nothing seedy about many of them even so.
The one we stayed in (the Ritz Motel) was an incredibly clean en-suite with a big bed, flat screen TV and Jacuzzi tub and it was much cheaper than the hostels we had been looking at where we would have had to share a bathroom! The Ritz was very mainstream in terms of décor with only the entry way really confirming it’s status – for reasons of privacy the receptionist is housed between a sheet of opaque plastic so she does not see the guests! There is only a small semicircle at counter level where money and keys are exchange. I think we screwed up the system somewhat when I put my head down to that level and asked to see the room!
Our room at the Ritz was all oak paneling and heavy wooden beams. In fact prety nicely done. Other
hotels though are far more themed often with wacky décor, mirrored ceilings and even S&M rooms (so we hear). We did have some multi colored mood lighting though, which moved from red through green to blue. It was like having our own disco.
The neighborhood where the Ritz was based was also not seedy – certainly not the sort of red light district I would expect a short-term/by the hour motel to be situated at home. We saw mainly couples around the place and there were many 'normal' businesses – no go-go bars or kerb crawlers that we could see. We will definitely be looking out for more love hotel bargains as we progress through Japan .
After Gyeongju we made a short hop to Busan where we caught our ferry to Fukuoko in Japan. Busan is a large port and is known for its Fish Market, many food streets and its many beaches. We didn't explore the beaches due to the weather but we did visit the fish market and the food streets. We have both seen many fish markets on our time but this one blew us away. Not only was it huge (both indoor and
outdoor) and really busy but it had the largest selection of fish and particularly shellfish I had ever seen. What was interesting is that in the indoor market they keep all the fish and shellfish in large tanks with plenty of frsh water circling. You choose your fish or shellfish and the guy kils it and cuts it up infront of you. Many of them we just couldn't work out what they were! I still need to google how to eat Sea Squirts!
We enjoyed wondering the indoor and outdoor markets and finished up our afternoon with a Fried Fish Dinner korean style. No chips (fries) but lots of other Koren stuff - Kim Chi, Pickled Daikon, Seaweed, Scallions, Chillies etc. Our only disappointment of the afternoon was that we weren't hungry enough to tuck into the huge raw fish/sashimi platters being offered in the Raw Fish Restaurent 2nd floor. Here you chose you dish they ran downstairs to the market and got a fresh fish out of a tank for your meal. These platters looked truly spectacular and many of the locals were sitting in family groups enjoying a feast with the local rice wine to wash it
down. We have vowed to be better prepared next time we go to a fish market, most likely in Tokyo. Scroll down past the ads for more the photos.
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