Korea - Suncheon: Waiting for a train

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Asia » South Korea
November 15th 2018
Published: January 25th 2019
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We had decided to continue our travels in Korea on the trains, and we had booked our tickets earlier, so we were all ready to go. Mrs S, from our travels in Tibet, was Korean by birth and she had described the country as efficient and fast-moving. We asked our hotel to arrange a taxi to take us to the train station which wasn't the main station on this occasion, but another one, Yongsan, a short distance away. Two minutes, they said. Wow, I thought, Mrs S wasn't wrong! She was, as it turned out, because less than 90 seconds later the taxi arrived and I only had time for a very quick farewell to my old man bell boy! Apparently, taxi drivers in Korea don't 'do' luggage so this little chap had to manhandle our cases into the car on his own. He seemed used to it though, as he knew to put only one in the boot and the other in the front passsnger seat! It was a good job the taxi arrived promptly as it turned out because, even though we had allowed plenty of time, we got stuck in traffic and then couldn't find our way onto the platforms with luggage in tow and we eventually had to use a lift in an adjacent department store.

We once travelled in Japan using their brilliant bullet trains as our mode of transport. They were wonderfully organised, with good signage in Japanese and English and if the signs said Carriage 2 would stop with the doors at this exact point, they did. We naively thought the Korean trains would be the same. How daft were we?! None of the signs had an English translation or translation of any sort (fair enough, why should they, but it would have been soooo helpful) and it took us ages to figure out if we needed to catch a local train operated by one provider, or a different train operated by another (Korail). We finally found what we thought was the correct platform that just happened to have a train parked on it, then we found what we hoped was the correct carriage and we settled into our reserved seats. We managed to get it right, as it happened, which was something of a relief! The train conductor bowed to us, his esteemed passengers, every time he entered or exited the carriage, a la Japan, but no-one, from entering the station in Seoul to leaving it in Suncheon, checked our tickets once! Maybe we could have had a free ride ...

I love trains, so I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. We left (and arrived) bang on time and reached a top speed of 302 km/hour - I don't know what that is in mph but it seemed fast! We passed large towns and cities en route, with high rise buildings and small villages in agricultural areas which all seemed to have shrines/burial plots on triangular shaped sloping ground. I keep meaning to Google the significance of these ... There were no people to be seen, no farmers tending the land, no farm animals in the fields, no-one on the roads. I couldn't fathom it.

We exited Suncheon train station to be met with the sight of a spaceman statue. I've still not figured that one out. We went slightly wrong on our route to our hotel, which we had chosen for its proximity to the station, within walking distance, and went the long way round through what I was convinced was the local red light district. We eventually arrived at the 24Guesthouse InnHotel. I think it had so many names because it was having a bit of an identity crisis and couldn't be sure if it was a guesthouse, an inn or a hotel. Didn't know where the 24 came in to play. Our room, 506, was tiny and minimalist in style with a wetroom for a bathroom and only frosted glass between it and the bedroom, 4 small handtowels and no bathtowels, an underfloor heating system we couldn't get to work (because the instructions were, you've guessed it, in Korean), nowhere to sit and some strange bedding arrangements that involved something that looked like a mattress protector. I was rapidly beginning to think that the '24' might mean 'available for rental by the hour' and that this was possibly associated with the nearby red light district. Best not delve too much - all the reviews had been reasonable so let's just go with it.

We hadn't had any particular reason to visit Suncheon other than it offered a sight-seeing bus trip so therefore must have sights to see, and Koreans seemed to go there for their holidays. Also, it was on a train line and would get us moving around the country. It turned out out there really was nothing much to see or do. We consulted a local map and wandered around aimlessly but could find nothing worth a second look. We decided to do a HOHO trip to see if we were missing anything and called in to the Tourist Information office at the train station for further information. In there we got the usual 'Where are you from? Oh, England ... (end of conversation)'. Suncheon didn't run to a big red bus trip but they did a small trolley bus. No need to book in advance (not a huge demand for it) just turn up and pay the driver. OK. We'll do it later.

I'd had some email correspondence with a friend and my autocorrect changed 'Suncheon' to 'Synchronise'. In turn, her autocorrect changed it to 'Luncheon'. I therefore decided the other reason for our visit was to 'Synchronise for luncheon in Suncheon' but eating in Suncheon was quite difficult. There were a few restaurants but we couldn't read the menus and they seemed to focus on noodles, squid, raw fish and other unidentifiable ingredients. So much for Luncheon in Suncheon! We noticed that the market stalls sold a plethora of fruit and vegetables, but they were all orange. Orange satsumas, orange tomatoes, orange peppers, orange oranges ... It was like the cars - you can have it in any colour as long as it's orange! We found a supermarket, not just a 7/11 (which were everywhere in Korea) and stocked up on things we recognised that weren't good for us and would only add inches to our waistlines (crisps, chocolate, biscuits, etc) but we were getting desperate by this stage! We eventually found 'Momma's Touch' which served chicken burgers with fries. OK, still not healthy food but it was something we knew and could point to the helpful pictures to indicate what we wanted. Perfect.

And here's the thing - in all our wanderings ours were quite literally the only Western/European/white faces in town and no-one, absolutely no-one, acknowledged us. I mean, you would, wouldn't you, if you saw two green faces walking round town, you'd say something like 'Hello, where are you from, what are you doing here, are you having a good time, can I show you anything, do you need any help?' Well, I would, anyway ...

It rained the next day and was quite chilly so we decided to postpone the HOHO trip in favour of a laundry day in the free equipment provided by the hotel/guesthouse/brothel. We'd been on the road a month now, and it was timely. From this point on we went for the 'clean but crumpled' look as I didn't stretch to ironing! It was also a good time to take a day off and just potter about. If only I'd had a chair to sit on rather than the bedside table it could have been quite relaxing.

The following day was much better weather-wise, and it was sunny and warm. We checked out of our hotel/bordello and put the cases in the left luggage lockers they provided while we went to catch the HOHO. The conductor realised we weren't Korean(!!) and greeted us quite warmly in limited but understandable English then proceeded to speak his native language to the rest of the passengers for the rest of the trip. I didn't have a problem with that but, unfortunately, he did it over the same channel that the commentary provided in English was using so I couldn't hear any of that through my earphones! I think we saw the train station, Fashion Street, a film set, the National Gardens, Wetland Bay, a monorail thing, the National Gardens again, a traditional market, Culture Street, the bus station and the train station (again). They did the best with what they had but, frankly, there was nothing worth seeing a second, or even third, time! A river runs through Suncheon and that was really pretty, so there was that.

So, we ended up with lots of time to kill in Suncheon train station at the end of our visit. I can quite happily people-watch at times like this but, y'know, it was four hours and there's only so much people-watching to do. There were many more dogs in Suncheon (far fewer high-rises and therefore more manageable I suppose) and I saw a Yorkshire Terrier there. I had seen one in Hong Kong too but had been too slow to catch it on camera to send back to a friend who has two of them. I've seen them in many unexpected places, but Korea was a surprise! The orange fruit and veg proved very popular and people were carrying literally sackloads of the things back home with them. Some of the loos in the train station were of the 'hole in the floor' variety, but thankfully not all of them as I can confirm that it is possible to drink gallons of liquid in the space of four hours! The arrival and departure boards proudly announced that trains were running to time and on schedule but two were highlighted in red for running three minutes late and they weren't sure what to do with the one that was nine minutes behind schedule. It dropped off the board until it made it to the station when it reappeared marked as 'Arrived'. Finally, it was time to catch our train which, once again, was punctual. It was full of teachers and school-children who had obviously been on an outing to Suncheon. I have no idea what they found to do!

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