Vacation 2012: South Korea

31 December 2012

Synopsis

Notes and impressions from our September 2012 trip to South Korea.


Planning the Trip

Since my wife is from Korea, our planning was somewhat simplified. Besides Seoul, we decided to spend most of our time in Gyeongsangbuk-Do province located in the east-central region of South Korea. Because Yeongcheon—my wife’s hometown—Ulsan and Pohang are relatively close together, we decided to plan a longer stay in nearby Gyeongju so that many of her relatives could visit with us. Besides, Gyeongju, a World Cultural Heritage site and former capital city of Silla (pronounced Shilla), is the best place to experience the history of the thousand-year-old dynasty.

We chose early September to visit because we didn’t want to travel during Chuseok which is the three-day Korean Thanksgiving holiday.

We started making our hotel reservations in March 2012. We used the following two on-line booking sites: Booking.com and Agoda.com. If you reserve with Booking.com your credit card is only charged the first night’s stay. If you reserve with Agoda.com your credit card is charged for your entire stay. All reservations were confirmed via email which also included the hotel vouchers for checking in. We also had to cancel one of our reservations made on Agoda.com and our refund was credited promptly. It’s also a good idea to verify whether or not breakfast is included in the room price when making reservations at a hotel. It’s not unusual for a hotel buffet breakfast to run at least 20,000 won (approx. $20.00) per person. You also have to remember that Koreans eat the same food for breakfast that they do for any other meal. That being said, you won’t find many local restaurants serving traditional bacon and egg breakfasts. On the other hand, hotels try to accommodate both Western and Korean dietary preferences. I don’t mind some bulgogi in the morning with my eggs, but not everyone may be so inclined to have kimchi and rice for breakfast.

Picking the airline was a no-brainer; it was going to be Korean Air (KAL). We decided to take the non-stop flight from Atlanta to Incheon. Since we also decided to visit Jeju Island we also needed to reserve a flight from Seoul on Jeju Air. This turned out to be an interesting challenge. Since the Jeju Air website is in Korea, my credit card was recognized as being issued by a foreign bank. So, unless you want to struggle trying to figure out why the website denies your card, you need to obtain either a Verified by Visa or MasterCard SecureCode. Not all credit card issuers provide these services. I was able to register my SunTrust Visa card with Verified by Visa so I was able to make the reservation. I tried to register my MasterCard but it seems Capital One doesn’t provide the service.

I ordered the necessary power adapter plugs from Walkabout Travel Gear® instead of Amazon.com because their international electricity explanations were clear and concise. For South Korea, you need adapter plug #400 non-grounded or #4G grounded. I ordered both. Since most modern laptop, tablet, cell phone, and digital camera AC Adapters are dual-voltage you won’t need to buy a 220 V transformer. You’re good to go if your power adapter specifications are: 100-240 V, 50/60 Hz.

I wanted to use my own cell phone in Korea so I did some research and confirmed my T-Mobile LG Optimus T supports 3G UMTS; Bands: 1700/2100/AWS. Since South Korea uses the 3G 2100 Band, I knew my cell phone would work. In order to save on roaming charges, I signed up for the T-Mobile WorldClass International Service. I’ll have more to say on using U.S. cell phones in Korea later.

One of my highest sightseeing priorities was to visit the Korean DMZ. You can only visit the DMZ and Joint Security Area (JSA) with a tour. My wife said that the USO runs inexpensive tours so I Googled “USO DMZ Tour” and hit their site. The problem was that the site didn’t provide a way to reserve a tour. Besides, the site doesn’t display very well in Firefox. After searching around again, I found the DMZ Tours website. This site clearly explained all the tour options, including the dress code, and provided an on-line reservation form. I chose DMZ Tour 2 which gives you everything except the infiltration tunnel. This tour provider only starts taking reservations about 3 months prior to the tour date you request. You need to be patient, they will respond to your inquiry via email. They only take payments via direct deposit or PayPal. The easiest way to pay is PayPal so you will need to set up an account if you don’t already have one. You will also need to provide your passport number, country of citizenship, and the local hotel where you will be staying. When you arrive in-country you will need to call with your hotel room number and they will confirm the time when they will pick you up at your hotel. The tour leaves from the Lotte Hotel in central Seoul near City Hall. My contact for the tour was Cathy Cho from Seoul City Tours.

I like to have a good map when I travel, so I ordered the South Korea/Seoul ITM City Map, Third Edition from Omnimap. This map is very detailed but easy to read. In my opinion, it’s well worth the $12.95.

Since my wife speaks Korean, I didn’t have to worry about learning the language for the trip. However, if you are clueless as to the Korean language, culture or cuisine, you may want to do some research before you make your visit. I would strongly suggest that you become familiar with the basic Korean dishes or else you’ll wind up eating in the hotel all the time and miss the real Korean experience.

Getting There

We didn’t want to take any chances missing the 1:20 PM KAL flight so we took the 6:00 AM Delta hop from Orlando just in case there were any delays. We got to the Atlanta International Terminal about 2 hours before the KAL check-in counter even opened. The usual hustle and bustle is pleasantly absent from the new Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal which is located on the east side of the domestic terminal. The terminal is modern and bright as shown in Figure 1. However, I thought they could use a few more food concessions which were sparse compared to the main terminal. Getting through security was surprisingly quick and easy, both in Orlando and Atlanta.

Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal
Figure 1.
Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal

We were expecting the flight to be over 14 hours so I was having second thoughts about our decision to book Economy instead of the more expensive Prestige Class seats. In reality, the Boeing 777-300ER Economy seats were by no means spacious but were comfortable enough for tall persons like myself. Each seat in Economy has its own AVOD (Audio/Video on Demand) entertainment system. There was a decent selection of classic American films along with many recent releases. I also noticed there was a USB port on the AVOD. In addition, each seat has an ISPS (In Seat Power Supply). Since the AVOD kept me sufficiently occupied, I didn’t need to charge my tablet—maybe next time…

KAL Boeing 777-300ER
Figure 2.
KAL Boeing 777-300ER

We did not go hungry during the flight. In addition to lunch and dinner, we were served free drinks and snacks. The in-flight meals were good, although sometimes the deserts were a little bizarre. I boldly ordered the fish for dinner which turned out to be very good. If that’s not enough, they also have duty-free in-flight shopping where you can buy almost everything from cosmetics to liquors. I’m told the Korean cosmetics are very popular. All in-flight announcements are made in Korean and English. Needless to say, the stewardesses were very friendly and attentive. Finally, after a mere 13 hours and forty-five minutes, we were landing.

Looking out the window while taxiing to the gate at Incheon, I got the impression we were in a remote area. I immediately noticed the mountains in the distance.

After getting off the plane, the airport staff politely guided us to the customs area. The lines moved quickly even though they take photos, electronic fingerprints, and stamp your passport. For U.S. citizens your passport will be stamped for 90 days. You don’t need to apply for a visa ahead of time for leisure travel.

Inside Incheon International Airport felt more like an upscale mall than an airport terminal. Everything appeared new and modern. There were plenty of stores and restaurants to choose from including those serving Western-style burgers and fried chicken.

Even though we were met by my wife’s nephew at the gate, we had to wait for my wife’s sister and niece to arrive. Fortunately, a small Korean instrumental ensemble provided some entertainment during our wait.

Performers at Incheon Terminal
Figure 3.
Performers at Incheon Terminal

Our Stay

Seoul

On our way from Incheon to Seoul, which takes about an hour by car, we were taken to a very good Korean Barbeque restaurant appropriately named Bulgogi Brothers. This is a not-to-be-missed restaurant if you are ever in Seoul. The kalbi, Korean-style rib, is really tender and tastes like steak. This restaurant is a little pricey, but well worth it if you like beef.

Our first hotel stay was at the Fraser Place Central Seoul. The hotel is located on one of the main thoroughfares, Uljuro Street, just north of Seoul Station. Heading south from the hotel is Sosomun Park and to the north is the National Police Administration building. The hotel averaged about $200.00 per night. Included in the room price was a daily buffet breakfast which included both Western and Korean fare. A few mornings they even had French fries and bulgogi—the best of both cultures. In addition, right outside the hotel entrance is a 24-hour 7-Eleven store where you can stock up on your bottled water. There are numerous restaurants and coffee shops nearby but the hotel coffee shop was one of the very few places in Seoul, or all of Korea for that matter, where you can get a decaf coffee.

A short walk east on Seosomunno Street will take you right to City Hall while passing by the Korean Air building on the way. Then, following Sejongno Street north you will pass Deoksugung Palace then on to the western Cheonggyecheon terminus and the Kwanghwamun area where the U.S. Embassy is located. The view of the mountains in the distance and Gyeongbokgung Palace right in the middle of a busy modern city is quite a site.

While in the Kwanghwamun area one night, we had dinner at the Shilbi House restaurant famous for its spicy stewed octopus. Make no mistake, it is very spicy. I ordered the octopus and green onion pancake which was very good and also quite filling. Prices were very reasonable and there’s no tipping the wait staff.

The only subway ride we took while in Seoul was from our hotel to Kwanghwamun Plaza. The subway platforms are clean and enclosed so that you can’t fall on the tracks. When the subway arrives the platform doors open along with the subway car doors. In my opinion, the subway is not the best way to get around Seoul if you are only staying in the city for a short time. We took taxicabs everywhere. They are plentiful and cheap, compared to most U.S. cities, and tipping is not required. Unless you are staying at the Lotte, I would advise carrying around your hotel’s phone number and address both in Korean and English. Even though all taxicabs have GPS systems, having the hotel’s Korean address can prevent a lot of hassles. All the taxicabs in Seoul take credit cards and provide printed receipts, and it’s quicker than paying in cash.

I also advise travelling light while getting around Seoul and other cities in Korea. Whatever you take with you from your hotel you will also have to take back with you to your hotel and that includes empty water bottles. There are no public waste receptacles to be found anywhere, even at most tourist attractions.

Our second hotel stay was at the Jongro Abueson Hotel in the Insa-dong district. The hotel is located a block or two from the Changgyeonggung Palace’s Tonhwamun Gate. From the outside, the hotel appears to be a hole-in-the-wall kind of place. You enter the lobby through a parking area that is partially covered by strands of hanging plastic beads. The rooms are small but comfortable, what you would expect for $80.00 per night. On the other hand, they did provide complementary bottled water and fruit drinks.

Our first day in country started off with a visit to Kwanghwamun Plaza and nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace. The palaces are a good place to get acquainted with Korean history, culture and architecture. Not to be missed are the colorful and elaborate changing of the guard ceremonies at the Deoksugung and Gyeongbokgung Palaces. Since I’m partial to gardens, I really enjoyed the Secret Garden tour at Changdeokgung Palace. Even though they charged a separate admission fee for the Secret Garden tour it was well worth the money.

On our way up to Bugaksan, we did a drive-by of Cheongwadae or Blue House, the Presidential residence. The security around the Blue House is quite impressive. Soldiers and police manning checkpoints were everywhere. My wife’s nephew, who was driving us around, said we couldn’t stop the vehicle or take pictures.

I would have to say that our nighttime visit to Mt. Namsan and N Seoul Tower on Sunday was the high point (no pun intended) of our stay in Seoul. The views of the city during the cable car ride up to the base of the tower and from the Tower’s Observation Deck were breathtaking to say the least. The elevator up to the Observation Deck travels at 20 meters per second and is touted as the “World’s Fastest.”When planning a trip to Seoul it pays to remember that most attractions such as the Palaces, museums, DMZ tours, and the Seoul City Tour Bus don’t operate on Mondays. I would suggest checking out one of the traditional markets or take the Han River boat tour. We spent our Monday visiting Dongdaemun Market in the morning and the Han River in the evening. We took a taxicab to the market. The taxi driver dropped us off at the food area where all types of meat, seafood, and vegetables are prepared and sold.

Dongdaemun Market
Figure 4.
Dongdaemun Market

Dongdaemun Market is spread out over quite an area so it’s very easy to get disoriented. There are sections of the market where you can buy clothing, shoes, fabrics, tools, building supplies, hardware, and most anything else you can think of. We stayed on Cheonggyecheonno when walking around outside the market.

Cheonggyecheonno
Figure 5.
Cheonggyecheonno

Monday evening we took the Han River boat tour. Besides the great nighttime views of the city, including N Seoul Tower, you also get an excellent view of the Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain light show.

Everyone visiting South Korea should not miss the opportunity to take one of the DMZ/JSA tours. Our tour was accompanied by a North Korean defector whose presence alone added to our already heightened sense of awareness of the divided Koreas. Our tour included the following sites:

  • Odu Unification Observatory—from here you have a clear view into North Korea
  • Imjingak Park—the closest place South Koreans can get to the border with the North; South Koreans come here with families to mourn their separation from relatives in the North
  • Camp Boniface—security check and briefing
  • JSA Tour—Freedom House, Conference room,  Bridge of No Return

The tour guide told us to be sure to spend time at the Camp Boniface souvenir shop before leaving the JSA. It’s not just a come-on to buy cheap junk; they really have some decent stuff.

The Seoul City Tour Bus is a good way to relax and still see some decent sites around the city. We got on at Gwanghwamun Gate, the first stop on the route. I wasn’t really interested in spending much time in Itaewon, so a drive-by on the bus was just right. Since the Namsangol Traditional Korean Village is one of the stops on the route, we decided to get off and check it out. Namsangol must be a popular place for school trips since we saw many groups of young children, most dressed in their colorful school uniforms, along with their chaperons that day.

Another stop on the Seoul City Tour Bus is The War Memorial of Korea. On the day we visited, we took a taxicab from our hotel instead. The War Memorial of Korea was impressive, even as we approached the gates from the street. The building contains three floors of exhibits including a nice replica of the famous Turtle Ship. The outside exhibition area includes a full scale model of the Warship Chamsuri and everything from B-52 bombers to Russian tanks. Admission was free and both the café and souvenir shop were decent as well.

The War Memorial of Korea
Figure 6.
The War Memorial of Korea

Our visit to Seoul concluded with a visit to the National Folk Museum. The museum is located within the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds in the Jongno-gu district. The area outside the museum contains some interesting stone figures and artifacts of traditional Korean life and folklore.

Remember earlier I said I would discuss my cell phone experience in Korea, well here’s the skinny on using mobile phones in-country. During my testing at the airport, I was able to connect to the SK Telecom network but making calls was something else again. First, I couldn’t call my wife’s T-Mobile LG Optimus T cell phone but I was able to call her nephew’s cell. Second, my wife’s nephew was not able to call my cell phone from his Galaxy S. Later on we discovered that we couldn’t reliably call my wife’s sisters in Pohang and Andong either. When the call wouldn’t go thorough, we would get the response: “number not in directory.” I tried every known dialing sequence without success. This was frustrating to say the least. The only thing I was able to do reliably was to send texts to numbers in the U.S. This would have solved our local calling problem except that my wife’s Korean relatives don’t understand English. I did some more research after we returned to the U.S. and discovered that SK Telecom offers three different calling plans for foreign visitors. One of the plans allows you to use your own cell phone. The three plans offered are:

  1. Mobile phone rental with SIM
  2. Mobile phone rental without SIM
  3. SIM card rental

Rental option 1 is for long term visitors who rent both a phone and a SIM card from SK Telecom. Rental option 2 is where you insert your own cell phone’s SIM card in a rented SK Telecom phone. With this option you can use your own phone number when making and receiving calls. This option is for foreign cell phones that don’t support the Korean network. Rental option 3 is where you rent an SK Telecom SIM card and insert it in your own cell phone, if it supports the network. If I ever visit Korea again, I’ll go with rental option 3 since I prefer to use my own phone.

Jeju Island

On Thursday, September 13, my wife’s nephew picked us up at our hotel and drove us to Gimpo Airport so we could catch our Jeju Air flight to Jeju Island. From the Jeju Airport we took a bus to the Hyatt Regency in the Jungmun Resort area. The bus ride was about an hour since the airport is located on the northern side of the island, but our hotel was on the southwest side. The Hyatt is a visually stunning hotel inside and out but very expensive, approximately $300.00 per night.

We arrived at the hotel around dinner time so we decided to venture out and try to find a local restaurant. The hotel concierge gave us a map and circled where the closest food areas were located which turned out to be further than they appeared on the map. We walked at least a mile north of the hotel past the Teddy Bear Museum to the location marked on the map. We found a place that served the island’s famous Jeju black pork. Along with the black pork we also ordered the broiled mackerel. I have to admit, the broiled mackerel was the best. The fish is served whole so you have to remove the bones yourself. It was worth the effort, the skin was crispy but the flesh was tender and moist. The broiled mackerel is a must have if you are in Korea, especially in the Andong area where it is a specialty.

Friday morning, before venturing out for some breakfast, we got into a discussion with the concierge concerning the arrival of Typhoon Sanba. The storm was projected to arrive in the Jeju area on Monday, September 17, the day we were scheduled to fly to Busan. Without further hesitation, we immediately started to make plans to leave Jeju that evening before flights were either booked or cancelled. Young Im Kim, the Assistant Front Office Manager, helped us make our hotel and airline reservation changes. It turned out that we couldn’t get a Friday evening flight on Jeju Air so we had to cancel our Jeju Air reservation and book a new flight on Korean Air. When Young Im tried to use our credit card to make the reservation, the website declined our card because the Korean Air website in Korea doesn’t accept foreign credit cards. So, Young Im made the reservation using her own personal credit card. In addition, she also changed our Hyundai Hotel reservation and looked up the bus schedule from Busan Airport to Gyeongju. After all was said and done, Young Im spent about two hours working with us, so we gave her a very nice tip for her efforts.

After leaving our luggage with the hotel management we started walking out towards the area where we had dinner the previous night. While I stopped to take some pictures, a taxicab driver stopped and started talking to my wife in Korean. After a few minutes of discussion, my wife said that the taxicab driver would take us around to see the important sites and then get us to the airport in time for our flight for $100.00. I thought for a second and said “Deal!”

Considering the short time we spent on the island, we were still able to see the following sites:

  • Jungmun Daepo Haean
  • Seonimgyo Arched Bridge
  • Cheonjeyeon Waterfall
  • Dragon Head Peninsula

On the way to the airport we stopped at the Jeju Green Tea Museum and tea field where I had some surprisingly good green tea ice cream.

Jeju-do, a volcanic island, has been designated one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in December 2011. It is also a UNESCO Bio Sphere Reserve and Natural Heritage Site. The entire island is a Geopark. The day we were there it felt like being in a rainforest. It rained on and off most of the day, especially in the morning. In the afternoon while we were at the Dragon Head Peninsula, it became windy and cool with on and off drizzle.

If I were to visit Jeju-do again, I would rent a car at the airport and only make a reservation at a hotel for one night. In the meantime, I would try to find more reasonable accommodations such as a bed and breakfast. Besides, you can’t really see all the sites from one location anyway. I think having your own car to get around the island is a better alternative than taking taxicabs everywhere. However, if driving yourself around is not your preference, you can call Kang Beom Su at Jeju Island Sightseeing, 064 733-5576, for assistance with your tour arrangements.

Gyeongju

After about an hour bus ride from Busan Gimhae International Airport, followed by a short taxicab ride from the bus terminal, we arrived at the Hotel Hyundai in Gyeongju near midnight on Friday. The hotel is located east of Downtown Gyeongju in the Boman Lake Resort area. Our room had a balcony with nice views of the lake and surrounding hills.Saturday morning after breakfast we took a taxicab to the Gyeongju Market. I found all the markets to be similar but different, if you know what I mean. I believe that paying a visit to a local market is one of the best ways to get acquainted with authentic Korean culture. Not only will you see a diverse selection of meats, fish, and vegetables for sale and take-out, but you will also see many items being prepared and cooked for consumption right on the premises.

Gyeongju Market
Figure 7.
Gyeongju Market

Since Typhoon Sanba was approaching and we didn’t know when the weather would improve, we decided to take one of the sight-seeing tours from the hotel on Sunday. I decided to pick Course C which covers both Bulguksa Temple and Cheomseongdae Observatory. Unfortunately, Sunday started out rainy and eventually got worse as the day progressed. Even so, the tour commenced on schedule.

Our first stop was at the Poseokjeong pavilion site which is where the Silla Royal Family held banquets and religious services. Even though it was raining, I was still able to shoot a few decent pictures. There are many tomb sites scattered all around the downtown area, but only Cheonmachong Tomb is open to the public. The tomb site contained many extravagant gold relics but not even the bones of the deceased survived. No trip to Gyeongju would be complete without a visit to Cheomseongdae Observatory which is known as the oldest observatory in Asia. The observatory was built during the reign of Queen Seon-deok (632-647) and has survived intact to this day. Fortunately, the rain held off a bit during our visit to Anapji Pond. The pond was dredged and excavated in 1975 which revealed many interesting artifacts. The pond is now surrounded by gardens, is partially covered in water lilies and is home to an assortment of Asian Koi fish.

During our lunch time, I was introduced to a new Korean dish called donkatsu which is a deep-fried breaded pork cutlet. This dish works well with the Western palate. Besides, it’s deep-fried so how can you go wrong?

Our final stop on the tour was Bulguksa Temple. By the time we got to the visitor parking area, it was really beginning to rain hard and steady. To make matters worse, the wind was picking up which made the walk up the narrow mountain trail to the temple area seem more treacherous. The grotto contains a large stone Buddha in a lotus position that is carved from a single piece of white granite. According to the locals, no one knows how they got the stone up the mountain to its current location. I really wanted take some pictures but I respected the no photo signs. By this time we couldn’t wait to get back to the bus since we were completely soaked and exhausted.

By early Monday morning the storm arrived in full force. I couldn’t think of a better place to weather it out than at the Hotel Hyundai. By late Monday afternoon the storm passed and the skies began to clear.

On Tuesday my wife’s sister arrived from Pohang and we all went to the Gyeongju National Museum. Later in the day we had a family reunion at the hotel after my wife’s two brothers arrived.

From Gyeongju we made two side trips, one to Yeongcheon, my wife’s hometown, and one to Geoje, an island south-west of Busan.

Busan / Geoje

We took the train from Gyeongju to the Haeundae District in eastern Busan where we met another of my wife’s niece and her husband. They took us to a nearby tuna sushi restaurant for lunch before driving to Geoje. Our very scenic ride from Haeundae to Geoje took us over the new Busan-Geoje Fixed Link bridge-tunnel. The Fixed Link is an 8.2 km (5.1 mi.) highway comprised of two major cable stayed bridges and a 3.4 km (2.1 mi.) long immersed tunnel. The tunnel, at a depth of up to 48 m (157 ft.) below sea level, is one of the deepest in the world.

My wife’s relatives arranged an overnight stay for us at the Samsung Geoje Hotel. Friday morning after breakfast, we visited the P.O.W. Camp Historic Park. This was a surprise since I didn’t even know it existed. The indoor exhibits consisted mostly of mannequins and fairly realistic dioramas depicting life in the P.O.W. camp, as shown in Figure 8. Outside, near the park entrance, was an interesting rifle and bayonet memorial fountain, and elsewhere on the grounds were many relics of the Korean War including helicopters, aircraft, artillery, and armored vehicles. By the way, the park is enclosed in barbed wire fencing—a nice touch.

Geoje P.O.W. Camp Diorama
Figure 8.
Geoje P.O.W. Camp Diorama

Following a quick lunch, we boarded a water taxi for the 45 minute ride out to Hallyeohaesang National Marine Park. Our tour also included a stopover at the Oedo botanical gardens. To get an idea of what Oedo Paradise Island is like, you need to imagine a European garden with semi-tropical Asian influences located on top of a mountain in the middle of the ocean! The park reminded me a lot of Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Hands down Oedo Paradise Island was one of the highlights of our entire Korean trip.

Andong

My wife’s brother from Ulsan offered to drive us from Gyeongju to Andong. On the way we made a short stopover at my wife’s sister’s place in Pohang. From Pohang, we took a scenic route through the mountains where we passed many apple farms along the way. This drive reminded me a little of the Poconos. Too bad the trees weren’t changing color yet.

We stayed at the Andong Park Hotel which was right across the street from the train station. By this time we were already totally spoiled by the Hyundai and Samsung hotels but for $60.00 per night the place wasn’t too bad. Just a short walk from the hotel was a bustling shopping area along with a local market. It was in the local market where we had the famous Andong chicken for dinner one night with my wife’s sister who lives about 40 minutes from downtown.

We started off with a taxicab ride from our hotel to my wife’s sister’s house for breakfast followed by a haircut at Mr. Park’s barber shop.

While Gyeongju is the history of the Silla Dynasty, Andong is the history of Confucian and neo-Confucian Scholars. While touring the buildings and grounds at the academies is interesting architecturally, to fully appreciate the philosophical aspects of the sites requires some research into the scholars who founded the academies, for example Ryu and Toegye. Nevertheless, I saved all the informational brochures we collected from the sites visited for future reference.

Byeongsan Seowon was the first site we visited, followed by nearby Hahoe Folk Village. You may be aware that Hahoe Folk Village was visited by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999. The Koreans constructed a pavilion to commemorate her visit.

Queen Elizabeth II Pavilion
Figure 9.
Queen Elizabeth II Pavilion

Hahoe is famous for its traditional maskdances and we were able to catch one of the performances. The stories behind the dramas are primordial and may even be offensive, especially to over-sensitive Westerners, but the performances are another example of Korean culture.

Adjacent to the Folk Village is the Hahoe World Mask Museum. Inside are mask exhibits from all over the world. Strange and bizarre are the best words to describe the place, but the arrangements and lighting were ideal for photography.

That day, while it was still early in the afternoon, we decided to do a quick tour through the Andong Folk Museum and then Wolyeonggyo Bridge, the largest wooden bridge in Korea. After dinner, we spent some time checking out the nearby multi-story Homeplus store. I thought the store resembled Walmart…on steroids.

The last site we visited in Andong was the Dosan Seowon academy and the city’s tangible cultural asset No. 33 Sisadan Island. The building on Sisadan Island was constructed to celebrate the testing place for the civil service examination in the Young-nam region during the Chosun Dynasty.

Heading Home

Our last night in Korea was spent at the Global Guest House which was only an eight minute ride from Incheon International Airport. However, finding the place turned out to be a real challenge. Even though we had the exact address from our reservation confirmation, our taxicab driver was confused as to its exact location. He took us to a building that didn’t have any hotel markings so we didn’t believe we were at the right place. After making some inquiries it became obvious we had the right place, but we couldn’t find the hotel desk. After another round of inquiries, we discovered we had to check in at one of the guest rooms on a different floor. This seemed weird but everything worked out and we were able to check in. The manager even gave us a complementary ride to the terminal in the morning.

Our KAL flight was held at the gate for about an hour waiting for a passenger to arrive but other than that the entire trip back went smoothly.

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Copyright 2014 Gerard Sczepura

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