“He’d been sitting on his nervous energy for so long, it was good to have something to do with it”

SceneryView from Bibong PeakStairs to Temple 1 and Temple 2

{4 more pictures under the cut}

If there is one thing I’ve always wanted to visit Japan and do, and one thing I regretted not being able to do when I did visit there, is to go to northern Japan and Hokkaido and go walking. I want to see the scenery there- see the woodlands, lakes, the iconic images of the cranes in wide fields of snow. For Korea I wanted to do much the same- I wanted to see some of the scenery as I had seen online and in Family Outing. I did not think it would be possible in just three days but I soon discovered that there is a famous and very popular national park right outside of Seoul- the Bukhansan National Park. I decided to dedicate the majority of my last day in Korea to go walking there. Apparently the views of Seoul from the peaks were fantastic and the national park website had details of all the trails and listed not a single one as difficult. So I picked one,  printed a map, and made sure to pack my hiking pants and boots.

Once again that Sunday I overslept, but not so badly as the day before. I got ready for the day and packed up my backpack with supplies then headed to Daechi. From Daechi it was straight through to Bulgwang station. I was not the only one heading out walking. I had heard hiking was a popular weekend past time in Korea and its true. There were many people dressed up in their proper hiking gear. I could not help but feel under dressed in even this. I was just wearing some casual pants and my hoodie. I most certainly did not look the part like they did. The journey to Bulgwang was long but I got there eventually. This is clearly a place a lot of hikers pass through- as I was walking looking for the bus stop I passed groups of people dressed for hiking, and a long market stall on the street selling hiking gear for the unprepared. I was tempted but not foolish enough to pay the premium prices even for a jacket. Besides, it was turning out to be a fairly pleasant day. The sun was out and the air was crisp, in the distance I could see the mountains- was one of them what I was going to climb?

Of course, first I had to get there. I eventually, by the power of deduction and from visiting nearly every bus stop stumbled upon the right one, the one that I assumed the vague instructions I had managed to get through googling was referring to. There is very little information about visiting bukhansan online. Very little. the question I was then faced with was- which bus?? I looked at the little paper where I had printed out the hangul and roman alphabet of the park and the gulgi tunnel, trying to pick the stop out on the map from it. Thankfully, just then a korean who had been waiting at the bus stop stepped up to me to ask me where I was going. He took my little bit of paper, pointed “This is where you are going?” I nodded. He pointed to the map and told me the bus number, then told me “Two stops” Thanking him I stepped back and we waited for the bus together. After a little while he got my attention again. “Sorry, ” he said “it’s three stops.” I felt almost overwhelmed by his kindness. Who does such things for strangers these days? The bus pulled up and he told me “This one” and I smiled at him, thanked him again and followed him onto to the bus. I took the seat behind him and clutched my bagpack, nervous still.

{Lengthy blog post under the cut}

Wandering

Many,many steps leading to Suwon FortressOne of the many buildings making up Suwon FortressSuwon

{Three more pictures under the cut}

I had made very careful plans for each of my days in Korea, but with the expectation that they most likely would fall through,  as I only had so much time, and I had not accounted for travel times in my plan. Indeed, I ended up spending an unfortunate amount of time just on the train!

The first day in Seoul I kind of ended up doing what I felt like, and for my second day it ended up that I simply did not have enough time to do what I wanted to do! It did not help that I felt so comfortable in my hotel room that I ended up oversleeping, of course. I had planned an early start to give myself time to get to Suwon and even though I knew it would most likely mess up the rest of my time, I decided to head off to Suwon anyway. How far could it really be? Turns out, very. The train journey had a number of confusing changes and when I was finally on the right train it was a long, uncomfortable and cramped journey. There seems to be a certain code for how to stand on busy trains in Seoul and I am not sure I was following the unspoken rules which made me feel a little awkward, along with all the other things starting with the fact that I was an obvious tourist and ending with how self conscious dressed as randomly and inappropriate for winter as I was. Despite my new hoodie, it was still too cold. As I headed out of the center of Seoul I felt it getting even colder, if that were possible. Outside, the scenery changed too, losing some of the glamour of central Seoul. From what I have seen of Asia that has been a trait- the glossy malls and such of the central city, so different from the outskirts and the towns that lie outside…It’s very different from the UK.

I am not sure what I expected Suwon to be like but nothing could have prepared me for how different it was to Seoul. It was…hectic. I think that is the most appropriate word. I stepped out of the station and there were people everywhere. I had no clue where I was going or what to do and so was very thankful to see a tourist center close by. I asked one of the ladies there where to find the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress and she handed me a slip of paper with the list of bus numbers I could take and the name of my stop in hangul and roman alphabet. Well, feeling a bit more confident I walked down to the bus stop and meandered my way up and down, trying to figure out from the mess of people and buses what on earth I was supposed to do. I eventually got myself on a bus and sat down, playing with my little slip of paper anxiously.

{Lengthy post under the cut}

“He stood up straighter. Something heavy and invisible had relaxed its taloned grip, left its familiar perch on his shoulders and winged away”

seoul day one- incheonseoul day one- hotel roomseoul day one- the palace

Three more pictures under the cut

Getting to Korea was a strange combination of stress and utter boredom. Although I’ve flown before there was only once that I was alone and there were many moments where I wondered what I was supposed to do, and I pretty much used up all the credit on my phone texting my dad for instructions. Of course there was a lot of waiting around and queuing and more waiting around which led to the boredom. My flight was at 11.35pm, and I had made myself nicely sleep deprived so I could sleep on the plane, but this meant by the time I was sitting at the gate I was ready to pass out. Eventually I boarded and to my surprise, and luck, the three seats next to me were empty. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first but eventually I sprawled out greedily across the row and attempted to sleep. Sadly, despite my luck I could not sleep through the whole journey- sleep came in fits and starts. I kept waking up, falling asleep, waking up.

And just like that the plane journey crept slowly to its end and I was in Korea. Being tired and feeling slightly sick from disturbed sleep and the plane journey was not a good mood to go about my first day in Korea, but I was determined not  to spend the first of only three days in the hotel. I got my limousine bus ticket and got my first taste of winter when I stepped outside to the bus ranks. I had naively being expecting Korea to have clung onto autumn just for me but nope, it was bitterly cold as I sat there waiting for the bus and I was more than relieved when the bus came. I really have forgotten what cold feels like, even after barely two months in Malaysia I have become accustomed to being warm all the time.

(Lengthy blog post under here)