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Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Give Korea A Chance!

Poor little Korea tends to be overshadowed by China and Japan. Most backpackers skip over it all together. The few that do stop here seem to only visit Seoul, Busan, and Jeju Island. I guess they have their reasons. Frankly, it’s not as exciting. The temples and other historical sites aren’t as impressive. (Maybe because they were almost all destroyed by the Japanese in the 1500′s and rebuilt only recently.) There are some nice national parks here, but again, they don’t compare to the parks you could visit in other countries.

The lack of exposure, though, also makes it a great place to travel. We didn’t see any other Western tourists in some of the cities we stopped in. And the Koreans are so nice. They are by far the friendliest people we’ve met on the trip so far. I feel like I’m back in the Midwest. While we were hiking in Seoraksan National Park, a group having a picnic insisted that we join them and eat some food. Whenever we look lost in a bus or train station, someone always stops to ask where we want to go. In Gangneung on the way to a park, the cab driver kept trying to tell us something. He finally got out his cell phone and started making calls, then handed us the phone when he got a hold of someone who spoke English. Apparently he had been trying to tell us that the park is very far away, and that we may not be able to find a way back into town, so he recommended we not go there at all. We agreed and he just took us back to our hotel, but he didn’t even make us pay the entire cab fare. If the same situation had happened in Southeast Asia, we probably would have been scammed out of hundreds of dollars.

We had our first actual home stay in Gangneung as well. The guy at the tourist office asked if we would like to stay in a guesthouse. In other countries, a “guesthouse” is really just a cheap hotel run by a family.??To our surprise, this one was literally a room in a family’s apartment. This wasn’t a quaint little apartment, though. It was a swanky pad on the 11th floor looking out on the ocean. ??The family we stayed with didn’t speak a whole lot of English, but they were very warm and welcoming.

The only thing that’s really letting me down is Korean food. I’ve given it a chance, but I just don’t like a lot of it. Kimchi, the national dish of fermented cabbage with spicy paste, must be an acquired taste. Many of the side dishes are cold vegetables, either pickled or fermented. It’s not all bad, though. I didn’t mind bibimbap, a mix of rice, vegetables, sometimes meat, and an egg. Meat here is incredible! Bulgogi, thin strips of marinated beef, is delicious. Korean??barbecue??places, where you cook the meat on a grill in the middle of the table, are really exciting (even if we do need help from the waitstaff). And fried chicken is quite popular here. A night of fried chicken and beer is just as much fun as our dumpling and beer nights in China. So I guess we won’t starve here as long as we’re fine with becoming carnivores for a while.

And Korea has the weird category as well. The prime example is our recent trip to the Penis Park in Samcheok. Yes, a park dedicated to the male sex organ. Apparently a long time ago in the little fishing village there, a young man took his fiance out to an island so she could gather seaweed. He left her there and said he would pick her up later. Well, a storm blew up and the girl ended up drowning. After that, the village was suddenly unable to catch any fish. They decided the girl’s spirit must be upset that she died a virgin. As a solution, they made a phallic offering and, sure enough, were able to catch fish again. The result now is a whole shore full of giant wang statues. It was more than a little odd to see, but it was a fun afternoon and, judging from the reactions of the Koreans there, we discovered that penis jokes must be funny in all cultures.

So South Korea might not have the fame and glamour of other countries, but I’d say it’s still worth a visit. If nothing else, at least you can have a laugh with some incredibly kind people.

7 comments to Give Korea A Chance!

  • Uncle J

    If you get to Pusan make sure you see Seokbulsa Temple and??Beomeosa Temple, they’re worth the hike.

  • Martha

    Loved hearing about the Korean food. Karl loves kimchi – but I am not a fan. The first meal I made for Karl happened to be bulgogi – it was a new recipe in cooking light at the time. I loved it ( so did the kids ) and it is still the only thing I order when we go to New Seoul restaurant here in Madison. Thinking of you two often! Happy travels!

  • BETSY

    OMG! Penis Park?? That is too funny and strange all in one. Got your messages from my birthday. We had a blast in Vegas:) I was hoping to win enough money to come to Italy with Lisa and the gang. No such luck:( I’ll keep trying though!

    Love you guys!
    B

  • Kate

    What a great story – love hearing about the people. I must find a bulgogi recipe. Stay safe!

  • Jay: we went to those parks today in Busan, and they were really nice! It was a great day hiking with an awesome view, I’m sure Nikki’ll have something more to say about it.

  • Uncle J

    I was there 35 years ago (no that wasn’t the Korean war) so I’m sure much has changed. The fortress was only a wall but I remember some nice photography the way it snaked over the ridge line. The two temples were cool but Korea has been invaded five times (twice in the 20th century) so its hard to find anything old especially after the last two (by the way NEVER mistake a Korean for a Japanese, grave insult)
    Have fun in Japan

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