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Korea Road Trip 2012

June 20, 2012

Tore off out of Seoul last weekend for another road trip. It’s becoming sort of an annual ritual. Last year we took an amazing road trip along the southern tip of the peninsula, from Yeosu all the way up to Busan. The year before that, we camped, drank and BBQ’d on beaches along the east coast.

Korea really has some amazing scenery. Only kicker is, you have to break free from the conveniences (clutches) of the city to revel in it. This year’s journey took us from Namhae to Suncheon and Gwangyang, and then up along the west coast.

Namhae really is a magical place. Still largely underdeveloped (for not, that is), the drive in grants scenes like the one below. It’s remote, rustic and relaxed. My kind of place.

On Saturday I picked up the car at Avis (190,000 KRW for two days, including insurance and GPS) at 5:30am and was on the road by 6am. Made it down to Namhae by 11ish, grabbed Min and then headed to first to the beautiful Suncheon Wild Teahouse, tucked up in the hills just off the road leading to the thousand-year-old Sunamsa Temple.

Here we were served tea the Korean way, keeping with the traditional practices of ‘tado‘, or ‘way of the tea. The little bite-sized nibbles that are served with the tea (a tasty melange of whole grain and honey) are delicious. I had to order seconds.

The teahouse was gorgeous, and the sleepy afternoon haze certainly hurt either. It was hard to uproot ourselves afterwards and get back on the road.

Next up was Suncheon Bay. Home to tons of migratory birds, the wetlands are incredibly scenic. A great vantage point is Yongsan Observatory. The 40min walk from the parking lot, through blowing reeds is actually pretty meditative, for lack of a better word.

I’ve heard so much about Suncheon but never had the chance to make it down. It’s a great sleepy little town with some beautiful surrounding landscape.

From there, we drove up to Gwangyang. The city is famous for its bulgogi (marinated beef) so naturally we had to have a try ourselves to see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t disappoint. The meat was phenomenally good.

The next morning, we made our way to Mohang Beach in Byeonsan National Park. It isn’t one of the better beaches I’ve been to in Korea – my favourite ones are just north of Pohang, along the east coast – but it was a great little pit stop to soak up some sun and nurse a couple beers.

An hour or so later, we heaved our rumps off the sand and plowed ahead to Boryeong to a feast of fist-sized scallops and other shell fish. Not a bad way to end the trip.

Boryeong is where the annual Mud Festival takes place. I was there not too long. Penned a piece for CNNGo in which I included all the details for those wanting to check it out. The beach is nice and wide, and the boardwalk is lined with some fantastic seafood restaurant.

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Woraksan National Park

June 11, 2012

Woraksan is one of Korea’s most challenging and certainly more beautiful mountains. Towering 1,094 m (3,589 ft), its landscape is home to several temples, Buddhist shrines and historical relics. Hiking up its craggy cliff walls is no easy feat but the views that await one from the summit more than make up for it.

Given its isolated location, it’s one of the least visited national parks in Korea. This can be a good thing. For those looking to get away from the chaos and congestion of Seoul, this is about as remote as it gets.

Blessed with verdant gorges, waterfalls, pristine lakes, fresh mountain water streams and Korean White Pines, the views are simply stunning. The park is also home to an abundance of wildlife and rare plants. Local officials have gone to great lengths at preserving Woraksan’s ecological diversity; trails are marked with signs indicating hiking courses are regulated to prevent forest fires.

A good point of entry is the Deokjusa Temple entrance, located in the quaint city of Deokju. From here there are a number of trails – the longest being 4.9km – that lead all the way up to the summit. The temple is also just over a kilometer from the gate.

Running alongside the trail is a crystal clear water stream that trickles down from the mountain peaks – perfect for dipping the feet in and nursing some beer after a long hike (which is exactly what we did!).

Also just up from the entrance is a walled fortress that stretches ten kilometers around the entire mountain. Dating all the way back to the Goryeo Dynasty, the fortification was once used as a defensive perimeter against invading Mongols, and later as a barrier against the Japanese occupation in 1592. It is the first of several historical relics along the journey up the mountain representative of what life was like thousands of years on the peninsula.

A little further up, on the southern foot of Woraksan to the east of Deokjusa’s Hall of Sakyamuni, is an enormous Buddha stone carving (마애물). From there, the terrain is hugely challenging and unforgiving. Those looking to reach the summit should be prepared for a serious workout, and should set aside five to seven hours to make it up and down. In some parts, the stairs continue almost at a forty-five degree angle for what seems like an eternity.

Getting there: From Dongseol Bus Terminal (Gangbyeong Station, subway Line 2). Buses leave every two hours starting from 6:40am. Fare is 13,000 KRW for the three- hour journey.

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2012 Bike Camping Festival

May 29, 2012

As part of the Four Rivers Bike-Trails Project, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) will be hosting a “Bike Camp” at Ipobo camping village, Yeoju-gun County, Gyeonggi Province this coming weekend (June 2-3) .

The bus will be departing from KTO’s Jongno building at 9am June 2nd. KRW 20,000 will get you a seat and free access to bikes, horse rides, kayaking, water rafting and a BBQ meal.

You must bring your own camping gear or rent it at the site. There is probably space under the coach to bring your own bikes and ride them back to Seoul along the Han River the next day if you want to. Bus departs for return to Seoul at 12pm on Sunday.

Contact either Roger Shepherd at roger@hikekorea.com for registration and inquiries.

CanCham Beef & Lobster Dinner

May 17, 2012

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is hosting ‘Delicious Canada’, a spring celebration of Canadian delicacies this coming Saturday (May 19th) at the Grand Hilton Hotel. The formal, white tablecloth dinner will combine the ultimate in delectable Canadian food with music, dancing, and great prizes.

It’s the perfect opportunity to experience what is uniquely delicious about Canadian Beef and Canadian Lobster. Doors open at 6pm and the event runs until 11pm, beginning with a first class dinner of succulent Grade AAA Canadian beef and mouth-watering Canadian Lobster flown in fresh from the Atlantic ocean.

Diners will be treated to live entertainment throughout the event, with a jazz instrumental group playing throughout dinner and dancing to follow with a traditional maritime-style band. There will also be a drawing of several outstanding prizes, including a free round trip ticket on an Air Canada flight to Vancouver.

CanCham Chairman Don Mackenzie talked about why the Spring Celebration is already generating so much enthusiasm. “We’re very excited about this event because it offers the best of the best in Canadian cuisine,” he said, adding that “our Christmas event was also an all-Canadian food extravaganza and not only did it sell out completely with nearly 200 people but everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves and all of the outstanding Canadian food.”

The event is sponsored in part by the Canadian Government and its Canada Brand Initiative. Tickets are KRW 165,000 (members and guests) and 185,000 (non-members).

For ticketing and RSVPs, contact info@canchamkorea.org

02-554-0245

Timelapse Video of Seoul

May 1, 2012

Seoul really is a buzzing capital and they captured it brilliantly in this vid.

Experiencing Seoul’s Five Palaces on Foot

April 23, 2012

Spent the weekend before last taking in Seoul’s five grand palaces for my latest Yonhap article. Those already familiar with Korea’s capital can attest that no visit to the city is complete without a walk through at least one of them.

Pummeled to near ruin during the Japanese invasion (1592-98) and colonial occupation (1910-45), they represent remarkable architectural achievement and the relentless resilience the nation still prides itself upon to this day.

All five have undergone significant restoration in recent years. Due to their relatively close proximity to each other (they were once all joined together) it’s possible to get to all of ‘em on foot within a day.

Admission ranges from 1,000 to 5,000 won (1,000 won roughly US 80 cents).

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Nokha | Hanok Performance in Bukchon

April 8, 2012

On Saturday, April 21st, at 7pm David Kilburn will be hosting an exclusive interactive music performance with composer Jee Soo Shin at his hanok home in Gahoedong. The event aims to bring awareness to the ongoing plight of Seoul’s dwindling hanok community in the Bukchon neighbourhood.

“Nokha” is an interactive music installation. The performance was designed for, and takes place in a hanok (traditional Korean home). The audience, by their movement in the performing area, conduct and shape the sonic environment around them. “Nokha” was created by the Korean composer Jee Soo Shin.

There will be four players each playing a violin, geomungo (traditional Korean string instrument), flute and a toy piano in different corners of the performance area. The players spontaneously and systematically react to the audience movement.

You can read more details at www.nokha.org or on the Facebook page. If you want to schedule an interview with Jee Soo Shin or David Kilburn you can contact her directly at 010-3488-9842 or through email admin@nokha.org.

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