A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: edandsuet

Why Are Towels the Size of Handkerchiefs in Korea? (1 Good)

SOUTH KOREA: WEEKS 26 TO 28 (May, SPRING TIME IN KOREA, SUNNY DAYS 24 DEGREES)

sunny 23 °C
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What I haven't figured out yet is why South Koreans use towels the size of handkerchiefs? How does anyone ever dry off after a shower? Maybe they just rely on the underfloor heating (everywhere has underfloor heating in Korea, even guest houses and hostels). Every time we turn up at a guest house, love motel, actual hotel - the towels barely cover the important bits. Could be a towel shortage in Korea or has no one discovered the bath sheet? Haven't worked out yet what the j-cloth is for either in the bathroom - are you meant to use it as a flannel?

After Seoul, our first stop outside metropolis was wonderful Sokcho which is based on the coast and is still a fishing port. In fact, most of the restaurants and markets only seem to sell something that was previously swimming in the sea and of course kimchi - no getting away from the red pepper paste. Sokcho has the rarity of being home to a local winch ferry that transports locals across the harbour to Abai Island (another place where the only fish you'll see will be on your plate). Thomas was quite at home, helping the locals winch themselves across to the island.Ready to grill our fish over the burning charcoals (fish set menu)

Ready to grill our fish over the burning charcoals (fish set menu)

Thomas meticulously removing the fish bones

Thomas meticulously removing the fish bones

Preparing the charcoal for the fish set menus outside the restaurant

Preparing the charcoal for the fish set menus outside the restaurant

A local helping Thomas to winch the ferry across to the other side, Abai Island

A local helping Thomas to winch the ferry across to the other side, Abai Island

Abai Island winch ferry

Abai Island winch ferry

Another thing that strikes me about Korea is that any outdoor space around a residence is used to grow vegetables, there are never any gardens. Patio pots are for lettuces and radishes while whole swathes of the countryside are given over to huge poly tunnels, rice fields and more leafy vegetables. Koreans adore leaf vegetables.

Sokcho was close to Seoraksan National Park, a great place to visit temples and walk amongst the majestic pine trees up to grottos and famous rocks. We managed to complete two challenging hikes on consecutive days which are extremely popular with the locals. However, the Koreans are meticulously dressed to impress with the latest outdoor, activewear and colour co-ordinated trekking trousers, wick away tops and hiking boots. I was astounded by one lady who had managed to find mustard coloured hiking boots to match her yellow and grey trousers. She even had a matching scarf tied stylishly around her neck. No trekking outfit is complete though for Koreans without trekking poles and a hundred and one gadgets, emergency blankets, first aid kit, flask, kimchi in tupperware containers etc, neatly swinging from mini backpacks with inbuilt hydration capabilities. When I think about it, Sokcho high street is crammed full of sports wear outlets and outdoor gear shops. They probably thought disaster would befall us on the treks in our grotty clothes and trainers that aren't remotely waterproof - not pleasant when it rains. Thomas's trainers are being held together by duct tape.
Start of the Heundeulbawi Hike (8km round trip)

Start of the Heundeulbawi Hike (8km round trip)

Buddha Temple

Buddha Temple

Biryang Falls (Dragon Falls)

Biryang Falls (Dragon Falls)

Heundeulbawi (the Rocking Rock) 16 tonne boulder

Heundeulbawi (the Rocking Rock) 16 tonne boulder

Gyejoam Grotto

Gyejoam Grotto

We loved Sokcho but after staying an extra day in our lovely guest house, it was time to move onto surreal Jeongdongjin, famous for its train station being the closet to the sea in the world (apparently this is in the Guinness Book of World Records) and a cruise ship that has been abandoned on top of a cliff. No it wasn't ship wrecked or left by a tsunami, it was deliberately built as a high class resort perched on a nearby cliff overlooking Hourglass Park. It didn't float my boat (pardon the pun) but Jeongdongjin is a South Korean favourite destination for young lovers, a romantic get away and as we were soon to discover, jam packed full of 'love motels'.
Sun Cruise Hotel (ship hanging precariously from the top of a cliff)

Sun Cruise Hotel (ship hanging precariously from the top of a cliff)

Boarding the train at Jeongdongjin

Boarding the train at Jeongdongjin

We stayed in a love motel on our first night and swiftly checked out early in the morning to book into an actual hotel. Not that there's anything wrong with the love motels but they are designed for couples and not three people so it didn't seem fair that Thomas was sleeping on the floor. Love motels sprung up as adultery in Korea used to be an arrest able offence, so motels were a way of continuing your love trysts without being discovered. Our new hotel had an amazing view over Jeongdongjin Hourglass Park, three beds and didn't charge per hour for rooms which was an improvement. Koreans flock to Hourglass Park (not really sure why), where a famous Korean romantic soap opera was filmed. As the name would suggest, there is a giant hourglass but the sand doesn't seem to be running - it gets turned on New Year's Eve.
Hourglass Park

Hourglass Park

A few kilometres up the road is Gangneung Unification Park which is home to a 35m-long North Korean submarine and a US built warship. It's not often you get the chance to check out a North Korean sub and to be honest, I was starting to feel rather sorry for the North Koreans who were packed like sardines into this small hunk of metal. They were in a catch 22 situation - complete the mission and they have to return to North Korea, fail and they would end up dead. The tiny submarine was spying on military facilities near Gangneung in 1996 when it ran aground off Jeongdongjin. The commander burnt important documents (the fire-blackened compartment inside the sub is still visible) and the 26 soldiers made a break for shore, hoping to return to North Korea. It took South Korea 49 days to capture or kill them (except one, who went missing); during the manhunt 17 South Korean civilians and soldiers were killed and 22 injured. One captured crewmember, the submarine's helmsman, Lee Kwang Soo, gave in after much interrogation and revealed much of the plans. He later became an instructor in the South Korean navy.

North Korea was at first reluctant to take responsibility, claiming that the submarine had suffered an engine failure and had drifted aground. By 29 December, however, the North issued an official statement expressing "deep regret" over the submarine incident. In return, the South Korean government returned the cremated remains of the infiltrators to the North via Panmunjom on 30 December. The submarine is claustrophobic inside and you can barely stand up. We couldn't imagine how 26 North Koreans had been squeezed into its interior.North Korean submarine intercepted by South Korea on a clandestine mission, Gangneung Reunification Park

North Korean submarine intercepted by South Korea on a clandestine mission, Gangneung Reunification Park

Dark Destroyer 916 used in the Second World War, Korean War and the Gulf War, Gangneung Reunification Park

Dark Destroyer 916 used in the Second World War, Korean War and the Gulf War, Gangneung Reunification Park

On board the tiny North Korean submarine, Gangneung Reunification Park

On board the tiny North Korean submarine, Gangneung Reunification Park

Guard Post along the coast, the South Koreans have to be ever vigilant

Guard Post along the coast, the South Koreans have to be ever vigilant

The warship has a less dramatic story: built in America in 1945, it saw action in WWII and the Vietnam War, and was donated to South Korea in 1972. Its interior has been refurbished as an exhibition on Korean naval history with interesting glimpses at sleeping quarters and mess halls.

A kilometre up the road was the strangely deserted Gangneung Unification Museum and the anti-Japan memorial. As we have learnt from visiting various museums in Korea, the Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945 has left deep scars for South Koreans - people were tortured, turned into sex slaves and starved during the occupation and the Koreans have many exhibits and graphic videos of life during the occupation.
Where is everybody?

Where is everybody?

Gangneung Anti-Japan Memorial Park

Gangneung Anti-Japan Memorial Park

Gangneung Reunification Museum (the most deserted museum we have ever visited)

Gangneung Reunification Museum (the most deserted museum we have ever visited)

Posted by edandsuet 17:24 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Trials & Tribulations of Dining in South Korea (1 Good)

SOUTH KOREA: WEEKS 26 to 28 MAY (SPRING TIME IN KOREA, SUNNY DAYS 24 DEGREES)

sunny 24 °C
View Thomas's Great Adventure on edandsuet's travel map.

Koreans are extremely passionate about their food. If everyone in Korea decided to pop out for dinner simultaneously there would still be a few free tables and it is often cheaper to eat out than buy the food and prepare it at home. Some restaurants even stay open into the small hours and range from more traditional style of sitting on the floor at low tables to the Korean fast food variety. Even fast food is relatively healthy here (gimbap, bokki and toast) and most restaurants do not serve dessert. If you want something sweet, you are going to have to hunt down specific outlets such as a waffle stall or ice cream parlour.
Snack food restaurant serving ddeokbokki, gimbap and twigim

Snack food restaurant serving ddeokbokki, gimbap and twigim


Korean Restaurant in the basement, City Hall District

Korean Restaurant in the basement, City Hall District

Our roaming gourmet Thomas put it quite succintly, "Korean food will blow your head off" and after all our travels to many countries in the world, I can say South Korean food is truly unique. In fact, we met three strapping young lads from Korea in Laos and one of the first things they told us was that they missed the food back home. Korean food is hot and spicy, normally from lavish dollops of red pepper paste, so it's no wonder that Korea has the highest rate of stomach cancer in the world. It's not so much the hotness of each dish but the fact there is no respite from it - if you eat Korean food you cannot escape the red pepper paste and kimchi.
Excellent food for lunch, City Hall District

Excellent food for lunch, City Hall District

I've already committed a few dining faux pas, one of which is blowing your nose during your meal. The spice level is difficult to tolerate and nearly always leads to a runny nose, but it is considered extremely rude to blow your nose during a meal. The correct etiquette is to excuse yourself from the table and head for the toilets, however it would mean spending most of the meal in the toilets if I followed this to the letter.

Fruit doesn't feature much in Korean dishes and is very expensive to buy. Apart from bananas, we have eaten very little fruit here unlike the rest of Asia. Here is a list below with some approximate prices:
Bunch of red grapes: 7 pounds
Six apples: 7 pounds
Large watermelon: 15 pounds
Large bunch of bananas: 3 pounds fifty

Most restaurants have free drinking water and that is all the locals drink with their meal at lunchtime so we just followed what they did. There is normally a wooden box on every table which contains the cutlery (metal chopsticks and soup spoons). Ordering any main dish will mean a bewildering assortment of side dishes will also appear (the most we have been served is eight) and these are nearly all cold, pickled vegetables and kimchi. Kimchi is the national dish of Korea, composed of fermented vegetables in a spicy mixture of salt, garlic and red pepper paste, and is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is always part of a picnic if Koreans go to the park or on a hike. Many families have a dedicated kimchi fridge with four separate quarters for the four different types of kimchi. I force myself to eat kimchi as it is a way to ensure that we are eating enough vegetables, but it is cold and incredibly spicy.
Kimchi, get ready to fill your tupperware container, Fish Shop Alley

Kimchi, get ready to fill your tupperware container, Fish Shop Alley


Side dishes served with Bibimbap including kimchi (this will blow your head off with the spice level)

Side dishes served with Bibimbap including kimchi (this will blow your head off with the spice level)

For me, the main stay dish of Korea is bibimbap which we first tried in Seoul. It is a mixture of shoots, leaves and vegetables which can be served with meat/fish, which is then topped with egg and of course a dollop of red pepper sauce. It is served in a bowl on a bed of sticky rice. When it arrives on your table, the first thing to do is to mix all the ingredients together before eating. The dish was originally derived from the five principal colours of Korean Buddhism - red for the paste, yellow for the egg yolk, white for the rice, blue for meat and green for vegetables.
Bibimbap, traditional Korean dish and main staple (ours had braised squid added)

Bibimbap, traditional Korean dish and main staple (ours had braised squid added)

One of Thomas's favourites was gimbap, laver seaweed rolled around rice which surrounds strips of egg, ham and pickled radish. It is normally cut into segments to make it chop stick friendly and is again served cold. One of my favourites was ddeokbokki that is a mixture or rice cake and fish that can often be found on a twigim stall. Twigim is various vegetables including stuffed noodle green chilli peppers, sweet potato, prawns and squid that are flash fried at the stall just before you eat them.
Gimbap

Gimbap


Ddeokbokki (a mixture of rice cake and processed fish in spicy sauce), gimbap and twigim

Ddeokbokki (a mixture of rice cake and processed fish in spicy sauce), gimbap and twigim


Stuffed cuttlefish with pickled potato

Stuffed cuttlefish with pickled potato

Korean seafood is equally baffling to try and order so we ended up having a set fish menu served over a charcoal grill on our table. The seafood is incredibly fresh, literally off the boat but it is important that we avoided baby octopus unless it had been cooked. This is often served live and every year several people die when their prey decides to make a last futile stab at survival with its suckers - the poor person chokes to death.
Fish Shop Alley, Sokcho

Fish Shop Alley, Sokcho


Ready to grill our fish over the burning charcoals (fish set menu)

Ready to grill our fish over the burning charcoals (fish set menu)

Fish cooking over the charcoal on our table, includes squid, mackerel, flounder, saury, sailfin sandfish and yellow rockfish

Fish cooking over the charcoal on our table, includes squid, mackerel, flounder, saury, sailfin sandfish and yellow rockfish

Keep the heat in, grilling a fish set menu the Korean way

Keep the heat in, grilling a fish set menu the Korean way

Side dishes accompanying our fish meal including kimchi

Side dishes accompanying our fish meal including kimchi

Thomas meticulously removing the fish bones

Thomas meticulously removing the fish bones

Preparing the charcoal for the fish set menus outside the restaurant

Preparing the charcoal for the fish set menus outside the restaurant

Posted by edandsuet 23:48 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

DMZ: The Longest Military Deadlock in History

DMZ (demilitarized zone), South Korea: WEEK 26 MAY (spring time in Korea, sunny days 24 DEGREES)

sunny 23 °C
View Thomas's Great Adventure on edandsuet's travel map.

The DMZ (demilitarized zone) is a 4km buffer of no man's land running 155 miles across the Korean penisula, splitting North and South and marks an uneasy truce which is the longest military deadlock in history. To understand why Korea was split in two, the events after the World War II and the secret plans of Kim-Il-sung come into play.
Map of 155 miles of DMZ

Map of 155 miles of DMZ

Korea was ruled by Japan from 1910 until the closing days of World War II. In 1945 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and sent troops into Korea. During an emergency meeting in August 1945, high ranking officials with no in-depth knowledge of the peninsula, sat with a map and sketched a line across the 38th parallel - a solution that was to have grave repercussions for Korea. U.S. forces subsequently moved into the south and by 1948, as a product of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, Korea was split into two regions, with separate governments. Both governments claimed to be the legitimate government of all of Korea, and neither side accepted the border as permanent.

The first of the Kims, Kim-Il-sung was holding meetings with Stalin, secretly planning to invade South Korea, and on 25th June 1950 troops burst across the 38th parallel. South Korea was ill equipped for war and Seoul fell 3 days later. The UN stepped in and sent a sixteen nation coalition to fight against North Korea and the majority of troops were from the US.

After the first two months of war, South Korean forces were on the point of defeat. In September 1950, an amphibious UN counter-offensive was launched at Inchon, and cut off many North Korean troops. Those who escaped envelopment and capture were rapidly forced back north all the way to the border with China at the Yalu River, or into the mountainous interior. At this point, in October 1950, Chinese forces crossed the Yalu and entered the war. Chinese intervention triggered a retreat of UN forces which continued until mid-1951. After these reversals of fortune, which saw Seoul change hands four times, the last two years of fighting became a war of attrition, with the front line close to the 38th parallel. The war in the air, however, was never a stalemate. North Korea was subject to a massive bombing campaign. Jet fighters confronted each other in air-to-air combat for the first time in history, and Soviet pilots covertly flew in defense of their communist allies.

The fighting ended on 27 July 1953, when an armistice was signed. The agreement created the Korean Demilitarized Zone to separate North and South Korea, and allowed the return of prisoners. However, no peace treaty has ever been signed, and the two countries are technically still at war. Periodic clashes which we have never heard about in the West, many of them deadly, continue to the present day.

Today, Kim Jong-un rules North Korea but Kim-Il-sung still remains the country's official president despite having died in 1994, and his eldest son Kim Jong-il is stilled referred to as "Dear Leader". In fact, the locals must wear a pin badge portraying at least one of the deceased leaders. Not sure whether this is an urban myth, but our guide told us that the first words your child must say is "Kim Jong-un".

Our tour started at Imjingak after crossing an army check point where we had to show our passports. It is a park located on the banks of the Imjin River in the city of Paju which was built to console those from both sides who are unable to return to their hometowns, friends and families after the end of the Korean War. It is also where the "Bridge of Freedom" lies which is a former railroad bridge used by repatriated POWs/soldiers returning from the north. Thomas was fascinated by the steam locomotive which is being used as a symbol of the South-North division of Korea. During the war it was bombed and has 1,020 bullet marks.
Railway bridge across to North Korea, Imjinjak (DMZ)

Railway bridge across to North Korea, Imjinjak (DMZ)

Guard Post, Imjinjak (DMZ)

Guard Post, Imjinjak (DMZ)

Barbed Wire Fence, Imjinjak (DMZ)

Barbed Wire Fence, Imjinjak (DMZ)

Train peppered with over 1000 bullets, Imjinjak (DMZ)

Train peppered with over 1000 bullets, Imjinjak (DMZ)

We then explored the Third Infiltration Tunnel which was our chance to set foot in the DMZ, even if it was 78 metres underground. The tunnel was detected in 1978 and is one of four that has been discovered so far, only 52km from Seoul. The North Koreans claimed that they were looking for coal but the geology of the area is granite, hence the sloppily black painted tunnel walls which must be one of the lamest excuses ever used. The incomplete tunnel is 1,635 metres (1.0 mile) long and was apparently designed for a surprise attack on Seoul that could accommodate 30,000 men per hour along with light weaponry. It is a steep descent and we had to wear hard hats in case we bumped our heads.
Ready to explore the Third Tunnel of Agression under the DMZ

Ready to explore the Third Tunnel of Agression under the DMZ

This is just one of many incursions by North Korea, many that have led to loss of life. One of the most notorious is the "Axe Murder Incident" in 1976 when two American soldiers were killed by axe wielding North Koreans. A poplar tree, next to the Bridge of No Return, was obscuring the line of sight at an Allied Checkpoint so a five man detail asked the North Koreans for permission to prune the tree. However, when they turned up, sixteen KPA soldiers appeared and demanded that the pruning stop. When the US soldiers refused, they were set upon with axes but North Korea denies any responsibility for the incident. Three days later, Operation Paul Bunyan took place, where 800 men in a convoy of 24 UNC vehicles turned up to finish the job, backed up by attack helicopters and B-52 bombers. This must be the largest tree-trimming exercise in history and the tree was successfully cut down without any reaction from North Korea.

As the threat of North Korea invading is ever present, all South Korean men are required to complete two years national service (strangely women are exempt) either in the army, navy or air force so that the country is battle ready.

Up on the Dora Observatory, we got the chance to peer through binoculars at North Korea and I could see the North Korean flag rippling in the breeze in the haze of pollution (from China). It is easy to see where North Korea starts on the otherside of the DMZ as the land is devoid of any trees or vegetation. All trees have been chopped down on the hillsides and the mountains, a stark contrast to South Korea. The North Koreans blast out military music for two hours from their side of the DMZ and then South Korea reciprocates from Dora Observatory, but chooses to play the local radio station.
What's over in North Korea? view from Dorasan Observatory

What's over in North Korea? view from Dorasan Observatory

North Korean flag waving in the distance, Dorasan Observatory, DMZ

North Korean flag waving in the distance, Dorasan Observatory, DMZ

Our last stop was Dorasan Station on the Seoul-Uiju Line that continues to China via Pyongyang in North Korea. Built in 2007, it was heartbreaking to see the list of relatives that had donated to the construction in the hope that one day they will be reunited with their family members in North Korea. No trains are currently running, but everyone hopes that reunification will happen one day.
Empty waiting room, Dorasan Station

Empty waiting room, Dorasan Station

Dorasan Station, railway line connects to Pyeongyang in North Korea but no trains are running

Dorasan Station, railway line connects to Pyeongyang in North Korea but no trains are running


The names of those who have donated to the building of Dorasan Station

The names of those who have donated to the building of Dorasan Station

It's not the last station from the South, but the first station to the North

It's not the last station from the South, but the first station to the North

How do South Koreans feel about the present situation? Our guide explained that as they have lived with the threat of North Korea invading for the last sixty years, no one dwells on World War III breaking out on their door step - they just get on with their lives. One of the worries if North Korea attacks, is that China would become involved and attempt a land grab on the peninsula, if the North Korean regime crumbles.

Posted by edandsuet 23:46 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Weird and Wonderful Korea (1 Good)

Seoul, South Korea: WEEK 26 MAY (spring time in Korea, sunny days 24 DEGREES)

sunny 24 °C
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Springtime in South Korea is a perfect time to visit. It is sunny, but not too hot and the summer rain hasn't started yet which brings clouds of ferocious Korean mosquitos (their reputation precedes them). The other plus point is that China has banned its own people from visiting South Korea over the first elements of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system that has been deployed by the US in South Korea. This means no huge groups of Chinese tourists to jostle with unlike Taiwan.

Korea is surprisingly delightful, a sanitised mixture of east meets west. It's the most connected country in the world with ultra fast internet and everyone permanently glued to their smartphones on the metro. The Korean peninsula is split into South Korea, officially known as the Republic of Korea and North Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Koreans are some of the most hard working in the world, until recently there was an official 6 day working week - everyone had to work on Saturday, but this has now been reduced to 5 working days (not that this has really filtered down to the working population). To compensate, many national holidays have been removed, which means that Koreans all go on holiday at the same time of year (don't expect to find a hotel or a seat on a bus/train during these times). Korea still has one of the highest productivity levels in the world with many working a normal 15 hour day and around 8 hours on a Saturday. This has resulted in a hard drinking culture where Koreans let loose and relax with their compatriates in bars that are open 24 hours a day and the drink of choice is often whisky, beer or soju, a cheap clear Korean version of vodka.

Seoul doesn't feel like a capital city at all, yet nearly half the population of South Korea (50 million) live here, packed into a metropolitan area that is the smaller than Luxembourg. It has pleasantly wide pavements, tree lined avenues, an incredibly efficient metro system, narrow tucked away alleys and streets with traditional Korean wooden houses, high rise sparkling office buildings, old temples, leafy residential areas and a bewildering array of eateries. You would never have an inkling that the DMZ and North Korea is just up the highway, 55km away. Seoul is easy to navigate and we were lucky to be situated in a hostel near one of the palace gates at Hangsung University. We could just pop down to the metro, buy a pot noodle from 7 Eleven or cross the road to the 'twigim' stalls that serve snacks.

Seoul Metro System

Seoul Metro System

Gas Mask Station on the metro (in case of chemical weapon attack by North Korea)

Gas Mask Station on the metro (in case of chemical weapon attack by North Korea)

Our first stop, Gyeongbokgung Palace, is the oldest and most historically important of the five palaces in Seoul. We strolled down dusty paths between delicate tile roofed buildings, beautifully restored, against a mountain backdrop, among the young girls attired in 'hanbok', traditional Korean dress. It is a popular day out for Koreans to hire 'hanbok' (as they get into the palaces free) and spend hours endlessly photographing themselves outside all the palace buildings in many poses. It feels rather surreal to walk among the girls in their pretty princess dresses once worn by royalty.
Girls 'wearing hanbok', Gyeongbokgung Palace

Girls 'wearing hanbok', Gyeongbokgung Palace


Boys wearing hanbok, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Boys wearing hanbok, Gyeongbokgung Palace

South Gate, Gyeongbokgung Palace

South Gate, Gyeongbokgung Palace


Changing of the Guard, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Changing of the Guard, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Musicians, Changing of the Guard, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Musicians, Changing of the Guard, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Changing of the Guard, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Changing of the Guard, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Changing of the Guard, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Changing of the Guard, Gyeongbokgung Palace

This palace was the home to the royal family and the Joseon dynasty that started in 1392 and ended in 1910 when the Japanese invaded, which marked the end of the dynasty and the last of the Korean kings. The compound as witnessed many fires, repeated destruction, war and an assassination but has been carefully reconstructed. One of the enduring tales, recounted many times in countless Korean films and soap operas, is the assassination of Queen Myeongseong in 1895, one of King Gojong's wives and an obstacle to Japanese domination of Asia - a precursor to full scale Japanese annexation in 1910. South Korea still feels rather sore about this and demanded an apology from the Japanese a few years ago for her death, but I think they are still waiting...
Gonneyeonghap Hall, once the residence of Empress Myeongseong, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gonneyeonghap Hall, once the residence of Empress Myeongseong, Gyeongbokgung Palace


Geunjeongjean, Palace Throne Room, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Geunjeongjean, Palace Throne Room, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Geunjeongjean, Palace Throne Room, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Geunjeongjean, Palace Throne Room, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeonnghoeru, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeonnghoeru, Gyeongbokgung Palace

The Library, Gyeongbokgung Palace

The Library, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Girls in hanbok checking their smartphones, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Girls in hanbok checking their smartphones, Gyeongbokgung Palace

Bukchon Hanok Village was a pleasant diversion after all the history and a chance to walk down quiet lanes lined with traditional wooden hanok buildings which once covered the entire country until they were torn down during Korea's economic revolution. This small area has been spared the wrecking ball of progress and again many young girls wearing hanbok glide up and down the steep hills in their hooped skirts.
Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul

Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul

Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul

Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul

Located in Seoul's business district, Deoksugung Palace was next but to be honest it was rather like walking round Gyeongbokgung Palace. It did however have its own changing of the guard at the eastern gate which was entertaining.
Changing of the Guard, Daehanmun Eastern Gate, Deoksugung Palace

Changing of the Guard, Daehanmun Eastern Gate, Deoksugung Palace

Ceiling detail in Junghwajeon Main Hall, Deoksugung Palace

Ceiling detail in Junghwajeon Main Hall, Deoksugung Palace

Changdeokgung was the last of the palaces we visited and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is undoubtably the best preserved palace and was relatively empty when we visited.
Injeongjeon Hall (Throne Room), Changdeokgung Palace

Injeongjeon Hall (Throne Room), Changdeokgung Palace

Two thirds of the compound is covered by the Secret Garden, which kings and queens once strolled through, although it was lost on me as to why it was 'secret' as there is no hidden door or gate and our guide didn't really explain it very well. I was expecting an immaculate manicured garden but it is the complete opposite, having been left to nature and full of the national trees of Korea (mulberry). It can only be accessed via a guided tour although it was very difficult to understand what she was saying. For ages I thought our guide was referring to 'porn' or could it be 'pawn' as in chess pieces, but in actual fact after ten minutes I realised it was 'pond'! After an hour we gave up and walked back to the 'not so secret' entrance.
The not so secret garden, Changdeokgung Palace

The not so secret garden, Changdeokgung Palace

Secret Garden, Changdeokgung Palace

Secret Garden, Changdeokgung Palace

We loved Seoul and would have stayed longer, but it was time to find out what Korea was like outside the safety of the metropolitan capital.
Insadong, tight lattice of streets to explore

Insadong, tight lattice of streets to explore

Posted by edandsuet 00:57 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

What Do Monks in Laos Do All Day? (1 Good)

LUANG PRABANG (NORTHERN LAOS): WEEK 20 JANUARY (COOL AND MISTY IN THE MORNING WITH BRIGHT SUNSHINE IN THE AFTERNOON, 28 DEGREES)

sunny 28 °C
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Thomas has had many questions about the Buddhist monks he has observed in Thailand and Laos - here are some of his questions and the answers.
Monks, Luang Prabang

Monks, Luang Prabang

What do Buddhist monks do all day?
Every day before sunrise, monks leave the temples in silent procession to ask for donations from Buddhist devotees (the tradition of collecting alms). They may then attend morning class in the temple before prayer time. The rest of the day might be spent tending to the temple complex or carrying out chores, and then it's final prayers before bed time.

Are monks allowed possessions?
The monastic rules forbid monks to own objects except for...eight things such as three robes, bowl, mosquito net, umbrella, medications etc)
However, today’s monks possess more than that, usually when they are taking residence at a monastery. Computers, televisions, cell-phones and even cars - It doesn’t mean they are ‘allowed’ to possess them, they just do. We saw queues of young monks in Chiang Mai, charging their smart phones at free charging points outside their wat.

Why do monks wear orange robes?
The saffron (for a more appropriate name for the color) robes monk wear dates back centuries. Orange was chosen mainly because of the dye available at the time. The tradition stuck and orange is now the color of choice for Theravada Buddhist followers in Southeast Asia, as opposed to a maroon color for Tibetan monks.

Why don't monks have any hair?
The Indian Prince, who was to become the Buddha, left his palace to seek a way beyond ageing, sickness and death and it is said that one of the first things he did was to shave off his hair and beard and put on the yellow cloth . Buddhist monks always completely shave their head and beard, showing their commitment to the Holy Life of one gone forth into the homeless life.

How young are novice monks?
It's a tradition for all Lao boys to serve some time in a Buddhist monastary during adolescence. Some boys go for only a summer; others spend their entire schooling there. For those who decide to continue as novices beyond their school days, it will usually take at least 20 years to become a full-fledged monk. Inside a monastary, a novice commits to a strict regimen of prayer and study. Many novices learn English and are quite eager to practice it whenever they can. A novice can be as young as eight years old and we saw many novices about Thomas's age roaming the streets of Luang Prabang. Thomas said he couldn't imagine being a novice monk as he has far too much energy to keep still.

Posted by edandsuet 02:26 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

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