Gongju City 공주시, Chungcheongnam-do

Why Gongju? Apart from the slight personal preoccupation with anything Baekje (read up on your Korean history) due to archaeological sites close to where I live, not much more. It is close enough to Seoul to do a day trip, and small enough to be a walking town. It is also 20th July 2017, one of the hottest day of the year, so I was expecting a bit of walk in the sun.

East Seoul bus station at Gangbyeon

East Seoul bus station at Gangbyeon

Packed with two cameras, one digital rangefinder and one film panorama camera, something sorely lacking in the digital world, I'm off on a bus from East Seoul bus terminal. There's a bus every hour. Perhaps more frequency at Nambu bus terminal but I prefer East Seoul. Ticket cost 9,000₩ in 2017 and it takes two hours one way. Left East Seoul at 10:10am and arrived in Gongju at 12:10pm and the bus will not make a rest stop. Don't think it needs to. I don't know if Gongju ever gets packed with tourists, at least on this day I could just walk up to the bus station, pick any seat I want in the bus and buy the return ticket when I feel like going back. Like a private chauffeur, although next time an electric scooter to get around town may make a bit of sense. 

Gongju bus station is right in the middle of town. Now there are two bus stations, I got dropped off at Singwan (신관), but there's another station closer to the museums and the city walls (where I wanted to go) at Sanseong (산성). Now I know. 

First stop after the bus terminal, a walk along the river on the way to cross Geumgang river. Gongju is one of typical towns built along the banks of an important river back when cars don't exist. North part of the city is the newer bits (very typical Korean small town), and southern banks (the rive gauche of Gongju!) is where the historical parts are. I can't comment on the lack of activities, it is after all Tuesday afternoon and in the middle of summer. It could be normal that you could take a nap in the middle of the main road and not get run over. 

Crossing the river at Geumgang Bridge (금강교) is probably a good idea. Half of the bridge is one of those old style iron trussed bridge with one lane for cars to cross in one direction and two smaller lanes for pedestrians and bicycles, and the occasional delivery motorcycles. Bring a wide angle 35mm or wider.  

Crossing Geumgang Bridge. There's a two direction pedestrian/2wheeler lanes, and one lane for cars. The fort walls are visible on the left perched on the hill.

Right when you get to the southern side of the river, the fortress wall is unmistakable. It's a hot day, and I've had my share of fortress walls this week so I will give this one a miss. But it's there. And I think it can be covered in an hour. 

For lunch, I walked into a shop and they asked if I wanted Gongju gukbab. Why not. I was thinking of cold noodles, but fine. Preserved vegetables, slices of beef and leek in a broth that you usually get as side soup in a beef place. Slightly spicy but not too much, more salty than spicy. Good kimchi too, but I can't say it's artisanal. I'd say average. 7 years in Korea has made me into a kimchi expert. I promise no food pictures here. 

I did a small detour along the village roads and came across this new-old-stock (NOS) patio in the middle of nowhere. 

I did a small detour along the village roads and came across this new-old-stock (NOS) patio in the middle of nowhere. 

It is common to see loudspeakers all over the Korean countryside. Sirens do go off sometimes, but I probably see more emergency broadcast SMS nowadays than loudspeakers. 

It is common to see loudspeakers all over the Korean countryside. Sirens do go off sometimes, but I probably see more emergency broadcast SMS nowadays than loudspeakers. 

The walk from town to King Munryeong's tomb is a bit of a hike. Ok for those that regularly do 5-10km runs in the morning. Other mortals I recommend the bus. 101 seems to go there and they all seem to take Cashbee, a system of NFC payment that is used outside Seoul, but T-money that you have from Seoul should work on it too. Tap on, tap off - no need for conversation. 

Anyway I'm on foot. So I can't comment on the bus. Took time to go into any small roads to look at the village accommodations. There are b&b minbaks almost everywhere. No fear of not finding place to sleep. 

First museum I encounter is King Muryeong's tomb fronted by a museum with a small exhibit and most importantly air conditioning. And elevator brings visitors up to the large hilly park where the tombs are. It appears to be free. 

There are two ways to the Gongju National Museum, about 500m away. I know because I went using the main road and back through the mountains that involves steep roads and emerging at the higher end of King Muryeong's tomb where you can go back down to the tomb entrance and more air conditioning. 

Inside the Hanok village. Not really visible here, but entrance to each door is by NFC keycard. Nice. 

Inside the Hanok village. Not really visible here, but entrance to each door is by NFC keycard. Nice. 

Just outside the National Museum is a Hanok Village. There's a reception so I'm guessing you rent small apartments and stay there with traditional under floor ondol heating (one could see piles of firewood outside behind the apartments and a small hole to chuck the wood into). The Hanok village is for future research. 

I must be the only tourist on this hot day. Temperature is 34°C outdoors and walking will just make you sweat yourself silly. Bring plenty of water. I recommend cargo pants like 5.11 Tactical's shorts that pack easily 4 bottles of 750ml water with space left for phone and other stuff. 

The museum (air conditioned no less, and free entry) is partly closed when I was there. Only the bottom floor where the King's history and artifact, including reconstructed coffin and stuff from the tombs are exhibited. Let's say it's a combination of Chinese and Japanese style items. What? You want to give it a miss? Come on, at least pretend to feel more in touch with history when you see it.  

I didn't spend much time at the tombs. Asian royal tombs are generally just a mound. Bigger the fella, the bigger the mound. Largest one I've seen belongs to Chinese emperors. Anyway the walk is in the open, obviously, and can't blame me for preferring air conditioning. I've gone through 4 bottles of water by now. Even my Leica feels hot as hell. Case for plastic cameras in the future. 

No clue what this is. it is in between the tombs and the museum. Thought it was funny to a see a wrapped up building. 

What I like about Korea? The UNESCO sites are dirt cheap or free to enter. In China it would be the most expensive spots to visit. 

Going back to the idea of having an electric scooter next time I travel, it took more than one hour to walk to the museum. Don't really regret it too much, but that means half a day is gone by the time I took my time with the exhibits. There is no time left for the fort and it is time to go back to Seoul. But I've seen enough walls. And so that's it... Day trip it is.

Bus #101 from the museum to the bus terminal. 

Bus #101 from the museum to the bus terminal. 

Suwon City Walls (수원화성) Revisit

The first time I visited the walls was right at the start of my posting to this country back in 2010. That's 7 years ago! I remember it was a foggy cloudy day then. Suwon is close enough to Seoul it could be done within a day including walking the entire wall. In my first trip I came by metro and then local bus. This time, I'm taking bus #1007 from Jamsil Lotte World underground bus terminal right to the northern tip of the wall (장안문) where there is a ticket office. Tickets cost 1,000 won (2017) and you get a map and a round sticker that needs to be shown so that you don't get charged more at other ticket offices around the wall. 

GPS plots from my trusty Garmin Colorado 300 GPS. Still a thing in 2017! This is the entire perimeter of the wall. Half of the wall is over hills & forest and the other half is cutting through the city - which means there's enough convenience stores to refuel.

GPS plots from my trusty Garmin Colorado 300 GPS. Still a thing in 2017! This is the entire perimeter of the wall. Half of the wall is over hills & forest and the other half is cutting through the city - which means there's enough convenience stores to refuel.

Let me try to describe the wall. The steepest part is in the east on Paldangsan, and the rest of the walls are pretty flat. There are watch towers along the perimeter and the patio type are open and makes for good resting places (for your sandwich, for naps, etc). 

Instead of making this post too wordy, I'll make it more gallery centric. Enjoy.

Absolutely the wrong time to go to Jeonju

4 May 2014

This weekend, there's the quadruple coincidence of Labour day, the weekend, Children's day and Buddha's birthday this weekend giving most people two weeks of vacation. And in conjunction with an annual Jeonju Film Festival, the whole country seems to converge on a small little town. 

There's no secret that I love Jeonju. The town is small enough, people seem nice but all cars on the street are driven by descendants of Schumacher and the food is just lovely. Not overbearing, and just enough ingredients and the food seems to be made still the artisanal way by uncompromising and luddite old ladies. Sure, charge me a little more for the hand made goodness and 12,000Won bibimbaps, and since I travelled all the way to try something nice, don't skimp on it. 

Taking the bus on this busy weekend. Most parts of major highways in Korea has a dedicated lane for buses and large passenger vans. This will shave some tens of minutes off the trip compared to driving your own little stinky and crammed car smelling synthetic ester-fueled air "fragrance" for 3 hours. Since this is no where like Malaysia, no mid-sized 4 wheel car tries to reason silently that it is a full-fledged express bus. 

There are two types of buses that ply the route. There seems to be a bus leaving every 5 minutes at the peak times of early afternoon from Seoul Express Bus Terminal. Most of them are 3-a-row "business-class" buses, and then there's the odd 4-a-row bus that's cheaper (12,800W this time, compared to 20,500W - I swear the price has gone up year-on-year). For me I can't tell the difference between the two, except for the fact that you're squashed closer to the stranger to the right. If you're taking the bus on a date, perhaps it is a plus. 

The first problem came around on arrival. It was 6pm. My favourite bibimbap restaurant Seungmidang (성미당: 전라북도 전주시 완산구 전라감영5길 19-9) had a long queue outside and they had to cut it short because they ran out of stock. Damn tourists. 

Luckily there was the last batch of bibimbap at 가족회관 (전주시 완산구 중앙동3가 80 2층) just behind Seungmidang. 

But it all was downhill from then on. All hotels and B&B were full for the night, even the small ones. No accommodation, the only other option was spa but even then there was no guarantee it will not be filled. And it was raining, and making walking around a bad experience. 

So. No food. Long queues. Rain. No accommodation. Plenty of people. There was only one thing to do. Since everyone is leaving Seoul, perhaps Seoul is the best place to be for this long holiday. 

And so it was, I took the 10:45pm bus back to Seoul. Arrival was at 2am, but it was great to be sleeping in my own bed again. Home sweet home, as they say. 

Tractors in Muui-do, South Korea

First specimen was located close to the CU convenience store in the main town area. This one is a Daedong tractor. It has a logo that looks like it came from Star Trek. You know the arrow head that points up. It's a faded red. A workhorse. This one has what looks like the key to the tractor tied to the left handle. Tempted but I didn't take it for a joy ride. 

Specimen 1: Daedong

Handlebars and control console

Second specimen was located parked next to a hut next to the dry pond where some boats are stranded. There is no model but it does look similar to the first to I supposed it's also a Daedong. In fact I did see the brand on the front lights but this one surely didn't have the Star Trek logo embellished everywhere like no. 1. I'm guessing this is before Daedong was confident about their brand. 

Specimen 2

Third specimen was found on the way up the hill to the only hotel on the island. This one is a twin. Same model as the second. Daedongs all the way. I just noticed they all have this hook just behind the fuel cap. Guess they overhaul them often. Or airlifted. Who knows. 

Specimen 3: Twin Daedongs

Fourth specimen was found at the main road close to 무의도 주민자치센터. This one is a Star Trek Daedong but the driver doesn't seem to be too careful as seen on the locked up snout. But hey, they all have he same colour so far. Utilitarian machines don't come with choices perhaps. 

Specimen 4: Beat up snout

Next one is not a tractor per se, but I included it because Daedong seems to make asphalt scrapper too. 

The asphalt scrapper

Fifth specimen looks like the second and third but with a more recent lamp that's more transparent and looks newer. Perhaps it's an aftermarket replacement. I just like the small bumper in front. Or perhaps a protector for that starter motor. 

Specimen 5: Upgraded front lamp Daedong

Sixth one is under wraps. But can't hide a Daedong from me. I didn't lift the cover to check the colour. Any guess?

Cached Daedong

Seventh - nah. Ain't no tractor below. Local people in Muui-do have been seen zipping around in these four wheel motor cycle with sand tires. 


Here's another four wheeler. No model or brand. I see a Moto and Big Bear.  And another one in the background if you can spot it. 


Wondaeri Forest, Inje, Gangwon-do, South Korea

This is another one of those destinations that has been on my to-do list in Korea for at least a year. I first heard about it while reading another one Korean Airlines magazine article and I had it snapped and saved on to Evernote. It just says 자작나무 숲을 and thats about it. I know that it is somewhere in Gangwon-do and close to Inje town but there was no map and nothing in the English internet that could point me in the way. 

An adventure into the Korean internet showed a few blog posts with GPS points that are all over the place. Back in 2012, I hatched a plan to take a bus to Inje, and then running about 20km to survey the place to look for this white birch forest. Luckily I didn't do it eventually as it was around winter at that time and it did take some hike - uphill - around 5km one way to get to a location where the trees are a little more dense than usual. 

To get there, first you have to drive all the way to Inje. There are no public buses to the entrance of the park, so don't bother going public. I guess you could hitch hike, but I doubt many cars intentionally take that route unless they were either living there or going to the park. Rent a car. Its worth it. By the way, Avis in Korea is a company called AJ Rental, and they do have a branch close to the Inje Bus Station as I found out while having my lunch in that town. So in theory you could take a bus to the town and rent a car after that. 

Anyway, at Inje, drive down southwest along the only highway through town. I believe it is highway 44. Take the turning towards the east at 38° 1.212', 128° 7.855'. The road leads to a small road that eventually hugs the valley that gets narrower and narrower till it is almost a bottleneck. Keep on going.

Entrance to the park is at 38° 0.554', 128° 11.698'. I had to park by the roadside when I was there. There's a booth, but no fee to pay, you just have to sign in the visitor log. I was there in Winter, around christmas, and I don't know if in other season the road is opened to cars to drive up. 

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Seoul - Dongdaemun on Sunday

Out of the markets in Seoul, the one I like the most is Dongdaemun. You can find anything you want there. I'm not talking about consumer stuff, of course you can find anything you want there if the market is big enough, but parts of this market has industrial stuff as well, and that makes for great photo opportunities. With black & white film, some parts of this market can have that classic vintage look to the photos.  

The area in question is between Euljiro-4 and Euljiro-3 Metro station and south of the small stream on the map

So what happens on Sundays. First of all, in that area that is marked in English as "Sallim-dong" on the map above, most of the shops are closed. There are some workshops that are still open on Sunday - but it looks like the only reason is to catch up on the backlogged work. You can safely say that it is generally closed on Sunday. So there are all these alleyways that are devoid of human beings, but you can still get a sense of the spirit of the market. So over a few Sundays I made my way there, walked around, got lost a few times, and once I do, I just walk straight and eventually I'll hit a metro station and I'll find my bearings again. 

Here is are some of the photos taken during the survey. They're all taken with Leica Ms and I believe a majority of them were with 24mm, which I prefer in tight places and it retains a rectilinear look unlike something wider. Enjoy and leave comments if you wish.  

These shops are close to Euljiro-4 station. Start of my walk. Nothing interesting yet. 

Walking into the small alleys, here's the first workshop, sewing machines. It took me some time to meter this show, trying to balance the strong backlighting with the shadows inside the shop. And this is the reason I prefer film, you can control the contrast by development and prevent blown highlights.  

One of the thing I like about this market (and markets in Korea in general) are all these transport Daelim bikes. 

 ... And sometimes there are the more discrete fuel-saving ones too...

Or these ones that look like those human transporter in smaller towns in China.

Here's a hybrid Daelim.

Or a human powered pull-carts. I guess they just leave them on Sundays since no one will steal them.

Motor envy

Stairway to nowhere

Lets have a look at the alleys. There are the occasional pedestrian or dogs and cats, but otherwise it is quiet as hell

I believe that this restaurant was opened when I passed by. Usually places like these have the best food, but I was not hungry at the time. 

I think I know what they make here...

Here's one area with a jumble of signboards

I took this obligatory bokeh shot. The 24mm Elmarit ASPH does a nice job at it. In the background, some sign of humanity. 

I like machine shops. They bring the feeling of being in the industrial age. That could be the reason I almost always look for them to photograph

Discarded machine parts litter this alley way close to the stream up north of the original map on this post. They could be spare parts. 

More parts...

More parts...

Here's a guy that's working overtime in his workshop.

The deeper you go into the alleys, the more one-man workshop you will find. I don't know what this one does, it looks like a jewellery workbench. 

I think I'll end right here. There are no real order to the photos, I just put them all here. I will probably have enough photos to do an essay one day, but the trickiest part is to think of a topic to write about. Dongdaemun...  

From Seoul Land to Jamsil, the hard way

The route is simple. The easy way is to take the subway, and according to an online calculator, it takes 30mins and 1250Won and you feel lethargic and unhealthy after the trip. Let me show you another way, about 6 hours, free apart from some bananas, powerbars and 2 litres of water and plenty of patience. In return you will get some nice sceneries and fresh air. With all the nice mountains around Seoul, there's no excuse not to do it the old fashion way. ​

​Other more reputable sites will tell you what is in Seoul Land. I've only been to the zoo and only because it was free that day. Will it be a surprise if I said there are animals there? In confined spaces. With plenty of noisy kids. Discovering that there are no birds to fling on catapults. So collect yourself at the carpark, run up Cheonggyesan 청계산 due east, come down where Dallaenae-ro 달래내로 meets the expressway, and then crossing some shops and farms, proceed up the second mountain Inneungsan 인릉산 and end up somewhere in Seongnam, close to the airbase and then run along the river up north to Jamsil. 

For this trip, I took a backpack with some emergency kit and wore a Suunto Ambit. The screenshot above is what was recorded for the trip. The plots are quite rough but it should be able to hack together a plan for the trip. I find that the best map to use if you had a phone with you would be Daum or Naver since they have the map of the trails. Be aware that the maps are not entirely accurate, sometimes there are sub-path along the way that was created recently. Sometimes they are parallel paths and sometimes it looks like a whole mob went for a shit together and created a new path. 

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Bohyeonsan Observatory, Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do

​The idea for this place came about one day while I was browsing the contents of Korean Airline's inflight magazine and I read about a small village north of Yeongcheon very close to the large city of Daegu. This town decided they needed an identity and a signature dish. And it so happens that there is an observatory right on top of Bohyeonsan 부현산 and apparently they nicked-name the village "Star City" for us English-inclined speakers, and since there seems to be quite a number of Korean parsley growers, they started making a fuss out of grilled pork belly 삼겹살 and parsley 미나리. 

And as it always goes with me, time to check it out. Interesting combination. Stars and parsley. I recall the time I was in turkey close to the Syrian border where every meal seems to have a large side serving of parsley and how I loved it. 

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An Afternoon in Yeouido 여의도, Seoul

This small urban island is the home of many company headquarters, the seat of the Korean parliament and just about very major TV stations in Korea. Not to forget the occasional mega churches. Situated in a piece of land on the Han river, it is an island because a small stream cuts it off the mainland. So the southern part is just a stones throw to the mainland while the northern section requires a larger medieval catapult to get to land. 

The western part of Yeouido has tight security, and there is where the National Assembly building is, where the politicians hang out. I don't even bother to take out my camera as I'm sure security guards don't like any pictures taken. There's not really much to take here, mainly drab government building, that box with a dome on it and perhaps KBS station. 

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Foods of Wan-do and Cheongsan-do, South Korea

Steamed Seafood & Abalone - Jeonbok Jjim (전북찜)


I just looked it up, jjim is translated as "steamed" but it is basically a stew with less soup than the usual, so it is really steamed with usually plenty of sauce of the spicy variety. Just about every shop sells this. Randomly picked this one on the way from Wando bus terminal to the ferry terminal. One of the cheapest I've seen, 38,000₩ for a medium plate that's enough for 3 person with rice. It has abalone, squid, octopus, crabs, mussels, scallops and other seafood I cannot name served on a bed of bean sprouts and what looked like Korean water parsley (미나리) with hot chilli paste sauce. The sauce is more sweet than spicy, but tastes quite well with rice. Rice would e require at the end of the dish to wipe up all the sauce. The banchan here comes with kimchi that tastes more sour and you can kind of taste the fermentation. They like to serve the banchan here on a canteen type plates with shallow separates that serves four types at a time. Never seen this in Seoul other than canteens. Anyhow, tastes great and very filling especially when you finish off the sprouts. 

Abalone porridge - Jeonbok Juk (전복죽)


It's porridge, with sliced abalone, and greenish stuff that I later learned was the interior parts of the abalone that lies between the abalone and the shell. The stuff is then mixed into the porridge giving a sweet tasting gruel. Nicer in winter than summer but I'd happily eat this anytime. Price usually ranges around the 10,000₩ tag. Tastes even better if the shop puts more slices of abalone. Usually looks like less than a whole abalone in most shops I've tried it. 

Shellfish bibimbap 


Served with different types of shell fish sashimi on a bed of lettuce. You'd dump in the rice yourself and put as much gochujang sauce and sesame oil as you would personally like and stir it into a nice uniform consistency. The shell fish gives the texture into every bite but I'm not sure that it lends too much to the overall taste. Other than being healthy, I can't say that it's a dish I like to order if I was a taste freak. 10,000₩ poorer for the privilege. 

Instant Noodle with Abalone - Jeonbok Ramyun (전복라뮨)


Now this is a strange one. Instant ramen is popular cheap breakfast dish. Salty, MSG and a sinful serving or never expired noodles, but with two fresh abalones inside. Had this one when I got off the ferry on Cheongsando island. That's 8,000₩ bowl of the best combination made with Nongshin ramen. They did add some bits of additional spring onions to make it look healthier. 

Abalone and Seaweed Soup - Jeonbok Tteokbaegi 


Two things Wando region is famous for. Abalone and seaweed in casserole dish. Tastes slightly salty, but not ramen salty. Probably a lot less salty than a jiggae too. Just nice as far as my taste goes. Served with rice and the usual banchan on canteen plates. Really good for hangover I think. Not that I plan to get drunk here though. Of course no need to do so to try this dish. At the shop I tried this, I counted 2 medium sized abalone. 10,000₩ dish. It looks great as a hangover dish!

Abalone Pancake - Jeonbok Paljeon (전복팔전)


I love paljeons. Even better when I spotted the abalone cousin on the menu. That's one expensive pancake at 15,000₩. It's made of batter with strips of whole spring onions including the oniony bits and the leafy parts and with uniformly spaced small abalones. I did not count the number of abalones but suffice to say, there's enough to cover the whole 20cm radius pancake. Taste? With the soya sauce with chilli flakes as a side dip, really good. In fact so good I think this is my favorite Jeon so far because of the chewy texture. Look for it in restaurants. I got mine in Cheongsando close to the ferry terminal.