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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

WKB Tour 2012!

WKB Tour 2012 (L to R): Asif, Dorothea, Gisela, Ema, Anabel, and Maria,
and our guide Grace and me in the front

Last January I was selected as one of fifty worldwide bloggers to contribute to the second round of the Korea Blog. After nine months promoting Korean culture and tourism through my blog, I was chosen for a special reward trip! I joined six other Korea enthusiasts on a wonderful trip through Seoul, Jeonju, Seonyoudo, and Gunsan.
Overseas bloggers Annabel Harrison and Ema Ho of England, Gisela Verdin of Mexico, Maria Margareta of Indonesia, and Dorothea Suh of Germany flew in for the special tour while fellow Canadian Asif Quadri and I joined the tour from our homes here in Korea. We enjoyed a weekend touring Korea together and it was an experience I won't soon forget. I'd like to thank KOCIS (Korean Culture and Information Service), and the Korea Blog for inviting us on this amazing trip!


Dinner at Bulgogi Brothers in Seoul Finance Centre

The overseas bloggers arrived in Seoul on Thursday (read Gisela's account of the day's events here), and I joined them that evening for dinner. We ate at Bulgogi Brothers restaurant in Seoul Finance Center, a shining building poised near the grand gate of Seoul's historic Gyeongbukgung Palace. I was delighted to meet my new international friends and our Korean guide Grace, but I must confess I was equally excited for dinner, and I was not disappointed. Joined by our KOCIS representative Cathy, our group spent the next two hours noshing on a heavenly array of platters, from Korea's finest bulgogi with rice, to marinated beef galbi and ribs. The service was excellent and our private room was perfectly conducive to chatter about all things Korean. It was so fun to share such a nice meal with so many interesting people from around the world!


Delicious side dishes or banchan at Bulgogi Brothers Restaurant

After dinner, we headed to our accommodation. The IP Boutique Hotel is a quirky and elegant hotel located only minutes from the busy centre of Itaewon, one of the multi-cultural hubs of Seoul. The hotel's brightly-coloured exterior shone even in the dark, and the lobby was home to a pair of elevators made to resemble designer suitcases. The funky design continued into the rooms, with large wall appliques accenting an all-white decor. The beds were soft as clouds, and the morning brunch buffet was a delectable mix of Korean and Western tastes. It was the perfect launching point for our tour.

My room at IP Boutique Hotel
The yummy breakfast buffet was a perfect mix of Western and Korean -
I took kimchi AND French toast  ^^



On Friday, our group was joined by Han, our KOCIS photographer and two cameramen. We made our way to Jeonju to lunch on the region's famous bibimbap, or mixed vegetables with riceWe were joined there by a local bibimbap expert - the art of Korean food is serious stuff! He told us that Jeonju is famous for its traditional foods due to their perfect blend of colours, taste, aroma, and texture. 


Jeonju's famous bibimbap, served with raw egg on top

We pried ourselves from the chairs to waddle off for a guided tour of Jeonju's famous hanok village. Our guide explained that a hanok is a Korean traditional home, known for its beautiful sloping tiled roof and airy architecture. The Jeonju hanok village is comprised of over 700 hanok homes that sit on picturesque cobblestone streets.


Overlooking Jeonju's hanok village, made up of of over 700 traditional-style homes
Historical meets modern in the city of Jeonju, where skyscrapers meet hanok homes
Our guide leads us through the hanok village

Our guide led us to National Jeonju Museum and palace and the elegant Jeondong Cathedral.  We also snacked on some patbingsu or red-bean shaved ice from a trendy local spot before saying goodbye to our guide. 


A family posing for photos at Jeonju Palace

Jeondong Cathedral, one only three cathedrals in Korea
Enjoying your patbingsu, ladies?  :)




We then had the chance to try some experience programs. We hand-dyed some handkerchiefs and then we learned about the traditional tea-pouring ceremony, one of my personal highlights from the trip. 

We hand-dyed handkerchiefs in the traditional way, using natural materials 
The experience centre and gift shop where we learned our new skills



All that creativity worked up an appetite, so we enjoyed a bimibap and galbi dinner, and we toasted to our health with makkeolli or rice wine, and moju, a local drink known for its smooth, sweet taste. 
Heading to dinner in the hanok village

Winner, winner, galbi dinner!

We finished off our day by watching some pansori. Pansori is an evocative musical performance that has been named both a Korean National Treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage art. We listened as the pansori singer lilted, bellowed, and whispered her way through a melodic story to the beat of a single drum. After that, Asif finally arrived, and our group was complete. A few of us went for a Jeonju-style nightcap, enjoying more makkeolli and the region's famous hanjeongsik, a spread of of up to 30 side dishes that cover the table! 


The audience gets a free pansori lesson.
Pansori is an epic story told through song.
The pansori singer is a powerful force and her song evokes varying emotions
Me with the pansori singer and drummer

We spent the night in our very own hanok home, Hakindang. We slept on the cozy heated ondol floor, surrounded by darkness and silence in the center of the city. In the morning, Hakindang's owners gave us a tour and showed us into their own home,  which was built with the same wood and by the same designers who built Gyeongbukgung in Seoul! The wood came from Baekdusan, the most famous mountain on the Korean peninsula. Their home was a treasure trove and their attic neatly filled with various curiosities and Koreana. The antiquities were a delight to behold before bidding our hosts farewell.


Our homestay, Hakindang
Home sweet hanok
Our home-stay offered serenity in the city
Tea with our home-stay host



We set off next for the Jeonju Film Studio. Led by the studio manager, we learned how movie sets are built and how special scenes such as raining scenes are shot. We got to see sets being built and even play with some of the props and costumes from famous Korean movies! We posed with catapults, thumbed through original scripts, and tried on some costume pieces. 


Out and about at the Jeonju Film Studio complex
Set mock-ups on display
Catapults in the courtyard!

Dorothea tries on some costume pieces

The studio manager presents us with a book
about film-making in Jeonju - thank you!

The tour gave us something to ponder after our coffee break and on our long drive to our next destination, Gunsan city and Seonyou island. We readied ourselves for the ferry ride to Seonyoudo with a magnificent seafood lunch. Long tables were filled with side dishes and various delicacies from the sea. We ate thinly sliced raw fish, mussels, clams, and scallops and even tried some sannakji, or live octopus. The octopus is chopped up and served in sesame oil, its tentacles still wriggling as they slide down your throat and it is certainly one of Korea's more adventurous delicacies.


Seafood specialties in Gunsan
We boarded the ferry for Seonyoudo. A tiny island set among a group of 65 islets, Seonyoudo is known for its tranquility and relaxed island lifestyle. It is a popular destination for cyclists and for those simply looking to "get away from it all." The ferry ride was an hour long and once we arrived at the island we just had to take a short drive - on the back of a truck!



Loaded onto the the truck bed, tiny chairs and all!
I sat inside, all the better to tease my new friends!
A bumpy, giggle-filled five minutes passed before we arrived at our pension, a series of small single-room houses set atop a hill overlooking a rock beach. We tumbled out, unpacked, and set off again for a tour of the island before dinner. 


Can you see the sleeping lady?  :)



We took a winding walk, crossing a bridge to the tiny Janga Island. We stopped to admire the sunset, scenery, and antics of the local fishermen, who were either busy casting reels, playing jokguor simply taking a rest on the rocks. We drove back to eat a delicious barbecued dinner and we sampled some small seasoned crabs eaten while still in their shell. We tossed the whole meal back with some jokes, stories from our home countries, and of course a beer or two. Our little island family crawled down to the rocky beach where we took turns shooting off hand-held fireworks and being silly with sparklers. Still the night ended too quickly and soon we tottered off to bed.

Gisela and Yeon relax on our way to Janga Island

Resting on the rocks
Fishermen playing jokgu, or Korean foot volleyball

Fish drying on the line at sunset
The next morning was a blur, as we rushed out to the waiting golf-style cart that was to show us around the island, while a few of the braver bloggers took bicycles instead (Not me, in case you were wondering!). The pension owner was an able tour guide, navigating the bumpy and narrow roads with ease. We passed couples strolling along Seonyou-do's aptly-named "16-Kilometre Beach" and stopped for some photos with mural art. We drove to the "Praying Lighthouse," a quaint red, hand-shaped building peeking out on the sea, taking our last looks before we headed back to the pension for a Korean-style breakfast of soup, rice, and kimchi. Then we bid the pension-owners good-bye and took one last bumpy truck-bed ride back to the ferry.





Pension owner, truck driver, tour guide, and all-around nice guy
Back to Gunsan we go!

 Just two hours later we arrived in Gunsan, and found ourselves touring Dongguk-sa (Donguk Temple), the only remaining Japanese temple from the Japanese occupation of Korea. It is well-worth the visit for those interested in Korean history during the Japanese occupation, or temple architecture in Korea. 

Dongguk-sa Main Hall 
In and around the temple, including the main hall

We were eager to learn more about Gunsan's fascinating history, but not before lunch of course. We dined on another seafood meal, trying Gunsan's specialty of marinated king crab. I have an adventurous appetite, but I'm afraid the treat wasn't one of my favourites. I did enjoy the other dishes, namely crab roe and rice, spicy seafood soup, and a variety of sides, and once again was stuffed full without even really trying.



With another massive meal under our belts, we staggered off to the Gunsan Modern History Museum, a bright building with a spacious courtyard overlooking the ocean. The museum is conveniently located near several other interesting sites, including the Old Gunsan Customs Office and the former branch of Japan's eighteenth bank. 


Old Gunsan Customs Office

The museum's varied collection is spread out over three floors. On the first level, a lighthouse replica overlooks the spacious lobby and displays about modern fisheries and ocean life. The second level housed a special exhibition about the heartbreaking Okgu farmers' rebellion, when Gunsan area farmers attempted to fight back against the Japanese forces that controlled them. Finally, the third floor replicated the streets of 1930's Gunsan for a special quarterly exhibition called,1930's Time Travel.


The exhibition halls on the first and second floors


The third floor hall held a mock bank, school, harbour, and theatre. We really enjoyed the interactive exhibit, trying on the costumes of the day and using the various tools on display, including ink stamps and rice scales. I tried on a black and white hanbok and some rubber shoes and posed on a rickshaw for photos. It was a true trip back in time. I was impressed with the museum's English-language signage and general navigability, and I definitely recommend a visit there.


The 1930's Time Travel interactive exhibition hall

Shoes, shoes, shoes!
Ema models a hanbok while Han, Annabel, and Gisela take pictures

We continued down the boardwalk from the museum to the Jinpo Marine Theme Park, an outdoor museum dedicated to documenting marine and military history. Here you can check out different models of tanks, planes, helicopters, and boats used during Korea's various military missions, and you can even peruse a museum built into one of the ships. The boat museum showcased miniature models and replicas as well as mock-ups of a ship's living quarters.


Dorothea and Annabel hang out while Han takes their photo
Annabel and Ema pose with Korean soldier statues at Jinpo Marine Theme Park
With the day winding down, we knew it would soon be time to part. We made one last stop to peek at a few more Japanese-style homes, sadly under renovation. The spectrum of Japanese influence in Gunsan was very interesting and appealed to the historian in me, so I think I may find myself in Gunsan again soon.



Japanese-style homes in Gunsan

Asif and I then headed to the bus terminal to return to Daegu and Busan. We posed for one last group photo and exchanged hugs and well wishes with the others, now on their way to Seoul. It was truly a phenomenal weekend with wonderful people. Thank you Korea Blog, and my fellow WKBs for our time together and for another wonderful weekend in the Land of Morning Calm!

The sun sets during my nack ride back to reality,
what a wonderful trip! Thanks KOCIS!

8 comments:

  1. It was great meeting you (and the rest of the WKB) Jessica :) ...
    Moju is now on my Top 5 Korean Drinks haha

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    Replies
    1. Haha, LOVE the moju! It was so great to meet you too! You and the other WKBs rule! Too fun.

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  2. you really have a nice tour in Korea. Korea is a very nice place to visit, it is worth the stress. thanks for this. I enjoyed reading and watching those pictures above. :)
    Korea Day Tour Package

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, Laureen! The tour was great, and yes, always worth the stress :)

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  3. Great blog Jess, very informative!!! Love the photos, well done!

    Erica

    ReplyDelete