Best time to visit:
from september to april
In a word:
Annyeong haseyo (hello)
Travel the no man's land called DMZ, the border between South Korea and the notorious North Korea; Get lost in the ageless and timeless violets of the small town of Hahoe; Pray at the majestic Yong Gung Sa Temple on the outskirts of Busan on the South China Sea
We have tried to make the most of this small great nation, always tense for a thorny question with its northern cousins but endowed with an unparalleled charm thanks to its thousand-year history, its ancient villages and temples that clash with the modernity and chaos of cosmopolitan cities such as Seoul or Busan. We traveled by local means from north to south, we were guests of the Koreans and shared their daily lives, cooked the bibimbap together in their micro kitchens and prayed together in their temples of another time.
It seems like a dream to stroll through the alleys of Seoul illuminated by a thousand sparkling and colorful signs, incomprehensible, for us, gigantic ideograms all around that enchant you and make you seem to live in a cartoon ...
After a hearty breakfast in the delicious "Fully Guesthouse" we go out to discover this city full of things to see, explore and eat!
We take a tour in the "Bukchon" district where we admire the ancient Korean architecture with fascination.
These old pagoda temples have just the power to give a unique sense of peace.
Inside "Changdeokgung Palace" we reach a garden, called "forbidden", because it was once accessible only to nobles. It is full of pagodas and each of which was used for different purposes. From here we can get an idea of what the ancient traditional life of this people could have been like!
We definitely change the area to visit the crowded "Insadong" neighborhood.
We looked like children at the amusement park, our eyes no longer knew which way to look; colors, lights, puppets, strange foods never seen, women with traditional local clothes, many couples of teenagers dressed in the same way (we will notice that this is a very common practice among young people).
We taste many strange things that we encounter along the way: ice cream in a long corn cone, octopuses served as arrosticini, red bean cream desserts ...
Finally we head to "Gwanghwamna Square", one of the main squares strictly observed by the majestic "Gyeongbukgong Palace”.
At dinner the wonderful Way takes us to the "Tosokchun restaurant" to taste a ginseng chicken soup with chestnuts, dates, various seeds and rice. It is always extremely interesting to discover a place also through its cuisine.
Today we head north, towards the so-called: DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), a very hot area on the border with North Korea. This nation so inaccessible to tourism!
We listen to many stories, we see images and videos that show the many problems that they face here only because a crazy brat threatens the world with its nuclear warheads.
The air is very tense, there is also an American military base right on the border to monitor this delicate situation, also because a header from this dictator could easily lead to a third world war.
Once again, man risks annihilation.
The town of Dorasan, on the border, seems to hope for reunification with the northern cousins; this is testified by the railway which is already ready to connect the hyper-technological Seoul to the northern capital Pyeong Yang. The signs claim that only 250 km separate them from there.
Back in Seoul, let's take a step back in time when we witness the changing of the guard in front of one of the many majestic ancient Korean buildings.
Those customs of another time, those oriental music and their proud looks gave us a clear idea of what the society of the past might have been ...
It is a sight that you should not miss if you visit the South Korean capital.
Seoul Tower. At the top the view is extraordinary. We note a large terrace with 5-6 trees completely covered with padlocks left by lovers as a seal of love.
Mark unexpectedly pulls out one and we have fun imitating Korean sweethearts, including self-portraits!
At a certain point two girls approach and ask us if they can take photos of us; then they insist when they ask us to put ourselves in Korean style poses or to walk hand in hand ... and I thought to myself: "but think if these two have to waste all this time with us ..!" but it was only a surprise of Mark, all precoordinated from Italy!
In the evening Way takes us to eat Korean Barbecue at the "Palsaik" a really nice place. We taste seven slices of meat marinated in seven different ways, then vegetables, soups and everything cooked directly by us, complete with an apron ... all delicious!
We end the evening in one of his favorite places: "Jazz Story".
Inside, all the furniture comes from "recycled" materials, the tables were bathtubs with a glass plate on top, the chairs: old cinema armchairs ...
But the highlight was the band! Phenomenal! I wish they never stopped playing!
Seoul has really kidnapped us and all this has happened above all thanks to Way, a special girl, now our friend! Thanks Way!
After leaving the sparkling Seoul, in three hours of comfortable bus, we reach the ancient Andong.
We are hosted by a couple of American couchsurfing peers: Garrett and Stephanie, two English teachers; it's nice to live a place also through the experiences of expats, you have the opportunity to see the place from a different point of view!
From Andong, with a little effort due to language barriers, we arrive in Hahoe, a village from the 1600s, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hahoe: village famous for its masks. A legend says that, following a plague that decimated almost the whole village, a God came down to Earth and, choosing one of the inhabitants, told him that he would save his village if he had built masks but on one condition: no one should have see him at work.
Despite himself, he accepts.
Time passes and his beloved begins to become suspicious and jealous until one day he goes to the outskirts of the village to spy on him ... a look and he dies instantly ...
In desperation the woman sticks a knife in her heart!
We witness traditional dances that praise this legend before getting lost in the alleys of those timeless villages full of stories.
We end the evening in our utmost simplicity by eating a bowl of noodles on the 7eleven steps in front of our house in Andong.
Gyeongju is an open-air museum.
We spend the whole day wandering aimlessly through the less-traveled streets until we end up at the Jungang Market eating on our knees around a small table, Korean way.
We taste Tangsuyuk (fried pork in various sauces) and Bokkeumbab (fried rice)
We are curious, we want to taste, see, know everything we have not tried ...
The Cheon Machong Royal Tombs are a very romantic place inside a park with very relaxing background music where we spend a few hours in peace ...
We cross a large park full of colorful flowers to reach the "Gyeongju National Museum”, the most interesting history museum in South Korea.
Huge rooms rich in archaeological material dating back to 600 AD Vases, necklaces, crowns, masks ... even a Buddhist bell "Emille Bell”, one of the largest ever built in Asia.
From there we take bus 11 and in 20 minutes we arrive at the "Bulguksa Temple".
At the entrance, four huge wooden statues representing Korean gods look at us severely. Two splendid pagodas "Dabotap" and "Seokgatap"; we really enjoyed this peaceful place in search of some enchanting views!
Today is Monday morning and the town of Gyeongju is struggling to recover after the weekend.
The wrinkled-faced ladies, with short black hair but always permed, are crouched outside the doors of their houses with oriental-style roofs that I love so much!
They dig with wrinkled hands in bowls full of small legumes or lay red chillies on old sacks ready to be dried ...
Two hours by train following the coast and we arrive in Busan, the second largest city in South Korea.
We buy a "Metro day pass" and we decide to go to the Beomeosa Temple, a sacred place for Buddhists who, from the top of a mountain, dominates the entire city.
But it seems that people come here not so much to pray as to meditate.
Silence, peace and calm are almost unreal!
It gives you a sense of inner well-being and relaxation that you can rarely reach ...
But it does not last long ... an hour later we are already in the frenetic and noisy fish market in the city.
Fishmongers praise their goods, many chefs cook what you order directly from the stall and we did not miss the opportunity to taste various fried fish!
At the feet of the largest Buddha in the country, with a Tibetan chant that instills a sense of serenity in the air; we are on a cliff inside one of the most evocative Buddhist temples I have ever visited ... below us the waves of the South China Sea crash on the sacred rocks creating a harmonious contrast with the silent peace of the whole background.
It is the Yong Gung Sa Temple, on the outskirts of Busan.
How many new lessons in just ten travel days. This nation so modern on the one hand but still rooted in its old traditions and its ancient history on the other.
I think South Korea can be enclosed in a single district of Busan: Jagalchi where an ancient and traditional glimpse with old fishermen and women curves of time and tired expression, is flanked by a completely different and new, avant-garde part : a thousand bars, cafes, pubs with sparkling writings where students with dark skirts and white shirts or students with black ties or lovers in the same clothes meet and spend the evenings of the new generation.
At home, Sora, the couchsurfer that hosts us here prepares us a delicious typical dinner.
We, sitting "rigorously" on the ground, enjoy this excellent dinner armed with chopsticks on the table Hello Kitty…
Tomorrow we leave this great Country to go to Japan!