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November 19, 2017

Top 10 Things to Do in Seoul

Of course, "best" is a highly subjective word, and while everyone has their own ideas of what a visitor should experience during his or her stay, I have my own personal favorites. So, without further ado, here are the top ten things you should do on your stay in Seoul:

10. Tap into your artsy side

Koreans have always had an appreciation for the arts. From the intricately crafted ceramic pottery of the country's dynastic days to modern reinterpretations of pansori, a genre of musical storytelling, Korean artists know no limits.

Explore ancient treasures at the National Museum of Korea- one of the largest in the world- or if your tastes are more contemporary, opt for a visit to the Seoul Museum of Art. For a complete list of exhibitions and concerts going on throughout the city, visit this website.

9. See a non-verbal performance

Treat yourself to a night of entertainment by booking tickets for one of the many high-energy non-verbal performances showing daily in theaters throughout the city. Miso, a personal favorite, showcases traditional dance, emotional music and some incredibly beautiful costumes, while Bibap is a food-centric story that utilizes martial arts and a whole lot of slapstick to keep the audience laughing from start to finish. Even those on a budget can watch these excellent performances by purchasing rush tickets at the Seoul TIC.

A non-verbal performance illustrates the beauty and mystery of Korean culture.

8. Sleep in a traditional house

For a truly Korean experience, spend a night or two in a hanok. These traditional homes, which are diminishing by the day, are a unique reminder of Korea's past and still preserve the country's history in their tiled roofs, papered windows, enchanting courtyards and heated floors.

Bukchon Hanok Village is an especially picturesque neighborhood mostly comprised of these homes. It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful areas in the city and is conveniently wedged between Gyeongbok and Changdeok palaces, among other cultural relics, making it a great spot to rest your head after a long day of Seoul searching. Check out Kozaza for a complete listing of hanok homestays and rentals.

7. Get monk-y

Although the majority of Korean nationals today do not profess a specific religious orientation, Buddhism was once the national religion and its influence on the country is immediately clear, even in modern day Korea.

There are a few temples in Seoul worth visiting, particularly during Buddha's Birthday in May, but one of the best places to get oriented to Buddhism is Bongeunsa, a 1,200 year old complex located in the heart of Gangnam's business district.

Visitors with a deep interest in the religion can opt to stay overnight and live like a monk for a day (think grueling prostrations, vegetarian meals and a 4am wakeup call) but for those looking for a less intense look into the life of Buddhist monks, Bongeunsa offers a TempleLife program on Thursdays. Here, participants learn the basics of Seon meditation and the Korean tea ceremony, and get a nice tour of the temple grounds and perhaps even some tasty temple treats.

Temple stay participants learn how to meditate.

6. Have a cuppa

Korea is a coffee-crazed nation, with a cafe on practically every block of every street. Still, there are a number of traditional tea houses primarily concentrated in Insadong. These cafes are easy to spot but the best are tucked away in the alleys of the neighborhood.

My go-to is Moon Bird Thinks Only of the Moon, a tea house far more simplistic than its complicated name suggests. Shrouded in rustic decor, Moon Bird is a cozy spot to enjoy a cup of homemade omija (five-flavored) or yuja (Asian citrus) tea. Although the prices for these traditional teas are a bit costly (usually around 7,000 won), the complimentary tea snacks and atmosphere make the price well worth it.

5. Spend an afternoon on the Han

Seoul is often portrayed as a city of concrete and neon, so many are surprised to learn that there are a number of green spaces strewn across the Korean capital. My favorite place to soak up some sun is the Han River and the parks that border it.

On any given day, locals can be found in these parks shooting hoops, riding bikes (which can be rented for pennies) and picnicking under sun shades. In the evenings, a musical fountain show is held at Banpo Bridge in which over 200 tons of water are sprayed out of the illuminated bridge in sync to musical tunes. In warmer months, free concerts are held and movies are shown on stages around the river.

Enjoy a bike ride and picnic on the picturesque Han River. (Photo: Talk To Me In Korean)

4. Explore Hongdae

Hongdae is a vibrant neighborhood known for being the creative hub of the country. Boasting a number of design shops, art galleries, indie music bars and fashion studios, the district is the perfect place to soak up the city's up-and-coming trends and youth culture.

Spend an afternoon in Hongdae checking out unique (and sometimes strangely) themed coffee shops, snap photos of the colorful street art and chow down on gimmicky street snacks like nitrogen ice cream. After the sun sets, Hongdae really comes alive as thousands flock to the area's bars, dance clubs and noraebangs (private karaoke rooms) for round after round of drunken debauchery.

An indie band jams out in Hongdae's Children's Park. (Photo: Jeffrey Tripp)

3. Go on a food tour

The world is slowly becoming more aware of the tantalizing flavors Korean food has to offer and people from all corners of the globe are flocking to the peninsula to taste the cuisine in its most authentic form. While many restaurants in tourist areas are foreigner-friendly, it can be difficult to find the gastronomic gems of Seoul, often located in obscure and hidden back alleys of lesser known neighborhoods.

That's why going on a food tour is the best option to sample the tastiest treats Korea has to offer, all the while allowing English-speaking local residents to do the dirty work for you. From seafood market visits to Korean barbecue tours to pub hopping, there's a tour for just about everyone.

2. Hike a mountain

When I do decide to leave Korea, one of the things I'll miss most is having immediate access to gorgeous hiking trails and outstanding city views. A number of mountains can be easily accessed via Seoul's subway system and trails are clearly marked and maintained. The fact is Koreans - mostly of the elderly variety - have made a lifestyle out of hiking, investing thousands of dollars in colorful outdoor get-ups and equipment.

Hiking is a social activity in itself and once on the trails, the cranky and pushy characteristics those of the older generations are known for seem to dissipate. Hikers are quite often eager share both their smiles and picnics of kimbap, fresh fruit and makgeolli - lots of makgeolli - with passersby. These interactions, in addition to the beautiful vistas offered by mountains like Bukhansan, Inwangsan and Dobongsan, make a hiking trip a must on any visit to Seoul.

Hikers take a picnic break. (Photo)

1. Get off the beaten path

Without a doubt, the best thing to do in Seoul is to get lost. The city is very much a treasure trove of sights and smells and sounds and tastes waiting to be taken in. While I have my own personal favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations I escape to every now and again, there are plenty others I have yet to discover.

Seoul is an incredibly safe city which makes wandering its streets not only fun but comfortable as well. So don't feel the need to stick only to the areas your guidebook suggests. Get out there and experience all the surprises the city has waiting for you!

What's your number one thing to do in Seoul? Leave any suggestions I may have left out in the comments below.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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November 13, 2017

10 Ways to Stay Warm During Winter in Korea

Let me just make one thing clear. I am not a fan of Korean winters. Sure, the snow can be beautiful and the holiday decorations do make me all fuzzy on the inside but on any given day from December to March, the last place you'll find me is outside. Coincidentally, many Koreans share my sentiments and as a result, the country boasts an abundance of places to enjoy the great indoors.

So, without further ado, here are the top ten ways to stay warm during winter in Korea...

10.  Find Hot Deals at Seoul's Mega Malls:  From Dongdaemun's 24 hour clothing markets to Cheongdamdong's luxury boutiques, there's no doubt that Korea's capital city is a haven for shoppers.

Over the past few years, the construction of mega malls like IFC Seoul, D-Cube City and the newly-opened Lotte World Mall has further substantiated this fact. These shopping complexes, which are usually attached to subway stations, boast the hottest names in fashion from all corners of the globe. But the best part about them is that shoppers can enjoy a number of entertainment, dining and nightlife facilities all day, every day without ever even stepping foot outside. Now that's cool.

9.  Enjoy a Hot Cup of Cha:  Although Koreans tend to drink more coffee these days, cha (or, tea) was once the preferred beverage of the country. They may not be as common, but tea houses still exist and one of the best neighborhoods to enjoy a cup is Insadong.

Hidden in the back alleys of this favorite tourist destination are cozy, obscure cafes (like Shin Old Tea House) that serve traditional Korean teas, many of which have medicinal properties. Yujacha (citron tea) is packed with vitamins and soothes sore throats, making it a personal favorite of mine during the winter.

8.  Get a Hot Bod:  Between hibernating and holiday snacking, it's easy to put on the pounds during winter. Beat the belly bulge and get enrolled in one of the many fitness classes offered throughout Seoul. Whether you're a yoga novice or a master of mixed martial arts, there's a program for just about everyone. Plus, when the sun decides to come out again in spring, you can hit the beaches of Busan feeling confident and, well, hot.

7.  Get Toasty (or Toasted):  Sometimes winter weather calls for certain beverages that may not necessarily be native to Korea. A hotty toddy, Irish coffee or mulled wine might be just enough to warm you up on even the coldest days. While many Seoul institutions each feature their own take on these cocktails, the fellas at Southside Parlor near Noksapyeong Station and Mix and Malt in Hyehwa both do excellent winter cocktail menus. Chai Bourbon Toddies? Yes, please.

6.  Crank up the Heat in the Kitchen:  Just because the temperatures plummet to well below zero does not mean that it's okay to eat Shin Ramen on a daily basis during the colder months in Korea. Pick up a few tricks you can you use in the kitchen by enrolling in a cooking class. Learn how to make tasty Korean dishes like bulgogi, kimchi and jjigae from professionals then practice in the comfort of your kitchen and invite some friends over to show off what you've learned. They'll be thankful for the meal and you'll appreciate the extra body heat.

5.  Dance the Night Away with Hot Guys and Gals:  For those that prefer partying until the sun comes up, there is no shortage of dance clubs and music bars in Seoul's nightlife districts. Hongdae and Gangnam are two of the more popular locales to jam out to hip-hop and electronic jams and meet other attractive youngsters looking to do the same.

This blogger did a fine job of putting together the pros and cons of the more well-known clubs. Do know, however, that most of these places ignore fire codes and allow the dance floors to get so packed that it becomes virtually impossible to move. This is beneficial if and only if you're actually going to a club to literally warm up.

4.  Warm Your Bum: Ondol (heated floors) are the saving grace of winter in Korea. I've actually come to favor this traditional (and typical) method in which Korean homes are heated over the central heating we use in the West. There is seriously nothing better than plopping oneself down on the hot spot of the ondol with a blanket and a good book while snowflakes fall silently outside. Head out to the hidden hanoks of Samcheongdong and Bukchon Hanok Village to experience similar winter bliss. If such a thing exists.

3.  Spice it Up:  Another way to kick up the heat is by torturing your taste buds and gorging on Korea's spiciest foods. Buldalk (literally, "fire chicken") consists of tender slices of barbecued chicken that is doused in a chili pepper sauce, and is a good dish to build up one's spice tolerance. Another option is jjamppong, a Korean-Chinese fusion soup of seafood, noodles and a red broth that tastes as fiery as it looks. Still my favorite sweat-inducing snack is tteokbokki, spicy rice cakes that are so popular there is an entire food neighborhood dedicated to them. Just bring along an antacid. Or two.

2.  Have a Warm Heart: Nothing warms the heart more than giving back to one's community and there is no better way to do this than by getting involved in one of the many volunteer groups throughout the country. Whether your interests lie in helping the homeless, supporting unwed mothers, teaching English to North Korean refugees or promoting animal rights, there's a group for just about every cause.

1.  Wash Away the Winter Blues:  The most obvious and perhaps most effective way to stay warm during merciless Korean winters is by spending an excessive amount of time in jjimjilbang, public bath houses no doubt established by ancient folks who disliked the cold as much as I do. Here, one has the option to soak in hot tubs, relax in steamy saunas and even get a body scrub to rid of all that excess dry skin.

Upscale jjimilbang also feature facilities such as movie theaters, internet lounges, aromatherapy rooms and restaurants. So what are you waiting for? Get over your fears of public nakedness and enjoy an afternoon of premium pampering. And for those preferring a more upscale pampering experience, there are plenty spas around the city that will have you wishing every day were winter.

No matter how you stay warm this winter, have fun doing it!

Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching.  Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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November 9, 2017

Final Fall Encounters at Seoraksan National Park

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Korea in fall is a sight to be seen.  There are plenty of places to experience all the wonderful things about the season, but there is one special destination that allows visitors to experience autumn in all its glory: Seoraksan National Park.

I had traveled to Seoraksan a few years ago with my cousin and a friend and while it was a great experience, we underestimated the crowds; thousands flocked to the park at the same time to catch the fall foliage during its peak in mid-October.  It was the only time in my life I've ever had to wait in line to hike. The scenery was breathtaking, but the throngs of tourists kept me from getting the most out of my travels.

So, when I saw that Adventure Korea, Korea's number one budget tour company for expats, had a trip lined up for early-November, I knew I had to sign up. Fortunately for me, this meant that I didn't have to worry about booking accommodations or worrying about transportation. They took care of everything from start to finish and when I boarded the bus in Seoul the morning of the trip, I was surprised at how well-organized and friendly the staff was.

By the time we reached the park, located just outside the seaside town of Sokcho, we were ready to hit the hiking paths, but not before gorging on a bibimbap buffet of all sorts of grains, mountain vegetables and fermented sauces.

After lunch, we were given the opportunity to choose which hiking route to take. I had already once attempted the Ulsanbawi course, an arduous 4km trek that requires a climb up 800 steep metal stairs. Not wanting to be shown up by a bunch of elderly women in much better shape than I (AGAIN), I joined the "lazy group" and followed our guide to Biryong Falls.

The hike was relatively easy though there were a few rough patches. (Note to self: invest in a good pair of hiking boots by spring.) The walk was very pleasant and I was glad to have chosen the easier route, as I was able to enjoy the remnants of the colorful leaves instead of having to keep a close eye on where I was walking.

After crossing a number of footbridges and making our way up a few boulders, we took a rest at our destination. The waterfall was pretty, but I imagine it's even more impressive in the summer after the rainy season.

After relaxing for a while, we headed to Sinheung-sa Temple. Built in the mid 7th century, Sinheung-sa is believed to be the oldest Zen temple in the world. Although its design is similar to those of the rest of Korea's temples, it was incredibly striking during our visit. The paint used to embellish the wooden structures of the complex seemed to perfectly harmonize with the fall foliage, and the surrounding mountains transformed the humble temple into something majestic.

Nearby, we stopped to marvel at the Tongil Daebul ("Great Unification") Buddha, a larger-than-life bronze statue constructed in the 1980s and 90s to symbolize the Korean people's hope for the reunification of North and South Korea. There were many people lighting candles and bowing in prayer under the almost-smiling Buddha, adding a sense of serenity and spirituality to the park.

We had booked tickets in advance (which is a must during the high seasons) for the cable car (9,000 won round trip) to the Geongumseong walking course. The path was well paved and although it involved many stairs, it was comfortable and provided some amazing views of Ulsanbawi and other nearby mountain ranges.

I got a bit nervous when we made it to the top (adult-onset acrophobia, perhaps?) and opted out of climbing the steep rock face at the summit. Because of the higher elevation, there weren't many leaves left, but I was happy simply chatting with our friendly guide, watching adorable families snap cute photos and breathing in the incredibly crisp mountain air.

Just as we made our way to the park's entrance gate, it began to rain. We drove on to Osaek Valley where our hotel was located. Everyone was exhausted so many of us headed to our rooms and cranked up the ondol (floor heating) to warm up and grabbed a bite to eat. There were also a few hot spring spas in the vicinity for those needing to soak their aching muscles before getting a good night's sleep.

The next morning, we ventured out together to explore the Heulimgol Valley, which has only recently been reopened to the public after 20 years due to damages caused by severe flooding. The trek was easy and included a number of highlights: Seongguksa Temple, a pagoda, Yongso Waterfall, and an opportunity to taste oseak, the region's famous mineral water. The sights were pretty but the previous night's rainfall had lowered the temperature significantly, a reminder that winter is well on its way.

We warmed up with a delicious lunch of doenjang jiggae (bean paste soup) and some seriously tasty banchan (side dishes) before heading back to Seoul. Judging by the silence on the bus on the way home, it became certain that everyone enjoyed themselves on this delightful excursion to one of Korea's most beloved national parks. It was also a great chance for me to enjoy one last taste of autumn in the great outdoors before winter creeps in.

See you again next year, fall.

More Information

This overnight trip is called “Autumn Seoraksan & Osaek Hot Spring.” Adventure Korea hosts weekend trips to this area throughout the year. It costs 109,000 won and includes transportation (a chartered limousine bus), overnight accommodation, three meals, entrance fees, and English speaking guides. For more trip options, visit Adventure Korea’s homepage.

*Although this post is partially sponsored by Adventure Korea, the opinions are, of course, my own.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching.  Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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November 7, 2017

An Impromptu Hike on Dobongsan

"Serendipity.  Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you've found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for." - Lawrence Block

Earlier this week, I felt the need to get out my apartment and take advantage of the beautiful weather.  A friend had told me about a place called Herb Island in Gyeonggi Province and without doing much research, I made it my destination for the day.

After a late start – the snooze button and I are far too well acquainted these days – I hopped the wrong train. Twice. After an hour of transportation mishaps on the ever-complicated Line 1, I had reached northern Seoul and realized that by the time I would get to Herb Island, I'd only have a couple hours to enjoy it before having to return to the city. So, I threw up my hands, stepped off the train, got my bearings and exited the station.  

Little did I know that I was in store for a day of serendipitous Seoul searching.

Standing outside Dobongsan Station, I looked around, not sure of where to go. Although I had heard of the mountain of the same name as the station, I had never been to the area.

Suddenly, a flock of friendly elderly hikers (easily recognizable by their fluorescent trekking attire) emerged from the station. On a hunch, I followed them past groups of feisty grandfathers playing janggi (Korean chess) and into the biggest concentration of hiking supply stores I've ever seen in my life. Vendors in portable kiosks sold roasted corn, kimbap, and makgeolli, all essentials for a good hike (or Korean picnic).

A hiker checks out the wares of a hiking supply vendor on the route to Dobongsan.

Just before I reached the entrance of Bukhansan National Park, I stumbled upon a cluster of sundubu (soft tofu) restaurants. I later found out that Sundubu Alley, as this area is often referred to, is a hotspot for foodies, as all of the restaurants in this location make their own tofu daily, ensuring that the dishes served are distinctively fresh.

I ordered a bowl of sundubu jiggae (soft tofu stew) at Dubu Cheonji (두부천지), an unassuming hiker's hangout with a nice patio and friendly servers. The dish arrived piping hot with generous portions of dubu and shellfish. The tofu was as soft as silk and very tasty, if not extremely spicy, proving the area's reputation for good food to be true.

Sundubu jiggae, or soft tofu stew, is the perfect pre-hike lunch.

With a full stomach, I entered the park and didn't bother looking at any maps. Instead, I walked along the paths of colorful lanterns that hung in celebration for Buddha's Birthday into a number of temples that dotted the paths of Dobongsan. The monks welcomed me with smiles and motioned for me to look around.

Just as I was taking a moment to snap some photos, an air raid siren sounded from the distance. Although I had heard plenty of these practice sirens before, I wondered if, considering the recent tensions with the North, this might be the real thing. I quickly shrugged it off, figuring that if it were, I was in a Buddhist temple. That had to count for something in the afterlife.

Considering my visit to Dobongsan was a spontaneous one, I was unprepared for any real hiking. I was without proper shoes, clothing or the obligatory sparkly sun visor. Opting not to head up to the peaks, I continued on through flatter terrain, admiring the occasional waterfall and thankful that there were still some cherry blossoms in bloom. 

Lanterns and flowers in full bloom added a great deal of color to the otherwise verdant scenery.

There was even a gentleman playing the saxophone on one of the walking paths, treating my fellow hikers and me to some joyful melodies while we filled up our water bottles with refreshing spring water. I regretted not bringing bug spray, as the gnats were out in full force, despite it being early May.

Along the paths of Dobongsan are taps where you can fill your water bottle with spring water.

I parked it on a boulder under a canopy of trees, enjoying the sounds of birds chirping and water flowing in a nearby stream. There were very few interruptions but my guess is that would not have been the case had I been there on a weekend. (Tip: If you visit any mountain in Korea, it's advisable to go on a weekday, as the crowds can get overwhelming.)

Although I plan on getting to Herb Island eventually, I was glad that fate had brought me to Dobong Mountain. It was a great excursion to clear my mind and a convenient way to enjoy nature without having to leave Seoul.

To Get There:  Take the Seoul subway to Dobongsan Station (Lines 1 & 7).  From Exit 1, cross the street, take a left, and walk for 200 meters.  Turn right, following the road signs to Bukhansan National Park.  Continue to walk straight for 800 meters (about ten minutes) past the hiking supply stores to reach Sundubu Alley.  The entrance to the park is just a few minutes' walk beyond that.

More Info: For more information, including hours of operation and hiking route suggestions, click here.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized. 

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November 5, 2017

Cheorwan: Tranquility on the DMZ

With all the recent media attention suggesting that the Koreas are on the brink of nuclear war, the world might be surprised to learn that the cities dotting the DMZ, or demilitarized zone between the two counties, are as peaceful and quiet as ever.

Sure, there are signs of a military presence and a slight eeriness surrounding the remnants of the darker days, but it is perhaps the marked contrast of these very attributes that makes the natural beauty of the region so outstanding.

Once a hide out for Korea's own Robin Hood, Goseokjung is a stunning area where visitors can enjoy pleasant picnics and water sports.

Cheorwan (철원), a lesser-known destination on the "security tourism" route, is one of these cities.

A few years ago, I traveled there to film an episode of "Top Ten Korea" with Arirang TV. Because the script was in Korean, I did not know what to expect. In fact, when I learned that I would be going to the DMZ, I assumed we would be visiting the joint security area where soldiers from both Koreas spend their days staring each other down intently, with little to no real action taking place. I soon realized upon our arrival to Cheorwan that there was much more to the DMZ than I had ever imagined.

We covered a lot of ground in the one day trip from Seoul.  Below are the highlights of our excursion.

Old Woljeong-ni Station

Once a stop on the Seoul-Gangwon line, the station, or what is left of it, is now an empty building located on the southern boundary of the DMZ. Although the building itself is nondescript, the draw of the station is the skeleton of a North Korean transport train that lays just outside its walls.

The remains of a former North Korean transport train lie just outside old Woljeong-ni Station.

The train - which was bombed by American forces - is enclosed by a fence adorned with messages of hope. As we took a walk around the site, we became teary-eyed by some of them obviously written by children. "Let's play together when we are united," one of them read. "I hope to meet you soon," noted another.

The station is about as geographically close as you can get to the demilitarized zone and is a landmark that makes Korea's tragic past very, very real. In order to access this area, visitors must have a permit or enter with someone who has a permit (i.e. shuttle bus driver, taxi driver, etc.)

Messages of hope for reunification can be found throughout Cheorwan city.

The Second Tunnel

Discovered by South Korean guards in 1975, the second tunnel was built by North Korean forces as a means of infiltrating the South.  It is big enough to accommodate up to 30,000 people and is wide enough for tanks to pass through it.

Descending into Cheorwan's tunnel.

Fortunately for me, who has some serious claustrophobia issues, we didn't go far into the tunnel. It was an interesting site, however, and offers an insightful glimpse into one of the world's most mysterious countries.

Cheorwon Peace Observatory

For a literal glimpse into North Korea, we took a monorail that offered some amazing views to the Cheorwon Peace Observatory. The observation platform offers panoramic vistas of the DMZ and with the help of on-site binoculars, North Korean checkpoints and guards can be spotted.

Because the DMZ is the only place in the world where no human is allowed to enter, wildlife flourishes within its boundaries and beautiful birds and plants can also be seen.

Though desolate, the vistas of the DMZ and North Korea are worth the trip to the Cheorwan Peace Observatory.

Migratory Birds

Speaking of birds, Cheorwan is located on the migration route of a number of species of birds that fly south during winter, including red-crowned cranes, golden eagles, mallards, and white-fronted geese.

Our camera guys failed in getting any money shots of the birds flying en masse (possibly because it was the beginning of the season) but we still enjoyed watching the cranes wander the fields and take off in flight as the sun set over Cheorwan. There are a number of suggested viewpoints to watch the birds from November to February.


Of all the places we visited, Goseokjung was definitely my favorite. In addition to its beauty, this area that sits on the Hantan River has an amusing history.

It was in the caves of Goseokjung that Lee Kung-jung, or Korea's Robin Hood, as he is sometimes referred to, hid from the guards of the Joseon Dynasty with his organized team of do-gooders. Lee was often wanted for stealing government property and handing it over to the poor, but didn't seem to let that keep him from doing what he thought was right.

It's easy to understand why Lee chose Goseokjung as his sanctuary: the area is not only shrouded in lush vegetation but the views are breathtaking. The sight of the vibrant colors of the autumn foliage outlining the emerald river was enough to make me want to stick around and find my own little retreat in the crevices of the rocks and boulders.  As gorgeous as the scenery was in fall, I imagine it's just as beautiful in the spring and summer, when visitors can rent boats and participate in water sports.

Despite Cheorwan's tragic past and current military affiliations, there's a tangible hope present there.  It can be found in the written messages of peace scattered throughout the city, in the wildlife that has blossomed in the demilitarized zone despite human conflict, and in the undeviating beauty of nature, which continues to endure through each passing season.

More Information

To Get There:  To get to Cheorwan, take an intercity bus from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (Seoul subway line 2, Gangbyeon station) to Dongsong-eup or Sincheorwon. (Estimated travel time: 2hrs 20min).  The city is best explored by car, so it is recommended that you hire a taxi upon your arrival.  However, attractions can be accessed via public transportation; detailed directions to specific destinations in Cheorwan can be found at the Korea Tourism Organization website.

Even More Info: For more information about the destinations and attractions listed above, visit Cheorwan's official website here.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.
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November 2, 2017

The Colors of Korea: Orange

Orange may not be the first color that comes to mind when thinking of Korea.  In fact, the more obvious icons that represent the nation exclude orange all together.  It isn't until one looks beyond the surface that the color's significance in the country's culture and history becomes apparent.

Autumn Leaves

Fall is arguably the most beautiful season in Korea. The air is crisp, the streets are blanketed in aromas of roasting chestnuts, and summer greens are replaced by gorgeous autumn hues. Of the colors of fall, shades of orange - tawny, tangerine, mahogany - seem to be most prominent. The season itself is short, but for a few precious weeks, the colorful leaves transform the country into a memorable spectacle for the eyes.

Jjimjilbang Pajamas 

Being naked in public isn't everyone's cup of tea. Still, there's no doubt that the jjimjilbang, or public bath house, is an important institution in Korean culture... not to mention fun and relaxing, if you're willing to be adventurous and step out of your comfort zone. 

While the sex-segregated hot spring tubs might be the main draw, common areas provide a great number of amenities like internet cafes, food courts, and sleeping nooks. Visitors wear provided pajamas in these areas, which are often a rather unflattering, but recognizable shade of sherbert orange.

Photo: thekoreaguide.com

Burning Coals

A trip to Korea would not be complete without an evening of barbeque. In addition to offering delicious food, the gogi-jib (bbq restaurant) is the ideal setting for social outings

Here, slabs of samgyeopsal (pork belly) and galbi (ribs) are served with plates of unlimited banchan (side dishes). Diners then grill the meat over hot coals at their tables. After living here a while, the mere sight of fiery orange charcoal is enough to get my mouth watering. I suppose Pavlov's Theory doesn't only apply to dogs.


Another symbol of Korean autumn is the persimmon. These tasty fruits add even more color to the fall foliage and bring a welcomed sweetness to the otherwise savory spread of seasonal cuisine. They are particularly tasty when hardened, resembling crispy apples. 

In the countryside, it is not uncommon to see the orange fruit hanging in the sun to dry. Dried persimmons can be mixed with ginger and cinnamon to create sujeonggwa, a spicy traditional beverage, perfect cold or hot.

Kimbap Cheonguk

Korea's answer to fast food comes in the form of a restaurant called Kimbap Cheonguk (literally Kimbap Heaven), though there are variants of the name. 

These small restaurants can be found on just about every corner of the country and serve up all the basics of Korean cuisine: mandu (dumplings), ramen noodles, and kimbap (meat and vegetables rolled in seaweed and rice). Even if one cannot read Korean, it's easy to spot these restaurants (many of which are open 24/7): just look for the bright orange facade.

Photo: CityAwesome.com

Hallabong (Jeju Citrus)

Cultivated on Jeju-do, an island off the southern coast of the mainland, the hallabong is an icon of the region. 

The citrus, which is a crossbreed of an orange and a tangerine, is harvested during winter months and is named after Halla Mountain, where it is primarily grown. It is characterized by a lump near its stem and a distinctive sweetness. The beloved Korean fruit is a bit on the expensive side, but is a must-try when visiting Jeju Island.

Photo: FlickRiver.com


Although Korean tigers have ceased to exist on the peninsula since the early 1900s due to hunting and habitat loss, the animal remains to be a national icon of the country

From the nation's creation story to folk tales to ancient religious paintings, the tiger can be found in a number of forms: fierce, powerful, protective, courageous, humble, or even sacred. During the Joseon dynasty, the head of a tiger was often used in rituals that were held to bring about rain. These days, however, rather than worthy-of-sacrifice, the animal is often depicted as fuzzy and cute. (See: Hodori, the official mascot of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul.) But then again, what isn't in Korea?

Photo: blog.kholic.com

Other orange iconography...

When traveling through the Korean countryside, it's common to spot houses with orange tiled roofs.

Orange signage in hangul, the Korean script.

An orange tokaebi, or goblin, guards a traditional house at the Asan Folk Village. According to Korean legend, these creatures often hide on rooftops and are real tricksters.

Hobak juk (pumpkin porridge) is a tasty, sweet Korean dish that is popular during the winter.

On New Year's Day, families and loved ones gather on Korea's beaches and mountains to witness the first sunrise of the year.  This one was photographed on Kampo Beach near Gyeongju.

South Korea is a lively, picturesque country, represented by a myriad of shades and hues from kimchi-reds to snow-covered-mountain-whites. Still, it's impossible to ignore that the color orange contributes greatly to the nation's beauty, even if its significance is not so apparent on first glance.  Whether at the jjimjilbang, on the peaks of Seoraksan on an autumn day, or even at the zoo, it's easy to appreciate the allure and meaning the shades of orange bring to the Korean peninsula.

To see the other Colors of Korea, visit...

Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized. 
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November 1, 2017

Budget Travel Tip: Gangwon Shuttle Service

Traveling in Korea doesn't have to break the bank. It's also easier than one might imagine, even for foreigners. Especially for foreigners.

In an effort to increase tourism in their regions, many provincial governments have begun to offer special services to international guests. Lucky us! One such example is the Gangwon Shuttle Service sponsored by Gangwon Province. This shuttle bus is a great way for foreigners to experience Korea's most breathtaking natural landmarks as well as some of its best festivals.

The bus operates on a lottery system, as seats are limited, but it seems that the masses have not yet discovered this fantastic service, as there are almost always available seats. Still, guests are encouraged to book a few weeks in advance to ensure a spot.

The cost is 6,000 won ($6U SD) for a round-trip ticket, which is a STEAL, and the bus goes directly to the destination rather than a bus terminal like the inner-city buses do. Also, the bus departs from various locations such as Hongdae and Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul, making it convenient for travelers and foreign residents alike. Additionally, guests can opt to return to Seoul on the same day or stay overnight, depending on their travel preferences.

I first used this service a few years ago when I traveled to Hwacheon for the Sancheoneo Ice Festival and once again to get away from the city and wander around Seoraksan National Park in Sokcho. Although guests are on their own when they arrive at the shuttle's destination, the guides are very helpful in explaining the destinations and answering any questions passengers may have.

It seems that the shuttle has added a number of Gangwon cities and festivals to its travel itinerary from now until February 2018. The destinations change each couple of weeks, which is great for those hoping to see a lot of the province.

Although I'll be the first to admit I haven't heard of some of the events on the list, they seem intriguing, nonetheless. A few that stick out are Yang Yang's Salmon Festival, the Dream Concert and the Gangneung Coffee Festival.

For a complete listing of dates and festivals, click here.

Shots from the Gangneung Coffee Festival, one of the spots featured on the Gangwon Shuttle Service itinerary. Photo

Finally, there are a few tips to follow to ensure a pleasant trip on the Gangwon Shuttle Service:

- Remember to bring your printed confirmation ticket and your passport to prove your foreigner status when you board.
- Book your seat at least two weeks prior to your desired departure date to ensure a spot on the bus.
- There's no bathroom on the bus, so be sure to take care of your business ahead of time.
- Out of respect for others, eating is not permitted on the shuttle. Be sure to eat before boarding. There are a few convenience stores where you can grab a breakfast snack near the Dongwha Duty Free Shop in Gwanghwamun.
- Take lots of pictures and enjoy the beauty of Korea!

 Surfers in Yangyang, a popular coastal destination the shuttle service will include in its schedule this autumn. Photo 

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching, unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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