Monday, October 26, 2009

Hiking at Bulamsan - Northeast Seoul

One of the greatest things about living in the city of Seoul is that it is the perfect combination of old and new. Tradition and Modernism. Nature and Urban. I don't know how they did it, but these krazy koreans have figured out how to have it all in one place. In this case, I'm sure they just picked a place, built a bunch of stuff, and decided to work around the mountains as this city has grown overtime, but that's neither here nor there. In the center of the city is Namsan (which actually means South Mountain) and its not too big. It's where the tower is, and it's hard to miss. A little more north there is the national park of Bukhansan which is about 700m tall, and on the northeast part of the city is Suraksan (Not to be confused with Seoraksan in Gangwan-do) and Bulamsan. Due to my timing issues of needing to be down in Bundang (south of the city) to teach a class in the evening, we went with the smallest of the 3 northern mountains and did Bulamsan standing at 508m.

Bulamsan in October is absolutely gorgeous. Truth be told, everywhere in Korea is absolutely gorgeous in the fall. The amount of colors and trees everywhere is breathtaking at times even if you're in the dead of the city. We took the subway up to Dangoggae on the light blue line, followed some ajumahs (little old ladies) who looked like they were about to get their hike on, and eventually found a map of the area. There is no shortage of trails to follow, and we just decide to walk until we got onto one after we passed a few apartment buildings. Probably about 2 km in total all the way up, it was pretty easy. The only real difficult part was when we got towards the top and there were actual vertical inclines where the koreans had installed ropes in order to help people get to the very top. Difficult, but very worth it.

All in all, we left our apt around 11, took the subway about an hour, got up the mountain and down, had dinner, and I was at my class by 7pm. Definitely unlike anything at home, for sure.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Birthday Booze Cruise! Han River/Banpo Bridge

Well, no one is more surprised than me that I've somehow managed to spend not one, not two, but three birthdays abroad. Planning any kind of activity is time consuming no matter where the location is. Inviting people, picking a place, coordination all equals work. BUT true to form, everyone had a good time. This year's party included a 1 hour booze cruise down the Han River in Seoul under Banpo Bridge, followed by a club outing at The Hive to see a local electro-rock band, Swingset Committee.

The bridge is really sweet, if I do say so myself. As we all know I'm a gigantic nerd for everything and anything Gizmodo posts, and when I read about it from them a year ago, it was just something I had to see. The bridge is akin to the fountain at the Bellagio in Las Vegas with 10,000 nozzles drawing water up out of the river and putting on a very colorful waterworks show. Take the boat from Yeouido Island (close to Yeounaru Station), one hour round trip for 11,000w, bring a couple of beers and some snacks on board with ya and enjoy the sights. I recommend it at night, of course.

Afterwards we headed over to Itaewon and went to one of the newest hot spots, The Hive. This place is pretty sweet looking, good location, but truth be told its not worth the cover unless there's some kind of event there. In this case, Swingset Committee was playing and they're a band from California, but they've been doin their thing over here in Korea and will be taking their show on the road to Japan, or so I hear. Either way, if you have the chance, check 'em out.

I'm pretty sure that this will be the last of my birthday's in Korea, but I suppose one never can say never...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Camping at Seoul Grand Park for Chuseok

You remember camping at home as a child, right? Pack up the car to the tilt, sleeping bags, tents, food enough to last months for a small village. One of the things you don't really imagine doing while you're abroad because of all the equipment you would need and probably don't own. Well, yet again Korea has taken care of all of that.

Chuseok is Korea's version of Thanksgiving. It's a harvest celebration based on the lunar calendar, so the dates change every year. When I got here in 2007 it was 5 days, last year was 4 days and this year, 3 days because it fell on a weekend. Chuseok travel is unlike anything I have ever seen, and as someone who once got caught on a bus for 13 hours here for a trip that should have been 4, I vowed to never travel outside of Seoul again unless it was fleeing the country (like last year's Philippines trip). This year, 18 foreigners decided to pack it all up and go camping at Seoul Grand Park.

There are two sites directly in Seoul. Grand park and Nanji campground. Nanji is a newer facility near the World Cup Stadium in a much more urban area, whereas Seoul Grand Park is in a much more appropriate area surrounded by forests and mountains with access to Museums, the Zoo, and the Seoul Land Amusement park. It also has more camplike facilities including a campfire area, basketball courts, streams, common areas, and hiking trails. The sites come already set up with tents that sleep 4 people very comfortably for 15,000w a night and you can rent sleepings bags and mats to go in them for 1500 and 1000w each. We also got a special deal where we got cheap discount tickets for 13,000w for the day to Seoul Land so for two days/nights and an amusement park, the whole total was 45,000w (~$39) for the weekend + food. It was incredible. My only complaint? The fact that it got down to near freezing temperatures and I had a sleeping back that was about an inch thick.

There are a few main differences in Korean camping, however. At 11pm it is lights out and basically a zero noise policy. Also, campfires really are frowned upon if you light them using the 15,000w grill you've rented from them and now have a raging fire and half the forest in it as firewood. Also, Korea doesn't believe in graham crackers so it was really difficult finding stuff to make s'mores. Also, the campsites are of course, so close they're basically piled on top of each other. If you can get past all of this, your experience will be a ton of fun. A great way to spend a weekend though, that is for sure. Again, pictures speak for themselves (including being stuck in a bubble for the best amusement park ride I have EVER been on/in):