South Korea

Accommodation Tip: Love motels and minbak

With the exception of Seoul, accommodation is easy to find without prior booking. They are often located in clusters, close to tourist attractions and bus terminals.

In the small cities, there are ‘love motels’ that are exceptional value and very clean – the equivalent of budget hotels. They have all the modern amenities without the price tag. This is my love motel in Gyeongju; comes with widescreen TV, computer and free internet. Possibly, one of the more upmarket.

Love motel in Gyeongju, South Korea

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After a tour of North Korea in 2009, I've been wanting to visit South Korea, even to
meet some North Korean defectors. After contacting a NGO called PSCORE, I volunteer at a session in Seoul, teaching English to defectors.

The head teacher is Australian and surprisingly, there are more foreigners than students by a ratio of two or three for every one. I am assigned to one student defector, along with an American Korean lady. Despite expressing my interest in North Korea, the student seems indifferent. Instead, we discuss Australian and American culture, society and politics. An enjoyable evening.

For my last two days in Seoul, I visit South Korea's homage to war starting with The War Memorial of Korea. A museum covering the Neolithic age to modern day, and predominately, the Korean War (1950-1953). I arrive at the same time as the military personnel, who will later perform in an honour guard ceremony that occurs every Friday and second Saturday at 2pm.

Participants in the honour guard ceremony at The War Memorial in Seoul

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Among the most famous national park in South Korea is Seoraksan. Worth the rental car; about two hours drive from Seoul. There are several trails of varying length, including the difficult hike to Ulsanbawi. On paper, it is almost 4km each way. I hike for seven hours with regular breaks. My biggest obstacle - a long, steep flight of stairs.

At the entrance of Seoraksan is a statue of Buddha.

Buddha near entrance of Seoraksan

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The last royal dynasty of Korea - the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897) - made Seoul its capital for 600 years. Their most revered king - King Sejong - created the Korean alphabet, reigned over an era of scientific growth. His present-day statue at Gwanghwamun Square, together with the celestial globe, was evidence of his legacy. Behind him was Gyeongbokgung (one of five Joseon palaces) and behind this, was the Blue House (official residence for the South Korean President).

Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul

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Buddhism has appealed to me for some years. I have been wanting to experience the Buddhist way of life. In South Korea, a 'temple stay' provides an opportunity to live like a monk for at least one day. The program is offered by many temples, and can vary in duration. Most common is an overnight stay. I decide on Haeinsa Temple; home to the Tripitaka Koreana and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Prayer Hall at Haeinsa Temple

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The ancient capital of Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.–A.D. 935), Gyeongju is an expansive city with a myriad of historical sites. The more famous sites are located away from downtown city, and it is probably easiest to get around by car. The bus network (which I use) is fairly convenient though not fast.

Being a fan of Korean TV and ancient history, I visit Shilla Milennium Park. A theme park recreating the Silla era. Normally, I am not a huge fan of theme parks, however, this one is enjoyable for all. Most popular is undoubtedly the stage performances, such as the 'Secret of Heavenly Chest'.

Secret of Heavenly Chest performance, Shilla Millenium Park, Gyeongju

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Hahoe Folk Village is an inhabited traditional village dating back 600 years. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also a popular tourist attraction.

The bus journey from Seoul is at least four hours, including a change in Andong. By the time I arrive, it is mid afternoon. After purchasing an entry ticket, I ask about staying in a 'minbak' (the Korean equivalent of guesthouse). The lady helpfully writes minbak in Korean, advises there are many in the village. Simply find and walk in.

Street in Hahoe Folk Village

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