Sunday, 26 August 2012

South Korea

Welcome pack

We have been in South Korea for over 2 weeks now and we can say that it is a beautiful country and the people are again so friendly.  When we arrived, after the shock of the heat, we decided to stay in Donghae for a couple of nights. The hotel we stayed in is what is classed as a ‘love hotel’.  You enter the dimly lit reception, there is a wall of brightly lit pictures, showing you all the different rooms available along with the price for a few hours and a price for all night.  You press the appropriate button on the room you would like and slip your money through a small square hole, to the receptionist. Nobody ever needs to see your face – except me being a daft Scots lassie, unaccustomed to such practices, was bent down sticking my head through the hole trying to have a conversation with the lady, who spoke no English. You get a superb welcome pack with your room card which is full of goodies, as is the room - certainly enough products (creams, gels, hairspray, brushes, combs)  that when you leave the hotel, you don’t look like you’ve just had the time of your life. When you check out, you just leave your card in the tray in the lift and you’re gone!

Heart shaped bath

The city is bustling with colours, all trying to attract our gaze, as we walk through the streets at night.  We went into an outdoor shop, of which we have found out, there are many in South Korea, and struck up a conversation with the owner and although his English was little he managed to give us a few hints as to what to see in Korea.  We wish we could have talked more to him as he must have fascinating stories to tell of his own adventures, climbing some of the highest mountains in the world, including K2.
The National Parks in Korea all have campgrounds so we decided to head north to Seoraksan National Park. It has one of the highest mountains in Korea (3rd highest I think).  We get pitched and as always, there is quite a bit of interest in the bike and then in the tent.  We realised when we got to the campground why there are so many outdoor shops – Koreans love the outdoor life and they do it in style, some of the set ups here are tremendous. When we have a walk around, Iain is constantly saying ‘no, you can’t have that, it won’t fit on the bike!’. We go to bed and are fast asleep when we hear ‘Iain Patterson, Debbie Simpson’ being shouted. We are like startled children waking from a nightmare, I grab Iain and say ‘did you hear that?’ again we hear our names being called. We jump out the tent to be met  by Jeong. We had been in contact with another Korean biker through Horizons Unlimited and he had told Jeong we’d be up here so he came to find us and with the sidecar, we’re not difficult to find. We go back to Jeongs tent and have a beer before again going back to bed. The next day, Jeong invites us to use his tent (a big ex US Army tent, I felt like I was in an episode of M*A*S*H) as it is going to rain heavily later. Well he got that right!  Jeong showed us around Sokcho City and was extremely kind and generous to us, for which we cannot thank him enough.

Jeong took us up to the ‘DMZ’ area – the demilitarised zone. This is an area, 2km either side of the border between North and South Korea where military activities such as troop stationing, arms allocation and military facility installation are prohibited. This was created on July 27 1953 with the conclusion of the Armistice Agreement. At the Unification Observatory, you can look over the border into North Korea but that’s as close as you get. We visit the DMZ museum and the Korean War museum both of which are very interesting.

Last beach in South Korea and the first beach in North Korea (after the small wooded island)

We got new neighbours on the campsite and they invited us over for lunch, which was very tasty. Korean food has bundles of taste and our taste buds are alive again. We are getting to grips with chopsticks (Iain more so than I) which causes great amusement for the Koreans that we eat with. I think they appreciate that we are trying but I usually give up half way through and reach for the fork or spoon!
We take the bike out for a short spin one day and upon our return Iain noticed oil all over the rear wheel. Upon further inspection it turned out that the final drive bearing had collapsed (Jake – please note that this happened the day after he spoke to you!!). Luckily Iain had a spare bearing and seal with him but just needed a bearing puller to split the damaged one. Our next tent neighbour offered to drive him into Sokcho to get this done. Unfortunately, they had no luck but Jeong to the rescue again and he took us to a backstreet guy who was able to do it. Once that was done, it didn’t take Iain too long to have it all back together in working order.

While in the park we walk to Ulsan-bawi Rock. It's a long slog up hill, in high humidity but well worth it when we reach the bottom of the rock, as we look out over the treetops of the forests we've just hiked through. There is a steep staircase which carries on up the actual rock - I'm not good with heights where I don't feel safe (even if it is 100% safe) so I choose to stay at the foot of the rock and watch the chipmunks playing while Iain carries on to the top. Upon his return, he confirms that for me, I made the right choice to stay where I was!

Iain's view from the top

We eventually leave ‘the big tent’ and say goodbye to Jeong . We have another couple of nights in the ‘love hotel’ after leaving the park as we need to get things washed with hot water (clothes and ourselves!) and having air con for a couple of days is heaven. It has rained every day since we arrived in Korea and the humidity has been 90%+ - this basically means that our clothes and anything that’s not in its bag is wet - it’s incredible!  I love our ‘love hotel’ - the standard of room for the price is excellent and any other hotel in Korea has a lot to live up to. This time we have a round Jacuzzi bath with is great for washing the clothes.

Although it was raining, we decide to move. It’s very easy just to stay in one place and end up not seeing much so it’s on with the waterproofs and into the rain. We ride south to Sobaeksan National Park and as it’s still pouring down, check into a hotel there. The main holiday season in Korea has ended and that along with the rain means we are the only customers. The lady is very excited to meet us. The hotel has no restaurant but she offers to feed us, but not so excited that she didn’t charge us for it. We ate and retired to our room, where a few hours later I was doubled up in pain. I didn’t sleep much as I was up and down all night to the loo. We decided to move to the city of Andong the next day. My problems hadn’t subsided even though I hadn’t eaten again and the next morning again it was no better. We asked at the hotel reception for a medical centre and they gave us a map and pointed us in the general direction. As we stood on a street corner pondering over the map, a kindly Korean gentleman asked if he could be of any assistance. He ended up taking us to the doctors, speaking to the nurse and the doc, ushering me in to get my injection and then round to the pharmacy for the tablets. All this treatment cost me less than £15. He also wrote on the packets when I needed to take the tablets. It could have been quite tricky for us to do all this by ourselves. Again, the kindness of strangers warms your heart.  

So, as I type, I’m feeling much better and will be fine in a day or two I’m sure.

North Korean sub which entered South Korean waters and was captured in 1996

I am hanging onto that rail with all my strength!

Iain at the top of Ulsan-bawi rock


  1. Hey looks like you's are having a whale of a time :-)
    Great Blog Debz, keep up the good work and I hope ur buts on its way to reoovery...
    Hopefully catch up with in the US for another bottle of champange lol

  2. 안녕하세요 웹서핑하다 우연히 보고 답글 남겨요~
    be healthy