Tag Archives: South Korea

It’s an Asia Thing

My first foray into Asia was to India. I marvelled at the temples of Tamil Nadu, spent Christmas in KodaiKanal and saw the sunset at Cape Cormorin. There was a visit to a strange circus in Kerala, a boat trip in Cochin and lots of ice cream in Goa. We went to markets, met Mormons, climbed Cape Rama Fort and left through the gateway to India in Bombay.

Next was a school trip to Indonesia where we were educated in all the traditional arts and crafts from batik to silver making. We travelled through Lombok, Bali, Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan. The highlights were the vast Borobudur temple and the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

On the way home we went through Sentosa Island in Singapore. There have been many trips to the land of the Merlion since then to explore the food in Chinatown, the shops on Orchard Rd and visit friends, now expats of the city.

Close by is my favourite Asian destination of Malaysia. The fabulous food halls in Malacca, the life of Penang and the beautiful islands of course. So far I have visited Pulau Kapas, Pulau Pangkor and Pulau Tioman twice. Each island is special and interesting in its own way for the monkey in a hammock, the snorkelling or the sunsets.

The first time I went to Bangkok in Thailand I thought it was a big dirty Asian city. I thought Phuket was incredibly spoilt by tourism and I was sure I would never return. How wrong I was, as the island of Koh Lanta was to become the special place where I became engaged and later married. The little town of Ban Saladan and the beach at Kaw Kwang will forever have a piece of my heart.

Vietnam was a pleasant surprise, largely untouched by the greed of making a buck when I went there. I loved Hanoi, the city built around Haan Kim Lake and was fascinated by the other side of history as the story of Ho Chi Min unfolded before me. Halong Bay was undoubtedly beautiful and the little French colonial hill village of Tam Dao was a rare treasure.

When you think of places to go in Asia, South Korea is probably not at top of mind. However, I found I very much enjoyed discovering the two sides of Seoul. One deep in the traditions of markets, gates and palaces; and the other slightly crazy side of shopping centres, theme parks and off beat fashion.

I wish I had visited Hong Kong before the English handed it back to the locals, just to see how much it had changed. The modern world could clearly be seen here, but there were still the remnants of old. Like the Star Ferry and the fact that the city still had many large green spaces that had not yet been bulldozed by development. The smog of Victoria Peak reminded me that it was still Asia, but back on the ground there was always a drink in Soho to cool you down.

Yes, Asia can be hot, dirty and tiring; but it is also exciting, enticing and an assault to the senses. Riding in tuk tuks, bargaining with the friendly locals and appreciating the simple things in life. Asia has a lot to teach us and I sincerely hope that modernisation doesn’t engulf it to the point where it can no longer be recognised for the glorious cultural explosion it is.

Related posts: It’s a Sri Lankan Thing, Destination Thailand, 2010, Thailand, 2009, South Korea, 2008, Malaysia, 2006, Vietnam, 2003, Thailand, 2002, Sri Lanka, 1998, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, 1994, Indonesia and Singapore, 1994, England, Singapore and Malaysia, 1988, India, 1987- 1998, Part 2: The Journey North, India 1987- 1988, Part 1: The Road South

South Korea, 2008

On the way back to Australia from Canada, my husband-to-be (HTB) and I stopped in Seoul, South Korea. He had been before for a conference and said that the city was worth a look.

We stayed in a very small apartment in a very tall building with a very small bathroom and a view of city. The floor was heated to a higher level than I found comfortable, but was definitely nicer than the bitter cold winter outside.

The metro system was easy to understand as they had cartoon signs and pictures of sights on the carriage metro map. We sat next to an older gentleman who spoke English and told us he was a Vietnam veteran.

The first stop on my HTB’s tour was Tapgol Park which I loved as it had a tall pagoda and a giant tortoise. We also went to the old area of Insadong which was an interesting place with its mix of old wooden and new concrete buildings. We visited a traditional pottery shop to stock up on vases and teapots for unique gifts.

My HTB loves a market so we went to the Namdaemun Market near the impressive Namdaemun Gate. The market was full of coats and I saw a pig’s head or two as well. We also went to Dongdaemun Market and the visual and sensory delight of the Gwangjang Kimchi Market with pancakes and dumplings galore!

Heading back to our hotel as night, the streets became a neon wonderland with red leaves on the trees and flashing signs everywhere.

The next day we went to Gyeongbok Palace and were greeted at the main gate by the colourful changing of the guard. We walked through the courtyard to the throne hall whose entry was flanked by many stone animals. There was incense burning in the hall and the roof detail was amazing.

I thought Gyeonghoeru Pavilion surrounded by a frozen lake was the most beautiful part of the palace and the Amisan garden terrace of chimneys was also very interesting. We went to Sajeongjeon Hall that had a huge tapestry, the queen’s residence, the king’s residence and the queen mother’s residence.

Outside the National Folk Museum there were stone guard statues, a mobile traditional medicine shop (a cart on wheels) and traditional pots. I liked the look of the wishing poles and the stone animals of the zodiac.

On our last day of our holiday, we opted for a bit of fun and headed to Lotte World. Lotte World is a large amusement park located in a shopping centre along with the Lotte hotel (flanked by an imitation Trevi fountain) and an ice skating rink. The mascots of the theme park are two squirrels called Lotte and Lorry.

And boy do those Koreans know how to do a theme park. There was the Adventure balloon ride, the French Revolution train roller coaster and the Conquistador ship. The best area was outdoors at the Magic Island that had a castle, the Gyrodrop and my favourite ride the Gyroswing that would spin you around while swinging you.

Best way to end a holiday ever!

Related posts: New Year’s Eve on the Island, 2007, Christmas in Canada, 2007, Seattle, 2007,  San Francisco, 2007, Part 2: This is not the endSan Francisco, 2007, Part 1: Falling in love againUSA Road trip, 2007: Part 2Grand Canyon, 2007Las Vegas, 2007USA Road trip, 2007Disneyland, 2007Los Angeles, 2007