Ok, so I had no intention of coming to South Korea, but Christine and I decided a few weeks back that as we were in this neck of the woods it was too good and opportunity to miss, so here we are.
I don’t have a lot to report yet, we haven’t even stepped out of Busan. We caught the ferry over from Fukuoka and hardly having seen a touring cyclist the whole time we were in Japan we met two from South Koreans at the ferry terminal, Park and Li. By pure coincidence we even ended up in the same room as them, we had the luxury of somewhere to lay our heads even on a day time crossing. Poor old Christine has been getting stressed out about the cycling here, she had heard it was dangerous due to the standard of driving here. When we asked Park how much cycling they do at home they replied “None, it’s too dangerous”. “Oh shit” I thought, that was the last reply I needed, I have been trying to build her confidence up but this just knocked all my efforts for six. We had a nice smooth crossing, but not so smooth that Christine didn’t at least get a little sea sick. We arrived in Busan at 18:30 and after border formalities including a swine flu test, we were reunited with our bikes and making the short trip to a hotel. This first bit of cycling meant that I am back on main and off islands for the first time since I crossed from Malaysia to Singapore, though I don’t really know why I am telling you that anyway as I live on a bloody island! Also, it is the first time since Cambodia that I have cycled on the right, in the hectic traffic it took full concentration.
Since then the bikes have been parked up, we have been heading around the large city, South Korea’s 2nd largest and main port, population 3 million, purely by subway, and jolly cheap it is too. Things immediately feel very different to Japan. It a developed country, but after the efficiency of Japan everything here feels somewhat chaotic. Pavements are rough with plenty of obstacles, there are street stalls and little restaurants everywhere, this is more like mainstream Asia than Japan. But for the humble pound stricken traveller it certainly has it’s advantages, everything is so much cheaper. Hotels are much cheaper, we can even afford to eat food in restaurants, it’s dirt cheap, £2 - £3 will buy you a filling meal with as many side dishes as they seem to be able to fit on the table. The food is also very different to Japan, much spicier, much tastier. Bibimbap has already become a favourite, very cheap for a huge pile of food covering a bed of rice. The first time we ordered it and all the side dishes arrived I was convinced it would cost at least twice the price we had been told, but it didn’t. The national favourite though seems to be Bulgogi. You sit at a low table with a barbecue in the middle, then you chosen raw meat is placed on for you and you do the rest of the cooking yourself (photo). The table is again filled with side dishes and of you go, tuck in….yum yum. I think we are going to enjoy the food here, I suspect we will be doing less cooking on the camp stove.
We paid a visit to the UNMCK (UN Memorial Cemetery in Korea). This was very educational, a short film giving an enlightening look at the recent history leading up to, and through the Korean War from 1950-1953. Typically it was heavily influenced from outsiders, Russia and America, though the largest number of buried there were British with around 560 men. The sights we have visited have been pretty diverse, Haeundae Beach was one of them, the most popular beach in the country. We went there on Sunday, thankfully late afternoon, the streets were heaving, the beach packed with umbrellas amongst the rubbish. We saw aerial pictures in the paper the following day, it was extremely popular being the start of the summer holidays, some 500,000 had visited. Nearby was the largest department store in the world, complete with 4th floor ice rink, 9th floor Sky Garden and 14th floor golf range. It was impressive stuff, but I am not sure when the world’s largest department store becomes not quite the world’s largest shopping mall, there seems to be pretty fine line. We also made it up into the hills to Beomeosa Temple, a Buddhist temple where people actually seemed to be worshiping. It was pretty old but beautifully decorated (photo). Last stop was a spa, the largest in Asia with a whole bunch of pools to choose from, saunas, then a mixed rest area with oxygen rooms at different temperature. A nice way to finish off our introduction to South Korea. The tough bit start tomorrow.