Korea trip, day five! At this point, I can’t believe these travelers have already been in South Korea for almost a week, and I can’t believe we’re also at week five of this series! In this episode, the lingering effects of Steve still direct our day and we hike up, up, up, towards a “cool temple”, catch the others members up on Gamcheon, find the truth of Biff vs. Beef, get the first glimpses of a bad moon on the rise, meet some meerkats, and then check off a significant Kdrama moment. Oh, and have our first run-in with the Korean police. Yep, it’s another jam-packed day!
Travelers on the go, go, go! When we came to Korea, we had some ideas of what we wanted to do but chose primarily to keep things loose enough so we’d be comfortable to do things on the fly. This day, (day five for those of you who weren’t paying attention) we did a little of both. A breakfast of triangle kimbap and coffee/banana milk/ and tea kicked off the day and our strategy session. As on the previous day, we’d shown such delight in the lanterns hanging in the temples, Steve suggested that we may want to check out a big temple right in central Busan which uses thousands of lanterns and he figured should be mostly decorated by then. This time we all took a look at my wildly inaccurate tourist maps and determined where we thought it would be. (I’m not incredibly clear on this point, I may have just been the only one looking while they used such things as Naver Maps and Google to figure out what he’d been talking about. From there we debated on whether it was smart to go to Gamcheon Cultural Village (though I’d already been, I didn’t mind going again and figured, after what had happened the other day splitting up probably wasn’t the best choice if we wanted to do any touring together), stopping at the shopping area I told them about by the university first and then come back and do Biff Square? Or to do the opposite?
We decided to wing it and go forth.
The storm has moved off, the sun was out, and I was no longer bone cold. Bring on the tourism! But not before a quick stop to get SaraG cash (unsuccessful as, unfortunately, note to you future travelers, only ATMs specified for foreigners will work for…foreigners.)
We also needed to get the other girls hooked up with travel cards, so off to the convenience store where, the same manager was there, hovering happily as SaraG, Alix and Leila sorted through all the handsome young men options. Guys. Remember when I couldn’t buy one and ended up with a plain black card? Totally worked for each and every one of them. BOOOOO! I mean… I’m very happy for them and their choices.
I felt like an old pro as I led my friends to the bus stop where we caught the same bus I’d used before, but this time we sat in the back like a bunch of Kdrama badasses.
Alix was firmly in control of our direction, and it wasn’t too long that she directed her ducklings to hop off the bus. We were in downtown Busan, her with her Naver app, Leila and I attempting Google Maps again, and SaraG wandering around with us with a willing “let’s get this going” attitude. (Future note, SaraG has absolutely no sense of direction, it’s adorable. She makes up with a magical ability to know almost to the minute what time it is at all times without the use of a watch.)
Where we were in use of differing directional maps, there were some conflicting ideas of how to get to the temple, and as we climbed up and up and up stairs (so many stairs), some of us despaired we were headed in the wrong direction where some of us were “You’re going to question my directional abilities? I’m mother flipping Alix and let us not forget you’d be wandering around the Busan subway hub still if it weren’t for me.”
Good point. Continue to tell us which stairs to climb, leader.
We seemed to be marching further and further into a residential territory, with no real directions on the street to what was supposed to be some sort of large scale temple. Suddenly? A lady with a full-on ahjumma visor came around the corner, saw us, smiled, asked if we were looking for the temple, and gave us directions.
For anyone keeping score as to what was right, Naver or Google, I’d have to say both were in this case. Naver/Alix took us more on a trail that deposited us along the side of it, where Google/Leila and I had directions to the bottom of it. We were all right! Let’s rejoice and be friends.
As we got closer and closer to the building or series of buildings, I was amazed. This thing was HUGE. Steve was right, it was almost completely ready for the lantern festival and was covered entirely in lanterns of various colors and styles. As we arrived, several of us instantly pealed off to the bathroom while I listened to the drum practices that were going on while we were there. The atmosphere was set.
From these buildings, we followed up the road (and more stairs) and found the central portion of the temples. From there, we scattered and investigated the nooks and crannies of the property, which just seemed to keep going further and further, higher and higher.
Past the buildings, there was a trail with wooden bridges, Buddhist music playing softly on loudspeakers and, you guessed it, more lanterns! The views from this height were pretty amazing, looking out over Busan, with the backdrop of these classic buildings.
What we didn’t expect to find was a set of outside exercise equipment which, as good kdrama fans, we were honor bound to try out. At the top of the hill, we reconvened and sat there taking it all in a while eating some of the trail mix Alix was smart enough to carry and kind enough to share.
It was decision time though. Where would we go? Gamcheon or Biff? Would we be able to find Steve’s restaurant? If we did would that be creepy? “We promise you, Steve, we’re not stalking you, we just find you adorable and want to know if you’d like to come home with us.”
Why were we so concerned about what and when? It was all part of the bigger plan. In Haeundae, there is the Rainbow Bridge, which is supposed to do a light show and we were determined to see it in all its glory, full night time with fried chicken and beer. Everything other schedule was built keeping the end goal in mind. Booze, a beach, and a colored bridge?
So we decided on Gamcheon, thinking to go the furthest out and work our way backward towards Haeundae. So me, again heady with the knowledge that I’d been there before and could totally get us all back there, wowing everyone with my Korean directional prowess, insisted on being lead.
Not a great plan. Sorry, ladies.
Turns out there was a bus stop right at the temple, so we hopped on and headed back to the city center. Which is where it got a little wonky. Turns out I got us off on the wrong stop (ugh, thanks, Google) and said, that’s cool, we’ll just hoof it from here, it’s not far. Turns out, that was a little wrong, or, not so much wrong as Google couldn’t quite figure out where I was, and I couldn’t figure out if I were heading us in the wrong direction or not. Frankly, I was super stressed about it. Sometimes it’s not easy being the leader, knowing everyone is waiting on you, knowing you’re just burning time.
Anyway, I did Google Maps again, worked with Alix and found out we were actually right by a subway station which would take us most of the way there, then we could pick up that little bus I had previously ridden. All good except we couldn’t find the correct subway entrance number.
Actually. Side note. The Korean Subway system is pretty amazing. It gives each entrance a number so you can tell your friends exactly which door to meet you at, or GPS can tell you precisely what door to enter or exit to get to your destination. At each entry to the subway cars (as they have doors that open and close so 1) it can be temperature controlled and 2) you don’t have any people vs. train incidents.) the floor before each door is labeled with a number as well so when you finally break down and use Naver Maps, it will tell you which door will be the best for you to wait at in order to get off and be closest to your destination. There are, as seen in Kdramas, underground shopping areas (with the swankier stops getting swankier shops) bathrooms galore, and also as seen on Kdramas, ahjummas, and halmonies selling produce or kimbap rolls.
In the more significant station hubs, you can find foreign ATMs, the place is loaded with adverts including those ones you see online put up by fan clubs wishing their favorite idols happy birthdays. During the longer connections, you know, where you mainly are just traveling underground to get from one subway train to another thinking, how far did we just walk? There are those flat escalators you see in airports. As a reward for choosing not to take them, you’re given the cartoon journey of a man or woman who is getting healthy, slowly getting smaller as you walk. By the end of the treck, you see them at their healthiest and are told how many calories you’ve burned by choosing to walk.
The train itself has pregnancy seats marked in pink, they have constant commercials running, and the subway train is all yackety yack, giving directions in multiple languages. The trains and stops are all clearly labeled, not only with what station you’re at or approaching, but it will tell you the next station in either direction. So handy — especially when you get on and quickly realize you’re heading in the wrong direction.
A downside to the subway station? The signage to get from one place to another (get off one train and have to go find your connecting train) is not always the clearest. It will tell you to go one way, then the next sign will say to swap back to your original route.
End Subway tangent.
So we’re back on the street in Busan trying to figure out, on this series of intersections and large roads just where our subway entrance was. Somewhere. I noticed some young police officers wandering around on the street before they went into the local police officer and my ears pricked up. A local police station? Putting on those big girl panties, emboldened by my stress of leading everyone astray, I was all, “Don’t worry ladies, I have this,” and waltzed into the police station.
Where a shocked a small contingent of police officers with the “Oh no, she’s going to want us to speak in English” look on their collective faces. They spoke no English, I spoke no Korean. All I had was a destination, directions on a cell phone, and the determination to find this subway stop. Unfortunately? No go. We couldn’t really get around our language barrier, though for some reason, this didn’t stress me out any more than I already was. I climbed out of the station, went to go find my friends, looked up, and there was the giant subway number.
Like, right next to the police station.
Moving on and moving underground, we managed to get to our stop fairly uneventfully, ready for the next leg, which to me meant catching the next bus, to my friends, who I think were a little leery of my directional skills were more, “or we could just walk up here a ways fortified by this street fish bread we found.” “Are you certain? The bus stop is right here,” says me. Buuuut instead we marched. Higher and higher, the road in some points almost vertical. We’d have to be those people who stopped to catch our breath, thankful for my Nature’s Republic Chanyeol blotting compact. I felt especially terrible for Miss Leila, who was doing this with a terrible head cold, so bad that she had her own adventure….the Korean pharmacy. And then another Korean pharmacy when the first one refused to sell her the cold medicine she needed. (Not malicious, just a miscommunication.) Finally, though, thankfully, we arrived.
Gah, this post is like verbal vomit. But I just remembered something super important now that we’re back in Gamcheon! Remember, on my last post where I kept pointing out how my shoes were wet and sandy and promised there was a reason for my banality? GUYS. I woke up to slightly damp shoes, walked outside, and….no squeak! They were (almost) silent. Or as silent as regular non-squeaking shoes were. At that point to the best of our knowledge, getting the insert wet was the key to stopping the squeak! We were all very excited as now I would stop embarrassing myself and them as we walked everywhere.
As we did walk everywhere.
Back to the squeakless story! So we, hot, tired, and a little cranky, finished hiking Busan and were ready to experience Gamcheon as a team. I picked up more of the postcards that I’d purchased the first time around as they were so pretty, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to give out the first set as souvenirs as I’d anticipated and settled into our next order of business. LUNCH.
We found a tiny little cafe up one of the alleyways and popped in. I got a delicious Katsu, but I think also at our table was some ramen, some kimbap, and some pork. All the food was so yummy and super cheap. (I think my whole tray was 7000 won.) As we sat there, recovering, eating, and blotting, we watched out of the window as a group of school kids, mostly schoolgirls, all dressed in hanboks, made the one boy pose with them for saeguk kdrama selfies. You know the pose, the heroine leaning against a wall, the hero looming above, his arm pressed into the wall above her head. They were all having a blast, and so were we watching them.
Nourishment level achieved, we went out to enjoy Gamcheon. Checking out the little artist shops, taking pictures, stopping off at the little senior tea house (this is where we found the black bamboo salt that got me in trouble with security). Just as I had thought, this is one of those places where you can go multiple times and continue to see different things and have different experiences. This one was through the eyes of my friends, as I really wanted them to like the place as much as I did. Was I successful? Who knows? I like to think so, as it’s a really special place.
But it was time to go. We decided to skip the University shopping district and go immediately to Biff Square. Luckily, the tiny Gamcheon bus was ready to take us on our way.
Turns out, Biff Square? Is the same location as the Busan International Film Festival! It was pretty cool to see. There were tons of shops and food stalls. We wandered, popping in and out of stores. Not so much Kpop but there was a butt-ton of KBeauty, and I think we all took home a portion of it. (We purchased it, the shoplifting didn’t come until later.)
It was there where we saw it. The Animal Cafe.
On the list for several people in our Kconvoy, was visiting one of the animal cafes which are prevalent in Korea. (We actually have a cat cafe here in Denver, but only on vacation would you be willing to pay actual money to have coffee with a cat.) These animal cafes have regular cats or dogs but can also be more exotic with raccoons, owls, basically if you name the animal, and they probably have a cafe for it. This one? Meerkats. While I had been on the fence of going to one, the idea of seeing a meerkat up close had me tagging along.
We paid our money, squeeing over the tiny little herd of meerkats racing around a large enclosed pen. My only other previous meerkat experience had been Meerkat Manor on PBS. (Did anyone else ever watch that?) There was also another room which had cats and two HUGE raccoons. But meerkats first. With your entrance fee, you get a can of soda or tea (the cafe portion) and all the animal interaction you can take. The worker offered to let SaraG and Leila in to see the meerkats and, no dummies, they jumped at the chance, sitting in the pen while meerkats raced around them. I was let in a little while later and, no lie, it was an awesome experience. They are the cutest little creatures, and we got to pet and held them, feeding them little bits of lettuce while squeeing over their tiny little chattering voices. In the holding pen, it was us with another couple (obviously on a date, it was super cute) and when the manager walked back in from break saw us all, and chided the employees, before coming in to give all the women lap blankets. He said it was so we could hold the meerkats, but I didn’t notice him giving one to the guy that was in there. Hrm.
While one is never actually done looking at meerkats, we decided to keep moving and go into the room with the cats and the raccoons. With a regretful pat to our new chewy friends, we climbed out of the enclosure and (after Purexing our hands) grabbed our sodas and went into the cat room. First off, the raccoons were huge. I come from New Hampshire, raccoon country. You could almost count me as an expert on these rascals that always want to get into your garbage or break into your back porches (in pursuit of more garbage), so when I tell you these things were big, they were big. Big in stature, but also clearly just fat. They bumbled around, asking for treats, asking to be petted and scratched.
There were also at least 5 maybe 8 cats of a particular Korean breed, and this is where I got skeeved out a little bit. Either these cats were SUPER chill, or these cats were on something. I’d actually heard of that before in these places. There were a couple of cats that moved around, but for the most part, they just lay there, most of them sleeping no matter how much they were patted. Just as I know raccoons? I also know cats. This is not the natural behavior of cats, and it made me feel really, really bad. I hope I’m just overthinking it, but after that, I was pretty much done and was ready to go meet Alix (who had opted to go find a coffee shop.) Luckily the other ladies were prepared to go, too.
With a wave and a coo to the meerkats, we put our shoes back on (we took them off and swapped them for house shoes) we were on our way to find Alix. At this point, the sun was starting to sink, and it was time to break out Operation Chicken and Beer.
But not before some street food! I’m not certain why I didn’t take pictures here! Shame on me! And for everyone else as I have access to everyone’s photos and no one took any of what we ate here! It’s almost as if we all decided if it’s not hoteok, we don’t care. I tried a fishball thing, decided I didn’t like it, offloaded it to SaraG and ended up with a pornato. Noms.
Thanks, Steve, you were right, we really did enjoy ‘Beef Square’!
On a mission though, we take the next train to the beach where we thought we’d be able to see the Rainbow Bridge. We walked on tired feet, down and down and down, not finding beach and not finding fried chicken. Luckily, much further than we thought, we realized not only were we close, but the fried chicken was within our grasp! Dropping SaraG and Alix off to wait for our order to cook, Leila and I hit the convenience store for the second most crucial ingredient, beer.
I love Korean convenience stores. Look what I found!
Also, the soju was like 1700 won. Amazing. I stocked up.
Goodies in hand, we walked to the beach where a bridge sprawled out in front of us… abridge we hoped would be the Rainbow Bridge. The beach was relatively empty as, just as our luck, the weather turned to a light drizzle. You know what though? We didn’t care. We were there for an experience, and we were not going to leave until we had it! We sat on the stone stairs eating fried chicken, pickled radish cubes, and drinking beer. (I was drinking Coke Zero and soju as beer is gross.)
Then suddenly it happened! The bridge not only lit up but it did a solid five minute light show! Pretty cool, man.
Experience completed, we bagged up our garbage (pack in, pack out, folks) actually finding one of Korea’s only outside public garbage cans. Not sure if I mentioned this before, but there are no garbage cans in Korea. None. You have a piece of garbage, I hope you have a pocket because that thing is going to be with you for a while. Gloria, who’s Seoul foodie food tour we booked that night when we got back to the Airbnb, actually laughed when we asked, and actually told us about the pocket of her purse that’s just for the day’s garbage.
On the hike back to the subway station, we passed one of their newer subway stops which have tv monitors built in. The news that evening? The breaking Seungri, Burning Sun, hidden video fun chat news. Yeah, our stay was about to get WEIRD.
That’s a story for another post though.