Reminiscing as I am now at Dharmashala – I couldn’t help but recall my time in Korea – an amazing country that brought together ultra modern atmosphere with a latent sense of heritage and culture. Korean’s are an interesting lot and their culture is a mix of American, Japanese and Chinese. The Buddhist faith prevails and dominates this country and their history with North Korea has shaped their attitudes I think. I went to the Haeundae Beach where I took off my clothes to the extent I knew was usually possible to jump into the sea and I was then asked to wear “beach wear” if I wanted to swim. It is a special transparent t-shirt with shorts. Koreans seem a bit shy taking off their clothes?! I had not at that time cared less and jumped in with my underwear on.
I had been at that time been in Seoul and spent a few days with and old school friend Hyun and had done some sight seeing of the city. But I wanted to cover the country and see the country as a whole. I figured that the best way to do this would be to take a road trip around the nation. I Googled myself a list of the top 50 places to visit in Korea as per the CNN Travel guide and figured I’d check them off one by one! I approached a local tour operator and said I wanted to cover at least 20 of these places in the next ten days and viola by the evening an itinerary was prepared. I did some haggling and we fixed price of 4070000 won or about $3500, which was not cheap but I figured I was not going to get shortchanged for the whole trip. It was exclusive made to order and to be a private tour with my own van and driver and stay was included. I only had to pay for food and entry tickets to all the places I was to visit. The tour would start at 9:00 am every morning and end at 4:00 pm. The motels were on the cheaper at around $50 a night but I wasn’t complaining as I got the opportunity to cover a lot of Korean cities like Busan, Namwon , Boseong , Suncheon and Siheung.
I strolled around Namiseon Island a utopian place full of wild flowers, Ostrich and a music hall which played popular korean songs and exhibited the best of korean popular music culture. I trekked up Juknokwon Bamboo garden and explored it’s wild beauty. I got myself a portrait made and the artist was of course korean but I felt he made me look like more oriental than Indian. I framed the photo and kept it as a souvenir. I also tasted some amazing Korean ice cream green, pink and purple in colour all exotic flavours.
Then their was Naganeupseone Folk village , where I saw folk dances and flute play in the authentic Korean style. For lunch I tried Kimchi the Korean side dish made from fermented cabbage. Language is a bit of a barrier outside Seoul but one can get by I realised. I was sitting at a French cafe in Busan when I abruptly murmured the words konichiwa to the waitress. A young korean walked unto me and said in an heavy american accent “ Hey that’s Japanese mate, I don’t mean to be rude mate, but you should try the new google translate app, you can speak to it and it will translate into any language you want!!” I was wiser now and will use this app for my further travels I made a note. I tried roast beef Korean style with wine at the garden of morning calm.
The beauty of the Han River the wild mountains of the suburbs and the many bridges and highways of the country made me feel tizzy at times as our van moved from one city to another . A road trip indeed is the best way to get a good idea of a country and it’s culture and i will do this again during my travelthon to other nations.
The people and society is very cultured people bow their heads to say hello, the month of August has been very hot though and many use umbrellas and paper fans to escape the heat. Korea is also the most wired country with internet and wi fi widely available like every where and the access is easy and fast, uncomplicated even not being native Korean. My road trip was to end in three days but the Korean people have left a mark on me. I have enjoyed their hospitality and taken a peek into their way of living and I go back englightened.