Jeju/Busan/Seoul Day 8 (2 Nov 19) – From Busan to Seoul: Our Journey Continues in Seoul

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Onward to our next destination Seoul via KTX

Riding the KTX to Seoul

Today we take things down a notch and had our second travel break day. Much of today is spent on travelling from Busan to Seoul, our final destination of the trip, via the highspeed KTX train. We would spend the day orientating around in Seoul and watching one of the non-verbal comedy that South Korea is so famous for other than kimchi and K-pop. We woke up later than the previous days and checked out of the hotel in Busan at 10am to catch the train departing at 12 noon. We wanted to get to Seoul by 3 pm to catch our 5pm show. We wanted to get to the train station early to prevent the episode of missing our train my friend and I faced with three years ago. As a result of that, we got lost in the middle of nowhere. I did research on Naver Map App the night before and got to know that the train ride from Haeundae Station to Busan Train Station takes around 1 hr. After checking out, we dragged our luggage and headed to Haeundae Station, which is around 5 mins walk from the hotel, at the end of Gunam Street in the Haeundae area. The subway ride includes a change of train at Seomyeon Station. 1 hr later we arrived at Busan Train Station. We still have a bit of time to get some food to be consumed onboard the KTX. Unlike countries like Japan or Taiwan, there aren’t any shops selling bento sets for long-distance train commuters. The only shops that sell food are bakeries near the boarding platforms at Busan Train Station. From our recce two days ago, we have already identified the food we wanted to get which cut short our time in going around and see what is for sale.

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Taking a wefie at Busan Train Station before we leave for Seoul

After getting our takeaways, we headed to the platform where our KTX train is waiting for passengers to board. We had trouble looking for a spot to stow our luggage for the journey. There are very limited luggage storage space in between train carriages and all of them were occupied at the time we boarded the train. We had to place one of our luggage in the seat with us, while the other in the space behind the last seat in the carriage. We got settled into our seats and the train commenced the 3 hr journey from Busan to Seoul with a few stops in between. We wanted to pamper ourselves a little and gotten First Class seat tickets on the KTX. Instead of four seats across in the Economy Class, First Class seats only have three seats across each row. The seats are very comfortable and resemble a large armchair. The seats are so comfortable that we got a good rest onboard. About 30 mins after the train leave the station, a train attendant comes around and distributes a snack pack to passengers in the First Class section of the train. First Class passengers can also obtain an unlimited number of bottles of spring water from the vending machine between carriages for free. We watched South Korea zoom pass the large windows from our seats, the view from the train was amazing. Mountains after mountains, cities after cities and rivers after rivers. This is the joy of riding a train instead of flying. Halfway through the train ride, we settled on the food we bought before we board the train. The 3 hrs train ride just whiz pass like the scenery of South Korea before our eyes as the highspeed train made its way from south to north of South Korea. The train soon pulls into Seoul Station before we know it.

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Taking a wefie with the KTX train that would bring us to Seoul

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My other friend is sitting behind us

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Onboard in the First Class seat

Return to Seoul – A Sense of Familiarity

As we exited the station, the streets suddenly became familiar. My friend and I were here three years ago. Nothing much as change. As we were standing in front of Seoul Station, we begin to relate to our other friend where we stayed the last time we came to South Korea and the supermarket where they were giving out new year rice cakes to customers who walked into the supermarket. We had no troubles finding the entrance to the subway station in Seoul Station and managed to find the subway line that would take us to the hotel we would call home for the remaining days we have in South Korea. The hotel we stayed is a mere four stops away from Seoul Station. We arrived at the hotel and checked into our rooms. My friends and I settled in for a while and headed out to watch the Korean Non-verbal performance – Fantastick. We made our booking through KLOOK, however, when we arrived at the address that KLOOK gave us through the vouchers, we were surprised there weren’t any theatre buildings around. We begin asking some locals on the Fantastick theatre, although there was some communication difficulty, the Seoulites we met were very helpful. Using a translation app and their limited knowledge of English, we were told that the address given was the wrong address. One of the Seoulites that we met even googled the address on his mobile phone and showed us the correct place of the theatre. As we were already late for the show (the show would have started even if we head over to the theatre), we gave up the idea of watching the show and headed to Gangnam.

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Taking a wefie in front of Seoul Station

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Seoul as I remembered it

Gangnam Garosugil

My friend and I visited Gangnam Garosugil three years ago when we came here. Back then we were here to explore the area, however, this time around, we were here to get some mobile protectors (Spigen shop is here). As we exited the subway station, the sense of familiarity kicked in. We did not even have to rely on the map to tell us where to go. Gangnam Garosugil got its name as trees are planted on both sides of the road, almost like soldiers in a parade. Gangnam Garosugil is a relatively short street with shops, restaurants and cafes lining on both sides of the street. There are not many tourists here, mainly Seoulites visit this place. The place is as we remembered it three years ago. All sorts of luxury branded shops as well as local designer shops lined on both sides of the streets in Gangnam Garosugil. Some shops we saw three years ago are still there, others have been replaced. There is even an Apple Shop in Gangnam Garosugil. The Seoulites coming to Gangnam Garosugil are all dressed up as if they are trying to match the upmarket Gangnam Garosugil. After getting our mobile phone protectors, we took the subway to Gyeongbokgung Station for the Ginseng Chicken we had three years ago when we came. My friend still can’t forget the Ginseng Chicken we had from the restaurant three years ago. The restaurant, Tosokchon Samgyetang, is very popular with tourists and locals alike. We had to time our visit to the restaurant to avoid the long queue, which is very common in this restaurant. We reached Tosokchon Samgyetang at around 7.30pm, where the crowd had died down and we did not even have to wait in a queue.

Myeongdong – Shopping Mecca of Tourists

After having the delicious and flavourful Ginseng Chicken Soup, we headed to the shopping mecca for tourists in Seoul – Myeongdong. Myeongdong is a shopping area, nearby to Seoul Station, with a lot of shops. It is highly popular with tourists as most of the shops here offer on the spot VAT refund for tourists. Exiting the subway station, we were faced with hordes of tourists coming here to shop at Myeongdong. Nothing much has changed here since our visit three years ago. The same shops are still there. One thing nice about Myeongdong is that not only it is packed with Korean brand shops, there are also street food stalls lined up in the middle of the walking street. What I like about Myeongdong is that most of the staffs in the shops can speak fluent mandarin or good amount of English. Some of the shops here even offer good discounts for tourists and are very generous in their gifts to tourists. Myeongdong is a one-stop area for tourists as it has everything that tourists usually come to Seoul to shop for. After getting the things we were here to buy, my friends and I went back to the hotel to rest for the night.

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Myeongdong is always crowded with tourists

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Taking a wefie in Myeongdong

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Myeongdong is very crowded especially on a weekend

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Myeongdong is full of tourists

Jeju/Busan/Seoul Day 7 (1 Nov 19) – Haedong Yonggungsa Temple: The Temple By the Sea

The Deserted Haeundae Beach

Busan is famous for its beaches as it is where Koreans come to in summer to escape from the hot sun. The most popular beach in Busan is Haeundae Beach. The hotel we stayed in is literally opposite Haeundae Beach. Having been in Busan for four days, we have not really stepped into the 1.5km long Haeundae Beach is famous for its white sand. We started our day by heading to the beach and took some obligatory photos before heading to our next destination. Haeundae Beach is deserted at this time of the year as the cold temperature prohibits beachgoers from coming here. There are only a handful of morning strollers walking along the beach. After taking some pictures, we headed to the bus stop to hop onto the bus that took us to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

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Haeundae Beach

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Wefie at Haeundae Beach

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Towering buildings overlooking Haeundae Beach

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Haeundae Beach is deserted at this time of the year

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A very quiet Haeundae Beach

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My friends at the bus stop near Haeundae Beach for our bus to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple – The Temple by the Sea

The bus ride from Haeundae Beach to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple takes only 30 mins. We alighted at the bus stop that the Naver Map app pointed, from there it is a 5 mins walk to the entrance of Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Before we can hit the entrance of the temple, we were swarmed with a flood of stalls selling souvenirs and street food. The small market outside the temple is a place where visitors stop by and saviour the delicious street food that South Korea has to offer. A little further from the stalls lies an eight tiered pagoda and an archway that marks the entrance to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Unlike most of the temples in South Korea, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is not buried in the mountains or forests, it is built by the coast next to the sea. The temple offers a great view of the sea in East Busan. Passing the narrow entrance that can only fit two persons passing through at a time, a stairway leads to the temple. As we were walking down the stairs, we got a glimpse of Haedong Yonggungsa Temple beyond the trees planted along the stairway. There she is, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple sitting by the Eastern shore of Busan as though she is guarding Eastern Busan against the elements. At one point, the path to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple split into two. My friends and I took the left path leading us to a coast where we came to a large statue of Buddha sat in front of the sea for visitors to offer our prayers. After offering our prayers, we took a moment and view the coastline. It is here where we got an excellent view of the entire Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Many visitors like us, came all the way out here to take pictures of the temple.

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Pagoda at the entrance of Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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Archway marking the entrance to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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Statue of Buddha at the end of the left pathway at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

After taking some pictures, my friends and I headed back to the path which led us here and proceeded to the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Passing the intersection, we continued on the path that led us to a stone arch bridge linking the temple to the main entrance. There are several buildings at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, the biggest building is the main prayer hall at the temple with statues of three Buddhas installed inside. After offering our prayers inside the temple, my friends and I spotted a path at the side of the temple that led us to a small hill. At the base of the hill sits a large golden Laughing Buddha, as though he is welcoming visitors to the temple. A short climb up the hill, we spotted a large statue of Goddess of Mercy facing the sea. The view from the platform in front of this statue gave us a good view of the entire Haedong Yonggungsa Temple compounds. We also got a great view of the entire coast with the sea that stretches far out over the horizon together with the nearby buildings in this eastern part of Busan, the view here is liberating. After taking some pictures, we headed down to the main temple grounds and left the temple. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is rather small compared to Bulguksa Temple we visited the day before, we did not spend too much time here.

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Wefie with the main temple of Haedong Yonggungsa

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Carving of a dragon on the steps to the main prayer hall in Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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Statue of Laughing Buddha at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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Wefie with Statue of Goddess of Mercy

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This is the only pagoda in Haedong Yonggungsa Temple grounds

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View of the coast of East Busan from Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Shopping at Busan Premium Outlet

My friends and I spent the rest of the day visiting the shopping malls in Busan. After visiting Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, we headed to Busan Premium Outlet, which is about 20 mins walk from the temple. There are two premium outlets in Busan, we chose to come to this one as it is very close to the temple. The human traffic at Busan Premium Outlet was very thin at the time we arrive, maybe because the outlet is just opening up. Busan Premium Outlet is a large outlet complex with four levels. The first three levels are dedicated to numerous branded shops and the top level is where restaurants are located. My friends and I walked around and found the things being sold here does not command a bargain. We walked around like zombies and found nothing much worth buying. The only thing we found worth buying is the pair of shoes we got from Reebok shop for around S$30. After buying the shoes, we headed to the top level for lunch. Even the food options here are limited. After lunch, we walked around the entire Busan Premium Outlet a little more and headed back to the hotel to leave our shopping items.

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Busan Premium Outlet from across the road

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The entire Busan Premium Outlet was very quiet when we visited

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The lunch we had at one of the restaurants in Busan Premium Outlet

Shopping at Department Store in Busan

After reaching the hotel, we rested for a while and headed out in the evening to the Lotte Department Store. We took the subway to Centum City station there are two department stores above the station. The exit from the subway station leads to both Lotte and Shinsaegae Department Stores. Lotte Department Store is large, however, we find nothing much to buy here (maybe we are not the shopping type). We walked around for 30 mins and did not even bother going to Shinsaegae Department Store, the world’s largest department store as we thought the stuff they sell is probably similar to that in Lotte Department Store. We left the area and returned to Gunam Street in Haeundae for our last dinner in Busan. We walked around Gunam Street to check out our options for dinner.  My friends and I finally settled for a Korean BBQ restaurant as we saw quite a number of locals having dinner. We were perhaps the only foreigner in the restaurant at the time of our visit. The food here is good and the staff, like any other Korean BBQ restaurant, would BBQ the meat for us. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and pack up for our trip to Seoul the next day.

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Inside Lotte Department Store

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Shinsaegae Department Store in Centum City is the largest department store in the world

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Outside Lotte Department Store

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Our last dinner in Busan

Jeju/Busan/Seoul Day 6 (31 Oct 19) – Gyeongju: Taking a Walk Back in Time and the Iconic Bulguksa Temple

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Our journey from Busan to Gyeongju

We headed out early to Gyeongju from Busan at 7 am today as we wanted to leave the city before the rush hour kicks in. The drive to Gyeongju usually would take 1 hr via the highway, which is very straight forward, however it took us around 1½ hrs to reach Gyeongju. Around 45 mins into the journey, we spotted Eonyang rest area and stopped for a break. At Eonyang Rest Area, we had our brunch as we were a little hungry. After brunch, we continued the rest of the journey to Gyeongju.

Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village – A Walk back in Time

Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village has very well preserved and restored traditional Korean houses (hanok). The village once lived a wealthy man (Choi) who used his wealth to help the poor in the region. The village was later converted to at the first state-operated academy estate in 682. We chose to visit this village as it is close to other sites in Gyeongju. Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village is not difficult to find, the village is very close to the edge of the city, near the toll gates by the highway when turning Gyeongju exit. There is a car park opposite Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village which was not crowded at the time of our visit as it is was being early at the time of our visit. The parking and entrance to Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village are free. We reached Gyeongju at around 9.50am and the shops are not open until 10am. As we hang around the entrance to Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village while waiting for the shops to open, we spotted a tour group with their guide explaining the village. We inched closer to them hoping to get some insights to the village. The tour guide pointed only three buildings that were worthy to visit namely Choi’s house, The School of Law and the Confucian School. The rest of the buildings are shops. We crossed reference with the map we had in hand and made mental note of where these locations are. One of the things we set out to do before coming to South Korea is to try out wearing the hanbok and walk around in a historic place. Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village is the perfect place to do that. We rented hanboks from the only hanbok rental shop in the village once it opened. After wearing our rental hanboks, we roamed around Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village taking pictures. Initially, we felt a little ridiculous and certainly feel touristy, we got used to wearing hanbok after a while as hanbok is still worn by Koreans from time to time. The whole village gives one a feel of travelling back in time. Every building in Gyeongju Gyochon Traditional Village is a hanok. However, we were a tad disappointed that these hanoks have been converted to places of business, mainly restaurants and cafes. We would think there would be museums and exhibition halls in these hanoks to introduce to visitors the Korean culture and the livelihood of people in the Silla Dynasty, something similar to Jeju Folk Village we visited a few days ago.

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We changed into our handbooks and ready to walk around Gyeongju Gyocho Village

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Posing in Gyeongju Gyocho Village in our handbooks

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My friend in her hanbok in Gyeongju Gyocho Village

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Me in Gyeongju Gyocho Village in hanbok

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My friend in Gyeongju Gyocho Village in his hanbok

As we were walking, we spotted a building with its door open and also the tour group we met at the entrance earlier on. We followed the group into the building and learnt from the guide that this is one of the three buildings that are worth visiting. This is the house of Choi Family which is donated by his descendants to allow visitors to understand the Korean history. Without the explanation from the tour guide, we would have no idea about the significance of this house. The compound of the house is on the small side, however, it has everything that functions as a home here. There is even an area where urns for fermentation of kimchis are kept. Visiting Choi’s house in hanbok certainly feels we are taking a step back in time.

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Entrance to the House of Choi

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Me in the House of Choi

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My friend in House of Choi

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My friend in House of Choi in her hanbok

Woljeonggyo Bridge – The Impressive Bridge

Leaving the Choi Family’s house, we headed towards the river for our next stop – Woljeonggyo Bridge, which is about 5 mins walk from the house. Woljeonggyo Bridge is built in 760, the covered bridge built over Muncheon Stream is believed to be the oldest stone bridge in South Korea. The bridge remained standing for over five centuries and was destroyed subsequently. The bridge was restored based on the stone foundations over a period of 10 years. We were glad that the restoration of Woljeonggyo Bridge was completed and opened for visitors at the time of our visit. Woljeonggyo Bridge is the Donggung Palace is painted in colourful traditional Korean colours that one would find in their palaces. Woljeonggyo Bridge has two two-storey bridge towers on each side of the stream. These towers are decked out in mahogany red topped with bright green roofs. Taking pictures of Woljeonggyo Bridge with our hanboks makes one really feel stepping into the past. We approached the bridge towers and discovered there are two steep staircases on either side of the entrance to the bridge, that seem to lead to the upper level of the tower. We thought we might get a good view of the surroundings on the top of the tower. My friends and I climbed up one of the stairs to reach the top level of the tower to find an empty space less a historic map of Gyeongju. The wooden windows on the top level of the tower are closed making looking out to the surroundings not possible. We headed down the staircase and went to the middle of the bridge to take some pictures. Taking pictures here in our hanboks with the numerous pillars lining across the bridge makes the pictures Instagram worthy. The mid part of the bridge looks out into Muncheon Stream and the mountains surrounding Gyeongju. There is a sense of peace and harmony here.

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Bridge tower of Woljeonggyo Bridge

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Wefie at the bridge tower of Woljeonggyo Bridge

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My friends looking out to Muncheon Stream on Woljeonggyo Bridge

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Muncheon Stream from Woljeonggyo Bridge

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Is she playing hide and seek?

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The bridge tower of Woljeonggyo Bridge

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My friend on Woljeonggyo Bridge

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My friend on Woljeonggyo Bridge

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Wefie on Woljeonggyo Bridge

Gyerim Forest and the Royal Tombs – Peace and Tranquil Stroll

Leaving Woljeonggyo Bridge, we headed back towards Gyeongju Gyochon Village and instead of going inside the village, we skimmed the village and walk towards Gyerim Forest, making our way to Cheomseongdae. The forest is thickly populated with zelkova and willow trees. Gyerim Forest is believed to be the birthplace of the founder of the Gyeongju Kim clan, one of the most important clans in the Silla period in Korean history. The walk through the forest was very peaceful and the trees provided shade for us from the sun. At the end of the forest, we spotted some mounds springing out over the flatland, cordoned off by fences made of rope. These are the tombs of past kings in the Silla period. One of these tombs lies the body of King Naemul, the 17th monarch of the Silla Kingdom (in power from 356 to 402) and became the second king of the Kim family name. As we did not get closed to the tombs, we have no way to differentiate which tomb belongs to which royalty.

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The Royal Tombs in Gyeongju

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Us with the Royal Tombs in Gyeongju

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More Royal Tombs

Cheomseongdae

After taking some pictures with the royal tombs, we headed over to Cheomseongdae, the astronomy observation tower. This 9m bottle-shaped stone tower built on a square base has a cylindrical shape and topped off with a square opening structure. Cheomseongdae was built between the period of 632 to 647 to observe the movements of the stars and was thought to be the oldest existing astronomical tower in East Asia. As we were not able to climb up the tower, we left after taking some pictures with it.

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Cheomseongdae Tower

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Taking a wefie with Cheomseongdae

Donggung and Wolji Pond – The Secondary Palace

From our Naver map app, it seems that our next destination, Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond is very close to Cheomseongdae. The walk between these two sites took us around 10 mins through the vast field. Entrance to Donggung Palace costs KRW3,000 per person, unlike the five big palaces in Seoul, entrance is not free despite wearing hanbok here. Donggung Palace is a secondary palace used by the crown prince back in its heyday during the Silla period. It is also used as a banquet site to host important national events and VIPs back in those days. After the fall of the Silla dynasty, the palace was abandoned and forgotten. Entering the fence that cordons off Donggung Palace, we were faced with an empty plot of land with three standalone pavilions, each standing in one corner of the palace grounds. Our first impression here is a tad disappointing as we were expecting to see some palace buildings and not pavilions. Nonetheless, we headed to the pavilion closest to the entrance and got a glimpse of Wolji Pond, which look like a normal pond with some lotus leaves in it. The first pavilion was empty and we were not impressed by it. We headed to the second pavilion further into the Donggung Palace grounds. Here we learnt more about the original palace building from a model of the palace in its heyday. We started to get impressed by the palace based on the model. We stayed here a bit more to look out into Wolji pond and the third pavilion. We did not bother going to the third pavilion as it looked empty. My friends and I then walked around trying to piece together where the main palace building was based on the model we saw. From the model and walking on the actual palace grounds, we thought the palace is a tad small. I have seen pictures of Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond at night, I thought visiting the palace at night would be the best due to the lighting. We did not spend too much time here at Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond and left for the hanbok shop to return our hanbok.

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First Pavilion in Donggung Palace facing Wolji Pond

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My friend in her handbook at Donggung Palace

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Second  and third pavilion in Donggung Palace

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Second Pavilion in Donggung Palace up close

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Taking a wefie with the second pavilion in Donggung Palace

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Model of the Donggung Palace in its heyday

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My friend in the second pavilion in Donggung Palace

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Looking out into Wolji Pond from the second pavilion

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There used to be a palace building on this empty land in Donggung Palace

Bulguksa – The Historic Temple with a Character

After returning our hanbok, my friends and I headed to the city of Gyeongju to have lunch. It is a 20 mins drive to Bulguksa Temple from Gyeongju City. Entrance to Bulguksa Temple, which was built in 751, costs KRW5,000 per person and parking at the temple car park would set one back by KRW1.000 per vehicle. The large temple that seems to be built in the middle of the forest and is designated as a National Monument in South Korea due to the unique technique used to build the stone gateways in the 8th century. Most of the buildings in Bulguksa Temple was destroyed during the Japanese invasion and was reconstructed after years of excavation and research to its original looks. After getting our tickets, we walked up a slope and headed to the trio stoned icons of the temple and Gyeongju. These three stoned structures consist of two stairways, namely Anyangmun on the left and Jahamun on the right, as well as a pavilion – Beomyeongru in the centre. The stone stairways and the pavilion looked ancient and give off a vibe that they have been stood the test of time. If only these structures can talk, they will have so many stories to tell over the centuries they have been standing in Bulguksa Temple. The trio stone structures are especially charming in autumn and make very good Instagram photos. In front of these iconic stone structures lies a large courtyard, where most of the visitors to Bulguksa Temple gathers to take pictures with the iconic stone structures. To preserve the building, these stone structures are out of bounds to visitors.

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Wefie at the entrance of Bulguksa Temple

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Bell pavilion in Bulguksa Temple

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The iconic Anyangmun, Beomyeongru and Jahamunn in Bulguksa Temple

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Beomyeongru and  in the far right Jahamunn in Bulguksa Temple

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The bell pavilion of Beomyeongru up close

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Jahamunn up close

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Wefie in front of Jahamunn

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Wefie at the courtyard in front of Anyangmun, Beomyeongru and Jahamunn in Bulguksa Temple

After taking some pictures, my friends and I went around the building where the entrance is located and headed into the temple grounds. Passing through the side door, we were met with a relatively large courtyard. The first thing that caught our eyes in this courtyard is a stone stupa and a five-tiered pagoda, as though functioning as guards for the building behind it. Sitting at the back of this courtyard with a sense of authority is a  wooden building decked in yellow paint. This building is Daeungjeon where a large Buddha is installed. The underside of the roof is decorated with elaborate wooden patterns with murals of Buddhas painted on each panel. We went into Daeungjeon to offer our prayers to the Buddha. Facing Daeungjeon is Jahamun with the stone staircase leading to the bottom part of the temple. The staircase is being cordoned off. Looking out at the temple grounds below facing the courtyard gives one a sense of peacefulness despite it being crowded with visitors. My friends and I find Jahamun to be a very good spot to take pictures of this piece of history.

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The stone stupa and pagoda guarding Daeungjeon

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Daeungjeon sitting at the back of the courtyard seemingly with a sense of authority

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Stone pagoda in front of Daeungjeon

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Wefie with Daeungjeon

After some pictures at Jahamun, we proceed back to the courtyard and headed to the left Daeungjeon where another door leads us to yet another courtyard. In the middle of this courtyard sits another wooden building also decked in yellow paint. This building is Geungnakjeon, which houses another statue of Buddha. Geungnakjeon is much smaller than Daeungjeon and the crowd here is thinner. Unlike Daeungjeon, there are no stupas or pagodas in the courtyard of Geungnakjeon. Similar to Jahamun, the stone stairways leading to Anyangmun is cordoned off. However, Anyangmun is another place where visitors can take good pictures. We left Geungnakjeon shortly after offering our prayers to the Buddha installed inside it.

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Geungnakjeon sitting in the middle of the courtyard

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My friend at Anyangmun

As we were walking out of the side entrance of the Geungnakjeon, we spotted a small building that seems to be tucked in one corner of Bulguksa Temple. What captivated us was the bright red maple leaves on the trees in front of this building. We could not resist taking pictures with the beautiful tree in its autumn attire.

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The building with bright red and yellow autumn foliage in Bulguksa Temple

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We can’t resist taking a wefie with the beautiful autumn trees

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Me in front of the entrance of the building with red autumn leaves

As we were walking around the temple grounds of Bulguksa Temple, we were more captivated by the red autumn leaves on the trees. We spotted a Japanese looking structure. Curious we went up and take a look and to find out why is there a Japanese structure here in South Korea. This structure houses the Bulguksa Temple Museum. We did not enter the museum as it would cost us extra to enter. We decided that we had covered most of Bulguksa Temple and headed straight to the exit to our next destination.

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Autumn in Bulguksa Temple

Back to Busan

We originally planned to visit another temple in Gyeongju, we scrapped the idea in view of the time. Instead, we headed back to Busan and drove to Oryukdo Skywalk while we still have the use of the car. Before we set out, we did an online search and came to know that the skywalk closes at 6.30pm. Based on Naver map app, it would take use around 1½ hr to reach Oryukdo Skywalk, which we will still be able to make it before it closes. We reached Oryukdo Skywalk at 5.45pm and it is already dark in Busan. After parking our car, we headed to the skywalk entrance and found it to be closed. There is a sign posted at the entrance that stated the skywalk closes at 5.30pm during autumn. We were a tad disappointed and headed back to Busan Train Station to return the car.

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View of Busan at night from Oryukdo Skywalk car park

Dinner at Jagalchi Market

After returning the car, we were deciding what to have for dinner (I usually don’t plan for food for my trips). My friend suggested having octopus sashimi for dinner, one of the things that we did not try out the last time we came to South Korea three years back. Since we are already at Busan, where the seafood is cheap and abundant, we headed to Jagalchi Market – the largest seafood market in South Korea. The subway ride from Busan to Jalgachi Market took us 20 mins and from the subway station, it is a mere 5 mins walk to the market. Jagalchi Market is a large building that one cannot miss. The ground floor of the market is filled with stalls selling live seafood, while the second level is where all the restaurants are located. As we were walking up the stairs to the second level, we were approached by the staffs of one of the restaurants. We settled for the restaurant and started to order our food. Our purpose is to try the octopus sashimi which the tentacles are still moving despite being chopped into pieces, and that is one of the things that we ordered. Eating the octopus was not as bad as I thought, the tentacles just went down my throat without much difficulty. It just tasted of sashimi. I thought the food is a little pricey as we spent around SGD180 for the three of us. Thinking that we might we be ripped off, we took a walk around to compare the prices of the other restaurants. We found that the prices in all the restaurants are the same. As we are tired after a full day of walking around in Gyeongju, we headed back to the hotel to rest after dinner.

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Jagalchi Market in Busan

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Ready to tuck in for dinner

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Eating the octopus sashimi is a unique experience in South Korea

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The ground level in Jagalchi Market consists of stalls selling live seafood

Jeju/Busan/Seoul Day 5 (30 Oct 19) – Tongyeong and Geoje in Gyeongsangnam-do: The Naples of Asia

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Our road trip to Tongyeong and Geoje in Gyeongsangnam-do

Journey to the Naples of Asia – Tongyeong and Geoje

We started our day early today again. We set off from Busan at 7.30 am partly due to the long drive from Busan to Tongyeong and partly to avoid the morning rush hour in Busan. The plan is to visit Tongyeong first as it is further away from Busan, followed by Geoje before returning to Busan. The drive to Tongyeong from Busan takes around 3½ hrs. My biggest worry about driving on this trip is Busan. I read that Busan has narrow roads and traffic jams are very common. Having little experience in left-hand drive, I figured we should leave early. The traffic condition was light at the time we set off, however as we drove westwards towards Tongyeong, traffic starts to build up. It is still manageable. About 1 hr into the journey, we are already out of the city of Busan. Our GPS app led us to drive on the bridge and tunnels that pass through several islands, with amazing scenery. About 1½ hrs into the journey, after passing the first bridge over the sea, we spotted a sign that points to Gadeok Ocean Park rest area. This is a good time for me to take a break and for us to grab some snacks. We found a statue of Le Petit Prince at the back of the building facing the surrounding sea and the best thing is there is no one queuing up to take pictures with it. I told my friends I thought Gamcheon Culture Village is the only place that has this statue. We also discovered a small park behind the rest area building that overlooks the sea dotted with small islands afar. It feels very peaceful looking out while the sea breeze gently brushes against our faces. There is a pavilion here for visitors to rest or even picnic while looking out into the sea. After getting our food and coffee we continued driving to Tongyeong. We drove on Geogadaegyo Bridge that links the several islands in this region together.

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The blue sky and the calm sea makes this scenery feels peaceful

Tongyeong – The Port City of Islands

Mireuksan and the Longest Cable Car in South Korea

We drove for another 2 hrs to finally reach our first destination in Tongyeong, Mireuksan. Mireuksan is one of South Korea’s top 100 mountains which boasts a view of the numerous islands in the surrounding. To get to the summit of Mireuksan, we did not have to trek like we did in Hallasan. Here we embarked onto our third experience on this trip, riding on South Korea’s longest cable car system. The cable car ride costs KRW10,000 per person for a return ride. Tongyeong Hallyeosudo Cable Car is 1,975m long and 10 mins ride whisks us to the summit station of Mireuksan. As the cable car hovers above the thick forest of Mireuksan beneath us, I can’t help but wonder the hike up Mireuksan would be tedious if not for this cable car system. The higher the cable car climbs up Mireuksan, the more we get to see the magnificent view of the surroundings. We got a good glimpse of the entire Port City of Tongyeong and islands beyond Tongyeong from the cable car ride. This got us excited about the view of Hallyeosudo islands from the summit of Mireuksan.

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Riding the cable car allows us to see the surroundings

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View of the Port City of Tongyeong from the cable car

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View from the cable car

The cable car calls into the summit station, exiting the station, we already got a good view of the surroundings. We could see the numerous islands dotting all over the bay. The clear blue cloudless sky seems to merge with the sea, if not for the islands we would not be able to differentiate the sky from the sea. The walk up to the summit of Mireuksan is very easy. The path is well built and consists of a series of well-paved steps with up and down ways well segregated to prevent congestion. At one point up to the summit, the pave splits into two. The path up to the summit is a loop, it does not matter which way we go as we will end up on the summit anyways. We chose the path on the route, where it took us to the viewpoint of the Great Battle of Hansan. The viewpoint of the Great Battle of Hansan is a short way down from the main pathway. Standing at the top of the pathway, the view here is liberating, the islands in the surroundings looked like jewels spreading all over the bay. My friend and I headed down to the viewpoint, other than the surroundings, we could also see the summit cable car station we were at a few minutes ago.

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View of Hallyeosudo from the cable station

We continued our way to the summit of Mireuksan and reached Sinseondae Viewpoint. The view from Sinseondae viewpoint is the best on Mireuksan. This is where we got the full view of the entire Hallyeosudo area. The view here is simply breathtaking! It is a very short walk from Sinseondae to the summit of Mireuksan. Mireuksan is 461m above sea level and at the summit, there is a tablet marking the summit of the mountain. The summit offers a 360° view of the entire area, including a view of the Port City of Tongyeong and beyond. It was a tad crowded at the summit, looking around, I realised we were the only foreigners here at the summit of Mireuksan.

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View from the summit of Mireuksan

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At the summit of Mireuksan

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View of Hallyeosudo from the summit of Mireuksan

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The view at the summit of Mireuksan is stunning

After taking more pictures at the summit and at the Sinseondae viewpoint, we headed back to the cable car via the other route. Coming down from the summit of Mireuksan, the only other viewpoint on this route is the Sea Battle of Dangpo Viewpoint. From this viewpoint, we see more of the mountain ranges below Mireuksan and a small glimpse of the sea. Despite not as impressive as the view from the summit of Mireuksan, the view here is still breathtaking with some islands spreading across the sea below. It is another 5 mins to walk back to the cable car station, where we took the cable car back to the base station and head on to our next destination.

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Sea Battle of Dangpo Viewpoint

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View at Sea Battle of Dangpo Viewpoint

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One last wefie on Mireuksan before heading down

Dara Park

Our next destination in Tongyeong is Dara Park, which is located south of Mireuksan. The drive to Dara Park took us about 20 mins. Along the way, we spotted a car stopping by the side of the road. Curious we also stopped behind the car and spotted an unmarked lookout that offers a great view of the bay below. From here we were able to see some of the islands off the coast of Tongyeong. There seems to be some sort of farm in the sea near the coast. We were glad to have stopped here (thanks to the car we spotted when driving) as this unmarked lookout is totally Instagram worthy. After taking some pictures, we continued our drive to Dara Park. We parked our car at the nearby paid car park and walked to the entrance of Dara Park. There is a restaurant at the entrance, however, it looks deserted. It is here that we found out there are some parking lots that in front of the restaurant that we could have parked for free. Entrance to Dara Park is free. The walk from the entrance to Dara Park takes around 3 mins and at the end of the walk, there is a single bench that looks out into the bay. We were a tad disappointed with the view of Dara Park. We could only see a small portion of the bay and some islands in the sea, mainly due to Dara Park is not situated in an elevation high enough to offer an unobstructed view of the bay and partly due to the view being blocked by the vegetation between the park and the sea. People usually come to Dara Park for sunset and I have no doubt we would be able to see some beautiful sunset today due to the cloudless sky. I did not plan to come here during sunset as the drive back to Busan from Dara Park would take us around 3 hrs. We left soon after taking some obligatory photos.

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Partial view of the bay at Dara Park

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My friends checking their mobile phones on the bench at Dara Park

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Geoje – The Blue City and South Korea’s Second Largest Island

After spending the morning on the island of Tongyeong, we headed over to South Korea’s second-largest island, Geoje where we stopped by three sites on this island.

Mundong Waterfall

When I was planning for this trip, I chanced upon a waterfall on the island of Geoje between our previous stop Dara Park and our next stop Sinseondae Platform. According to my planning on Naver Map app (South Korea’s Google Map equivalent), we would have some time for this waterfall. The drive from Dara Park to the entrance of Mundong Waterfall took us 1 hr pass the city of Tongyeong. Driving to the entrance of Mundong Waterfall requires some caution as part of the road became a one-laned road cater for traffic going in and coming out. Fortunately, no cars were plying along this road when we were there. Entrance and car parking at Mundong Waterfall is free. After parking our car, we followed the signs (in Korean, and we roughly knew it is the way to the waterfall) and made our 7 mins walk to the waterfall. My friends and I were shocked when we reached the waterfall. There was hardly any water falling from the waterfall. We only saw a small stream of water flowing down from the cliff on top, as if someone had forgotten to turn off the tap. The among of water is so little that we could walk on the almost dried up stream beneath the waterfall. On the plus side, we could get really close to the waterfall. I guess we were not in season to see the waterfall, no wonder there was hardly anyone when we walked in from the car park. Rather than feeling disappointed, we took this opportunity to lighten ourselves by taking some silly photos. We left Mundong Waterfall for our next stop after spending 3 mins here.

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Instead of a waterfall, we only saw a small stream of water flowing down at Mundong Waterfall

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My friend reaching out to the small stream of water from Mundong Waterfall

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It is so dried up that we can walk on the river bed

Sinseondae Platform

The drive to Sinseondae Platform on Geoje takes us around 45 mins. Along the way, we passed by Gucheon Reservoir. The scenery of the reservoir is so nice that we stopped on the side of the road and took some pictures with it. Gucheon Reservoir is surrounded by mountains that make this reservoir looks more like a picturesque lake instead of a reservoir.

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Gucheon Reservoir looks more like a lake than a reservoir

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Me at Gucheon Reservoir

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My friend at Gucheon Reservoir

We continued our drive to Sinseondae Cliff Observatory car park and was disappointed to learn that the area was closed for some works when we arrive. We tried to make good of the situation by getting close enough to the side of the cliff without encroaching into the work area. My friends and I decided to take some pictures and then bunk off to our next destination. Just when we were about to leave, we spotted afar there seem to be a route that we can walk down to Sinseondae Platform and there are some people at the platform. Not giving up, we turned off our GPS app and drove along the road towards where we spotted people going down to the beach. Not wanting to miss the beach, we spotted a small parking lot in front of Angel in Us Cafe and parked our car there. We then walked across the road to the entrance of Haegeumgang Theme Museum that looked abandoned where we spotted a pathway that leads to the beach. Following the pathway, we reached Sinseondae Platform which is essentially huge rocks that extends into the sea. The view from Sinseondae Platform is amazing as we were literally standing on the sea looking out into a scene with islands and mountains popping out from the sea. It is around sunset at the time of our visit, making this place looks picturesque. The walk onto the rocks is a small adventure itself as we were exploring which rock we can walk onto to get as close to the sea and yet gives us a vantage view of the surroundings. Although these rocks, eroded by the forces of nature, seems uneven they are very safe to walk on as most of the top of the rocks are flat.

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This is the closest we can get at Sinseondae Cliff Observatory

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Taking a wefie at Sinseondae Cliff Observatory

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Taking a wefie on the way to Sinseondae Platform

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My friend at the path to Sinseondae Platform

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View from the path to Sinseondae Platform

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My friend at Sinseondae Platform

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Me at Sinseondae Platform looking out into the sunset

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My friend at Sinseondae Platform

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Taking a wefie at Sinseondae Platform before we leave

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View of the town from Sinseondae Platform

Windy Hills

After spending some time on Sinseondae Platform, we headed to our last destination of the day in Gyeongsangnam-do, Windy Hills. The drive to Windy Hills from Sinseondae Platform takes less than 5 mins. For this short drive, we rely on the street signs instead of our GPS (as it points us to take a longer route). Entrance and parking at Windy Hills are free. After parking our car, we took a short walk up to the windmill. Looking out into the sea from Windy Hills, this place looks more like some lake in a European country rather than South Korea. There is a windmill on top of Windy Hill that was used as a set in a Korean drama. Sitting on the bench in front of the windmill looking out at the sea is very therapeutic. This is a good end to the long day we had today. We enjoyed the sea breeze and the tranquillity this place brings and would love to stay here longer. However, as the sun is about to set and considering that we had to drive over some windy roads on our way back, we left Windy Hills and embarked on our drive back to Busan. Along the way back to Busan, we stopped by Gadeok Ocean Park rest area for a break.

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This does not seem like we are in South Korea

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View of the sea at Windy Hill

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The sun is setting over Windy Hill

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Taking a wefie at Windy Hill

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The windmill on Windy Hill

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Dusk at Windy Hill

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Night view of Geoje at Ocean Park Rest Area

Back to Busan Gunam Street

The drive from Geoje to Busan took around 3 hrs. We headed back to the hotel and parked our car there. Instead of going back to our rooms, we headed out to the nearby Gunam Street for dinner. We did not want to have too full a dinner as we wanted to buy some street food back to the hotel to eat. We settled our dinner at a Korea BBQ restaurant, after which we headed to Haeundae Market nearby to get some Korean fish cake, tteokbokki and Korean fried chicken back to the hotel to eat. It is a long day and tomorrow we will be having another long day in Gyeongju. We rested for the night soon after eating the food we bought from Haeundae Market.

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My friends buying street food at Haeundae Market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeju/Busan/Seoul Day 4 (29 Oct 19) – Onward to Busan and the Colourful Gamcheon Culture Village

Our itinerary is deliberately kept very light today, we catered time to travel from Jeju to Busan and also to take a break from the hectic schedule in the past two days in Jeju to prevent travel fatigue. After all, this is our 4th day in South Korea and we still have another eight days to go.

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Flying from Jeju to Busan

Bye Bye Jeju

Today we bid our farewells to Jeju and embarked on the second leg of our trip. We woke up early to ensure that we have sufficient time to return our rental car and make it to the airport. I was a little worried that we might be cutting the time a little fine as the car rental company only opens at 8am and our flight is at 8.50am. Nonetheless, we tried our luck and left our accommodation early to see if the car rental company opens early. We reached the rental car return at 7.45am and was pleasantly surprised that the car rental company had already opened. The process of car return is very swift. The staff took our car and did a quick inspection, before long we were given the green light that everything was fine with the car. The staff even pointed us to the shuttle bus stop to Jeju Airport and informed us that the bus will be leaving soon. We made it to the 7.50am bus leaving for Jeju Airport. A short  10 mins ride whipped us to the airport in no time. We arrived at Jeju Airport at 8am, giving us ample time to check-in (luckily there were a lot of Korean Air counters and the queue was very thin). Check-in was done in under 5 mins, however, we were struck with a long immigration queue. Foreign visitors travelling out of Jeju Airport, even on domestic flights, are subjected to immigration check. Despite the long queue, the queue moved very fast and we were at airside in under 15 mins. By the time we reached our boarding gate, our flight had just commenced boarding.