Saturday, September 21, 2013

A day out in Taejongdae, Busan Sep 2013

Thanks to Chuseok holiday, I get to spend another weekend in Busan!  Which was fantastic cos it gave me time to explore Busan at a leisurely pace.  So on a bright, sunny Saturday morning, I headed out to Taejongdae, one of the most beautiful spots in Busan, named after King Taejong who visited this place because of its beauty.

It is a fairly simple journey to Taejongdae.  Get off at Nampo station (Line 1) Exit 6 and hope onto any one of the buses that goes to Taejongdae - 8,30,88,66,101 (takes about 20mins).  Yup seems like all buses go to Taejongdae and just sit and relax till the very end.  Interestingly, once you get off the bus, the cruise touts start to guide you to listen to a briefing of the cruise, obviously in Korean.  Yup, not understanding a word they said, I just looked at the map and walked off.  

There's an information counter where you can get a map and try to ask questions to the ladies at the counter who barely speak English.  But a map is worth a thousand words!
The tram station

Basically, Taejongdae trail is a loop of 4.3km, start at the information counter, and end back there!  You could hop onto the tram (1,500won for adults) that allows you to do the hop on and off thing and takes you round the loop, or just like me - walk it!  It's a fairly easy walk, but of course the sun was cruel and 15mins into the walk, I swear I lost 1kg of water.

There isn't really much to see along the way - 1st stop was at Taewon pebble beach, where you get a fairly nice view of a small bay.  Then onwards to the big attraction point - the lighthouse and Sinseon Rock.  By the time you get to that point, you know you are halfway through the loop!
Pebble beach so called cos there are pebbles on the beach!

Getting to the lighthouse and Sinseon Rock requires a bit of exercise - first you have to walk down thousands and thousands of flights of steps (at least it felt that way) to get to the bottom where the Sinseon Rock is.  I really loved it down there where you get a view of the Taejongdae cliffs.  The rock formations create a really interesting and great scenery.  Standing right at the edge of the cliffs, it gives a really adventurous feeling - nope not to jump but to climb or take a hike.  Of course, all just in my mind.  
See that rock in the middle? Apparently that was a woman waiting for her husband

And once you are down, you need to get back right up! Up to the lighthouse where the air was so bloody stale up the top!  Frankly speaking, climbing into the lighthouse and up was not worth the effort.  Once you get up to the top of the lighthouse, you get enclosed in the glasshouse and fully experience the greenhouse effect where you feel like you cannot breathe, the air is stale and stuffy and the view is less breathtaking as when you were outside.  So don't bother with climbing up the lighthouse.

Once you hit that spot of Taejongdae, you have pretty much came to do and see what you came to do and see.  The walk back to the end is a rather leisurely one with nothing much to stop along the way to see.  I took a side track to the Taejongdae temple but like I've said many times before, really gota stop trying to walk to see a temple in Korea!  Really not impressive.  And no exception this time.  I walked close enough to get an idea of what might have been and turned back.

All in all, the trip in Taejongdae itself took me about 2 hours (to walk, hike, stop and take pictures).  Of course if you are utilizing the tram, it will take much shorter.  I was tempted to at first, as the lady at the information counter told me 4.3km from start to lighthouse which would have made the entire loop an 8.6km!  But of course I should have known!  Studying the signboards out at the tram station, I realized the loop itself is 4.3km.  So manageable walk!  And I was deterred by the snaking crowd at the tram station.  I hate crowd and I bloody hell was not going to walk 40mins to get onto a tram!  40min would get me close to the lighthouse just by walking!

It's a good half a day to spend in Busan surrounded by nature and water and rocks.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Once upon a mountain called Mt Geumjeong - Busan

What's a trip to South Korea without a hike up the mountains?!?! It's a national pastime for the middle aged South Koreans! What with their colour-coordinated sports outfit.  This time, my trip to Busan brought me to Mt Geumjeong, at 801m high.

2 options to start the hike:
1 - Alight at Oncheongjeong (Line 1), take bus 203 to the bottom of the cable car station and start hiking from South Gate through to East Gate then to North Gate and up to Godangbong Peak.
2 - Alight at Beomeosa ("Bur-Mo-Sa") Line 1, take bus 90 to Beomeosa Temple and start the hike there to North gate, up to Godangbong peak and continue to East and South Gate.

I chose option 2 cos that's the easier to find the starting point, and closer to the peak.  For the metro, best to get the transport card as you get a discount on metro travel plus you get free transfer within 30 minutes of alighting! A normal card ticket will cost you 1,400won for 2 sections and 1,200 for 1 section, while a transport card is only 1,100won for 1 section and 1,200 for 2 sections.  At Beomeosa station, exit 5, follow the sign to walk towards the bus interchange where bus 90 waits (1,200won if you do not have a transport card).  The bus will take you to the Beomeosa ticket office (you don't actually have to buy a ticket to enter the temple).  You could also choose to walk the 3km from the bus terminal to Beomeosa, but better save your energy for the hike.
Beomeosa Temple

The temple itself, pretty much not very impressive.  As is with most temples, it is not extremely majestic or grand.  I didn't spend much time walking around the temple.  If you have time, do so, if not, I suggest just go straight to the North gate.  

The stone trek up

North gate

The walk to the North gate is alot of uphill climb (stone steps) and a distance of 1.7km.  It is all a walk through the forest with some side trails to other temples.  I just headed straight on and arrived at North gate in 30mins.  The trek itself is not particularly hard, but I'm not a fan of stone steps...From the north gate, turn right to head to Godangbong peak and left takes you to East gate.  From North gate to the peak is about 1.1km and took me about 30mins.  The peak is a bigger rock than Bukhansan's peak and very windy.  You get a really good view of the city and forest below.  I enjoyed some quiet time up there just thinking about nothing much and enjoying the wind.  Another 20mins downhill back to North gate and headed to East gate.
The peak

East gate is a distance of 3.9km from North gate and the beginning is all uphill hike.  I would say this is the most tiring part of the trek where you had to keep hiking up up and up through countless steps.  But once you arrive up, you will be rewarded with great views!!!  Along the way, after you reach another viewpoint, you will be presented with 2 trails - the inner trail and the outer trail.  Both lead to the East gate but provided different views.  I followed the outer trail which takes you along the edge overlooking the scenery below.  It was a really nice trek.  At one point, the trail became like unmanned scrubs and you have to walk through scrubs and branches.  Now I know why the Koreans all dressed in long sleeves and pants.  But still the weather was way too hot to be all covered up!
Walk to East Gate

About an hour plus later, I arrived at East gate. From East gate, it is another 2.2km to South gate.  I was happily walking towards South gate, thinking I was making good time, when I spotted the bus stop!  The bus stop for 203, which is Option 1 to start the trek the opposite way.  And I thought to myself - Is this the end?  Or is the end at the South gate?  I had no idea if there is going to be a way out at the South gate, and this bustop seemed to be crowded with hikers.  Just when I was deciding, the bus came and I decided to hop on in case South gate has no bus stop.  Bus 203 is a lot more expensive at 1,800won per trip.  On the way downhill, I realized there are actually several more exits along the way!  Damn, that was when I thought I probably should have continued on the hike to South gate.  Not for the view (as the hike was mainly in the forest) but more for completeness.  But I still did a good 3.5 hour hike and made it up to the peak!  

Mission accomplished, I went back to my hotel and had a long hot sensual bubbly bath and rest.  Would definitely recommend the hike to anyone visiting Busan if you have 1 extra day to spend after all the other sightseeing.  Not for the faint hearted though...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple - Busan Sep 2013

One of the most popular and famous temple in Busan, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is THE temple by the sea.  THE temple you always see on brochures and travel agencies advertising Busan.  It is really breathtaking - Well the scenery not the temple itself.

One a fine Saturday morning, I set off to visit first Dalmaji Hill then onwards to Yonggungsa Temple.  Dalmaji Hill is nothing to brag about.  About 10min taxi ride from Haeundae Temple, it is a small hill.  Once you arrive at the pavilion, you might think that is it, but walking past, you will discover the hidden trail that snakes behind the pavilion rounding off the coast line.  The entire trail is about 5km long, and I'm not sure exactly where it ends as everything was in Korean.  So I started hiking along the trail.  It is an easy trail with a picture stop near the pavilion.  Walking on and on, I hit the main road which was the end of the trail.  From there I hopped onto a taxi to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.  

At Dalmaji Hill
15mins later, I arrived.  There is a public bus right outside the road leading to the temple too.  Entering the temple, you will walk past the 12 Chinese Zodiac.  At the end, where the Buddha statue is, turn left to head towards the seaside and the temple.  The right trail leads to a really nice coastal walk, but more on that later.

Entering the temple area, you will be greeted with the coast, and the temple sits just by the coast.  The view is really amazing!  Temple as I said, is nothing to brag about but apparently you can have your fortunes told or something.  But in Korean, they don't really mean anything much to me.  The temple itself is pretty small.  There is a really big and tall Goddess of Mercy Statue right at the top.

After visiting the temple, I headed for the forest walk.  Remember the right trail I mentioned in the second paragraph?  Yup, there are signboards pointing to "Forest Walk" or something like that.  A tip - Once you hit the start of the trail, turn left at the first turnoff where you will see a sign in Korean.  That will lead you directly to the coastal walk from the temple to Songjeong, which is really a great walk.  Well, being not well-versed in Korean, of course that sign meant nothing to me.  I walked straight ahead and hit the parking lot.  But there was a sign (in English) that pointed to Songjeong via a coastal walk, so I followed.
So this is the gated walkway.  The sign with red slashes

If you squint hard, you can see the uncle fishing

5mins into the walk, I reallly hit unmanned grass patch, and even ventured past the gated walkway which has a sign on it, which probably meant "Do Not Enter" but I claimed ignorance and squeezed through the gap by the side.  Hey, the trail carried on past the gate! I have to follow through.  Not long after, I arrived at the coast and took a short break.  There I spotted a Korean uncle fishing.  He motioned for me to approach him and I did.  Thinking I was Korean, he started spouting Korean and I immediately stopped him.  We chatted sparingly and he told me to go back and round the other way for the nice coastal route towards Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.  I had originally intended to walk towards Songjeong (opposite direction) but this new information took me by surprise and of course I had to do it!  And I have so grateful for the uncle for pointing it out to me!

Menacing clouds in the sky

The walk was great!  Views of the coast and rock formations, and not crowded at all!  Probably only a handful of hikers along the trail and I had fun posing for pictures.  The trail led me back exactly where I started - Yonggungsa, the "forest walk" trail about 30mins or so later.  And I exited exactly where I said visitors should start.  That was when I realized I could have done the coastal walk from the start and walk to Songjeong.  Well well, at least I did the walk!

All these I did in flip flops.  All 3H of walking.  Yea I hadn't expected the walk cos I thought it was going to rain but the weather turned out great!  Highly recommend visiting Yonggungsa Temple!  Worth the time and do the hike along the coast!