Thursday, 4 June 2015

광주 | Gwangju

May 1st was the start of one of South Korea's rare long weekends, so we decided to go on an adventure. Usually we'd take advantage of the extra travel time and hop on a plane somewhere (only Japan so far but we're wanting to diversify a little). Unfortunately, we weren't too sure on the specific dates and by the time we were, prices had hiked a little, and most things were booked up because who can blame the overworked staff of SK wanting to get away from it all as soon as possible?

I'd made a list of upcoming festivals I really wanted to visit in the coming weeks, and this one coincided with a couple of things in Gwangju and the surrounding area. We'd been told to check out that area, as well as it appearing on quite a few "great places to go in SK that AREN'T SEOUL" (things I keep looking for, because as wonderful as Seoul is, at the end of the day a city is a city.)

Also, why bother living in Korea if every chance you get, you leg it abroad somewhere?

Anyway, we got up early and hopped on the subway to Yongsan, where we could catch a train to Gwangju with ease. Aside from our brief trip to Justin's town back at Christmas time, we'd never really gotten the train anywhere and it was a little bit scary to say the least.

It was easy to buy a ticket though, and despite it being pretty busy we managed to get some unassigned tickets for the very next train. I think this was actually the most confusing and eventful part of the 3~4 hour journey, as we didn't really understand the conditions of carriage. We took it the same way as it goes at home, for safety: if you're unreserved, you can sit anywhere but have to vacate your seat as soon as the person who reserved it turns up.

63 Building and the area trashed a bit by the Avengers
Sadly, what with it being so busy, a few stops through the suburbs saw us hop around from seat to seat until finally the carriage was full less than 30 minutes into our journey. We took our chances with the corridors, like many other people, and basically tried to stay our of anyone's way and hop away quickly any time we came to a station (all of the doors not on the platform side were, wisely, already taken.)

So in that respect, I really would recommend booking or buying your tickets in advance if you're going anywhere at a peak time, beacuse it was kind of uncomfortable and felt like those days as a teenager thinking there's a 50:50 chance you're on the wrong train/travelling with the wrong ticket and pretending to be asleep to avoid finding out that you're the 50% that needs to get off right now.

Most days though, I'd say you're fine winging it on the day if you're the kind of person that's okay with such a footloose, floozy lifestyle ;)

Gigantic churches looking really out of place in tiny towns.
Everything is so green! I missed it!

After a while I wandered in search of a bathroom that had both paper, a clean floor, and no other occupants, which was surprisingly difficult. What I did find, however, was a cute little carriage that presumably would act as a dining car later in the day. This early in the morning, though, it was a sightseeing spot for people to sit on benches facing the windows and enjoying the view.

Harking back once again to our student days, we...took a nap under one of the standing counters (no benches) while we waited for someone to give up their seat.

With about an hour to go, we woke up and ate some of our rations (I'm getting melodramatic now), and a pair of older ladies ushered us to their bench with bemused smiles before getting off the train. Nice Korea!

Gwangju Very hot. It was also a pleasant surprise to see a distinct lack of tall buildings. Having looked at Naver Maps a few times, we decided the walk to our guesthouse wouldn't be too far and it'd be a good way to see the city a bit.

We were wrong.

It took an age, and with our heavy bag of weekend clothes we ended up pretty sweaty, to find that the owner wasn't in at the moment so we couldn't check in. Not a big problem as I think we were a bit early, but it did mean that when we went back out in search of food after a brief rest, we still had to take our bags with us. Egh.

We indulged in this gigantic choco bingsu and it was great except for the HERSHEYS. UGH.
I'm assuming we checked in after eating and looking around, but in the next few photos we still have the huge bag, so maybe we decided to make the most of our time and look around for a bit.

After the usual troubles with getting a taxi (what are we doing wrong?) I managed to find a bus that would take us to Mudeungsan National Park.

The weirdest thing about this area was the weird little village of hiking equipment stores at the entrance. There were so many, I don't understand why you'd need so many different stores selling the exact same clothes, but okay. There were also some nice traditional/family restaurants which I reckon is just what you want for winding down after a day walking all over some mountains.

Anyway, we started walking and just followed our feet (as long as they were on some kind of path) up into the trees. It started easily enough, some steep steps, some uneven trails, with a handrail all the way to let us know we were still okay.

We headed up one part of a trail called "Ttokkideung" (토끼등) which I was fairly taken with because 토끼 means rabbit in Korean and there were a few cute pictures of cartoon rabbits dotted about. What could possibly go wrong?

Doing this writeup, I've found out that 등 means 'etc' or a ranking (but also the backside of something, a lamp, and a rattan chair, so this is just guesswork here) so one could assume one of their two things:

1) rabbit rank is fairly low-level, considering rabbits are pretty cute, small, fluffy and generally associated with soft, child-like scenarios.
2) rabbit rank is hellish because you'd need all the energy of a Duracell bunny to climb it and the smaller body mass would make scaling this thing a mere hop.

UPDATE Dec 2015: Since I've been studying a bit more, I've realised actually it was "Tokki Deungsan" (토끼등산) and I'd ignored the 'san' as just meaning mountain. 'deungsan-hada' is a verb basically meaning 'to hike', and 'deungsan' is then the noun for 'a hike'. It was literally just a marked hike, one of many, so they gave it a name (Rabbit Hike) similar to the way we name walking trails. If we'd have walked more, we'd have probably found Dog Hike, Bear Hike and Magpie Hike.

Let's ignore the state of our health (or lack thereof) and go with number 2. This 'walk' was HARD.

That's not the face of an intrepid explorer deep in thought. That's the face of someone who is utterly shattered and is trying not to side-eye the butthead that insisted they climb all the way up.
At my insistence that "I can see the top!" we kept going up...and up. And up far past any supposed 'top' I'd seen at several points of the trail. I'm proud of us, really, even if it did make us so tired I was worried about how we'd manage to get back down. Even if we were so out of shape that we frequently saw people 2~3 times our age passing us with barely a faint mist of sweat on them. Clear proof that age is just a number, people.

The view from the top (which I think was probably not the top at all, but there was a seating area and a view, so I'm calling it the top, go away) was lovely and very, very quiet except for the nature sounds and two old ladies eating some fruit together on one of the benches.

There was also...something nearby that I have no idea what it was but I was scared to go in because it looked like the sort of thing that triggers a boss battle event as soon as you step in. It was a small mound, ringed with shrubs and trees, and some more mounds nearby with carvings around the edges. It looked like it could be a burial place but why on earth would you go all the way up there just to bury someone? Maybe they were SUPER important. Cherished, even.

If I'm ever cherished enough by enough people to warrant such a ridiculous burial, here is my statement asking you to not put yourself through that kind of struggle. I'll be fine at sea level, thanks.

There was some sort of weird-looking bird chilling out in the middle of the mounds, which, before I saw that they were clearly manmade, led me to think they were some kind of ridiculous nests and we had perhaps crossed into Jurassic Park. In hindsight I think it was probably a pheasant of some sort.

Anyway, we let the ladies laugh at our panting for a little while, then headed down and back to the guesthouse. I made full use of the massage chair inexplicably in our room and actually felt pretty good in the morning.

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