Travel Korea – Korea How The English teacher's guide to living, working, and traveling in Korea. Thu, 28 Nov 2013 13:24:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Korea’s 7 “Can’t Miss” Festivals Sun, 13 Feb 2011 05:58:18 +0000 Photos and story by Ed Provencher

Skip it or day-trip it? Korea’s festivals are numerous, but how do you know which ones are worth going to? Travel blogger Ed Provencher makes it easy for us.

Forget what your Mama told you and play in the mud at Boryeong. Getting dirty was never this much fun.

Are you new to Korea?  Are you wondering which, of the many Korean festivals, are the ones that you shouldn’t miss?  In order to help you sort them all out, I’ve compiled a list of the top 7.  They are all BIG in one way or another and should add to your Korean experience if you go.

#1 Boryeong Mud Festival

At the top of the list is the Boryeong Mud Festival held at Daecheon Beach.  It is a signature event that has been held every year in July for the past 13 years.  This festival attracts millions of people from across the country.  The event was created to celebrate the cosmetic properties of a special mud that is found in the region.  But that’s not the real draw.  The actual mud used at the beach is trucked in and used in all sorts of fun ways, that’s the real reason people go there in droves.  Giant mud slides, mud pools, mud wrestling, a mud prison, performances… the list goes on.  People are so happy walking around there that it’s almost unbelievable.  Mud does that to us.  It turns us back into kids.  Why would you want to miss that?

#2 Andong International Maskdance Festival

Another signature event that draws equally large numbers of visitors is the Andong International Maskdance Festival held every September/October.  It’s second on my list of must visit festivals in Korea.  It is a truly international cultural event, drawing performers from all across Asia and even Mexico.  Korea itself has a long tradition of maskdance performances, and even has one (Kwanno) designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.  Andong is famous for a couple of other things as well, which make attending this festival even more attractive.  One of those things is the Andong Hahoe Folk Village (UNESCO), a beautiful folk village in the countryside, surrounded on three sides by the Nakdong River.  The other attraction is Andong soju, a traditional alcohol (45%) that is designated an intangible treasure.  All these things combine to make the Andong International Maskdance Festival something I look forward to every year.  You should too.

See two things on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list in one day at the mask dance festival.

#3 Gangneung Danoje Festival

The Gangneung Danoje Festival (May/June) makes it onto the list at number three.  This festival is about a 1000 year old tradition of praying to mountain deities for a healthy and prosperous year for the community.  It is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage event, and a heck of a good time.  Daily performances of a UNESCO designated mask dance called Kwanno are held along with performances of traditional Korean farmers’ music, guest performances by groups from other countries, and spooky shaman performances might give you performance overload if you’re not ready for it.  Every year, they make heaps of traditional rice alcohol that is used to appease the tutelary spirit of the mountain, but you can get your hands on some of it for a fair price and appease your own spirit as well.

#4 Seollal Ssireum Wrestling Championship & Chuseok Ssireum Wrestling Championship

Coming in at number four on the list of notable events are the Seollal Ssireum Wrestling Championship and the Chuseok Ssireum Wrestling Championship.  Actually, there are several of these wrestling tournaments held each year, but the two biggest are held during the two biggest Korean holidays: Seollal Lunar New Year (January/February), and Chuseok Fall Harvest Festival (usually September).  This ancient sport offers spectators a chance to watch some big guys (over 105kg in the heavy weight class) do some serious pushing, pulling, and throwing.  The athletes are all Koreans, but the emotions expressed and the drama that unfolds inside the sand pit wrestling arena are universal and understood by all.  Ssireum is as authentic and uniquely Korean as anything and yet so easy to identify with.  Modern gladiators.  Ancient game.  Don’t miss it.

Move over Sumo. This is wrestling the K-way and it's called Sireum.

#5 Jinhae Cherry Blossoms Festival

While there are many cherry blossom festivals in Korea, what may be called the “Mecca” of cherry blossom festivals, the Jinhae Cherry Blossoms Festival, makes it on my list at number five.  Jinhae is located on the south coast of Korea and so is among the first places to see these gorgeous flowers and thus gives Koreans a reason to throw a big party.  The flowers can bloom anywhere from the last week of February to the first or second week of April.  Every year is different as the flowers bloom according to the weather.  Event planners have delayed the festival the past to accommodate cold springs, so you’ll need to pay attention to the weather.  The best thing to do is to call the Korea Tourism information hotline (055 1330) when the festival nears and ask them if the flowers are in bloom or not.  If you are looking to enjoy a more peaceful place to enjoy cherry blossoms, I can recommend heading to Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju.  At any rate, you need to get out and see some cherry blossoms.

#6 Jeongweol Daeboreum Festival

Number six on my list of biggie Korean festivals is the Jeongweol Daeboreum Festival.  The name of this festival basically means, “First full moon of the lunar calendar” and is usually celebrated in February.  It’s a time when locals get together to build giant bonfires called daljip, or “moon houses” which they burn along with wishes for a successful year that visitors have written on paper and tied to the daljip.  People all across the country from Seoul to Jeju Island participate in local events.  The most popular of the events is held on Jeju Island, but other biggies include events in Gangneung and Samcheok.  Now you know that full moons aren’t just for howling at, so when the time comes, think about your new year wishes and head out to a Jeongweol Daeboreum Festival to set them on fire.  Nevertheless, you can still howl if you want to.

#7 Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival

Rounding out this list at number seven is the Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival (March), the largest bullfighting event in Korea.  Korean bullfighting is a tradition that goes back a 1,000 years.  It is nothing like the better known Spanish version where bulls are stabbed repeatedly until they die.  Korean bullfighting is done between two bulls and doesn’t end when one of them dies, but rather ends when one of the bulls decides to run away.  It amounts to a pushing match done with the bulls’ heads.  This event is a good one to bring a Korean friend with because they can help translate what the announcers are saying.  That’s helpful because the announcers will give you play-by-play fight commentary as well as important details about the bulls which are fighting such as their win-loss record, important rivalries, and championships won.  My favorite thing to do is to make bets with my companions to decide who buys the next round of beers.  Gambling at bullfighting is legal, so don’t worry.  Just have fun.


Ed Provencher

Tigers & Magpies travel editor, Eddie Provencher, is an American citizen who first came to the Korean peninsula in September 2006 to teach English, learn Korean, and to have a cultural experience. Since coming to Korea Eddie has grown to love teaching English, has learned Korean up to a low-intermediate level, and has had many deep cultural experiences. In the spring of 2009 Eddie took a 3 month break from teaching English to travel in Korea.

Through this experience, Eddie developed a sincere appreciation for the natural beauty of the landscape, for the culinary tastes of the nation, and for the warmth and kindness of the Korean people.

Looking for a new place or event to discover in Korea? Be sure to check out Eddie’s fantastic site Tigers & Magpies. It’s full of great photos and helpful information that even the most knowledgeable Koreaphile will find useful.

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Busan by Night | A Travel Photo Essay Sat, 15 Jan 2011 09:09:13 +0000 Photos by Ju-seok Oh. Words by Peter DeMarco.

See Korea’s most “dynamic” city at her best – when the sun goes down.

BUSAN - Kwangan Bridge

Busan is on the Southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula and only a short ride by ferry from Japan.

Busan, Seoul’s little sister to the south, is one of the best kept secrets in Asia. How can a city almost as big as Los Angeles be practically unknown outside of Korea? Not only was it a host city of the 2002 World Cup and Asian games, it’s the home of the largest department store in the world, one of Asia’s biggest film festivals, the fifth largest port in the world, and soon to be home of one of the tallest buildings in the world. As if that was not enough, this city by the sea is bidding for the 2020 Olympic games.

It takes much more than a bunch of superlatives for a city to capture the minds and hearts of travelers. By day, Busan looks like any other big Korean city: block after block of apartment and office towers covered in signs. Once the sun begins to set though, the city takes on a dreamy quality that is distinctly Busan.

From bold to brash, blissful to beautiful, Busan photographer Ju-seok Oh shows us his home town as you’ve never seen it before.


A visit to Sam Kwang Temple during Buddha's birthday when the monks hang hundreds of lanterns is a must. Buddhism has been in Korea since AD 370. The Jogye sect makes up about 90% of Korean Buddhists.

BUSAN - Firework festival

Diamond Bridge, as seen from Mt. Jang, is one of Busan's most iconic structures.

BUSAN - Haedong Yonggung temple

Let the rhythmic sound of the crashing waves put you into a trance-like state. Meditate under the stars at Haedong Yonggeung Temple, arguably Korea's most beautiful temple by the sea.

BUSAN - Uam2dong

The city's port is the 5th largest in the world.

BUSAN - Haeundae

Busan, formerly spelled Pusan, is the second largest city in Korea with over 3.6 million people.

BUSAN - Haeundae

If all goes according to plan, Busan will be home to the third tallest building in the world. The 110 floor (510 meters) Lotte Super Tower is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

BUSAN - Firework festival

Around 1.5 million people show up from around Korea and Asia for the Busan Fireworks Festival every year in October.


Getting there:

Busan is very accessible from any point in Korea.

  • By plane, you can fly into Gimhae International Airport. There are direct flights to many cities around Korea and Asia. Airport buses are available from Gimhae to Busan Station and the Haeundae hotels.
  • By train, Korea’s high-speed KTX makes the trip from Seoul Station to Busan Station in just under 3 hours for about 50,000 Won one way.
  • By boat, there is daily ferry service to/from Busan to Jeju Island and Fukuoka, Japan.

Where to stay:

  • Zen Backpackers (010-8722-1530, With it’s central location in Seomyeon, this hostel in the heart of the city has great access to the subway lines, shopping, and restaurants.
  • Westin Chosun Busan (051-749-7000): What could be better than looking down on Haeundae beach from your hotel room? And the Westin’s brunch is one of the best in the city. Rooms start around 250,000 Won. Keep an eye out for their monthly specials.

What to do:


Busan photographer Ju-seok Oh. Photo: Peter DeMarco.

Biography: Ju Seok-oh is a native of Busan and one of Korea’s best amateur photographers. Although he does not actively promote his work, he has been published in international travel magazines, newspapers, and more. He is about to graduate from Inje University with a major in System Management Engineering.

Photo Blog: Check out Ju-seok’s award-winning blog which includes photos of his travels to Australia, America, China, Japan and beyond.

Photos on Flickr: J’s Favorite Things

]]> 4 Sex and The Island: Jeju Loveland Exposed Wed, 01 Dec 2010 20:15:33 +0000

The best time to visit Love Land is at night when the statues look uncannily real. It's also much easier to hide your face in the darkness. ~ Photo P. DeMarco

[View slideshow here.]

Take a peep inside Korea’s taboo busting erotic theme park where love oriented art and eroticism meet unabashed.

A statue of a fornicating faun, the half-human-half-goat creature from Greek mythology, holds a naked woman in the air by her hips. Their gravity-defying position looks like they are going for the gold medal in some sort of sexual Olympics.

Just beyond a massive green hand the size of an SUV reaches out from under the ground, as if a giant woman (or man) was buried just under the surface. The fingers are spread wide like the legs of spider. The middle one is pushed inside a heart-shaped vagina rising from the ground: covered in a ceramic tile mosaic a la Antonio Gaudi.

Looking around it’s easy to think you’re on a tour at Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Mansion. However, this erotic theme park is actually on a small island in conservative South Korea. How can it be?

Island Mentality

Jeju Loveland started in 2002 when 20 artists from Hongik University in Seoul were commissioned to create sculptures for the park. It eventually opened in 2004. According to the park’s website, this humorous love theme park is a place where visitors can appreciate the natural beauty of love.

The park is also the country’s ultimate cultural anomaly. Only just decades ago police walked the streets of Seoul with rulers to measure the length of women’s skirts, and kissing on TV or in the movies was taboo. Couples rarely held hands in the street then. Even today most Korean’s don’t kiss or hug in public.

The park now has over 140 sculptures representing sexual organs and positions, sex toys, “hands-on” exhibits, and much more. Jeju Island or “The Rock” as it is lovingly referred to by expats living here, is probably the only place in Korea something so taboo in this country’s Confucian culture could exist.

To understand why what happens in Jeju stays on Jeju, look no further than the most frequent visitors to the unofficial Hawaii of Korea – honeymooners. The island is hugely popular with Korean newly weds and the park is seen as a place to, umm, “grease the wheels” of many a honeymooning couple. Seeing that Korea has the lowest birthrate in the OECD, it is unlikely the park will be shut down anytime soon.

Just Smile and Say “Kimchi”

Walking through the park it’s hard not to feel awkward, especially when you make eye contact with Koreans getting their photo taken in front of a massive one-story tall ass while sitting on a cow-sized penis, saying “kimchi”, and making a V with their fingers. But then those are the oddly funny travel memories you take with you and cherish the rest of your life.

Whether you are on your honeymoon or just want to see the most un-Korean theme park in Korea, a visit to Loveland will undoubtedly be a memorable one. Be sure to bring some water though because you may find your temperature rising by the end of your visit. And if you forget to bring your own, you can always take a drink from the park’s water fountain. Just remember to hold up your fingers, make a V, and say “kimchi” for the camera when you take a sip!

Getting There: Jeju Loveland is only 10 minutes from Jeju International Airport. There is a map here.

Hours of Operation: 9:00am to midnight

Admission: 7,000 Won

Phone: +82 64 712-6988

Website: (English)

Busan’s 10 Best: Beyond the Festivals and Beaches Sun, 28 Nov 2010 11:59:58 +0000

The Gwangali fireworks festival as seen from the peak of Mt. Jangsan, undoubtedly Korea's best fireworks show. ~ Photo by P. DeMarco

View slide show here.

[Note: This article was originally published in the November 2009 issue of 10 Magazine. It was updated on 11.28.10]

More than just Asia’s biggest film festival or Haeundae Beach, Busan is a vibrant city with a unique energy and the kind of eclectic mix that only port cities have. Busan is Korea’s second largest city, with almost 4 million inhabitants, and could easily be described as a city of contrasts. At times it feels like it’s on the fast track to becoming a modern and thriving city like its big sister Seoul (Busan is making a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics), other times it looks and feels as if modernity and globalization have passed it by – but then that’s the secret of its charm.

From gritty to glitzy, this city by the sea has it all. Start your day with a morning stroll around Korea’s largest fish market and see ajumas hawking the days catch, as cigarette-smoking ajoshis fish off the pier between rows of docked boats and fish hung up to dry in the sea air. Then, bargain your way through Gukjae market alongside Japanese and Russian tourists or learn how to play baduk, a Korean board game, with local elders in Youngdusan park. Afterwards, head over to Haeundae beach for a laid back game of beach volleyball or float along Busan’s coastline on a cruise. Next, splurge on a lavish seafood dinner buffet at one of Busan’s 5 star hotels and top it off with a glass of wine while looking out at the rainbow-like light show of the Gwangan Bridge at night. And if that’s not enough, party the night away like a K-Pop star in one of the cities many live music bars or thumping clubs. What more could you ask for?

Getting There

Busan is not a compact city so it helps to plan your arrival as not to waste time and money trekking to various parts of the city. Busan’s main train station (and final stop on the KTX) is located right next to the port and Nampodong. If you are staying in Gwanganli or Haeundae beaches, exit the train station go right and walk two blocks to the 1003 express bus stop (W1,500). If you are arriving by one of the slower Semaeul trains then you can take the train right to Haeundae station. However, if you plan to stay in the central Seomyeon area, then the quickest option is to take the metro at the train station. The central bus terminal for all points north of the city is located on the outskirts of Busan at Nopodong station – the very last stop on the metro’s orange line. If you are arriving in Busan from the east then you will get off at the Seobu terminal in Sasang, right next to the metro stop after the same name. Finally, from Gimhae Airport you can take any number of airport buses that will drop you off in most parts of the city. If you take an airport taxi, do not be tricked into taking one of the black VIP taxis that cost almost 50% more than the normal taxis but provide the same service.

Where To Stay

Seacloud Hotel: If you’re looking to pamper yourself, you can’t go wrong with the Seacloud, located right in the heart of Haeundae Beach. The hotel is only a few years old, rooms are large and luxurious, with giant flat screen TVs, and computers in every room. Call and ask for the latest package deals. 051-933-1000,

Zen Backpackers: Only a 5 min. walk from the Lotte Hotel and department store as well as the centrally-located Seomyeon subway station. This hostel is at the doorstep of one of Busan’s biggest shopping, eating, and entertainment districts. Amenities include free internet and Wifi, air conditioning, a 42″ plasma TV, kitchen, washing machine, and more. Owner June Park speaks English fluently and can give you tips about Busan. A bed in a shared dorm room is 20,000. 010-8722-1530,

Love Motels Don’t be fooled by the seedy name, love motels are often nicer than “normal” hotels or guest houses and often include free cable, flat screen TV’s, and hot tubs built for two. Ask to see the room before you agree to stay. Some of the special rooms will blow you away for a few more man won (W10,000). Prices run W40,000 – W60,000.

Where to Eat

Pork Stew Alley: Busan’s signature dish, Daeji Guk Bap or pork stew, is made up of rice and chunks of pork. The locals live by it and no visit to Busan would be complete without scarfing down a bowl. The alley is behind the Lotte Department Store. Just look for a street lined with women stirring huge steaming vats of the white soup. Metro: Seomyeon station.

Jagalchi Seafood Market: The largest seafood market in the country is a site not to be missed while in Busan. On the ground floor, youユll find dozens of stalls with tanks full of all the sea has to offer. On the second floor is an array of restaurants to choose from. Outside, the tent bars are filled with friendly locals firing up charcoal BBQs for you to grill up your fresh catch, day or night. Just point, grill, and eat. Oh, and then pay., 051-249-9363

Where to Go Out

Ol’55: Bring your instrument and join one of the weekly open mic nights or play darts, shoot pool, and listen to live music. Located in the middle of the lively college neighborhood of Kyungsung and Pukyong University, you’ll be surrounded by plenty of places to party the night away. See for latest events.

Vinyl Underground: also located in Kyungsung (just a few doors down from O’l 55) is a local expat institution. DJ’s here spin an eclectic mix of techno, trance, house, hip-hop, funk, drum-n-bass, this basement club fills up with both foreigners and Koreans. Check for latest events.

Murp II, dubbed Busan’s most stylish club, is located in the Novotel Ambassador on Haeundae beach. The music varies from house (Hedkandi Party) and hip-hop to B-list Korean pop star concerts. An alternative is Club Maktum just down the street with a similar crowd and atmosphere.

Busan Web Sites

Pusan Web, a site run by foreigners for foreigners living in Busan, is the unofficial website of the city. Check out the “Upcoming Events” section to find the latest Open Mic, Ladies, or Political Discussion Night, poetry reading, beach volleyball meet-up, and much more.

Busan Haps is “the magazine for what’s happening in Busan.” Check out their website for the latest of what’s going on around the city.

City of Busan official website.

10 Magazine’s Busan 10 Best

1. Best Wine Bar & Lounge You can’t beat the views of Gwangan Bridge at night from the Sky Lounge on the 19th floor of Hotel Aqua Palace . In the summer, the 21st floor observation deck doubles as a cafe and bar: a must for any visitor!

2. Best Zen Pilgrimage Although most usually visit Beomeosa Temple when they visit Busan, try the seaside temple of Yonggungsa on a rocky outcrop with waves crashing against it below, for something different (bus 181 from Haeundae station).

3. Best “Hangin’ With the Locals” Experience Cheer with the locals at a Lotte Giants baseball game, by far the city’s most beloved sports team. The local soccer and basketball teams have quite a following as well. Their site is, but you can’t even see it without downloading a bunch of Active X garbage, so we don’t recommend visiting on your own computer. Try it at a PC Bang. Busan Haps usually posts a game schedule on their website.

4. Best Bargain Shopping: Gukjae Market. Get all your Busan souvenirs in the city’s largest outdoor market. Bargaining is encouraged at this maze-like market in Nampo-dong.

5. Best Beach: Songjeong. Busan’s most beautiful beach with a long strip of sand minus the crowds of Haeundae. Best place for surfers to ply their trade as well. Be sure to have a beer and burger at Blowfish while your there. Take bus 181 from Haeundae station to Seongjeong Beach.

6. Best Spa: Heoshimcheong. This self-proclaimed “largest hot spring in Asia” is a must for any spa lover. With a massive domed skylight covering a number of hot, cold, and “well-being” pools, there’s no better place to get clean and get naked with the locals. Entrance is W7,900.

7. Best Beer: Heoshimcheon Brauhaus. What could be better than downing a few pints of Busan’s best brew after a day at the spa or a hike down the mountain? Although this place is extremely popular with the local older generation, the house band can really get this place rocking. They play Korean favorites as well as international hits by the Beatles and such. The best time to go is on a Saturday or Sunday evening after all the makoli-soaked ajumas and ajoshis really let loose.

8. Best Cafe Terrace There’s nothing better than sipping your latte or espresso on the 3rd floor outdoor terrace of Cafe Pascucci on Gwanganli Beach. Go at night for a great view of the Gwangan Bridge.

9. Best Buffet: Although it’s pricey, the lunch buffet at the Camelia Restauarant in the Westin Chosun Hotel on Haeundae beach is unforgettable. The view alone of the beach and ocean while you eat is worth it. Check their website for monthly specials.

10. Bar With Best View: Rock’N’Roll House is a pub and grill in Haeundae on the 14th floor of the Sea Star building overlooking Haeundae beach. It has a pool table, darts, and a fantastic view of Haeundae beach. 051.742.5553;

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Busan’s Nightlife Renaissance: A Guide to the Pleasure City’s Top 3 Party Routes Mon, 08 Nov 2010 03:43:54 +0000

OL' 55 has one of the longest running open mic nights in the city.

Party people, put your hands up in the air! Looking for a place to go out in Busan? Here’s an article I wrote and photographed for the November 2009 issue of 10 Magazine. Unfortunately the info is a little outdated, and a few of the places like Chen Chen’s, Metro Dart Bar, and Sunset have shut down.

If you want to find out the latest happenings around Busan pick up a copy of Busan Haps or visit their website. Another great source for info is Pusan Web.

[Read in PDF format here.] [Read 10 Magazine online version here.]

Busan’s Nightlife Renaissance: A Guide to The Pleasure City’s Top 3 Party Routes

Words and shots by Peter DeMarco

Hedonists beware: there’s a new party playground in Korea and it’s called Busan. The city’s night scene has gone through a rebirth in recent years. Although not nearly on the same level as world party capitals like Rio or Madrid, Busan is clearly one of the most happening cities in Korea.

About 7 years ago, if you wanted to go out in Busan and spend the night in a Western-style bar that catered to foreigner’s tastes, you only had two choices. And if you wanted to go to a club that played something other than K-Pop, there was only one in the whole city where you didn’t have to reserve a table and buy an overpriced platter of old fruit or dried squid in order to get in.

Growth Spurt

Busan’s international population has grown drastically in recent years. With around 3.6 million people, Busan is almost as large or larger than many other major world cities such as Los Angeles, Cape Town, Berlin, Sydney, and Athens to name a few. The town hall’s mandate to put a foreign English teacher in every public school has markedly increased the number of foreigners living in Busan. Add to that an influx of foreign students attending local universities along with a new generation of hip young Koreans open to new influences and you’ve got quite a mix.

As a result, Western-style clubs, bars, and restaurants are everywhere. Most of the places foreigners tend to hang out are located in three distinct neighborhoods. Here are three party routes to help you discover each area. Keep in mind this is not a complete list and that there is much more to be discovered.

The University Route: From Gwangan to Kyungsung

The mass of restaurants, bars, and clubs clustered in the middle of 4 of Busan’s largest universities might as well be called Little Hongdae for it’s abundant nightlife and free-spirited college atmosphere. The area is called Kyungsung, or  ‘Kyungdae‘ as the locals say, and it’s packed almost every night of the week.

But before you start exploring, take a 5 minute taxi ride to Thursday Party on Gwangali Beach just next door. Drink your Daquiri as you munch limitless amounts of unsettlingly addictive curry popcorn and super salty pretzel sticks. Once there, you can take in the one of Busan’s most beautiful sights, the rainbow lights of the Gwangan Bridge at night. A number of other bars line the beachfront should you decide to stay in the area longer.

Now on to Kyungdae. Before the night gets started, stop by the Indian cafe and bar Ayuta to sip on imported beer, wine, or a mango lassi. The smell of incense welcomes you as you enter this dimly lit Indian restaurant and bar which has one of best “chill out” atmospheres around.  Kick back on the floor pillows and take in eclectic Asian lounge beats – think Slumdog Millionaire meets Cafe Del Mar – while you smoke from a hooka. The Indian grub is average at best but that’s not the reason to go there.

If darts is your thing, you can’t miss Metro Dart Bar. There is a whole wall lined with electronic dart boards so you’ll never have to wait long to play. Not into darts? Try Eva’s, a small but stylish laid back bar which also serves up decent burgers. Although not a sports bar per say, Eva’s is always showing sports games on the big screen from the NBA, NFL, MLB, to Premiere League soccer. Other popular foreigner-friendly favorites, all within a few block radius, are Kino Eye and Ol’ 55 with live music.

Are you ready to get your dance on yet? Just listen for the blaring dance music pouring out of a second floor open air terrace. If you see some guys ogling the scantly clad ladies walking the streets below, or girls posing on a railing for passers by, you’ve found the local meat market aptly known as Ghetto. Not quite your style? Head over to one of Busan’s oldest foreigner style clubs,Vinyl Underground, for an eclectic mix of electronic beats.

Getting there: Line 2, Kyungsung Univ. / Pukyoung Nat’l Univ. Station

Late night snack: Chen Chen’s is a can’t miss for the Chinese food lover located just across the street from the main gate of Pukyoung University. Open until 2 a.m., this American style Chinese bar and restaurant serves up the best Chinese food in town at the lowest prices! The owner and cook Mr. Chen worked in the kitchen of his brother’s Chinese restaurant in San Francisco for almost 30 years. The szechuan chicken is like poultry candy – so delicious.

– Thursday Party (Line 1, Gwangan Station), 051-758-0822

– Ayuta, 016-794-7889

– Metro Dart Bar, 010-9323-5955

– Eva’s, 051-628-5653

– Ghetto, 010-4588-4697

– Vinyl Underground, 051-628-0223

– Chen Chen’s, 010-3553-0004

The Riviera Route: Haeundae

Kick the night off at one of Busan’s least pretentious bars just a few blocks from the beach. Sunset Lounge is the type of place that you feel like you’re hanging out in a college frat house without the over-the-top rowdiness. If you want to watch any type of sports, from Ultimate Fighting to football, this is your place. Throw in some great western food and a rooftop bar to boot and your bound to have a great time.

Next, put on your sombrero as you walk down the beach to Fuzzy Navel, a happening bar right behind the Novotel that serves up a mean taco to go with your margarita. Then, cross the street to Miami 88, another popular watering hole.

Finally, it’s on to the clubs. Busan has 3 big western-style clubs all located in the basement of the city’s 5 star hotels in Haeundae. Murp II, in the Novotel is smaller and probably the most fancy with prices to reflect. A few doors down is the newest addtion, Club Elune in the Paradise Hotel. This club brings in many international DJ’s (the same one’s who spin up in Seoul usually stop here before they move on). Finally, there’s Club Maktum. Just look for the lit up phallic-looking entrance to party the night away.

Getting there: Line 2, Haeundae Station

Late night snack: Wash down your yakitori with some sake at the Japanese bar Yaki Yaki in lobby of the Palez De CZ building, right next to Club Elune.

– Sunset Lounge, 051-742-2925

– Fuzzy Navel, 011-1757-6349

– Miami 88, 051-746-6488

– Murp II, 051-743-1234

– Club Elune, 010-5525-4055

– Club Maktum, 051-742-0770

The Mix-With-The-Local’s Route: Seomyeon

Last but not least is Seomyeon, the neighborhood right in the heart of the city, a favorite shopping and hangout place for Busan’s youth. Start your night on the outskirts of Seomyeon at O’Brien’s, probably Busan’s most famous Irish Pub. Make sure you try the fish and chips. Then it’s on to Guri Bar behind the Lotte Hotel for one of their signature mojitos or martinis.

If you’re looking for something with a little more Korean flavor, take a stroll down Number 1 Street to see the show of neon lights. Bars and restaurants line the street. Just pick one, go in, and mingle with the locals! If you can’t find a bar you like, you can always head over to Thursday Party’s Seomyeon location and meet the Busan tobagi or locals. You won’t find as many foreigners here but you’ll still get the feeling that you’re in a bar from back home.

Finally, wrap it up at Club Foxy, but only if you like hip hop. This popular bar and club takes up two floors. The crowd tends to be on the younger side and it’s always packed.

Getting there: Line 1 or 2, Seomyeon Station
Late night snack: Try some twigim or dakboki from one of Seomyeon’s many street vendors.

– Obrien’s, 051-994-6541 (Line 2, Gaya Station)

– Guri Bar, 010-6807-1149

– Thursday Party, 051-818-6621

– Club Foxy, 010-7648-1010

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3 Days 2 Nights: Seoul Fri, 05 Nov 2010 01:58:26 +0000

The area around Dongdaemun Gate is home to some of Seoul's best bargain shopping. ~ Photo P. DeMarco

Whether you are about to attend the G20 or are heading to this dynamic city for fun, Seoul is the place to be. Looking for something to do? Where to eat or sleep? Check out this article I wrote and photographed for the Philippine Airlines inflight magazine Mabuhay and learn more about the “Miricale on the Han River.”

[View published version in PDF  format here]

Seoul: City of Infinite Discoveries

Throw away your misconceptions and nip into fast changing Seoul where the energy is as hot as kimchi. PETER DEMARCO shows us around this dynamic city.

An 89 year old man sits in Seoul’s Tapgol Park in the shadow of a ten-story marble pagoda dating back to the Jeoseon Dynasty, some 500 years ago. He rests his hands on a twisted black wooden cane, wearing traditional white baggy clothes or hanbok: the clothing all Koreans once wore on a daily basis, but now only wear during festive occasions like weddings or national holidays. He sits quietly, alone, still, as if comforted by the cultural relics that surround him, while life in this mega city explodes around him.

Seoul really is the “city of infinite discoveries” as the local board of tourism boasts. As you walk the streets of this capital city, you get the feeling that something important or interesting is happening somewhere. The energy on the city streets is so strong you almost don’t want to sleep for fear that you’ll miss out on something.

It’s easy to understand why this city is so dynamic once you realize Seoul is Korea. Although the city’s population is around 11 million, almost half of all Koreans – or 25 million people – live within 2 hours of the city center. It is the nerve center of the country both politically, culturally, and economically.

Life Around Town

A few blocks away from Tapgol Park in the Bukchon neighborhood, a fashion photographer snaps pictures of a tall Korean beauty under the shade of trees that line the street. She’s modeling the latest black leather bag, holding it like a badge of recognition that screams “I’m a VIP, look at me!”

A group of friends giggle as they walk by shopping for shoes, clothes, and a quirky neighborhood cafe to relax in. On the hill above, a couple get’s lost in the alleyways of a cluster of traditional wooden houses with black tile roofs. Fortunately, many of these charming old-style houses or hanok have been preserved instead of being demolished to make way for a new shops or modern-looking houses.

Down the road, inside Gyeongbokgung Palace, next to a grassy field by the Folk Art Museum, Korean performers in traditional dress practice for an afternoon concert. They sing folk songs that have been sung for centuries, their voices echo eerily around the palace grounds.

The pulse of Seoul can be felt wherever you go. From tea houses to temples, markets to museums, it’s obvious the city is alive.

December Lights

In the winter, Seoul puts on a show as thousands of multi-colored lights blanket the city’s cultural hotspots. Since 25% of Korean’s claim to be Christian, the country celebrates Christmas with lights and Christmas trees, making for a festive atmosphere. But make sure to dress warmly as temperatures can drop below freezing in the winter months.

For an especially extravagant show of lights, be sure to head over to Cheonggyecheon Stream (Metro line 5, Gwanghwamun Station, exit 5, walk towards Cheonggye Plaza; free). This 3 kilometer tree-lined stream was once covered by an overpass but is now a favorite place for tourists and locals alike to go for a romantic stroll or have a relaxing picnic with friends.

For an even more spectacular view of the city lights, head to N Tower (also known as Seoul Tower) on Namsan Mtn. Take in the city views from the observation deck or sip coffee while overlooking Seoul at the cafe on the floor below. You can hike to the top of the mountain or take the cable car (line 4, Myeong-dong Station, Exit 3,; 7,000 won R/T) for a less strenuous trip.

No matter what time of year you decide to visit, you’re guaranteed to always find something interesting. In fact, you don’t even have to go out and search for adventure. Just do as those from Seoul do: sit in the park and let the city open up to you.


Korean Tourism Board

Hi Seoul

Official Seoul City Tourism Website

Seoul Travel Tips

  • Seoul is one of the safest cities in Asia and the world. Theft or violent crimes are rare.
  • Public transportation is extremely clean and efficient. You can take the subway to most major tourist destinations.
  • Be sure to stop by one of the many tourist information centers for free maps and assistance in English.
  • Although most Korean’s can’t speak English very well, people from Seoul tend to have more experience interacting with foreigners so it is possible to find some English speakers. It would be best to bring along a phrasebook though.

Where to Eat

  • Dokdo Cham Chi: Korean’s, like their Japanese neighbors, have an insatiable appetite for raw fish or whay as the locals say. One of their favorite types of raw fish is tuna or cham chi. If you want to try fish that practically melts in your mouth, stop by this “tuna house” located right next to the Jungno 3-ga metro station. [Myeong-dong, Jungno-gu, +82-2-762-6537; 25,000 won]
  • Bok Cheon Kalguksu: You can’t leave Seoul without trying one of Korea’s signature dishes – kalguksu or handmade wheat flour “knife noodles”. For an even more authentic treat, try the Kongguksu or cold green chewy noodles in a frothy, creamy, nutty-like broth of ground soybean, topped with sesame seeds, sliced cucumber and a cherry tomato. The perfect place to stop after visiting Gyeongbokgun Palace next door.  (Jongno-gu, Sogyuk Dong, +82-2-739-6334; 7,000 won]
  • Parksee Moolko On Jebee: This quirky restaurant in the heart of the artsy Insadong neighborhood serves up Korean favorites like pajun, also known as a Korean Pancake, which is made of rice flour and filled with vegetables and seafood such as squid or oysters, then fried. So delicious! Especially when you wash it down with the house specialty: fermented milky-like ginseng-flavored rice wine called dongdongju.  [Kwanhun-dong, Jongro-gu, +82-2-723-3200; 20,000 won]

Where to Stay

  • Banana Backpackers: For the budget conscious traveller, this hostel offers clean and safe accommodation next to many of Seoul’s major attractions as well as free kitchen, internet, luggage storage, laundry facilities and more. [30-1, Iksun-dong, Jongno-gu, +82-2-3672-1973,; dorm bed 20,000 won, single 35,000, double 45,000 won]
  • Seoul Guesthouse: Why not stay in a traditional wooden house while in Seoul? If you want to live like a local, try one of the many hanok guesthouses like this one located between the city’s two royal palaces. [135-1 Gyedong Jongro-gu, +82-2-745-0057,; single 35,000 won, twin 50,000]
  • W Seoul: This award-winning hotel’s cutting edge design and modern amenities like an indoor pool with a panoramic view of the city, Turkish bath and spa, driving range, and 5 star kitchen, make it one of the most desired and trendy places to stay when in Seoul. [21 Gwangjang-dong, Gwangjin-gu, +82-2-465-2222,; Double room weekend 375,000 won, weekday 255,000 won, see website for special weekend packages]

Where to Shop

  • Myongdong: If you’re looking to buy the latest fashions at the best prices, this maze of stores and neon signs is crammed daily with Seoul’s trendy bargain hunters. From high heels and jeans, to jackets and suits, you can find all the designer labels and much more. A sight not to be missed! Similar alternatives are Namdaemun market or Dongdaemun market (great for night shopping). Take subway line 4 to Myeongdong Station.
  • Yongsan Market: Cameras, MP3 players, computers, cell phones, and every other electronic imaginable practically spill out of the stores at Seoul’s technological-Mecca of markets. Over 5,000 shops are crammed into twenty or so buildings, making it a technophile’s dreamworld. If you want to get the best value for your money be ready to haggle and bargain your way to deeply discounted prices. Take subway line 1 to Yongsan Station.
  • Shinsegae Department Store: Gucci, Prada, Armani, Hermes, Dior: “house of haute couture” is a more fitting name than department store for this high-end shoppers paradise. Be sure to check out the fine foods market in the basement. Take subway line 4 to Hoehyun Station.

Typical Characteristics of Koreans from Seoul

When asked what people from Seoul tobagi or locals are like, Mr. Pak, a 30 something executive educated in America said jokingly as he smoked a cigarette with his colleagues: “sparkling!” He was referring to the country’s latest ad campaign: “Korea, Sparkling!” According to the Korea Tourism Organization, the new slogan is a metaphor for Korea’s passionate and warmhearted people, unique and creative 5,000 year old culture, and changing landscapes and seasons.

Mr. Pak went on to say in a more serious tone that people from Seoul tend to be more liberal and open to new and different ideas. He described Seoul as being a type of “cultural hotpot” where people from all over Korea and the world come to make a living. Kim Bo Hyun, a college student living on the outskirts of Seoul described the city and its people as being more trendy, unique, and fashionable than the rest of the country.

Kimchi Trivia

Even if you haven’t been to Korea, chances are you’ve already heard about kimichi. But what is it really? Kimchi is fermented vegetables in seasoning – most often onions, garlic, and chili peppers which give it a spicy red color.

When most people think of kimchi, they picture the most popular type which is the red baechu or Chinese cabbage kimchi. However, kimchi is not always red or made with cabbage. The Korean Food Academy states there are actually over 100 different types of kimchi, and references to kimchi date as far back as 2,600 to 3,000 years ago.

Kimchi is such an important part of Korean culture that the locals believe in “kimchi power” or the supposed ability of this pickled concoction to cure almost any type of ailment from cancer to SARS. Actually, kimchi contains about 80% of the daily recommend amount of vitamin C and carotene. It also has high levels of vitamin A, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), calcium, and iron.

Rural Korea on the Jirisan Trail Tue, 02 Nov 2010 14:19:49 +0000

This article has gotten quite a few downloads so I’ve decided to write a post about it here. The Jirisan Trail in this article is not the same trail that runs up Jirisan Mtn. It is a newer trail that runs through the villages around the national park.

You can read the online version of this article I wrote and photographed for the NOV 2009 issue of 10 Magazine, or take a look at the tear sheets and PDF version below.

[View published article in PDF format here.]

Rural Korea on the Jirisan Trail

Pack up your bag, lace up your boots, and get ready for a slow-life adventure like none other.

Words and pics by Peter DeMarco

“Dynamic Korea” does not strike most people as a very laidback country. From eating to driving, the “ppalli ppalli” or “hurry up” mentality permeates almost every aspect of the culture today. Fortunately, though, there are still some places left in this country of speed where you can kick back and soak in the slow life. Look no further than the Jirisan Trail to take you on a journey back in time to Korea’s simple agrarian past.

Not to be confused with the trails that go up to the peak of Jirisan, Jirisan Gil (지리산길) is a 300 km trail that encircles Jirisan National Park. The trail also connects a web of 16 towns and 100 villages around the outskirts of the park. Currently, only five sections of the trail (about 70 km) are open. However, an additional 80 km of trail is projected to open by the end of 2010.

A Yellow Brick Road of Sorts

Walking along the trail feels uncannily like being in the Wizard of Oz. Bright orange balls of fruit hang from persimmon trees. Scarecrows stand guard in open fields of spicy red and green gochu (peppers).  There are even a few Korean grandmothers selling noodles along the trail who, on a dark night, can surely be mistaken for witches.

The highest peak along the trail is about 700 meters but most of the trail snakes over rolling hills, along terraced rice paddies, bamboo stalks, rivers, fields, farms, forests, beekeepers tending their hives, and quaint villages. The Jirisan National park is so rich in biodiversity that it contains 30% of the 1500 species of plants known to Korea and 100 species of animals. Buddhism also flourished in the peaks and valleys of Jirisan. Today there are around 400 temples in the park registered as Korean cultural treasures.

Red and black arrows clearly mark the way along the Jirisan Gil so you don’t have to worry much about getting lost. The terrain changes from single-track dirt trails to paved or dirt roads near farms and villages. Shops and food stands are few, so be sure to bring some snacks along with you.

Suggested 1-2 Day Itinerary

Of the sections of the Jirisan Trail that I’ve hiked, the route from In-wol to Geum-ge offered the most to see and the best home stay options. If you are pressed for time, you can complete the 19.3km in one day if you make an early start and are in great shape. However, a more leisurely option is to spend the night in Changwon (roughly 5k before Geum-ge), a small hillside farming village. If you have more time and would like to hike the full 70 km from Ju-cheon to Su-cheol, you’ll need about 4 days.

Where to Stay

Probably the best thing about the Jirisan Trail is that the local tourism board has set up a loose network of home stays along the trail. Visit one of the information centers or better yet, call ahead to reserve a place in a local home. A village home stay for one night will cost about W30,000 for 2-3 people.  Since most of the small farming villages where the home stays are located don’t have any restaurants or markets, you’ll probably want your host to cook for you. This only costs W5,000 – W6,000 per meal per person.

Another option is to spend the night in one of the many pensions along the trail. You should definitely reserve your pension ahead of time, especially if you are staying over the weekend. You can find information about pensions on the English website below or call the information number.

Home Sweet Home Stay

On my last hike along the trail we slept in an idyllic mountainside village. The 30 or so houses were shrouded in a thin blanket of smoke, and you could smell the burning wood from the fireplaces. The sign with the name of the village on it, Changwon (창원), could have easily read “Get Away From it All.” There wasn’t a store in sight. No ubiquitous 7/11, phone shop, or neon sign to spoil the view.

When we got to the village, we called the local representative of the home stay network. She met us and brought us to the home we would spend the night in. Surprisingly enough, our host family had a small barn with two cows in it right next to their house. Our host family couldn’t say more than “Hello” in English but it didn’t matter. We smiled, laughed, and talked in broken Korean over a meal of grilled duck, some of the freshest vegetables I’ve tasted, and glasses of beer. At night, it was refreshing to just walk around the empty streets under the stars and breathe in the fresh crisp evening air. “Now this is the simple life at its best,” I thought.

There and Back Again

Go to the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal and take the bus for Namwon, Inwol.  Look for the Jirisan Trail info center near the Inwol bus station. From other points in Korea, you may need to go to Hamyang first and transfer to the Inwol bus. Alternatively, take an express bus to Jinju or Gwangju and get on a local bus to Inwol from there. Another choice is to take a train to Namwon station. From there, get a city bus or taxi to Namwon Bus Terminal and board the bus to Inwol.

Once you hike to the end of a section of the trail, there are local buses that will take you back to one of the main bus terminals.

More Information (in Korean):
Website: Phone: 063-635-0850

In Search of Mother Nature's S-Line: Suncheon Bay Mon, 01 Nov 2010 06:39:34 +0000

If you live in Korea and have never been to Suncheon Bay in Jeollado then you are missing out on one of the best scenic views this country has to offer. These protected wetlands are a must visit for any bird lover or nature photographer.

My article about this amazing place is out this month. Pick up a copy of the November 2010 issue of Seoul Magazine or download the free ebook version. Or you can just read about it here. And special thanks to Suncheon resident and photographer extraordinaire Simon Bond. His great tips and local know-how were essential in putting this article together. Thanks buddy!

[Read published PDF version here]

In Search of Mother Nature’s S-Line

Suncheon Bay boasts some of Korea’s best wetlands and stunning nature.

Written and photographed by Peter DeMarco

When I first got to Suncheon Bay and started to make my way down the boardwalk through the reeds, amongst what seemed like a million other tourists, all I could think was “Is this it?”

The entrance to the wetlands had the look and feel of a theme park: a trolley bus complete with an oversized kitschy flying bird hood ornament, people cueing up for a boat tour of the bay as if it were a roller coaster ride, an eco center with a two-story globe encased in glass, a tour-bus-packed parking lot, and of course the ubiquitous souvenir shops.

All that was missing were park employees walking around in mascot-like costumes of cute endangered birds. Even the park visitors were dressed more like they just came from church – high heels, skirts, suits, and parasols – than as if they were going hiking into one of Korea’s most coveted wetlands.

A Bay With Curves

Thankfully as I walked deeper into the marsh the crowds began to thin out. The sound of the wind in the reeds got louder. The muddy ocean bay’s salty smell was thicker. Crabs scrambled around in the grey mud below the wooden footbridge.

By the time I climbed up to Yongsan Observatory I began to realize why people, especially photographers, come here from all over the country. Once on high ground you can see lilly-pad-shaped clumps of green marsh, colorful red and orange plants growing on the tidal flats, all surrounded by layers of mountains.

Best of all was the view of the river snaking through the marsh into the tidal flats. Like the coveted female body type that Korean’s call the S-line (think Pamela Anderson: curvy from top to bottom), the river forms a perfect “S” shape.

Autumn Migration

It’s views like the one from Yongsan Observatory that draw over 2.8 million visitors per year. In 2006 it became the first Korean coastal wetland to become registered on the list of Ramsar Wetlands. The designation guarantees the wetlands conservation and sustainable utilization into the future.

Today the protected area is made up of 21.6km of mudflats and 5.4km of reed beds. It’s home to many species of migratory birds such as the Hooded Crane and other rare aquatic birds such as the Crested Ibis, White Heron, and the Black-faced Spoonbill.

In the fall, many migratory birds call the bay home. One such bird is the Eurasian Curlew which rests in the bay for about two weeks during its almost 5,000 km journey from Australia to Siberia.

As for me my day was coming to an end. Like a migrating bird it was time for me to move on. The sun had gone down and the observation deck was nearly empty. A crescent moon hung over the pinkish-blue sky. A fisherman motored his boat up the river to its dock. Waves of wind crashed against the sea of reeds below. It was as if I was standing in the middle of some idyllic postcard photo. All I could think was “This is it.”

Where to Eat

1. Blank, T: 061 727.0160, Jurye-dong

Serving up some of Suncheon’s best best western-style food, this hip sleek-looking restaurant and café is a favorite with the local foreign community. Try the honey chicken or grilled mushroom sandwich (11,000 Won) and then wash it dow with a berry mix or mango smoothie (5,300 Won). Still hungry? Order up a piece of homemade tiramisu to top it off (5,000 Won).

2. Palma Orirang, 061 721.5271, Jurye-dong

If duck is your dish then you have to try the “duck bulgogi” (30,000 Won) at this Korean favorite. Be sure to bring a few friends because it will be hard to finish off this rather large meal if it is just two of you.

3. San Antonio Latin Bistro, 061 724.2234, Jurye-dong

For a little slice of Mexico and Spain in a friendly atmosphere, look no further than San Antonio. Owner Jose Rosal was born and raised in Spain and then immigrated to Canada. He met his Korean wife while in college in Hawaii and has been living in Korea for 10 years now. The menu has many Mexican favorites like burritos and quesadillas (8,000-10,000 Won). However, if you are lucky enough to be there on a Friday then Jose will cook up a real Spanish paella (minimum 4 people, order in advance). Be sure to try the sangria too. Delicioso!

Where to Stay

1. Bali Motel, Chogog-dong, T: 061 741.2200

Suncheon has a number of cheaper lodging options that are mainly love motels. Walk out the train station and turn right. Walk down the street about 2 minutes and you will see the sign for this motel. Rooms are 30,000-60,000 per night.

2. Ivy Motel, Jurye-dong, T: 061 724.7878

This is another standard love motel but in the newer part of the city. Room rates run from 40,000-60,000 Won.

3. Nanganeupsong Folk Village, T: 061 749.3347 (English spoken)

Take a step back in time and sleep in a traditional Korean house for a night. This folk village boasts 29 traditional houses with a total of 79 rooms. A room for one costs 30,000 won and a double is 50,000 Won. Call in advance to make a reservation. Take bus 63 or 68 from main bus terminal.

Getting There

By bus: there are 21 buses a day from Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal (Gangnam) to Suncheon. The travel time is about 5 hours.

By train: Four Saemaeul-class and 11 Mugunghwa-class trains leave Seoul’s Yongsan Station each day for Suncheon. Direct journeys take a little under five hours.

By plane: There are 8 daily flights to Yeosu Airport (a 40 minute drive to Suncheon)-travel time 50 minutes.

To Suncheon Bay: take bus No. 67 from the train or bus station directly to the bay – about 25 minutes. A taxi from the bus station to the bay will cost about 10,000 won.

Websites and Numbers of Interest

Suncheon City Website:

Suncheon Station Tourist Information: 061 749.3107

Suncheon Bay Information: 061 749.3006,

Other Points of Interest

Chances are that if you make a weekend of your trip to Suncheon then you will have more time to visit other sites. Fortunately the city offers many things to do and see.

Here are just a few:

1. Naganeupsoeng Folk Village

061 749.3347

During the Joseon Dynasty in 1397, General Kim Bin-kil ordered his troops to build walls around this village to protect the residents from the Japanese invasion. Today you can see thatched roof houses similar to those from that era, along with a fortress walls. It is supposedly the only folk village in Korea that is still inhabited by ordinary people.

2. Songgwangsa Temple

061 755.0107

This is one of the three most important temples in Korea. A must see for any Buddhism buff. Another popular but lesser-known temple is the area is Seonamsa.

3. Suncheon City Tour

New Samwoo Travel Agency: 061 742-5200

Price: 9,000 Won

This bus tour runs Monday to Friday and goes to all the major sites. There is also a more expensive “Eco Tour” that operates on the weekend. See website for more info.

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Into The Big Blue: Scuba Diving on Jeju Island (Korea) Tue, 19 Oct 2010 14:32:45 +0000 I had an awesome time writing the cover story, Into The Big Blue: A Guide to Diving on Jeju Island , for the October 2010 issue of 10 Magazine . I lived on Jeju for 1 year and have been diving since I was 15 so it is a special place to dive for me.

I think Hugh over at the magazine did a fantastic job with the layout. He keeps getting better. Also, I spoke to Ralf, the owner of the dive shop and he said two people just flew down to do a dive because they read the article at a hotel in Seoul. Cool!

A small part of what I wrote was edited out so I’m posting the full version here. The underwater photos are courtesy of Hyeon-sik Yun, Ralf Deutsch and Armin Truttnau. Enjoy…

[Read in PDF format here.]

Into the Big Blue: A Guide to Diving Jeju Island

“There’s nothing to do in Korea except go to the bar.” How many times have you heard that one? For those looking for a little something more than a night out on the town, look no more. Scuba is here. And once you dive on Jeju you will never look at Korea the same way again.

I first got started diving in Korea when I lived in Seogwipo on Jeju. I was fortunate to have an apartment overlooking Seogwipo bay and her three islets: Munsom (Mosquito Island), Supsom (Forest Island), and Pomsom (Tiger Island).  Since I started diving at the age of 15, I often wondered what underwater world was out there. I saw the photos of tropical-looking fish on the flyer for the local submarine tour, but I thought the pools of fish and colorful coral was just a ploy, a way to get more tourists to pay 50K won to go on the tour.

Then one day I met Ralf Deutsch, owner and dive instructor of the dive shop Big Blue 33. I could tell immediately he was a no nonsense type of guy who did stuff by the book. He actually came to Jeju in 1994 as a professor in the German department of Jeju National University.

Then, in 2001 Ralf decided to open his dive shop after seeing the underwater beauty Jeju had to offer. “I wouldn’t have started the dive shop if I didn’t think the diving was great,” said Ralf. You can tell he really believes Jeju is a fantastic diving destination as he lists off all the things you can see underwater.
He goes on to say there is a unique mix of cold water and tropical species on Jeju: octopus, lionfish, scorpion fish, grouper, jack, butterfly fish, angelfish, boxfish, and many others. And then there are the numerous species of soft coral ranging in color from orange, yellow, and purple, to blue and white. They are like glowing underwater gardens, sometimes even on volcanic rock. In the cold season there are even forests of kelp growing from the ocean floor to the surface.

Jeju Island really is on par with some of the best dive destinations around the world. Wolfgang Pölzer, underwater photographer and dive journalist from Austria, described Jeju`s underwater world during his visit as an “attractive mix of Norway and the Red Sea – the black rocks and the kelp like in Norway and the soft coral and the colorful tropical fish like in the Red Sea.”


After talking to Ralf and seeing some underwater photos at his dive shop, I knew his outfit was the one I wanted to dive with. I signed up for a dive and showed up at 9am the next day for my island dive.

The first hour we prepared our gear and got to know the other divers over coffee and biscuits. Then we loaded up the van and took a short drive down to the port. Next, we loaded the tanks onto a fishing boat that took us on a 15-minute ride to Munsom Island. Once we arrived we quickly unloaded our gear. As the boat pulled away I had to admit I felt a little like Robinson Caruso being left on some deserted island.

We put our wetsuits on and Ralf gathered us for a briefing of the dive. I felt very safe and could tell he was a concerned professional. By now I was sweating so much inside my wetsuit I felt like I was in a sauna.

Finally the moment came and we leaped off the rocky island into the water. As soon as I hit the sea and the cool salt water filled my wetsuit, I remembered why I like diving so much. You are like a beached whale on land with all your heavy gear on. Moving around is cumbersome, especially with fins on. But once you’re in the water you just relax, glide around, and hover over the world below you. Only astronauts get to feel a greater sense of breaking away from gravity.

But the best feeling of all is when you put the regulator in your mouth, release all the air in your BC, and slip into the bluish green liquid below. You go instantly from a life of sound into one of weightless silence. Of course there is the rhythmic sound of your own breathing – the percolating pop your own CO2 bubbles rising to the surface – but even that sound is almost therapeutic.

As you descend you realize that, without trying to sound too cliché, there really is a whole other world down there. And best of all, you don’t have to surface for another 25 to 30 minutes or more.

Class Is In Session

Whether you are a certified diver or a complete beginner, Ralf can help you out. Big Blue 33 offers many types of courses that are all taught according to NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) standards, so your certifications will be accepted wherever you go in the world.

You can take the following NAUI courses: Scuba Diver, Advanced Scuba Diver, Master Scuba Diver, Scuba Rescue Diver, Assistant Instructor, and there is even a Divemaster Course.

If you have never dove before but are curious what it is like you can take the 1 day Try Scubadiving course. It is a non-certification course designed to give you a feel for scuba. Your instructor will tell you the basics and then shadow you on a shallow dive. You will have someone next to you at all times to make sure things go smoothly.

So if you are reading this article in a bar somewhere around Korea, looking for something new and adventurous to do, don’t hesitate. Korea’s best kept secret is out of the bag. Dive Jeju!

Diving Jeju Fast Facts

Contact: Ralf Deutsch at Big Blue 33

Dive Shop – 064 733 1733

Mobile – 019 9755 1733

Main diving season:

May through October although you can still dive as late as December (the water temperature is still about 20 degrees around Christmas).

Where to stay:

Check out the Big Blue 33 website or just call Ralf directly and ask him to help you set up your reservation.


– 2 tank islet dive…KRW 70K (includes boat ride, guide, tank, weight, lunch, water)

– Gear rental for 1 day…KRW 25K (includes all the gear you need to make your dive)

– Try Scuba 1 day…KRW100K

– See website for other diving course prices

Getting there:

By Air

Flights leave daily from all around Korea. Once at the Jeju airport you can take the airport bus all the way to Seogwipo.

*Remember you can dive after flying but you cannot fly immediately after diving. You should plan for one night on Jeju before you fly back home.

By Sea

Busan – take the overnight ferry to Jeju (about 12 hours). Then try to catch a Sunday night ferry that will put you in Busan on Monday morning.

Jeollanam-do – the new Orange high-speed ferry will get you to Jeju in less than 2 hours.

JH Ferry

Tel: 1577-5820