Visiting Sinheungsa Temple, Biseondae, and Cheonbuldong Valley in Seorsaksan, South Korea

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I discussed how I arrived at Seoraksan National Park from Seoul in my previous post, but in this post I will share all of the pictures I took on my first day of hiking in the mountains. My fifth day of traveling in South Korea was spent in one of the most beautiful places in the country, seeing places like Sinheungsa Temple 신흥사 (新興寺), Biseondae 비선대 (飛仙台), and Cheonbuldong Valley 천불동 계곡 (千佛洞溪谷).

Here is a map of the Seoraksan courses in case you missed it from my other post:

Seoraksan National Park hiking trails and course map

Sinheungsa Temple is a few minutes walk from the Seoraksan Tourist Hotel. Biseondae is 2.3 km further away and takes around 45 minutes to get there. From Biseondae, it'll take you another 3.5 km (or 2 hours walk) to walk to Oryeon Falls in Cheonbuldong Valley. I walked as far as I could into Cheonbuldong Valley before turning around again and was probably on my feet for a good 6 hours that day.


Seorsaksan Tourist Hotel 설악산관광호텔 Review

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I visited Seoraksan National Park in mid-October to see the fall leaves. Everyone said you would need to spend at least 2-3 days there, so I booked a room at the Seoraksan Tourist Hotel, also known as the Mt. Sorak Tourist Hotel.

Seoraksan Tourist Hotel

Unfortunately, there aren't a lot hotels to choose from that are near Seoraksan National Park. Sokcho City 속초 (束草), a 30 minute bus drive away, has more selections but you have to think about how tired you'll be after a day of hiking and whether you'd want to take a bus or taxi just to get back to your hotel.

Even though I had to kill a wasp in my room and squash a beetle on the window, I would still stay at Seoraksan Tourist Hotel the next time I visit.

Day 5: Seoul Express Bus to Seoraksan National Park

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This was the day I looked forward to the most during my whole trip in South Korea. It was the day I traveled to Sokcho 속초 (束草) for a two day hike in Seoraksan National Park 설악산 (雪嶽山) to see the changing red autumn leaves. Some of the trails at Seoraksan are notoriously difficult, but I was super excited. I mean, how can you not be excited about a place that looks like this:

Seoraksan Mountains. Image from Visit Korea

There are a few things to consider before visiting Seoraksan National Park, such as what to bring, when is the best time to go, what the hiking course maps look like, etc. I'll go over some of these points in this post, but the majority of these details will be covered in a separate post here.

Here is a general outline of my activities for the day:

Day 5 Activities:
  1. Seoul Express Bus to Sokcho City
  2. Local Sokcho bus to Seoraksan National Park
  3. Check into Seoraksan Tourist Hotel 설악산관광호텔
  4. Seoraksan hiking:
Now prepare yourself for an onslaught of photographs (with accompanying commentary, of course)!

Myeongdong Gogung 고궁 (古宮) Restaurant Review

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Myeongdong Gogung 고궁 (古宮) is a restaurant in Seoul famous for its jeonju bibimbap 전주비빔밥. Because of all the good reviews, I came here for lunch after a morning visit to N Seoul Tower.

The restaurant itself isn't too hard to find, but it's nestled away from the hustle and bustle that is the middle of Myeongdong.

Myeongdong Gogung Restaurant

I ordered dolsot bibimbap instead of the jeonju bibimbap because I wanted something hot. However, as it goes with most Korean food I've eaten while there, the temperature wasn't as hot as I would have liked it to be. I also ordered pajeon and japchae, both of which were delicious. All the food came in huge bowls, but the actual amount of food was not that much. I guess I'm too used to Texas-sized portions!

Myeongdong Gogung dolsot bibimbap 

N Seoul Tower 엔 서울타워 Brochure

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Here is a scanned copy of the brochure I picked up at N Seoul Tower. It explains all the different levels there, so it won't be as confusing when you actually visit.


Day 4: N Seoul Tower and more

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I hope everyone had a good holiday! I ate way too much and my pants are really mad at me right now. However, I've successfully recovered from my multiple food comas, so I can now return to posting with some regularity.

Day 4 Activities:
  1. N Seoul Tower 엔 서울타워
  2. Namsan Mountain 남산 (南山)
  3. Lunch at Myeongdong 명동 (明洞)
  4. Dinner with a Korean family (at their house)
My fourth day in Seoul was much more laid-back compared to the previous days, mostly in preparation for my upcoming hiking trip to Seoraksan 설악산 (雪嶽山). I kicked off the day with some breakfast at a nearby bakery (I think it was called Tres something...) before taking the free hotel shuttle to the Namsan Cable Car station.

Ibis Hotel's free shuttle service actually goes to lots of tourist hot spots. For example, we passed Gyeongbokgung 경복궁 (景福宮) on our way to N Seoul Tower. Definitely take advantage of this free transportation to save on taxi and subway fare. The only thing you have to do is to reserve a spot on the shuttle, which is actually just a van, the day before.

Driving by Gwanghwamun at Gyeongbokgung

Gyeongbokgung

Some sort of performance at Gyeongbokgung

We made several stops and I wasn't really sure where I was supposed to get off, but as long as you tell the hotel where you want to go (and double check with the driver), you will be fine. After approximately 20 minutes, we arrived at the Namsam Cable Car station.

Day 3: Driving around Seoul

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Day 3 Activities:
  1. Dongdaemun Market 동대문시장 (東大門 市場)
  2. Apgujeong 압구정동 (狎鷗亭洞), Cheongdam-dong 청담동 (淸潭洞), and COEX Mall area
  3. Garosugil 가로수길 (林荫树路)
  4. Itaewon 이태원 (梨泰院)
  5. Cheonggyecheon Stream at night 청계천 (淸溪川)
  6. Myeongdong 명동 (明洞)
I originally planned to take the subway to Dongdaemun Market and the Apgujeong area, however, my good friend in Seoul offered to show me around the city. After pretty much spending all of the second day on my feet, going for a drive was a much welcomed change.

She picked me up early in the morning to hit Dongdaemun before the crowds. If you're wondering whether you should go to Namdaemun Market 남대문 시장 (南大門 市場) or Dongdaemun Market (that is, if you don't have time for both) please read my more detailed post about Dongdaemun here.

From what I read online, I knew Dongdaemun Market would be big, but I didn't know it would be that big! There were so many malls, markets, and little stores, it was definitely overwhelming. You can bargain down prices, but you're not allowed to try on most things. Ask anyway because the shopkeeper just might be in a good mood! Things were actually more expensive than I expected them to be (maybe I was looking in the wrong places?), but I still found a sweater and some leather bracelets.

Sweater bought at Dongdaemun Market

Because I didn't have that much time, I only went to Jeil Pyeonghwa 제일평화시장 and Doota 두타.

Shopping at Jeil Pyeonghwa

Jeil Pyeonghwa resembled a warehouse attic (it's more for ladies 30 and older) and Doota (very fashion forward) was like a Forever 21 on crack.

Myeongdong Gyoja 명동교자 Restaurant Review

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Myeongdong Gyoja is a restaurant in Myeongdong known for its kalguksu (knife sliced noodles 칼국수). This place is so popular, there are actually 2 branches in Myeondong within 90 meters of one another.

Myeongdong Gyoja map

I went to branch no. 1, the one across from Missha, on a Thursday night and the place was jam packed. I'm not sure if I was being overly sensitive, but I noticed that when the host realized I was a foreigner, I was escorted upstairs. The restaurant is pretty small on the inside, with the tables crammed closely together, but everything looked fairly clean.

Inside Myeongdong Gyoja

As soon as you sit down, a waitress comes to take your order. Staying true to my online research at wingbus, I ordered kalguksu (knife sliced noodle soup 칼국수), bibimguksu (cold noodles with sauce 비빔국수), and mandu (steamed dumplings 만두). Everything is served with a small bowl of rice and their specially made kimchi. You can ask for free refills for both, but the ajummas are quite vigilant and refill your kimchi almost as soon as you finish.

Kimchi at Myeongdong Gyoja

Now, this was no ordinary kimchi. It looks like a small, innocent lump of fermented goodness, but the kimchi at Myeongdong Gyoja was like a hot fireball fuming with garlic gas. It was seriously spicy, yet strangely addictive. I had three refills before my nose started running non-stop from the heat. 
 
I didn't wait long at all for my food to come:

Visiting Dongdaemun Market 동대문시장 (東大門 市場)

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I only had time to visit one big market in Seoul and it was between Dongdaemun Market and Namdaemun Market 남대문 시장 (南大門 市場). Namdaemun is known for a being a tourist place, while locals tend to flock to Dongdaemun. Namdaemun actually reminds me of the Liuhe Night Market (六合夜市) in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

If you ever visit Kaohsiung, everyone will tell you that you have to go to Liuhe Night Market. However, if you live there, like I do, you tend to skip it because it's always chock full of tourists. Being such a tourist hot spot has sapped the night market of its local charm. That's the way I felt about Namdaemun Market, so I chose to go to Dongdaemun instead. This decision was also reinforced by my Korean friend, who told me that Namdaemun leans towards food and kitchen things, whereas Dongdaemun is the place to go if you want to shop for clothes and accessories.

Dongdaemun Market is not so much a market as it is a commercial district full of shopping centers. It's divided into two sections: Section 1 (the left side of the below map) is where most of the malls (Doota, Migliore, and Hello apM) and retail stores are located. Section 2 (the right side of the below map) is where most of the wholesale shops are located. The stores here also sell things at retail, but they mostly deal with bulk sales. Since there are sports stadiums in Dongdaemun, there is also a good selection of sporting goods.

Dongdaemun Market Map, from Korea Hotel Reservations

I hitched a ride from a friend to Dongdaemun Market and the drive from Hotel Ibis in Myeongdong took around 25 minutes because of all the traffic lights. Alternatively, you can take the subway. From Hotel Ibis, you can walk to the Euljiro 1-ga Subway Station and take Line 2 (green) to the Dongdaemun History & Culture Park station (3 stops away). Here, transfer to Line 4 (blue) and get off at the next station, Dongdaemun Station. The entire commute should take around 13 minutes and cost 1000 won, according to Seoul's SMRT website.

Subway directions to Dongdaemun Market

When we finally arrived, I was shocked at how much shopping you could do here. Dongdaemun Market is so big and there are so many stores, you could easily spend 3 days here and only see a fraction of the place. Boy was I glad I was with a local! I only went to two "malls", Jeil Pyeonghwa 제일평화시장 and Doota 두타, and I didn't even feel like I skimmed the surface of shopping.

One thing's for sure, if you're going to shop at Dongdaemun, set aside a lot of time and bring a lot of money. I was under the impression that since there were lots of wholesalers at Dongdaemun, everything would be pretty cheap, but that was not my experience. I'm not sure if it was because we were a little rushed and didn't explore every nook and cranny, but prices at Dongdaemun could easily rival those at my local Macy's. Of course the styles are different and the selection is great, but it was still more expensive than I expected.

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