May - Hong Kong – Seoul, South Korea - By plane
I packed my meager belongings and hailed a taxi to take me and my bike to the airport. I had a shock at the baggage fee, but there was nothing I could do but pay and get it over and done with. I arrived in Seoul three hours later (but the time difference made it four hours). I also found that I could not draw money, but could at least pay with my credit card!! What a pain in the ass!! I contacted the bank and could only hope that they sort it out by the following day.
6 May - Seoul
What a fascinating city Seoul turned out to be! To me it was just a city very, very far away! The first thing I noticed was how very modern the city was!! It must be the most technologically advanced city I have ever been to. Even at the touristy places there were no more brochures available but the information was obtained by using a barcode scanner on one's phone. This said and done, the old and ancient is not forgotten, old traditions are alive (albeit with a fake beard and mustache). One does not have to go far to stumble upon an old temple or palace.
7 May - Seoul
I took the bike to the bike shop so they could put it all back together again. Afterwards, I visited the Bukchon Traditional Cultural Centre and then took a walk to Deoksugung, an old Palace site where some stunning old buildings remain. On my way back, I walked through the Namdaemun Market (famous for its street food) to pick up my daily portion of kimchi!! It seems that kimchi appears at every meal and often as the main dish. It looks to me like a kind of pickled vegetable that is eaten on its own or fried in a pancake form….. whatever it is, it is delicious and I need my daily dose!
8 May - Seoul
I had all intentions of leaving this morning but changed my mind as there were lots more I wanted to see. Good thing as well, as I had to pick up some gas for my stove, and in the process discovered that there is a cycle path all along the river to Busan!! I was skeptical about it, but there was no harm in trying it out!
I’m not sure what I expected, but Seoul is completely different from my expectations. Not only is it super-modern with interestingly designed high-rise buildings, but it is also modern in a funky way, with many cool and cozy-looking coffee shops and restaurants. Old buildings sit comfortably amongst the new ones and narrow pedestrian lanes and malls are buzzing with all kinds of local goods and foods.
Once again, I have to mention just how technologically advance this city is, as it is enough to make just about anyone feel like Rip Van Winkel!! I am quite convinced that no one ever pays for anything in cash anymore; it is just swipe and go, or scan and go! Soon, both paper and money are going to be obsolete in this country - no wonder they have a money museum!
I strolled along the Cheonggyecheon, an 11 kilometre stream, right in the middle of the city. I believe that the stream was rediscovered after the demolition of a raised highway. Today it is a peaceful and relaxing area with loads of greenery, public artworks, wooden bridges and small waterfalls.
9 May - Seoul – Yange Pyeong (Yangpyeong) - 91km
I was more than happy to get back on the bike and head out of town. I had a big smile on my face as I headed down the road; there is such an amazing sense of freedom cycling down the road, not quite knowing where you are heading. There was much more to explore in Seoul, but I was eager to hit the road again. I headed down to the river and soon found myself on a bike path along the mighty Han River. I understand that this is the longest bike path in the world and that it will lead me all the way to Busan - just how cool will that be if it is in fact so! It was a public holiday and the path was filled with cyclists dressed to the nines.
Twice I met up with other cyclists and we chatted away as we cycled along. In the process I got a whole stack of information, all which will come in handy along the way.
I was incredibly happy to be back on the road, and once again realised that I don’t want to do anything else. The best part was that the cycle path was along the old rail line which meant it was fairly flat and all hills were avoided by cycling through old rail tunnels.
10 May - Yangpyeong – Chungju - 100 km
It took me an entire day to cycle the 100 kilometres to Chungju. It was another stunning day on the road! I stopped hundreds of times and in the process met another cyclist on his way to Busan. He was the sweetest boy, cycling on his road bike with just a wee backpack on his back. He waited for me while I slowly crawled up the hills and translated the road signs we encountered. Most of the signs are in Korean and, therefore, not of much use to me and I was happy to have someone lead the way. Along the way, I tried “Beondegi” a popular snack food in Korea. Beondegi are steamed or boiled silkworm pupae, which are seasoned and eaten as a snack. I only had one and could not do anymore!! It is just too weird!!
In the town of Chungju, I said good-bye to Ben (his English name) and found myself a room while he carried on along the path.
11 May – Chungju – Suanbo Hot Springs - 25km
I slowly cycled along and once again met another cyclist, this time with a loaded bike, like me. The Koreans are extremely friendly and, it appears, that they can just not let you go without giving you something. With two energy bars in my pocket, I waved him good-bye and soon reached the small mountain town of Suanbo, famous for its hot spring.
I cycled down the road, looking for a place to have a dip and heard someone calling me. It was Ben and I was happy to see him again. We had breakfast together, which was quite interesting. Koreans sit on cushions on the floor and eat from a low table. The dining area is a raised platform and one has to remove ones shoes before stepping onto it. Ben did not only pay for the food but also escorted me to a spa where he stayed.
It was my first Jijimjibang (Korean sauna) experience, which is actually like public bathhouses. It was a rather interesting set-up. It came with separate men and ladies facilities. Inside I found a variety of hot and cold pools. Firstly, you strip down, then have a shower, then a total scrub down and only then do you enter the pools. No bathing suits required. Public nudity is not something I am all that used to, and found it a bit unnerving. It appeared that most of the locals have never seen a foreign woman naked before as there were some blatant staring.
The coolest thing is that most of these facilities have a napping room. They are not really meant for overnight sleepovers, but can be used for that purpose. It is only a mat on the floor, but a cheap room is a cheap room, although I don’t think I will ever get use to a wooden pillow!!
12 May - Suanbo Hot Springs – Gumio Weir - 103km
It rained all night, but by the time I woke the weather cleared and it was another lovely day on the road. I cycled through some really small mountain villages where locals were sitting, weaning outside their homes.
I normally look for the cheapest room around and, therefore, often spend the night in establishments where they let rooms by the hour, for purposes other than sleeping. I have, therefore, had my fair share of oddly shaped beds. Tonight it is a round one and the room came with all the necessarily personal care items!!
13 May - Gumibo Weir - Dalseongo Bridge - 108km
I’m sure that freedom means something different to everyone. I look at freedom as being able to live the life I want to live – plain and simple. As I left this morning I knew this was my freedom, at least for now! It was another incredibly stunning day as I stuck close to the river, past small villages, old temples, and lush and green farmlands.
At the end of the day, I spotted a nice grassy patch and pitched my tent. It not only turned out to be the Millennium Plaza, but it also turned out that the entire place lit up at night. I felt a bit like a goldfish in a bowl – LOL.
14 May - Dalseongbo Bridge – Namji - 90 km
There is no sleeping late when camping in a public square!! I packed up, boiled some water for coffee and set off again. I first tried another route, but it did not pan out, so I had to come all the way back. It was a hilly day; sometimes the gradient was so steep I had to push the bike. As I had no breakfast, I could feel my energy fading and I stopped for lunch at a trusty 7-11!! With renewed energy, I tackled the remaining hills. In Namji, I found myself a room as I wanted to charge all my gadgets.
15 May - Namji – Busan - 111 km
It was my last day on the road to Busan and although stunning, it was not without its hills. I followed the road over the mountains, past small villages and wonderful scenery. It was spring, the flowers were blooming, and it was such a pleasure to be out.
By the end of the day, I cycled into Busan and was in no mood for the evening traffic after being on the cycle path for such a long time. There was nothing to be done about it, and I braved the traffic and went in search of a cheap room.
I always feel half sad and half happy when I reach my destination. It felt like I cycled through the entire city to find the centre. I was lucky that I came across the tourist information and soon found myself all the information I needed, as well as a cheap motel room down one of the narrow lanes. The lanes transform at night as all the food stalls come out and it becomes a hive of activity.
16 May - Busan
The following day I set off in search of the Japanese Consulate, just to find that they don’t issue visas to foreigners!! Apparently, one has to apply in your home country or have a permanent residence card.
I have come to realize that this is the bit I dislike most; changing course, especially due to circumstances beyond my control! I dislike packing up the bike and flying somewhere else, as it is costly and it takes a good few days before I can get on the road again.
I guess the main reason for me disliking the whole affair is because I can um and ah for days about where to go!! There are so many options and so many nice places in the world. Right now, I just want to go somewhere where I don’t need a visa and where I can cycle for a good few months without having to change direction again.
My best destination is, therefore, the Americas, as I already have a visa for the USA and I have some unfinished business there. Just because it is the most obvious place does not necessarily mean I will go there…. ha-ha. In fact, the best will be to return to San Francisco (where I left off last time) and cycle north. It will be the best, weather wise, but as I said, just because it makes the most sense does not mean I will do it.
17 - 21 May - Busan
I packed up and cycled to Blue Backpackers as there are more people to talk to and more facilities. I also located a bike shop and planned to cycle there the following day to find a box or bag for the bike. I was still not sure which direction I was going to take and I planned to leave that decision until the very last minute.
The following day I did just that. I handed the bike in so they can box it for me and although there were many things that needed repairing on the bike I did not ask them to fix it, as I would rather do it on the other side (wherever that may be!!).
Busan is the second largest city in South Korea and the metro system is quite extensive. I ventured into the belly of the earth and took the underground to one of the famous Buddhist temples, situated on the outskirts of the city. I really like these temples as they are always so tranquil and peaceful. Interesting enough the temples here seems to have a green tone to them instead of the red tone in China.
As always there were the four Heavenly Kings, or gods, each of whom watches over a different direction of the world. They are the protectors of the world and fighters of evil. I met a small tour group at the temple and started chatting to them; afterwards they offered me a lift back to the metro which was very kind of them.
Back in the city I was in time for the rows and rows of food stalls that spring up at night and one can pick and choose from all the various dishes. I had my fill and then headed back to the hostel to pack my last few belongings.