Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bike trip from Yangsuri to Yeoju

With the Buddha's Birthday holiday weekend fast approaching, we had to think of something exciting to do. We finally settled on a trip from Yangsuri to Chungju. We calculated the trip to be approximately 110km. We had done 60 km without too much trouble from Yangsuri to our house in Seoul and figured, another 50 km wouldn't be so bad.

We set off from Yangsu station, about an hour outside of Seoul on the Jungang line, at 10 am. A later start than we had hoped for, but it was the best we could do given that the Jungang line only runs every half an hour or so as far as Yangsuri and we wanted to eat breakfast before hitting the road.

From Yangsuri to Yangpyeong, it's about 15 km, or about an hour ride. The scenery is fantastic here, at certain points you literally ride your bike through rice paddies as you can see above. This is my second time on this course and it just gets lovelier each time. You kind of get the feeling sometimes that you're no longer in Seoul, but in Southeast Asia. It's easy to forget that Korea is not all apartment complexes and cell phone stores when you're living in a city.

After arriving in Yangpyeong around 11 am, we were starting to feel a little depressed when we saw the sign for Chungju Dam, 96km. But, we continued on bravely, following the signs for the Namhangang bicycle path and for Chungju Dam.

The path after Yangpyeong was a little different. It hugged tightly to the river and we passed through some beautiful wetlands with views of white cranes and tree lined paths.

Then our path veered sharply off the riverside bike path and on to a (carless) road, straight up hill for about 10 minutes. I gave up after a 5 minute struggle, but the boyfriend and my friend struggled on courageously all the way to the top.

While resting at the top of the hill we started to hear the rumble of thunder in the distance and we started to think that we should start looking for a small restaurant to take some shelter. Though, strangely, while there are always small makkoli houses along the bike path when we don't need them, now that we could hear thunder in the distance, we couldn't find a single one. With the trees on all sides I wasn't too worried, though I wasn't looking forward to getting wet... but as we came down to the bottom of the hill and found our bike path again, we discovered that we were back along the river, and not just any part of the river, but a part of the river where every tree had been torn down for some kind of construction project. The winds were starting to whip and we could now see real bolts of lighting in the not-so-far-off distance. I was getting a little freaked out, and we decided we had to find somewhere... anywhere... and asap. With the wind at our backs and the storm fast approaching we flew at the speed of light down the bike path. If only we could ride that fast the whole way... we'd be in Chungju in no time... And then, just as the raindrops started to fall, a small makkoli tent serendipitously appeared. We left the bikes where we could and ran for cover just as the serious winds and torrential downpour started.

From the tent window, we watched the tarp outside being blown in sideways from the wind, but our tent was sturdily built into the ground. We were safe and we decided to make the best of our break time and order some pancake and makkoli.

Fortunately, the storm blew over quickly and by the time we were done with our pancake the storm had completely passed over. We hopped back on the bikes, which were a little wetter and muddier than when we had left them, and continued along the path.

We reached Ipobo not long after and we found an information desk on the bo which gave us some bike maps and told us which way to go. The woman informed us that we should expect to go another 5 hours to reach Chungju. Our tushies were starting to hurt a little bit by this point, and we had kind of lost our groove, so to speak, after the thunderstorm and the snack. But, we continued on again.

The road from Ipobo to Gangchonbo wasn't long, but it felt it. We all got separated for a while, all going at different speeds. The wind was no longer at our backs now, but hitting us head on, making it a little Once we reached Gangchonbo we were able to see Yeoju, our next stopping point, in the distance and we were again inspired to pedal harder to reach the where we had planned to eat lunch. Apparently, according to our GPS, it was 7 km and 35 miniutes from Gangcheonbo to Yeoju, but honestly we thought it was only 10 minutes and 2 km it went so quickly. It's strange how being able to see the destination clearly makes such a difference on time perception...

We were quite happy to get off our bikes for a while and eat our lunch. As we sat eating, we started to realize that now at 3 o'clock, getting to Chungju might be a bigger challenge than we signed up for. Our bums were hurting (we haven't ridden for 2 weeks) and we were feeling a little worn out. But, the last time I was in Yeosu, I felt that there was enough to do/see in this little city that I thought I would like to come back. I guess now was as good as time as any to explore Yeoju. We decided to stay there and see the town. More on Yeoju in the coming days, but you can already see our Monday activity at Silleuksa on Buddah's Birthday here.

I haven't given up my grand biking dreams. Someday I will make it to Chungju... or another distant place that happens to lie on a bike path. If you would like to make your way to Yeoju or Chungju, or even just Yangsuri or Yangpyeong, look for signs like this one above. The 남한강 자전거길Namhangang (South Han River) Bike path starts in Yangsuri and goes all the way to Chungju, almost completely on well maintained bike paths. Just follow the signs for Chungju Dam! 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Buddha's Birthday at Silleuksa, Yeoju

 Outside the entrance to Silleuksa

This year for Buddha's Birthday, we found ourselves at Silleuksa (신륵사) temple again. This is our second time to visit this famous temple in Yeoju and it turned out to be a great place to celebrate the holiday. There were tons of people and tons of activities to be do and sights to be seen. 

 Pouring water over Buddha's head

First thing first we headed into the temple to look around. it was quite different than our last visit, 3 months ago. Last time we were here, there were no leaves on the trees, not many people to be found and not nearly as many lanterns to be had. This time it was the opposite. Beautiful scenery, packed with people and of course full of lanterns.

Hanging messages on the lanterns

Silleuksa is a rather special temple because, not only is it ancient dating back to the Silla dynasty, but it is also one of the few temples in Korea that was built along a river rather than in a mountain. It's fame brings a lot of visitors to this particular temple, hence the number of events happening this Buddha's Birthday.

Loads of people were enjoying the riverfront views from the temple. Folks on the other side of the river seemed to be enjoying the water itself. The river was filled with swan boats and one speed boat zooming around giving the swan boats some exciting waves.

A view of the Namhangang (South Han River) alongside Silleuksa

 Temple volunteers preparing our bibimbap lunch 

And, of course, perhaps the best part of Buddha's Birthday is the free temple food. Guaranteed to be 100% vegetarian. We were served bibimbap with big pieces of ddeok (rice cake).

Bibim-ing our bap

Hanja woodblock prints

Making a Dalma woodblock print 

After we had our fill of food and temples, we headed out to do some of the activities outside the temple grounds. There were plenty of activities and crafts to try, but I just tried two, a block print of Dalma (also known as Bodhidharma , the monk who brought Buddhism to China) and, of course, a lotus lantern.
 Me and Dalma

 Lotus lantern pro... 

Lanterns are the most typical craft around Buddha's Birthday and it wasn't just for kids either. Young and old all gathered around the lantern making table to make their own lotus lantern. 

Me and my lotus lantern

How did you spend your Buddha's Birthday? Be sure to spend your next Buddha's Birthday at your nearest temple to make the most of this holiday!

Friday, May 25, 2012

My Janggu Concert

Last week we finally held our much anticipated janggu concert. After just 6 weeks of studying the janggu (8 classes in total) we were put on the stage to show off what we had learned. We were really worried because we hadn't practiced in a week, and even our rehearsal before the show wasn't so great, this was to be our first time performing without the music notes on the board in front of us.

Our teacher, Mr. Oh, performing on the kkwaenggwari

Fortunately, we were the last of the three performances scheduled for the day. The first performance of the afternoon was a professional Samulnori group, lead by our teacher, Mr. Oh. Watching this performance after 6 weeks of studying the janggu was like a whole new experience for me. While to the untrained ear, the music of samulnori can just sound like a jumble of unorganized sounds, but after studying the rhythms in our janggu class I was able to pick out various rhythms that they were playing.

After the professional performers cleared the stage, it was time for the second performance of the day, a group of foreign students from Hanyang University performed Samulnori playing the janggu and the buk (a smaller round drum which is beaten with a thicker drumstick).  We all really enjoyed watching them playing the buk, waving their arms around whenever they weren't hitting the drum...

Hanyang University students performing Samulnori

Finally, it was the moment we had been waiting for. We all filed on stage. Two students introduced themselves and thanked our teacher and the staff for making the class possible. Then, we got settled and our teacher banged on the kkwaenggwari (mini brass gong) and we started our performance.

If you're curious how we did, just check the video. But, I can say, our final performance was much, much better than our rehearsals. We finally pulled it all together in the end!

 Thanks to the staff of the Korean National Folk Museum for providing this free class to us. I hope I get another chance to study the janggu, it was such a fun experience!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Want to come to Korea for free? Here's how...

Just got this in my inbox today, thought I'd share it with all you Korea lovers living abroad....

Essay Contest

Write an essay about a three-day trip to hidden travel destinations in Korea, and what you would do during your trip. The winner will be given a chance to visit the destination and take part in various cultural activities.

Eligible Applicants: All non-Koreans around the world (Foreigners living in Korea and Koreans
with foreign nationality may also apply)
How to Apply: Write an essay about a three-day trip to hidden or unknown travel destinations in
Korea that you want to visit (additional user created contents also accepted)
Accepted Language: All 11 Languages Broadcast by KBS World Radio
Application Period: June 1 ~ July 15, 2012 (through e-mail or postal mail)
Judging Criteria: originality, creativity and how informative the content is
Grand Prize: One winner will win an all expense paid trip to Koreaincluding round trip airfare
Other Prizes: 2nd and 3rd place winners as well as eight other top essays will win digital
cameras, MP3 players etc. (prizes subject to change)
Other participants: Approximately 100 other participants will be given small memorabilia
Please Note: All pictures, sounds or videos used in user created contents must not violate copyright infringement laws
For more information please visit our homepage at or email us at

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wild Tea Festival 2012, Hadong, Korea

Around this time every year, the town of Hadong hosts it's annual tea festival. This is my second time to make it to this festival, and even though it's nearly a five-hour drive from Seoul, it's really worth it.  Because of the traffic due to the Children's Day holiday we arrived a bit late and our day was a little too rushed, we still had a great time.

After 5 hours of driving to Hadong from Seoul, we were all a bit ravished, so first stop was lunch. Sanchae bibimbap (mountain vegetable bibimbap) is the most famous dish in town, so we ordered that along with a pajeon to share between four of us. It was obvious we had left Seoul, not even the Koreans with us could identify the unusual banchan (side dishes) that came with our meal.

After lunch we headed right for the tea roasting area. We suited up in bright orange aprons, kerchiefs for our heads plus gloves and arm protectors to keep us safe from the hot iron tea roasting pans.

Each group was given a big basket of medium sized tea leaves (small leaves are the highest quality, best tasting, and big leaves are low quality)

This friendly, green tea expert ajumma told us how to do everything.

First, roast the tea leaves in a super hot roasting pan. Make sure you're wearing gloves and arm protectors. Constatnly flip and stir the tea leaves with your hands to prevent it from burning and keep it roasting evenly.

Second, roll and rub the tea leaves on this rough mat on the table until the leaves are good and roughed up. Finally, scatter the leaves on drying racks. They said that this process would be repeated several times more before it would become real tea.

After the tea making we had some free time to wonder around the festival grounds. In the heat of the day the thought of eating some green tea ice cream was too tempting to resist. And so was the chance to take a photo with some trick art, apparently.

Then we wandered over to a tent where we got to try our hand at making ddeok (Korean rice cake). That hammer was seriously heavy! Unfortunately, they finished smacking the ddeok just as I was about to take my swing....

Then we watched this woman cut up the ddeok and it was immediately put out for sale, where of course it was bought up quickly!

Next stop was picking our own green tea leaves. We were instructed to pick the youngest leaves so that we could make the tastiest tea. If you've been to Boseong, a famous location in Korea for learning about green tea cultivation, you may think this field looks a little different. Here on this hill, green tea bushes are not grown in neat rows but rather scattered here and there all around. That seems to be because this site claims to be the first site of tea cultivation in Korea. It is said that during the Silla dynasty, an envoy from China (Tang Dynasty), brought back tea seeds when he returned from his journey. The king bade him plant the seeds here near Ssanggyesa temple and the king proclaimed that this tea grown in Korea was finer than anything grown in China.

Finally, our last stop of the day was Ssanggyesa, a temple nearby the festival grounds. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we didn't have too much time to wander the temple, but just as my last visit, it was decorated with many colorful lanterns in preparation for Buddha's birthday.

For more information about the Hadong Wild Tea Festival, see their website: