13 August 2009

South Korea - Gonju

We chose Gonju because it's a small town, and there seemed to be enough things to do for a few days. We felt the need to stay longer at the same place and also relax a bit.
This time we decided to choose a motel from our guidebook, and it was a good choice. Friendly landlady, clean room, air-conditioning (it's a bit noisy but ok), computer with internet in each room.
On the first day we checked out the tourist information, where we got the usual tourist map of the city, which is absolutely not up to scale but shows the major sights. We then went to see the fortress, but the heat kept our motivation in certain limits. There were quite a lot of local elderly people sitting and lying around, chatting and sleeping, and a woman offered us pieces of watermelon. And there were some beautiful details in the temples:
We then went to visit the royal tombs, which are incredibly old and whose discovery have been very important to Korean historians. You can't actually visit the tombs (they're closed for protection) but a well done museum has exact replicas and shows what was found inside them. We got an audioguide - usually I'm a bit suspicious of audioguides, but this one was good, if you didn't mind the infantile way it was presented (a comic figure - a dog? - talking with a very american accent). There was a lot of interesting information about history.
Of the original tombs, all you can see are the typical mounds of earth, that one can see all over Korea.
The day after we visited again a temple - we actually went there because there was supposed to be a swimming pool, which turned out to be very small and shallow and very expensive, so we went to visit Magoksa temple, very beautiful and not as extensively renovated as most others. I especially liked some of the paintings.
From there we went on a hike - only 2 hours but very steep and tiring, even more so because of the everlasting heat and humidity. We made it to the top anyway.
The hike was followed by a nice bath in a cool river!

During the rest of the time, we relaxed, enjoyed the small-town Korea, and yes, spent some time in front of "our" computer.... ;-)

A few impressions:
A small street in which every house is a shop (although it might not be obvious from outside what they're actually selling):Managing the difficult task to eat dumplings with chopsticks:Enjoying the colours and unusual smells and sights at the local market:
Eating some bibimbap with about a dozen side dishes (mostly spicy):

So, this is my impression of Korea after one week: temples, a lot of history and kings, heat and humidity, nice but spicy food, people wanting to help in restaurants and bus stations, great opportunities for hiking, many new smells and tastes, a good place to relax and take things easy.

Tomorrow we're off to another big city - Seoul. Let's see what it holds for us.

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