5 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
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
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
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
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.
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.