17 January 2011

Note To Self

Don't "wing it" when traveling to one of the most remote areas of a non-English speaking country.

Well I had a bit of a... let's call it an "adventure", this weekend.  I set out to do some exploring, and as is sometimes the case with exploration, I didn't end up finding too much.  But I hate being a Debbie Downer (copyright Dan McNamara), so I'm gonna start out with the positives that arose from this weekend.

1) As is always the case when I travel, I got a lot of reading done.
2) I got experience with the intercity bus system in Korea, which will surely come in handy sometime in the future.
3) I saw some great scenery during my journey.

And now for the negatives...
1) I didn't accomplish my goal of seeing the Boseong Light Festival.
2) I rode the bus for approximately 10 hours.
3) I spent about 80 bucks on travel expenses and don't have very much to show for it.

So how exactly did this happen?  Well read on to find out.

I went to bed Friday night with the plan of going to Daejeon on Saturday for a science tour around the city.  In hindsight, I probably should of stuck with that plan.  Instead, I woke up Saturday morning with a little bit of thirst for adventure and decided I wanted to go to Boseong for their annual Light Festival.  Sure, I hadn't done much planning (I did in fact look into it a little bit), but what could go wrong?  Well, as it turns out, quite a bit.

In the minimal amount of planning that I did do, I found out that the 12:40 bus to Gwangju (you have to get another bus at Gwangju) is 6 bucks cheaper than other buses.  Well that's perfect!  It's 3 1/2 hours to Gwangju and then another hour and a half to Boseong, so I should be getting there around 6 or 6:30.  Great time to arrive for a light festival, right?  I ended up catching the 12:40 bus, but I was delayed in Gwangju and didn't end up getting the bus to Boseong until 5:30.  That bus ended up taking about 2 hours due to a snowstorm.  Which brings me to my first point about preparation for travel: check the weather. I guess I kind of assumed that since I was headed south I wouldn't have to deal with snow, but I was obviously wrong.

So I finally arrived in Boseong around 7:30.  This brings me to my second point about preparation for travel: while large cities in non-English speaking countries may have lots of English signs, don't count on it in small towns.  I will say that I felt pretty lost in that bus station.  I think I saw a total of 2 signs that had any English on them at all.  However, one of the signs that did have some English happened to be for my destination.  Unfortunately, when I went to buy the ticket, the man at the ticket counter gestured that there were no more buses headed that way.  This was despite the fact that the sign said buses were headed there for another hour, but I guess it may have been due to the snowstorm.  I'm not really sure.  So now I had a decision to make.  Did I want to try to walk to this place?  It was only about 2 miles down the road.  A quick step outside made that decision pretty easy as I was hit in the face with snow and 30 mph winds.

So it was at this point that I decided I might want to just cut my losses and head back to Gwangju to stay at a hostel for the night.  Oh wait.  There aren't anymore buses to Gwangju.  The man tells me I can get a bus to Suncheon and then get a bus from there to Gwangju.  Okay, that works.  I get my ticket and head outside.  Oh, there's the bus to Suncheon heading down the road.  No more buses to Suncheon.  In fact, there aren't anymore buses to anywhere for the rest of the night.  This is at 8 o'clock.

Well now what do I do?  Had it been the summer I may have seriously considered just wandering around Boseong until the first bus left at 6 in the morning.  I'm pretty good at amusing myself.  Unfortunately, it's about 10 degrees outside.  So I leave the bus station to have a look around.  I see some flashing lights, which I assume is a motel, but I'm not really sure.  I head down the road a little bit more.  This place is seriously a ghost town.  I don't think I saw one person and everything looked like it was boarded up.  I turn a corner and see a flashing sign that says "Motel" (in English!).  Well, I guess I know where I'm staying for the night.  I ended up paying 45,000 won (about 40 bucks) for the night, which is about 25,000 won over what I'm usually willing to pay.  But when there's a snowstorm and I have no means of transportation, I am in fact willing to compromise.  It actually ended up being a pretty nice place after I finally figured out how to turn on the lights (which honestly took me a good 15 minutes).

So I spent the rest of night planning my next day in Gwangju.  I tried to learn a little bit from my mistakes.

Looking back on it, I guess I was getting a little cocky about my ability to aimlessly wander around and still find cool stuff.  After all, that's what happened in Daegu, Busan, and Seoul.  Well, I can definitely say that after this trip I have officially been humbled. 

On to Sunday.  A new day!

I woke up at 8 and was on my way to Gwangju at 8:30.  I can't say I really liked Boseong too much, but I will be headed back for a rematch with the Korean countryside.  So anyway, I got into Gwangju around 10 and started to make my way Mudeungsan ( 무등산 ) for some hiking.  I didn't see very much on the way there.  Despite having a population of 1.5 million, I didn't get the sense that there was all that much to actually do in the city.  But there's always hiking!  And Mudeungsan provided some awesome views.

View of Gwangju from Mudeungsan
It's pretty easy to go between the peaks of the mountain and I probably made my way to 5 or 6 them during the day.  The trails were snow-covered, but I only ended up falling one time (it was a pretty nice fall though, and I'm really glad I wasn't carrying my laptop with me).  I always feel a little out of place when I see Koreans wearing hiking boots, snow pants, a winter jacket, and poles for extra balance, while I'm wearing sneakers, jeans, and a sweatshirt.

Observatory on top of one of the peaks

So that was about it for my weekend.  There are temples and shrines on the mountain, but I didn't manage to find any of them.  I might head back to Gwangju one more time while I'm here.  The areas around Gwangju seem to be a lot more interesting than the city itself.  Haenam has a bunch of dinosaur footprints, Boseong has tea fields, and there are supposed to be some pretty cool islands in the area as well. 

Next weekend I'm thinking I'll actually go to Daejeon.  And I do in fact have this trip planned out so hopefully things will go a little smoother.  I was definitely disappointed that I didn't get to see Boseong, but I learned quite a bit and hopefully it helped prepare me for future trips into the more rural areas of the country.

1 comment:

  1. I guess the question that arises is what does the jigga man have to wear OTHER than jeans. Oh and mesh shorts...and khaki shorts. Definitely not ski pants though...