Caline, Randall, Lisa, Sam and I went to Korea to visit Nick for an epic 10 day adventure. We saw a ton of Northern South Korea and got to experience how Nick has been living for the last year. Definitely recommend checking out South Korea at least once in your life. I took 560 photos and 2 videos, the highlights are below;
Bro Tip: Change your camera’s timezone when traveling internationally to ensure you have accurate dates. I didn’t set mine and have been monkeying with jhead to fix them all.
Traveling to Korea: October 13th-14th
Our flight out of San Diego left at 8am, due to the international date line, we didn’t arrive in Seoul until 4pm the next day. The long flights were quite tolerable, we were occupied by movies, games and tons of snacks.
Nick wasn’t able to meet us at the airport, so we used his directions to grab a bus into Ilsan. Once we arrived, we used Nick’s graphical map to find the hotel (just past the Burger King on the right) and get checked in. A very painless process overall!
Bro Tip: Always check your surge protector’s voltage before plugging it into a foreign outlet. I blew the fuse in my plug convertor by plugging a surge protector into it, we spent the rest of the trip unsuccessfully looking for a replacement fuse.
The group was wiped out but needed to eat something, so we decided to explore La Festa mall across from the hotel. All of the restaurants we were seeing were Korean (duh) but we didn’t know anything about the food yet. Luckily we stumbled into an English style pub and grabbed hamburgers, fries and beers.
Even though it was only 7pm local time, we needed to get some sleep. So we went back to the hotel and passed out.
Ilsan Tour: October 15th
Sleeping was tough, I must have woken up 10 times in the very early morning. I finally gave in at 5am and stayed up with Caline. We channel surfed while we waited for the 7am breakfast.
Breakfast consisted of tea, coffee, juice, eggs, some type of fried rice (veggie/pork or veggie/shrimp), cream soup, salad, fruits, cold cereal and some breads. Considering how much we paid for the room, it was very nice.
Nick met up with us, and we went out to explore Ilsan together. We went for a long walk around Lake Park, the largest man made lake in Asia (it wasn’t really that big at all). The park was very nice and even had a little zoo. Caline loved the guinea pigs the most. After the park, we tried Korean dessert, it was “milk ice”, tasty but weird.
Bro Tip: You can’t immediately get a Korean sim card without a Korean ID & credit card in Ilsan. They make foreigners wait at least 3 days before they can get one.
Up next was the puppy cafe! Everyone was very excited to hang out with some dogs since we missed Blitz & Rufus so much. Upon entering, we were bombarded by puppies barking and jumping up onto us! Definitely a unique and fun experience.
After a quick afternoon nap, we hiked one of the parks in Ilsan that we could see from our hotel. The top had a small temple, an outdoor gym and great views of the city.
We wrapped up the day playing video games at La Festa in a small arcade, fighting to stay awake just a little longer to help adjust to the time difference.
Day trip into Seoul: October 16th
Sleeping was a bit easier but still difficult on night 2. We met up around 8:30am to catch a subway into Seoul for the day.
Our first stop was the Changgyeong Palace. It was very grand and crowded. We opted for the self-tour, so I don’t have a ton of facts about it. The pictures are great though, and it was fun exploring with the group making up our own stories for different areas.
Bro Tip: People in Korea, especially senior citizens, will cut in line if you aren’t careful. Stay vigilant to keep your place in line. Senior ladies will intentionally elbow you to show their disapproval of you; give them the way.
After meandering around the palace for several hours, we jumped back into the subway to visit an art/shopping area. But first, lunch… At lunch we saw our first “buzzer” for service, it’s a button at the end of the table you can press to call your server over. Most places we went to had one, wish they had that here.
After eating our delicious lunch, we parted ways with Nick and went to go checkout a Buddhist temple. Seeing the Buddhist swastikas was counterintuitive, the negative image that symbol has is ingrained into me. We explored the temple with a large crowd for ~90 minutes. The flowers and architecture were very bright.
That evening we went to the local supermarket, Home Plus, to look for a replacement fuse for me. They didn’t have any, but they did have a bunch of beer, so we bought a couple. To my surprise they had Ballast Point bottles for sale!
For dinner, Nick took use to another favorite spot of his for some Bibimbap.
Bukansan National Park: October 17th
It was time for some adventure on day #4! We took the subway and bus to Bukhansan National Park for a hike.
The first part of the hike was very mellow, a large paved road with bathrooms and buildings throughout the uphill. Roughly half way to the top, there was a gigantic Buddha shrine, surrounded by 10,000 small Buddhas figurines and various artworks. Getting all of that up the mountain must have been quite the task.
Bro Tip: If you’re going to be doing a lot of walking/hiking, get yourself a pair of Darn Tough Socks. I wore the pair I brought with me 90% of the trip, they are great.
After leaving this area the hike got serious. We were scrambling up the mountain side to reach an overlook 200′ above the shrine. We took a break next to some ladies having snacks. They gave us some sliced presimmons. and we shared our trail mix with them. After a little more climbing, we reached the peak. There were many other hikers here enjoying a snack and quick break before they went down. We met a group from AirBnB who took photos of us at the top for some promotional material they were working on;we think Sam will be on the cover of their magazine in his epic goat shirt.
From here, the adventure really started. Apparently we went up the easy side and down the hard side, oops. There were areas of the trail that had massive drops and extremely steep faces. Everyone had to use their entire body to stay in control descending this side; using rope, trees and rocks. It was a blast. I recorded the hike with Strava, check out how steep the descent gets!
We went to a bar called “Potato and Beer” for much needed hydration and nutrition. Sam attempted to translate the menu and order “2 Asahi & French Fries”, a logical assumption based upon the name of the bar…. When the waiter brought out our order, it was actually “2 Asahi & Shrimp Fries”! Oh well, we were super hungry so we ate almost all of it, turns out it was actually pretty good.
Bus to Sokcho: October 18th
Sleeping after the adventure hike was very easy. 🙂
We took a bus from Ilsan to Sokcho to see what that area was all about. The bus that was supposed to take 2 hours ended up being 4.5 hours, bummer. We got into Sokcho and immediately found our hostel, AfterGlow. We were apprehensive about staying in a hostel, but it was actually quite nice. No shared bathrooms and amazingly friendly hosts!
We found a little Japanese restaurant to have a late lunch in. Sitting on the ground while eating was a new experience, my legs kept falling asleep so I had to stretch them out every couple of minutes, sorry Randall. Caline and I ordered a special meal that included way too much food; sashimi, steamed egg, grilled fish, sauteed mushrooms, soup, tempura, cream corn, etc… We were stuffed.
Bro Tip: If your meal in Korea is 200% the amount of everyone elses’, expect to receive 400% the amount of food of everyone else.
After eating, we took a local bus up the coast to a little beach area. There were many people there in boats and small ATVs. We enjoyed beach beers as the sunset behind us.
There was another buddhist temple near us, so we went to explore that. We met a monk who told Sam & Nick they should shave their beards because it makes them look 20 years older. He didn’t say anything about mine, probably because it looked so good. I took long exposure photos while everyone else went to go checkout a female Buddha.
Nick’s Birthday: October 19th
The breakfast at the hostel was sufficient for us; coffee, tea, cold cereal, bread, butter, jam & cheese.
We went to Seoraksan National Park, Nick’s favorite park in Korea. It was breathtakingly beautiful and as crowded as Disneyland on a busy day! We attempted to get away from the mass of people by hiking, but it didn’t thin out too much on the trails. The hiking here was easy, we covered 6 miles in 2.5 hours. Go see our path on Strava. Watch the video I took (soundtrack provided by hiker in front of me) while hiking to see the crowds.
We ate lunch on the mountain, there was a big restaurant/shopping area on one of the larger trails. Nick introduced us to Makgeolli, a sweet Korean rice wine, mmmmmmmmm. I shared an acorn jelly salad with Lisa; she didn’t like it.
Next up, taking a cable car to the top of the mountain! There was a small hike and then a fairly steep ascent to get to the peak. Despite the haze we could see for miles. There were a couple of vendors selling photos and such, we took our own.
That evening, Caline gave me one of my favorite photo accessories of all time, the smart bong! It is a retractable stick with a mount at the end to hold a camera/phone. I took tons of photos with this thing, pretty sure everyone hated me for making them get into my shots.
Before heading out for the evening, we hung out at the hostel for a little while. Opening a couple of beers (Alesmith Horny Devil & Port Santa’s Little Helper) we brought from San Diego to celebrate Nick’s birth. We shared tastes of them with our hosts, they were very excited to try them and added the bottles to their collection.
We wandered around Sokcho; going into a fish market, window shopping, looking for somewhere to eat dinner, saying hi to a stray cat that only had 1 ear and smart bonging the entire time. My dinner accidentally included pork, so I opted out of eating. Everyone else seemed to enjoy the meal.
Back to Ilsan: October 20th
We were up bright and early on the 20th to catch taxis to the bus station. Our hostel hosts were very kind to pay for the taxis for us!
Our original plan was to take the bus south to see another area, however spending 10+ hours on various buses didn’t sound fun to anyone especially in rainy weather. We changed plans and decided to head back to Ilsan to use that as our home base. The bus ride back was uneventful.
Lisa decided we all needed ramen, she was right. Nick took us to a place he liked, it didn’t disappoint! I had spicy seafood ramen, very good. The menu smartly proclaimed “We Support Dokdo“, a group of small islands that Korea is disputing ownership of with Japan.
Bro Tip: Everywhere we went in Korea was out of at least 1 beer, make sure you have a backup option in mind when ordering.
Later that evening, Nick took us to his favorite pub. We sat on the patio so we could people watch. The menu looked good, so we ordered a cheese “pizza” and nachos to share. The “pizza” turned out to be an open faced quesadilla! Yes, they used a tortilla for “pizza crust”, I suppose that was our fault for ordering pizza in Korea.
Rainy Day in Seoul: October 21st
Back into the subway to see more of Seoul, our first stop was a park on the Han river. It was empty because of the rain. The girls had umbrellas, so we stayed mostly dry. We got to see the 63 Building, the tallest gold building in the world.
After the park, we went for beers at a super fancy restaurant. They were charging ₩12,000+ for Ballast Point beers! I broke down and bought a Sculpin for ₩12,700, ouch. We played cards and enjoyed our very expensive beers.
Back into Ilsan and we had Japanese curry for dinner.
Randall’s Birthday: October 22nd
We decided to rent bikes and ride around Ilsan for Randall’s birthday. I wish we had done this more than once, it was easily my favorite part of the trip. We saw a ton of the city that we never would have on foot or public transportation. We ended up covering 13 miles in under 2 hours on really janky rental bikes! Checkout the Strava tracks around Ilsan.
Bro Tip: Not many places are open before 10am in Ilsan, get used to it and plan accordingly.
A big lunch was in order after the ride, we opted for (Korean) BBQ. Tons of meat, some veggies and a couple of Cass beers. It was a ton of fun cooking food and hanging out.
We split up the group for a couple of hours to get checked into our motel for the final night and met up again at another beer spot. Luckily this place had real french fries, hooray! They were served with 2 dipping sauces, we thought it was ketchup and mustard, nope. The ketchup was a sweet relish, I have no idea what the “mustard” was.
We walked around La Festa & Home Plus for a bit and wrapped up the night early.
Goodbye Nick & Korea: October 23rd
Randall & Lisa’s flight home was at 11am, so we met up early at the only open store, Starbucks; had a small breakfast with the group and put them on an 8:25am bus to the airport. Bye Randall & Lisa!
Our flight wasn’t until 5pm, so we got to explore a couple more places around Ilsan. The first stop was an art museum. We thought it was ₩6,000 to get in, but the lady working the desk let us in for free (she thought we were artists). They had a monsters exhibit going on, plenty of fun/freaky stuff. Ask Caline about the dark room when you see her. 😉
Bro Tip: Buy soju at the duty free store for your flight home, it’s much better and cheaper than United’s inflight wine/beer.
For our last lunch in Korea, we had gimbap, it’s kind of like Korea sushi. Seaweed with white rice wrapped around various ingredients. Hopefully we can find some good gimbap in San Diego; it was my favorite Korean food.
After lunch, we said our goodbyes to Nick and jumped on the same bus that Randall & Lisa did a couple of hours earlier.
Korea Wrap Up
Visiting Nick in South Korea was an amazing, once in a lifetime adventure. We got to experience a culture nothing like we have at home. Taste very delicious, very unique foods. And spend a ton of quality time with people that we all love.
Bro Tip: Go to Korea, watch out for old ladies.