After bidding goodby to Echo and Chui, we started the next phase of our adventure - a self drive tour of the southwest portion of the country from Andong to Gyeongju and Busan. But, our first challenge - find the Hertz office in Seoul. With Sunny's help we had selected the Hertz office that was closest to the edge of town, limiting the amount of driving we would have to do in Seoul city. We successfully navigated the subway to the appropriate station and emerged as directed next to the JW Marriott. From there it went downhill! We could not find the Hertz office anywhere. After 15 minutes of searching I stood guard over our luggage as Tim walked across the street to ask the Marriott bellman for directions and then took off in the direction he pointed. Thirty minutes later a frustrated Tim returned without the car, keys or rental agreement. As we were contemplating our next move, the Marriott bellman walked across the street and offered not only to walk Tim to the Hertz office but to also have me relax in the lobby while the transaction was completed. Go Marriott! What we learned was that in South Korea Hertz is run by their affiliate Lotte - look for the Lotte sign, not Hertz. Twenty more minutes and Tim pulled in front of the Marriott in a beautiful new Hyundai Avanti with GPS, heated seats and all the extras. Except for one thing - there were no maps so we would be relying upon the very confusing GPS and Waze to find our way for the next 4 days.
Our second challenge - find the expressway out of the city that would take us to Andong and Hahoe Folk Village. While most of the expressway signs included English, they passed by in a flash and none included the names Andong or Hahoe. We guessed that we were going in the correct direction but...?! Fortunately at a 2nd stop at a service area off the expressway at the information booth where we asked for help in English and where the frightened staff turned to a man looking at the map and asked him to assist us, we learned to look for Expressway 50 and then 55. Whew!
- Seoul (Kyungbu Expressway-Busan bound)
- Singal JC (Yeongdong Expressway – Gangreung bound)
- Wonju JC (Joongang Expressway – Daegu bound)
- SeoAndong IC exit
- #34 National Highway (KyungbukDochung bound)
- Exit at Hahoe Village Sign
While not following the most direct route but always heading in the correct direction, we found the Hahoe Folk Village only to learn that we could not drive our car to the B&B until after 4pm. So we did what seemed like the best thing to do in Korea, we found a place to eat! Sunny had alerted us to a chicken dish that is the specialty of Andong. Within minutes we were seated in a small shop while the owner prepared Andong jjimdak, a braised dish made with chicken, cellophane noodles, and various vegetables marinated in a ganjang (Korean soy sauce) based sauce. Amazing! But it was so much food that we carried half the dish back to the car to be reheated at our hanok for our dinner.
By the time we walked back to our car it was 4:30 and the last tourist bus had left the parking lot. The gate blocking the road to the village was open and we were free to drive to our room in a traditional Korean home, a hanok. By staying at the hanok we would be in the village after the tour busses left and before the first tourists walked into the village in the morning. Rakkojae Andong fit the bill perfectly. Located in front of the Hahoe Village ferry dock, with just four separate “choga” houses, each with its own private bathroom complete with a Hinoki Cypress whirlpool bath and TV with international channels including CNN! Throw in the 20 minutes we relaxed in the natural mud Infrared sauna and we were set for the night.
The Hahoe Folk Village is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, receiving international recognition for its culture value. The entire village has long been designated as Important Folk Property No.122 by the Korean government, for having preserved it ancient form and traditions for the past 600 years. Hahoe Village is home to descendants of the Ryu clan of Pungsan and is well-known for its traditional houses and the birthplace of renowned scholars of the Joseon Period. While other folk villages can be tourist productions, Hahoe is home to 230 residents maintaining old ways. Walk down the dirt road and you'll pass small garden plots of squash, corn and chilli peppers and farm fields that stretch to the horizon.
Morning at Hahoe was serene. We walked through the village as the residents were just coming out of their homes to sweep the bougainvillea blossoms from the streets. No cars, no one rushing around, nothing to disturb the tranquility. So peaceful that we decided to leave before the tours started to arrive and keep this feeling of calm by getting an early start to visit Byeongsan Confucian Academy on the hillside and Sangbong Pavilion overlooking the village.
Caffeinated and back in gear, we decided to drive to our next destination by way of Yoengdeok. After all, we had read that it was snow crab season and Yeongdeok is the epicenter for fresh snow crab. The port in Yeongdeok, Ganggu Port, is the largest snow crab distribution center in the country with over 500 tons of snow crabs handled every year. There is even a Snow Crab Street (!) that stretches along the port with over 170 snow crab restaurants. Not knowing one restaurant from another, we stopped at the first available parking spot and pointed to the largest crab we saw in the tank. Within minutes he was steaming away and we were dining on the 10 assorted dishes that came with the crab. Two hours later we left a table full of shells behind and drove along Snow Crab Street, amazed at the number of restaurants and unrelenting theme on everything from hotels to clothing stores. Our advice - DON'T MISS this!
Our destination for the next two nights was only a few hours down the road, Gyeongju. It is the massive burial mounds which dominate in Gyeongju. The mounds, memorial tombs, represent the glory that was Silla from the 1st to the 8th centuries, the remnants of the rich Three Kingdoms Period. The Silla kingdom was able to unite the peninsula for the first time. Like the corresponding Tang Dynasty in China, the Silla period is considered the epitome of Korean art and culture.
Evening was particularly beautiful. Anapji Pond where Silla kings and queens spent their leisure was said to be the grandest garden in the Orient, with trees and plants brought from throughout Asia.
Thirty minutes from town is a sprawling temple complex, Bulguk-sa. It is one of the oldest surviving buddhist monasteries in Korea, built during the reign of Silla King Beopheung begun in 751 and completed in 774. It renown not from its age or size but because it stands as an example of Silla-era architecture in a spectacular hillside setting lush with manicured pine, plum, peach, pear, cherry trees.
After two days exploring temples, tombs and treasures, we took to the expressway and our last stop, the port city of Busan. With a population of 3.5 million, it was a striking contrast to Andong and Gyeongju. The city is a melange of boats, loading cranes, honking cabs, huge tankers. We started our re-entry with a night at the Park Hyatt, located in the Haeundae Marine City, overlooking the ocean and Gwangan Bridge. Registration on the 30th floor, the bar on the 32nd, a 20-meter granite stone indoor swimming pool. A room so high tech that it came with a 4 page Room Instruction Manual!
We got no further than drinks at the bar watching the sun set ...
and a 3 block walk to a tiny sushi restaurant with only 6 tables.
Our final morning of our road trip presented a new challenge. We had planned to drop the rental car in Busan and take the high speed train back to Seoul. Which meant that we needed to find the Hertz/Lotte rental office to return the car. Which meant that we needed to drive through the center of the city 10 miles to the office near the very busy railroad station. After the three concierge got over their shock at the thought of foreigners navigating through the city, they got busy briefing us on the game plan. The hotel estimated that it would take us 25 minutes, if we didn't get lost. The good news is that we would be saving an $89 taxi ride, the bad news was that we desperately needed to have our GPS dialed in before we left the hotel and we couldn't get the address correct. Leave it to the Park Hyatt - the concierge politely took the keys, started the car, programmed the GPS and stared in amazement as we drove off! It was a wild ride but we made it without a wrong turn, even stopping to fill the car with gas.
We have never seen so much seafood on sale. Not in Bangkok, not in Singapore, not in India. The alleys and aisles of the Jagalchi Fish Market are packed with stalls selling an astounding array of edible creatures from the sea with every flat surface supporting stacks of fresh fish, often spilling over the sides of the tables. Fish and shellfish are caught daily and sold fresh to consumers. The area is lined with tanks containing all sorts of fish, eels, squid, shellfish, and mollusks. More than 30% of the country's fish production passes through Jagalchi, Korea's largest seafood market.