My South Korean Bucket List

With my time in Korea rapidly coming to an end I need to get checking things off this list!

  • Eat sannakji (live octopus) 

I’ve yet to get my head (and stomach) around this one but it will be done!

A vile experience that I plan on never repeating.

Again, a one time only occurrence!

  • Eat bosintang (dog soup)Korean chicken feet

Controversial I know, but it is one of Korea’s most well-known delicacies.

  • Learn Korean

While I am nowhere near being fluent I can at least hold a decent conversation in Korean so I’m going to count this one!

  • Visit EverlandKorean baseball game

We’ve visited South Korea’s largest theme park, albeit on the wettest day of the year.

  • Watch a Korean baseball game

Woo SK Wyverns!

  • Leave a padlock at the top of Namsan MountainNamsan Tower Padlocks

In true K-drama style I have left one padlock with my boyfriend and one with my Mum.

  • Sing in a norebang

I never thought I would enjoy singing in any place other than the shower but there is something about norebangs that makes it okay to grab a microphone and a tambourine and bust out your best rendition of Sweet Caroline!

And what an unforgettable experience that was…

  • Haeundae Beach, Busan

Way down on the south east coast, Haeundae is probably Korea’s most famous beach and I am determined to get there.Pajeon

Just one of Korea’s latest beauty fads, but I am now a convert!

  • Drink makgeolli and eat pajeon on a rainy day

Had plenty of opportunity to do this recently during Korea’s rainy season.

  • Wear a hanbok

Korea’s traditional dress.

  • Do a Temple Stay

Still trying to find time to get in touch with my spiritual side and do a temple stay in Seoul.

  • Appear on Korean TVBoryeong Mudfest

I think I might have walked behind someone being interviewed at Mudfest last year but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.

  • Get a photo taken with a Korean celebrity

Still working on this one, too.

  • Swim in the East Sea and the West Sea

Paddling counts right?Eurwangni Beach

  • Haggle at Namdaemun

Still need to work on my bargaining skills with the ajummas in this huge traditional night market in Seoul.

  • Watch a K-Pop concert

We saw Psy perform in Seoul last summer just as Gangnam Style was at its peak and it was epic!PSY concert Seoul Plaza 4/10/2012

  • Peer over into North Korean from the DMZ

Described as the most dangerous place on Earth, no trip to Korea is complete without going here.

As with most things, weddings in Korea are totally different to weddings at home, and we’ve been lucky enough to go toKorean wedding four of them.

  • Visit Jeju Island

South Korea’s answer to Hawaii and a favourite with Korean honeymooners, Jeju was recently declared one of the New7Wonders of Nature, and an absolute must-see.

  • Visit all 5 of the great palaces in Seoul

One down…four to go…

  • Visit Seoraksan National ParkSeoraksan National Park 

We went nearly two years ago in autumn and it was just so beautiful.

  • See the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul

This festival is held every May around Jogye-sa Temple in Seoul in honour of  Buddha’s birthday and is hands down one of my favourite memories of Korea.

  • See the Cherry Blossom Festival

Every spring Korean parks become awash with beautiful pink and white cherry blossom, and Yeouido Park in Seoul is one of the best places to see it.

  • Do the Gangnam Style dance in Gangnam

Many a time!Korean cherry blossom

  • Try kimchi soda

Yes, this actually exists. Along with kimchi cookies, kimchi ice-cream and kimchi cake.

Haeinsa Temple – 해인사

Haeinsa Temple, one of the Three Jewel Temples of Korea, is located in the heart of Gayasan National Park about an hour and a half west of Daegu. This huge temple complex is home to the Triptaka Koreana, 81,258 wooden blocks containing the whole of the Buddhist Scriptures which date back to the 13th century.

Haeinsa Temple


Haeinsa Temple


Haeinsa Temple


Haeinsa Temple



Haeinsa Temple


Haeinsa Temple


Haeinsa Temple


Haeinsa Temple


Haeinsa Temple


Haeinsa Temple

The War Memorial Of Korea, Seoul

It’s fair to say that Korea has had a rather troubled history, and has struggled not only with outside invasions but also from threats within the peninsula. The War Memorial of Korea museum covers pretty much the entire history of Korean warfare, from the Three Kingdoms era all the way through to the Korean War and Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War. It even shows what future warfare might look like, slightly concerning seeing as the two Korea’s are technically still at war.

This huge museum located near Yongsan was once the headquarters of the Korean Infantry before being turned into a museum in 1994. In the outdoor exhibit, dozens of tanks, jets, and guns make up just some of the 13,000 items of military memorabilia and equipment housed in the museum. They even display a replica of the South Korean navy vessel sank by a North Korean torpedo in 2010. Unsurprisingly this makes it one of the largest museums of it’s kind in the world.

Outside the museum the Statue of Brothers serves as a poignant reminder of the division between the two Koreas. The monument shows two brothers standing on top of a dome, embracing each other. The older brother is an ROK officer and his younger brother is serving in the North Korean army, and their embrace takes place when they meet on the battlefield. The crack in the dome symbolises the division of Korea and the hope for reunification.

A visit to the War Memorial of Korea is essential for anyone wanting to truly understand the country’s struggle to get to where it is today. To get there take subway line 4 or 6 to Samgakji station and leave by exit 12. Walk straight and after about five minutes the museum will be on your left.

Seoul International Fireworks Festival 2012

Last night saw over a million people line the banks of the Han near Yeouido to watch the Seoul International Fireworks Festival. The teams competing this year were Italy, China, America and Korea and they certainly did not disappoint; it was incredible! (For more amazing photos from my even more amazing boyfriend check out his Flickr page!)

63 Building, Seoul

63 Tower, situated on Yeouido Island in Seoul, is one of South Korea’s tallest buildings at almost 250m high. Surrounded by the Han River, it’s an iconic feature of the city’s skyline. It is not only beautifully striking from the outside, but the art gallery and observatory on the 60th floor offer stunning views of Seoul, even during the hot, hazy Korean summer.

Namsan Tower Love Locks

It has become something of a tradition for couples visiting Seoul Tower to leave a personalised lock as a symbol of their everlasting love. At the base of the tower fences and metal trees are adorned with thousands and thousands of padlocks with lovers’ initials and messages on. Once you attach your padlock you throw away the key, to ensure that your love is never broken.

Yeongjongdo Island

We had another national holiday in Korea this week, and along with what seemed like half the population of Incheon, we left the city for a day at the beach. After an emotional goodbye with Nath’s parents at the end of a wonderful two week visit, we caught the bus from the airport to Eurwangni beach.

In many ways Eurwangni was just like a typical beach resort at home; seafood restaurants, arcades and even noraebang, it was all a little bit tacky to be honest. As soon as the thermometer in England reaches 23°C the beach becomes a sea of milk bottle legs, moobs and sunburn. However, the beaches at Yeongjongdo were awash with tents, umbrellas and even blankets despite the 32°C heat!

To me, a day at the beach meant enjoying an ice cream, working on my tan and maybe even building a sandcastle. Nathan had other ideas though. A 10 minute walk just ‘to see what’s around the corner’ turned into a 5 mile trek up and down Eurwangni beach. And if that wasn’t enough we then headed further up the coast to the quieter Wangsan beach.

I paddled in Korean waters for the first time, I caught my first glimpse of Korean paddy fields, and I had my first batting cage experience (needless to say SK Wyverns have nothing to worry about there). The island and its beaches were beautiful and it was nice to escape the hustle and bustle of city life for an afternoon.

Eurwangni Beach

A seafood restaurant

Steam rising off the mudflats

Eurwangni Beach

Seafood restaurants

Abandoned anchors on Eurwangni Beach

Fishermen at Eurwangni Beach

Walkway at Eurwangni Beach

A seafood restaurant at Eurwangni Beach

A slightly more rustic dining experience…

Two girls looking for crabs

View across the beach


Eurwangni Beach

The tide was out at Eurwangni Beach

Lotus Lantern Festival 2012

According to Buddhist tradition, lighting a lotus lantern represents a devotion to performing good deeds and lighting up the dark parts of the world that are filled with agony.

Lanterns outside Jogye-sa Temple, Seoul

Every year hundreds of people take to the streets of Seoul dancing, singing, and carrying lanterns in celebration of Buddha’s birthday. This annual Lotus Lantern Festival took place on May 19th this year.

Lanterns at Jogye-sa Temple

The procession starts at Dongdaemun Gate in the north of Seoul and proceeds through the streets of Insadong before finishing at Jogye-sa Temple.

A coloured lantern is lit for a living person, and a white lantern is for someone who has passed away.

Dragon lantern

White lanterns

Jogye-sa Temple

Roses at Jogye-sa Temple

Incense burning

Putting the finishing touches to a lantern

Bosingak Belfry

Lotus Lantern Festival

Lotus Lantern Festival 2012

Lotus Lantern Festival 2012

Seodaemun Prison History Hall, Dongnimmun and Independence Park

Seodaemun Prison History Hall serves as a chilling reminder of the Japanese occupation of Korea during the 1900’s. Formerly used as a prison, the buildings are now used as exhibition rooms. Located in Independence Park in the north of Seoul, you can get to it by Dongnimmun subway.

Seodaemun Prison

Japan first tried to seize Korea in 1592, when nine separate armies raped, killed and looted their way across Korea. Temples and palaces were razed to the ground, and countless Korean treasures were stolen. Thousands of ears clipped from dead Koreans were shipped back to Japan where they were built into a big mound and preserved, to this day, as a memorial to this ‘war’. With help from Chinese troops, Admiral Yi Sun-Sin won a series of victories at sea and succeeded in pushing the Japanese back.

Records of the 5,000 activists who lost their lives during the Japanese occupation

However, Japan tried once again to colonise Korea at the end of the 19th century. After surprising defeats over both China and Russia, the path to take Korea was left open. It became a Japanese protectorate in 1905, then on August 29th 1910 Korea became a Japanese colony.

More records

This was seen as a rather strange development at a time when most colonial empires had been broken up. What also made Korea an unusual colony was that it already had most of the prerequisites to be developed nation in its own right; a language, a culture and well established borders.

Cells at Seodaemun Prison

During the occupation the traditional Confucian education was replaced by a modern Japanese system, the Korean rulers were replaced by Japanese rulers, even the Korean language was replaced by Japanese. The Korean people felt that the Japanese had robbed them of their sovereignty, their independence and their dignity.

Some of the prison buildings

On March 1st 1919 the fight to reclaim Korean independence began, with the first public displays of resistance. The death, and suspected murder, of the former King Gojong and the public reading of the Korean declaration of independence in Seoul sparked a series of protests up and down the country. Over 2 million people participated in 1,500 demonstrations. According to Korean records 7,500 people were killed, 15,800 were wounded and 46,300 were arrested, although the Japanese figures are much lower. March 1st is now a national holiday in Korea when people remember the struggle for independence.

The building where 18 year old Yu Gwan-sun, one of the main leaders of the March 1st movement, was imprisoned and tortured to death

After many years of suppression and brutality, Korea finally achieved independence on August 15th 1945. The Japanese surrender to the Allied Forces liberated Korea from their colonial rule.

The execution building

For most Koreans the Japanese rule was seen as illegitimate and humiliating, and to this day many Koreans, even the younger generations, resent the Japanese. My co-teacher often joins us when we visit places at the weekend but she said no to this. It would be too painful for her.

A Korean child bowing and paying his respects at the Reverence Monument

The rivalry between the two nations continues today as they compete with each other over technological advances, sporting achievements, and in particular over an uninhabited heap of rocks in the East Sea (Sea of Japan!) called Dokdo (or Takeshima!) that they both claim as their own.

One of the prison buildings

Seodaemun Prison History Hall focuses on the treatment of independence activists and pro-democracy activities at the hands of the Japanese during this period. Several exhibition rooms explain the history of Seodaemun, the chain of events that led to the Japanese occupation,  and the various resistance movements. One room is dedicated to displaying the records of the 5,000 who lost their lives during the fight for independence.  You can also visit the underground torture chamber, the cells, the factories where prisoners were forced to make textiles, the execution building, and the building where Yu Gwan-sun, one of the main organisers of the March 1st movement was imprisoned and eventually died during torture.

The watch tower

This is undeniably one of the darkest periods of Korea’s history, and there is still a lot of anger, hurt and resentment, but one thing I did take away from Seodaemun Prison was a sense of hope. Reading the testimonies of survivors, and how many of them are still political activists, was inspiring. Hopefully Japan and Korea can continue to build a better relationship for the future.

An old man and his dog at Independence Park