September 6

Temples and shrines in Gyeongju, South Korea

No visit to any SEA country is complete without immersing yourself in its past at some point; this usually involves visitng a temple or a remote town that still mantains its old character, but when this happens it’s because there is an important temple somewhere nearby.

In South Korea there are two cities notorious for their well preserved historical buildings and temples: Andong and Gyeongju. Andong is known for a folk village (read traditional) where everything is still the same as it was over 500 years ago. It is a pleasant walk prone to good pictures (spring and fall especially) that sets you back in time. But not for long. I have to be fair and say that Andong was probably put on the map after a visit queen Elizabeth of England did a few years ago. The result is that Koreans now flok there en masse and the place has become too commercialized with several tickets and fees having to be paid to get in. The good side of our experience was that we hitch-hiked the way back to Andong.

Family gathering in Andong

Gyeongju is another story. Yes there are still many tourists (not many foreigners) and many sites have an entrance fee, but at the same time there are many that don’t, and the city is larger (still manageable though) which disperses the crowds.

Places we visited include Yangdong folk village north of town ( had we known it existed sooner we would have given Andong a miss), the botanical gardens, Anapji temple at sunset, Bulguksa temple, and one of the many bakeries that sell Hwangnam bread, a pastry with filling of red bean paste famous in all South Korea but a specialty food here.

Perhaps not a jaw- dropping historical city, Gyeongju is a must if you want to learn about Korea’s past. Cheap accommodation is not hard to find and food is abundant and good.

anapji temple gyeongju south korea maitravelsite

From here we went to Busan, South Korea’s second largest city. Famous for it’s beaches and nightlife, it is also the only port with ferries to Japan. We spent three days in it, not because there is much to do (weather was still somehow crappy, so beaches were not attractive) but because we still had to book the flight to Vietnam and were unsure about whether to go to Japan or not because of costs. It was high season (still as I write this) and everything is much more expensive than at any other time of the year, but after many hours of internet, gathering info from travel agencies and adding probable expenses we booked a flight to Hanoi from Seoul for August 14th and decided at 1 am to visit Japan for a week using the 7 day Japan Rail Pass and getting there by boat from Busan at 8 am- only 7 hours later! Woohoo!


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    1. Hi Lisa
      I did have a lonely planet guide with me in my computer in pdf format, but I got a brochure from a toursit booth and walked around with that. I don’t really like having to follow guides and listening to what they say, as I will forget most of it at the end. I prefer to walk at my own pace with printed info about the site, I will learn the saem, and save a few dollars (sometimes a lot!).

  1. Thank you so much for your advice.
    we went to Boston for the weekend to “Walk for Hunger” and talked alot about the trip. Yeah, my friend said she could go for 3 weeks , i’m so excited. it’s really helped with your info.
    I will visit often and suggest my friend to visit your blog cause its really helpful.
    Thanks again

    1. I am happy I could help Hanna! Spreading the word about MaiTravelSite means a lot to me and is a great way of helping me out too. I look forward to hearing about your trip!

  2. Hello Federico, My name is Hanna, i live in New Hampshire, and i plan to go to Seoul, Tokyo and Ho chi minh, do you have an advice? should i go to seoul first then Tokyo then Ho chi minh or should I go to Tokyo first then Seoul then Ho chi minh? Do you think 3 or 4 days stay at each place is enough?

    1. Hello Hanna! Thanks for stopping by! Let’s see, in my opinion you should probably first fly to Tokyo, then on to Seoul and from there to HCMC- it will be cheaper this way! As for the time, I frankly don’t think 4 days in each is enough. I mean it is enough to see each city, but not to get an overview of each country- you will miss the best of what each has to offer! Also, getting around in Japan is very expensive. Your best bet is the 1 week rail pass, and with that time you could see (hike?) Mt Fuji, Kyoto, Hiroshima and even some other city at a more leisurely pace. In Vietnam, you will find the best of it in the North: Sapa, Halong Bay and some mid-country coastal towns. Seoul is interesting and easy to visit, but there are other towns and experiences to be lived in the country. Why the rush? Can you get a few more days?

      1. Wow, thank you so much for your super quick reply, Federico :). you’re the best.

        So you think 4 days is not enough and I should stay for a week at each place.
        I love that idea because I would love to see other places too and seem like it doesn’t cost that much more maybe I should do it.
        Well, I gonna talk to my best friend and ask if she could take 3 weeks off. That would be perfect.
        By the way, do you have any suggestion for places to go or where to stay because this is the very first time for us to travel by ourselves so we’re little nervous.
        Any suggestions would be great. Thank you.

        1. No problem Hanna! 3 weeks would give you more time in each place and although you would of course not see all of each country, you would leave with a much better flavour of what it is. I do have some suggestion for where to stay…is this an adventure trip or are you traveling on a budget (backpacking), or is it a leisure trip where you don’t mind spending money as long as you are comfortable? It does make a difference 🙂

          1. Thank you for your reply.
            My friend and i talked about the trip and since we gonna go for 3 weeks we both think that we don’t really wanna spend on fancy stuff, for the hotel as long as it’s safe and have the bathroom in our room then we good :).

            We wanna see the culture, the way people living, food, and of course ….shopping
            we’re both love Asian food and would love to try street food or eat at local market.
            We not the type of climbing mountain or go to the woods to explore things, we’re kinda sightseeing type like the palace, temple, market….

            Hope you can give us some suggestion, i really appreciate your advice. Thank you

          2. Hi Hanna!

            OK, with this info I think I can offer better advice. Mind you they are general ideas because (fortunately) issues like accommodation are easy to solve on the spot in these countries.
            So, for South Korea I would suggest:

            1) Seoul- We stayed at the Beewon Guesthouse, whish is small yet affordable and, above all, very convenient to the best tourist attractions-within walking distance! For those further away there is a metro station right by. I would suggest you spend a couple of days in Seoul, maybe a third for the DMZ tour.
            2) Gyeongju a couple of days here will be relaxing and interesting too. Great places to walk, see temples, take pictures.
            3) Perhaps you might want to consider a short temple-stay, or if not Shotko in the North East coast was a place I liked very much.

            For Japan

            1) Land in Tokyo, spend a couple of days there
            2) Make sure you get a JRP (japan rail pass) before leaving your country, as you can only purchase them from outisde Japan. The 1 week pass is about 350 USD more or less but you’ll be able to move around the country fast and use Tokyo’s metro with it.
            3) Consider visiting Kyoto, Hiroshima and getting to Mount Fuji, staying in Fukuoka. As for accommodation for the latter, I strongly suggest you stay with Mochan at his place in Shizuoka ( Read more about couchsurfing in google, and I highly recommend you stay with Mochan, as he will drive you around and show the best of the area. He will also take you to Mt Fuji, allowing you to climb it or simply see it.

            For Vietnam

            Don’t fly to HCMC, fly to Hanoi instead. Hanoi is very close to what I consider Vietnam’s best attractions.
            1) A couple of days in Hanoi are enough to see the chaos, yet indule yourself on what a big Vietnames city is like. It is a great experience. There are many hotels to choose from, many cheap ones too.
            2) While in Hanoi book a tour to Halong Bay on a Junk boat- don’t miss this!! ( I wish I could remember the company I went with cause they were cheap and great, but unfortunately I don’t)
            3) Book as well a tour to Sapa, and I suggest you make it a 3 night instead of 2 night. The train ride is over night, comfy cabins, but the AC is strong(have a sweater with you). I did not get any sleep though. If you do spend a night in Sapa there are many hotels to choose from when there, most at 25USD or less per room.

            Hope this helps! I’d suggest you visit my blog’s pages for each destination, and you’ll get an idea of what to expect. Feel free to ask me all you want 🙂

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