Buddha’s Birthday

Last May 21st was Buddha’s Birthday. Being Buddhism the majority religion in Korea, this day, as in many other countries in Asia, is celebrated in a very special way. During all the week before this day, several parades take place around the most touristic areas of Seoul. We decided to take a walk around Gwanghwamun and Insadong during the first day of the celebrations.

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The parade in Insadong reminded me of the Cavalcade of Magi in Spain.

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Pungmul performance during the parade.

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As in Chinese culture, the dragon is a very important figure in Korean culture, and it is very present in all Korean celebrations.

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Chariots were made of a kind of paper with light inside, which made them very colorful at night.

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View of another chariot.

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Lanterns are everywhere in the city during the Budda’s Birthday previous days. All Buddhist temples, as well as the busiest areas of the biggest Korean cities are adorned with lanterns like these during these days.

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More lanterns 🙂

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View of the Jogyesa Temple, with all the lanterns for Budda’s Birthday.

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Also for this occasion, the Cheonggye Stream (a.k.a. Cheonggyecheon) had this great look with all the lanterns.

An Afternoon at the Ice Rink

A couple of weeks ago, taking the chance after Kim Yuna’s win in the Winter Olympic Games, we went skating to the ice rink in Jamsil. This ice rink is inside Lotte World, but you do not have to pay the entrance to the theme park if you only want to skate. You can skate as much as you want (there is no time limit) for 13,000 won. Wearing gloves is mandatory (I guess they don’t want cut fingers on the ice rink…), but you can also buy them there for 1,000 won.

There were two things that surprised me. One is that there were many children skating, and many of them taking speed skating (the boys) or figure skating (the girls) lessons.

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View of the ice rink right after being cleaned-up (every hour more or less everybody has to go out during 15 minutes so that the ice rink can be cleared of scratches in the ice).

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People skating. On the left you can see the children learning how to speed-skate.

The second thing that I saw was that there were many couples wearing “couple t-shirts”, a trend in some Asian countries by which couples wear the same clothes to show their love in public. This is not just limited to t-shirts (or hoodies in this case). You can also find “couple pants”, couple shoes, couple cups… and some couple even dress totally the same, from shoes to cup…

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Couple t-shirt model “heart”.

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Couple t-shirt model “posh”.

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Couple t-shirt model “cute”

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And the speed skating star. Born to skate! 🙂

Changdeok Palace (a.k.a. Secret Gardens)

The Changdeok Palace, also known as Changdeokgung, Secret Gardens Palace, or East Palace (because of its situation, on the east of Gyeongbok Palace (post here, and here)) is one of the five great palaces of Seoul, and the only one which has been declared UNESCO World Heritage. The palace is composed of several gardens, which image changes according to the season of the year. I have only been able to visit this palace during fall, but I can say it was really gorgeous, even on a rainy day like the one we happened to go.

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In fall, the color mixture on the trees’ leaves can make the day of anyone who likes photography 🙂

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More color mixture…

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It is only possible to enter the palace in one of the organized tours during the day. There are tours available in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean, at different times during the day.

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One of the yards of the palace. Those stone posts on the ground are indicators of the position where the different king’s officials must stand.

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A closer view of the posts. On them there is the name of each official written in Chinese.

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This lake gets full of water lilies in summer, giving it quite an amazing look (picture here).

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One of the gardens’ gates. The fences are made of bamboo and the roof is the one you can view in many temples and palaces from the Joseon dynasty.

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This lake is another one of the many romantic corners in this palace.

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Many famous Korean dramas have been filmed in these gardens. Among them, one of the most popular is Dae Jang Geum (or Jewel in the Palace, in the States), set in Korea’s Joseon dynasty.

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Jiwon doing the favorite pose of all Asians 🙂

Visits to this palace are quite limited. It closes on Mondays, and to go in you have to join one of the few organized tours for 3,000 KRW the normal one, and 5,000 KRW for the one they call “special” (I don’t think it is so special, but can be an option if you miss one of the “normal” tours, as there are not many tours during the day). The “normal” tours in English start at 11:30, 1:30, and 3:30. The tour takes around one hour twenty minutes approximately and you can expect to walk around 1.6 miles during that time.

Given their proximity, it is possible to see both the Changdeok and Gyeongbok palaces in one day. If you take this option, it may be better to see the Changdeok Palace first, because it closes earlier and it is also more limited in times.

Finally, I must also say that, only on Thursdays, it is possible to visit the palace without a tour (they call it “self-guided tour”) given that you are willing to pay as much as 15,000 KRW per person. For those who want to take pictures without people around this may be a good option.

Everland

Everland (notice the similarity with “Disneyland”) is the biggest theme park in South Korea. Despite its age (it has been opened since 1976), every summer it still attracts masses of Koreans willing to get away from Seoul and spend a fun day.

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The entrance to the park reminds that of any Disneyland.

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What I liked the most of this park is that it is in the middle of the mountains, with attractions mixing with the trees. The park is so huge that you have to take a chairlift to go from one area to another. The rollercoaster in the background is one of the most recent attractions (it opened in 2008). It is made of wood and has one of the steepest freefalls in the world (you can see some pictures from when they were building it here). Unfortunately (or luckily) I couldn’t ride it, as it was closed because of the rain.

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One of the few attractions that we could ride was the “Safari World”, or “사파리 월드”, as they write it in Korean.

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Basically, they get you on a bus and take you on a tour in a “Jurassic Park” style.

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In Safari World, animals (bears, tigers, lions, jabalis… what you can usually find in a zoo) are more or less in liberty, although as you can see they are quite far from being wild animals. This is that this poor bear had to do to get some cookies from the bus driver.

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This tiger on the other hand, decided to forget about the cookies and take a nap instead.

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These kind of giant rats are coaties. They had them walking on these bridges that went over the path that people followed.

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This is the most similar to a roller coaster I could ride… 🙁

Caribbean Bay

Caribbean Bay is probably one of the biggest water parks in the world, covering an area of 46 square miles (according to the wikipedia). It is also part of Everland, the biggest attraction park in South Korea, although you have to buy both entrance tickets separately. Caribbean Bay is located in Gyeonggi-do province, at around one hour and a half drive from Seoul. Given that I got tickets for the park for a reasonable price, 10,000 KRW (around $8) instead of the 55,000 KRW ($44) that you have to pay to enter this park during peak season, we took this chance and spent the day there, despite the weather not being so nice.

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The funniest thing for a foreigner that goes to a Korean water park (or beach, swimming pool, etc.) is probably the way Koreans (specially girls) dress for this kind of occasion. Interestingly enough, you can’t see a single bikini. Well, actually they do wear them, but they are hidden underneath those long sleeve t-shirts (to protect from the sunlight, as tanned bodies are not fashionable at all here) and mini-skirts or short pants, of course everything fitting together perfectly. It is also important to make use of a cup and/or sunglasses to protect you face from the evil and cancerogenic sun. Another important detail are your toe nails. Yes girls, your toe nails have to be perfectly pedicured, and if possible, also matching your bikini.

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These bay-watches are there just to watch that nobody stands on the area where waves break, and that nobody without a life-jacket goes into the deep area of the swimming pool. The life-jacket thing makes sense specially if you consider that this pool can get really, really crowded, and also that most Korean can’t swim.

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Jiwon completly scared thinking of what’s coming…

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And here you go!! Luckily she was protected with her cup, her life-jacket, and her t-shirt anti-sun.

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And here I am like a king-of-waves in front of the Korean people. The water you see doesn’t go downwards, but upwards, allowing you to stay (not without much suffering and equilibrium) in a quite static position on the bodyboard. Wow! So stylish! So cool!… So ashamed when I fell of after half a second in that position!

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Even on a rainy day, early in the morning, you have to wait quite long lines to get to the attractions. This is what we had to wait before enjoying the boomerango.

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Besides the outdoor area, there is also a quite large indoor area. Its perfect for babies and the rainy days of Korean summer.

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And another view of the indoor area.