After a calming start to our Korean trip in historic Buyeo, we headed to the seaside. Daecheon is home to a famous Mud Festival, which attracts backpackers and hedonists from across the globe. There’s also a Mud Museum, but sadly (or fortunately, from our kids’ point of view) it was closed when we visited in early April. In fact nearly everything was closed, and while the weather was warm, and the beach beautifully clean and empty, the water was icy cold.
So after two nights in Daecheon we headed for Seoul. Despite lying at the heart of the world’s fifth largest conurbation, South Korea’s capital has a surprisingly laid-back feel. Our first day there was mostly spent trying to locate one of the old royal palaces. Instead, we got lost and instead had a fantastic time wandering at random around the painted streets of Ihwa-Dong, eating ice cream and admiring the murals.
We accidentally stumbled on a tiny museum with a remarkable collection of kkoktu, traditional wooden carvings made for funerals. This might sound morbid, but the little figurines were vibrant with life and color. Designed to accompany the dead on their journey to the afterlife, they include not only soldiers for protection and caregivers to comfort the departed, but also entertainers: clowns, acrobats and musicians.
Afterwards we came upon a park perched halfway up a mountain. It appeared small, but as we explored further into its winding paths and hidden ponds we found ourselves going higher and higher among the trees. We tried to reach the top, but every apparent crest just revealed another climb ahead. The quiet was broken only by cheers from below (a tennis match, we discovered later), and it was almost impossible to believe we were in the middle of a city of twenty-five million people.
We stayed at Mr. Comma’s Guesthouse, a backpacker hostel in the student district. We’ve often found hostels to be an affordable option when traveling as a family on a budget. For less than the cost of two different rooms in a hotel, we had effectively an entire apartment to ourselves; and the boys loved playing with the dog.
The city’s ancient palaces are of course worth visiting, but our final day in Seoul was spent on one of the strangest day trips I have ever experienced. That however requires a whole post of its own.
Photos: Andrew Killeen, Karen Killeen