Updated: Oct 30
When we set out from Busan heading for Suncheon Bay Garden on day 6 of our South Korean road trip, the van alerted us that one of the tires was low in air so we Googled for the closest tires shop. I navigated us there by GPS and Google maps since Google maps can't navigate in South Korea and we couldn't enter the Korean name in the Naver app. The mechanics there were so nice and thorough. Even though they didn't speak English, they filled our tires, checked for punctures or nails, and refused to take any money.
Suncheon Bay or Suncheonman is another example of Korean problem-solving ingenuity.
The Suncheon Bay Nature Reserve was originally established as a protected reserve of coastal wetland but it became so beloved for its beautiful reed fields and as a bird-watching destination that it was drawing millions of visitors a year. The flow of tourists was starting to damage the park, even though they had all these walkways and paths carved out.
So they built a genuine tourist attraction in front of the reserve made up of beautiful gardens in the style of various countries. It was like an Epcot Center of gardens, and they call it the Suncheon Bay National Garden. You can still go to the wetland reserve if you like to hike and bike among wild wetlands, but you'll have to walk across a long bridge and you'll have to buy tickets in advance to take the shuttle train from the Garden to the Reserve. Most people never made it to the reserve and this cut down the foot traffic in the reserve to a very manageable level.
I seriously wish California would do this for Yosemite National Park.
Anyway, the gardens at Suncheon Bay were so glorious that Alison refused to go to the Reserve, choosing to stay and explore the many nooks and crannies of the gardens while the rest of us crossed the river via the rainbow bridge and took the tram to the wilder side of Suncheonman.
The reserve and garden were so mesmerizing that we got out quite late and made our way to the Suncheon lamb skewer restaurant, located at 252, Bonghwa-Ro in Suncheon. It is essentially a Chinese Xinjiang restaurant serving Uyghur lamb skewers, shrimp skewers, pork belly skewers, rice pilaf etc...
As expected from the reviews, the skewers were wonderful and very affordable. But they had another ingenious contraption that made barbecuing at the table extra fun.
With our stomachs full of food, we made our way to the second hanokstay near Boseong.
The booking for Chungnokdang traditional house, located on a farm, recommended 2 villas for our family since 1 villa can sleep 2 and the other can sleep 4 persons. It was on top of a long drive full of kiwi farms on either side. There was a stream trickling right through the property, a sweet golden retriever in the gazebo in the middle, and a tuxedo cat wandering in and out.
The traditional floor heating system/ondol here included a giant iron pot embedded in the floor for easy access to hot water. Ancient water heater, see how smart Koreans are?
One of our villas has a full kitchen with a sitting room and 2 bedrooms. The other has a full bathroom and a refrigerator for cold water. There was no air conditioner and the wi-fi didn't really work. The rooms all have the usual very thin, uncomfortable futons and tiny pillows typical of most traditional hanokstay.
Considering the fact that I grew up sleeping on straw mats, you would think I could handle thin futons, but I'm either spoiled by my soft mattress or my bones are just too old for this form of glamping. We all had a hard time falling asleep either due to the discomfort or the heat. However, they did have fans and mosquito settings, just like my grandma's house.
This particular hanokstay did promise a traditional Korean breakfast and it was amazing, even though it was served promptly at 7:30 am. There were a dozen different dishes on each side of the table, not counting the rice and soup. We finished almost every plate and gave ourselves a tour of the active working farm and tea plantation before packing up and checking out.
We arrived at the Boseong Green Tea field Daehan Dawon so early that nothing was open yet and we were able to walk up the mountain to the tea house at the top without seeing a single soul. We then wandered up to the Tea Museum on a flower-filled empty street that had music playing on speakers hanging from street lamps. I felt like I was in a Studio Ghibli movie, either the precious Kiki Delivery Service or the creepy Spirited Away.
We had to wait for the Tea museum to open at 10:00 but it was worth it. The volunteer guide for the newly reopened tourist attraction was so happy to find an English-speaking family to practice his English with and was so very courteous. The display of tea items and their history was extensive and we learned a lot about the different types of tea.
We even sat down for a traditional Korean tea service in the tea theater before stopping by the gift shop and the cafe to purchase some green tea ice cream, green tea latte, and various tea supplies.
We left Boseong and navigated our way to Jirisan Chik Naengmyeon restaurant in Namwon which is supposed to have the best cold noodle in Korea. It is located at 221-4, Jang-an-ri, Jucheon-myeon, Namwon-si, Jeollabuk-do. It really is a very clean and refreshing cold noodle soup and interestingly, is served with a pot of hot broth on the side for either drinking in teacups or to warm up the noodles.
We drove the rest of the way to Jeonju old town to check in at our last hanokstay in Buyongheon. The location was nice and across the street from a cultural center so parking was easy and free. It was a quiet part of town away from the busier streets with restaurants and shops so should be restful. But the dragon lady who ran the place absolutely won't let us unfold the futons in the rooms until bedtime. Since there are no chairs or pads in the room, even if we're really tired, we have to sit on the floor to watch TV. So again, great location but don't expect any comfort in these hanokstay.
It had already started raining again by the time we got there so the kids did not feel like going out. Bruce and I walked around the beautiful old town and found that Jeonju Hanok village is very quaint and well preserved. When night falls, everyone comes out to play on the main streets and it comes alive. We bought fried squid on a stick from one vendor, stuffed baguette from another , and croquettes with various fillings to bring home to the kids. Only later did I remember that in Jeonju, you must really try the bibimbap.
Since Fiona has started feeling poorly with a swollen right cheek and right-sided sore throat from her brace cutting on her cheek, I tested her for covid and it was negative.
It started raining really heavily by the time we woke up in the morning so no one was in the mood for sightseeing. We stopped in the pouring rain at the popular PNB bakery in Jeonju to buy pastries for the road and headed back to Seoul.
Bruce and I dropped the kids and the luggage at Moxy hotel in Insadong and check-in, then went to return the rental van. We took the metro back and spent the afternoon packing for the flight back to Los Angeles the next day. In the evening we wandered the Insadong neighborhood and explored the Ikseondong Hanok village, shopping and looking for a nice place for dinner. There was a shooting range that displayed teddy bears with bazookas and semi-automatics, which I thought was a little bit funny.
We settled on a Japanese restaurant. Bruce was okay with the eel bowl and the boys liked their salmon bowl, but I was disappointed in the toro bowl because the fish was too cold so the taste didn't come through. The girls had decided on having pizza from the cafe at Moxy so they split off to go shopping on their own.
We asked the hotel front office that night to call for the taxi ride to the airport in the morning so we can arrive 2-3 hours ahead of time for check-in. There was enough time at the airport for us to pull out all our Korean won spare changes and go shopping again.
Fiona had a real headache by the time we landed in Los Angeles. I tested her for covid again and this time she was positive. Everyone else was negative that day.
The next day, Alison complains of headache and stuffy nose and she tested positive too. Both girls had to be quarantined for 10 days while I had to test every day before going to work. Bruce and the boys remained negative and symptom-free for the next 10 days. Although the girls' home antigen tests were negative after 5 days, the PCR tests remained positive until 10 days after 1st symptoms so the girls ended up staying out the first 2 weeks of school.
My office is still getting calls every day about people turning positive for covid but if they are young, healthy and have no underlying illnesses, we have been telling them to self isolate for 5-10 days until their home test turns negative and take tylenol or ibuprofen for the fever, bodyache, and headache. So far, everyone, knock on wood, has recovered fine within 5-10 days.