It’s finally fall! Which means my inner basic white girl is so happy for all things fall (I already bought another scarf). Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner and I couldn’t be more excited to celebrate with family in a few short months. Korea just had their version of Thanksgiving, called Chuseok. And this year was extra special because we had an extra day off which gave us yet another extended weekend...a total of 6 days off of work! (I know, it’s like we’re off more than we work. But hey, I’m not complaining.)
ANDONG MASK FESTIVAL
For our time off we wanted to go to either Taiwan or Jeju Island (Korean Island just south of the mainland), but transportation was either way too expensive or completely sold out so we stayed in Korea and explored a bit more. After living here for 10 months, we've come to realize we have already seen many of the big and popular locations in the country so we're starting to wish we had a car to explore more "off the beaten path" areas. We plan on getting our international license when we come back home but until then... we'll have to make do.
We started by attending a Mask Festival with everyone in Andong. It was pretty fun seeing so many unique masks but also seeing some as wall decor and even huge statues. We walked through many tents filled with anything from mask paintings and actual masks to fancy soju and food tents and even socks (they sell socks everywhere!) There was a huge stage of what seemed to be traditional songs and dances being performed. Towards the end of the afternoon, Luke and Sam decided to sit down at a craft tent and make their own mask out of moon sand. We all sat down and joined them and the masks turned out so great! They ended up being really cool souvenirs.
JINJU LANTERN FESTIVAL
On Monday, Luke and I took a bus from Changnyeong to Masan, and then Masan to Jinju and it was actually pretty simple as buses were leaving about every 10 minutes all day to and from both cities. Jinju was quite a bit bigger than we expected. There was a big lantern festival happening so we made sure to dedicate one night to walking around the area to see all of the lanterns and decorations lit up at night. And it was spectacular! We each paid 10,000 KRW ( >$10) to enter and ended up walking around for three hours without seeing a single thing twice. When we entered the park, it was like walking through a huge neighborhood that participated in one of those Christmas light extravaganzas! Except, instead of Christmas themed decor, it was filled with pieces depicting the Jinjuseong Fortress Battle of the Imjinwaeran War that took place in that town. Or what many of us know as the Japanese invasion in 1592.
While we were there, we saw what looked to be a talent show of everyone dressed in traditional Korean clothing, but singing and dancing from any range of songs - K-pop to traditional. We ate some delicious Japanese street food (ironic as this was a festival remembering the Japanese invasion), but nevertheless, it was delicious. We sat and people watched while we ate. Afterwards, we headed back down to the river. On the river there happened to be about a 10 minute light show which told the story of the war in pictures and sound effects -- pretty cool!
Luke and I saw some small, candle lit hand made lanterns in the river and realized we could make our own! As cheesy as we thought it was, I'm sure it is very sentimental to many natives. (That, and... I may or may not have completely wanted to embrace my inner Rapunzel from the Disney movie, Tangled.) We payed a few bucks, sat down to tape one together, wrote down a few wishes and set it free in the river. There was also a huge tunnel made of lanterns in remembrance of the veterans from the Imjinwaeran War. We walked through what may have been a few thousand lanterns and saw that each one had a different number on it representing a different veteran. I really loved this festival for a few reasons; the weather, the pretty lights and how much there was to see and do!
On Tuesday, Luke and I had no idea what we were doing next. Seriously, we checked out of our room and went to a breakfast cafe for some WiFi and fuel to make a game plan. About 5 hours later, we were in Seoul taking the night to just wander a bit and chill. Luke found a restaurant called Choori's Tavern which was a small Simpson's themed restaurant and pub. Pretty cool, decently priced restaurant, and they gave us some free stickers and suckers when we left so I'd call that a win!
Waking up the next morning, we actually had a plan for the day...to hike Suraksan! We took the subway line almost right to the start of the hike but honestly, the mountain is very poorly marked so we're not entirely sure where we started. Early on, we stopped at a temple to look around and take pictures. We met a small Korean family with a little girl who was in awe that there were foreigners right next to her haha. The mom asked to get a picture of me (this is actually a very common thing for foreigners to experience) and the little girl asked me (in English) where I am from. They were a super sweet family but we soon continued on our way. It wasn't too challenging, but I came fully prepared with my very own inhaler this time. Korean hikes go straight up the mountain with little to no switchbacks so the rapid increase in elevation usually gets me at some point. Mix that with the poor air quality and Michelle's lungs are often struggling at some point. When we finally made it to the top after a ton of stairs, there were about 20 people up there and we were able to buy another water and a Makgeolli, Korea's infamous rice wine! It was the perfect rewarding, refreshing beverage to drink while enjoying the incredible views!
On our way back to the hotel we found a marvelous Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Mons where we got a sample platter of four different items as well as a giant bowl of Pho. SO FREAKING YUMMY.
On Thursday, Luke and I went to Insadong which is a historical part of Seoul and in my opinion, one of the coolest! There is a traditional neighborhood area that is very quiet and lined with many houses, art museums and small shops that you can visit. You are to be very quiet and respectful in this area. Then there is the touristy area which is lined with so many different shops and is the greatest place to find little gifts and souvenirs of all sorts. They have a Starbucks Coffee that is all in Hangul (Korean)... even the sign on the front! We spent a few hours here being so overwhelmed with the crowd and shops and choices in front of us and eventually made it to the end where we finished our walk with none other than Korea's infamous "meat on a stick" street food. Barbecue chicken!
That evening, we hung out with Hannah and Cameron as they were in Seoul for a couple days as well. We went to dinner and headed out on the town for a pretty chill but fun night in Hongdae. Hongdae is our favorite area to hang out in as it's a very busy and fun area. Lots of shopping, but also many bars, restaurants and a younger crowd as it's near the university. A long three days in Seoul well spent!
We came back home and crashed for two full days. We had done a lot but not compared to our other vacations so I wasn't sure why we were so exhausted. On Sunday, we went to Busan to do a coastal walk that we'd been looking into for a while...and it was really neat. It took us a couple of hours but it was very different as it was just hiking along the coast. You still needed sturdy shoes but the view was beautiful even from the beginning. There were so many stopping points to look out at the ocean, the fisherman and other hikers stopping for a small picnic. It was a busy afternoon on the coast but was worth it! At the end of the hike, there was a a glass walkway we could walk out on. But first, we had to cover our shoes with some provided shoe coverings as to not scratch the glass. Although it was a bit crowded, it was hilarious to watch people freak out about being able to see the rocks and ocean below them instead of concrete. That, and well the view was phenomenal!
All in all, I'd say we had a great Chuseok holiday!