Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Road Less Traveled: Suncheon Bay National Garden, Suncheon Bay Ecological Park, Yudong Oritang (Duck Stew) Alley

Suncheon Bay National Garden

We hopped on the City Tour Bus and arrived at the Suncheon Bay National Garden next. The admission fee was ₩8,000 or $8 per person. Having opened last April 2014, the garden was built to become a conservation area for various species of plants and flowers. There were also gorgeous flamingoes featured in the middle of the garden. It took us 2 hours to cover most of the 1.12 square kilometer stretch of the garden. As we were starving at that time, we ate in a haste at the Organic Dosirak Cafe in the garden to catch the 2:20 pm bus to the next attraction. 

The Dream Bridge
The Dream Bridge

Tonkatsu and Ssam Bulgogi

Suncheon Bay Ecological Park

The last stop of our Suncheon trip was the Suncheon Bay Ecological Park, a coastal wetland that serves as habitat to wildlife such as crabs, fishes and migratory birds that you can explore for an entrance fee of ₩8,000 or $8 per person. The simplicity of the park will make you appreciate nature's beauty more. While waiting for the city tour bus, we relaxed at the cafe inside the park while people and view watching.

Yudong Oritang (Duck Stew) Alley

We alighted at the Suncheon Bus Terminal, took the bus to Gwangju and reached the hostel a little over 7 in the evening. At the hostel, we asked the owner directions to Yudong Oritang (Duck Stew) alley. He said that it was a 15 minute walk from the Yangdong Market which was 2 subway stops from Nongseong station, the one nearest our hostel. At the local Gwangju map provided to us our hostel owner, the landmark nearest the alley was NC department store.

At the Yangdong Market, we tried to ask the locals for direction to the alley and one ahjumma said that it was far and we were advised to take bus number 30 and alight at the bus stop across NC department store. The Yudong Oritang alley is located on the left of the department store. There were lots of restaurants to choose from but we chose the one with more people. 

Oritang or Duck Stew is one of Gwangju's specialty, hence, we were so curious about it. The stew, served with a variety of side dishes or banchan, has a thick soup which with a rich and creamy taste. It was served with a basket of greens (taro stems and water dropwort) you supposedly boil on top of the stew and a dipping sauce that you mix with perilla powder. The duck meat was chewier than chicken. A big pot that serves 2 to 3 people costs ₩28,000 or $28 and $1 for a bowl of plain rice. The owner was also kind and gave us a bottle of coke for free or "service". The meal left us full to the brim as we chow down the last chunk of meat. 

With a smile of satisfaction, we took the bus number 30 back to the U square bus terminal and dragged our well nourished bellies back to the hostel. And that ends the second day of our Jeolla adventure!

The Road Less Traveled: Suncheon Open Film Set

Located 20 minutes from the Suncheon train station, the Suncheon Drama/Open Film Set is the first stop of the Downtown Circular Course. It is the biggest open film set in South Korea and it illustrates the country during 1950s to 1970s. It has been used as filming location for hundreds of dramas, variety shows and movies like Baker King: Kim Tak Gu, East of Eden, Running Man, Werewolf Boy and Gangnam Blues. The entrance fee was ₩3,000 or $3 per person.

Beondegi (번데기) or boiled silkworm pupae at $1 a cup

Bus stop

Dumpling store

Aside from simply strolling around the old streets of Suncheon, people can 
eat snacks that people enjoy during the past and rent high school uniforms at ₩2,000 or $2 (only if you have a Korean number available) to blend in. It was great to revisit the past and compare it to the huge leap of progress the Korea has accomplished and it left me with high hopes that one day, the Philippines could do the same.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Road Less Traveled: Suncheon City Tour Bus

For our second day in Jeolla province, we headed to Suncheon, dubbed as Korea's Ecological Capital or the "Green City". It was an early start for us because Suncheon is roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes away from Gwangju and I read from a website that the organized city tour we were eyeing will leave at 9:50 am from the Suncheon Train Station (순천역), a 15 minute walk from the Suncheon bus terminal according to our hostel manager. We opted to try an organized tour so we could somehow be enlightened about the places we visit.

Bus trips from Gwangju to Suncheon run at 15 minute intervals. We booked the 8:25 am bus trip from Gwangju to Suncheon at the Inter-City or the green counter of the U-square bus terminal and arrived at the Suncheon Bus Terminal at about 9:42 am. Unsure if we would reach our destination on time, we quickly rode a taxi, asked the driver to go to "Suncheon yok" (train station) and we were at the train station at 9:48 am. We paid the base fare of ₩2800 or a little less than $3. Although time has been our ally, and there has been a "Suncheon City Tour Bus" still parked in front of the train station, turns out that the organized City Tour Bus that we intended to ride leaves every 9:30 am and the bus parked is that of the Downtown Circular Course.

Gwangju U-square Bus Terminal
According to the Visit Korea website, there are 3 courses one can take in touring Suncheon. The 2 are organized and the other is Do-It-Yourself. The organized ones are the: Seonamsa Temple Course (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; ₩15, 700 for adults) and Songgwangsa Temple Course (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; ₩16,500 for adults) departing at Suncheon train station at 9:30 am and ends at 5:30 pm at the station. Other blogs I encountered said that the fees include the bus ride, a tour guide who speak a minimal English and the entrance fees for the attractions which include: Seonamsa OR Songgwangsa Temple, Naganeupseong Folk Village, Suncheon Bay National Garden and Suncheon Bay Ecological Park. 

The different courses of the Suncheon City Tour.
Lastly, the DIY or the Downtown Circular Course (Tuesday to Sunday; ₩5000 for the unlimited bus rides as long as you keep the ticket), which we took. For those, who have tried the Gapyeong Tour Bus, the concept of the circular course is similar. The course loops around and covers: Suncheon Train Station > Suncheon Drama/Open Film Set > Suncheon Bay National Garden (West Gate) > Suncheon Bay Ecological Park > Suncheon Bay National Garden (East Gate) > Traditional Market > Culture Street or Suncheon's very own Insadong > Suncheon Bus Terminal > Suncheon train station. Take note that it does NOT include the two temples and the folk village. The time intervals differ and are posted in the bus. The bus driver will ask you to take a picture or better yet, ask the Suncheon Tourist Information Center located in front of the Suncheon train station for a copy.

Downtown Circular Course Timetable
Suncheon City Tour Bus

In my opinion, the City Tour Bus is the more convenient way to go around Suncheon at an affordable cost as it covers the renowned sceneries the city boasts of. You need not search or ask which bus to take nor transfer to different modes of transportation.

The Road Less Traveled: Damyang

After a few minutes of rest in our room, we found ourselves walking to the U-square bus terminal just beside the Gwangju branch of Shinsegae department store at 1:45 pm. Outside Gate 4 of the terminal, we waited for and rode Bus No. 311 and paid $3 to $4 fare using our T money to Damyang, a city known for its bamboo forests and crafts. Just say your destination ('Damyang Juknokwon') to the driver then he/she will drop you in the road just opposite the bamboo garden.

Damyang Juknokwon  (죽녹원; Bamboo Garden)

There were food stalls and a mini cafe near the bus stop and the Damyang Tourist Information Center was also in the vicinity. The Juknokwon was located across the bus stop and along convenience stores and restaurants as well as the bus stop for the Bus No. 311 going back to Gwangju. The ticket to the bamboo garden costs ₩3,000 or $3 per person.

Entrance to Juknokwon

The bamboo garden was a place of peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is not a place many tourists go to. Most other visitors were Korean elderly who enjoyed hiking the forest trails. The garden houses a gallery, an observatory, cafes and some hanok (traditional houses) which were shooting sites of the variety show 1 day 2 nights. We walked around it for a good 2 hours. I recommend it for people who take pleasure in a tranquil yet charming environment as well as hiking.

View from the Observatory
Lover's Road
Cute Pandas that are hard to resist
Your stamina will be tested by the steep trails ahead.

1 night 2 days filming location

As we haven't had our lunch that time, we were famished, and ordered the famous Damyang bamboo rice in the nearest restaurant we found. A meal costs $10 per person and includes bamboo rice, grilled fish and lots and lots of banchan (side dishes). With just the first bite, the flavors of Jeolla province burst into my mouth. 

Bamboo rice Hanjeongsik

After the filling meal, we planned to go to Gwanbangjerim or the riverbanks, however, we lost our battle with the 4 degree Celsius temperature so we decided to return to Gwangju and call it a day.