We have been in Tokyo but a few hours. First stop: a ramen shop where you buy your meal ticket from a machine, enter a private booth, indicate your preferences (richness, spiciness, noodle firmness, etc.), and hand it to a man behind a curtain. Result? Delicious.
Considering that it's been a week since our last post, it looks like we may have over promised a bit when we said we would be posting more from the road. That said, the last week or so has been quite busy.
Our first stop after Gyeongju was Tongyeung, on the southeast coast. A relatively small city of 100,000+ residents, Tongyeung is a port city. The city's narrow streets are teeming with stalls selling all types of fish and sea creatures, including these beauties (not really sure what they are, but even Benny wasn't so sure that he would be willing to try these).
We happened to be in Tongyeung during a festival commemorating Korea's defeat of the Japanese navy by Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his forces in 1592. For a relatively small city, this seemed to be one of the biggest events of the year, complete with fireworks, traditional Korean dance, parades, and a recreation of the battle in the city's harbor. The day before the festivities we visited a shrine on an outlying island, built to commemorate Yi's victory. Also on the itinerary was a spectacular cable car ride with not-so-spectacular views from the mountain destination (it was cloudy virtually our entire time in Tongyeung), and octopus -- lots, and lots of tasty octopus.
After Tongyeung we flew to the island of Jeju, Korea's largest island which is simultaneously described by the guidebooks as a hybrid of Hawaii and Disneyland. Regardless of what descriptor is used, Jeju is definitely Korea's vacationland, full of honeymooners and families, as well as lots of tourists from China and Japan. The Hawaii part, we suppose, comes from the numerous beaches and the island's volcanic origins. The Disneyland part comes from the fact that the island is scattered with all sorts of kitschy tourist attractions, which we generally avoided.
The highlights from Jeju were our visits to the two large volcanic craters of Seongsan and Sangumburi, as well as the lava tubes at Manjanggul (the entire volcanic system on the island is extinct). The system of lava tubes is very large, extending for several kilometers underground. The one section that we were able to visit was approximately 1 km long. Our first night in Jeju were spent on a beach not far from our guesthouse, where we watched locals launching fireworks into the night sky over crystal blue waters. It was quite spectacular.
Because Jeju is quite large we rented a car, which was an ideal way to see the island, and allowed us pull over when we saw something especially beautiful. Unfortunately, as throughout most of our trip in Korea, Jeju was cloudy for most of our time there, so we did not get to spend as much time at the beach as we would have liked. That said, Jeju was much cooler than other parts of Korea (Seoul and Gyeongju in particular).
After Jeju, we spent two days in Busan, Korea's second largest city, from where we're writing this post. With all our sightseeing in Jeju, we took our time in Busan to relax, simply strolling the city's streets, catching a movie/finding air conditioning ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes" gets 2 1/2 stars), and enjoying delicious street food, including the treat pictures below, which was some sort of pan fried rice treat full of seeds, nuts, and brown sugar, costing all of about $0.80.
Tomorrow our trip ends....sort of. Technically, tomorrow our trip begins to end with a flight from Busan to Tokyo, where we'll have a 20 hour layover before catching our connecting flight to New York. For those of you who have read our blog in the past, you know that we have a bit of a thing for Tokyo, so although our time there is short, we are going to make the most of it, stuffing our faces with ramen and visiting a shrine or two before heading to the airport to catch our connecting flight. We've played around with the idea of doing a "20 Hours in Tokyo" series of posting, but we'll see how that goes.