After a groggy 2 1/2 hour bus ride from Busan, I finally arrived at Suncheon’s bus terminal, one of the dingiest bus terminals ever in my trip (wait, there was Boseong, oh and Gyeongju too). Being right down south of the Korean Peninsula, Suncheon is as sleepy as a town can get at 6 in the evening. Nothing much was around except for GS25, Paris Baguette and some local restaurants with ahjummas more interested in the evening soap dramas than cooking a meal for you.
Carrying my backpack, I tried to follow the directions using a very sketchy map provided by my hostel. The directions were supposedly idiot-proof but guess who got a little lost among the dark alleys? Actually, I kind of overshot and missed the small entrance of the hostel.
I knew that Ted, the hostel host, wasn’t Korean. What I didn’t expect was for him to be a tall, thin, mumbling Canadian who was cooking his own concoction of leeks, onions and tomatoes in his PJs when I arrived at the very creatively named Suncheon Hostel. He welcomed me (sort of, guess I was interrupting his dinner) and showed me around the house which consisted of 3 dorm rooms (with an en suite bathroom for the females; males had to bathe outside of the house) and a common area with cushions and a computer. Ted mumbled the rules and instructions for the hostel like a robot and asked pointedly if I had any questions. Of course not.
After a meal of instant noodles with a boiled egg (thank goodness for GS 25!), Ted kindly informed me that a local lights festival was going on just right across the river. Seems like he was more cordial after his veggie soup. The lights festival was cute but very kitschy with illuminated flocks of colourful geese, pirated cartoon characters who looked like they went through plastic surgery and enormous pairs of angel wings. I spent more time dodging selfie sticks than appreciating the lights since the whole town was out for this singular most important event that week/ month/ year. I decided to call it a night and returned to the hostel.
Thought it would be an early night. Boy, was I wrong.
In came Park Jun Seok, a twenty-six year old Korean dude with two huge bottles of local Maekolli and an even larger box of fried chicken. Next, Rachel, a Yong-o teacher from Australia, rolled in with her luggage. Add in cryptic Ted and yours truly, you get the weirdest ever late night collection of characters. We drank, we ate, we sang weird tunes and played a series of games that didn’t make any sense. It was something along the lines of challenging one another to timetables and losers had to lean over to get hit on the back by the others. Apparently it’s called Indian-bap. Don’t ask.
I woke up the next morning with a huge headache, a recurring theme of my Korean travels. That stupid bottle of maekolli.
Suncheon Flower Expo
This cheapskate traveler was pleasantly surprised to find out that the entrance fee for the Flower Expo was waived on that day. However that sense of euphoria dissipated quickly when I saw the huge looming crowd of local tourists. Looks like everyone knew about the free admission.
The Flower Expo, well, was all about flowers from all around the world, with neat rows of colourful tulips beside windmills, huge blooming lotuses in Chinese-themed ponds, clustered chrysanthemums in Japanese rock gardens and cyprus tree-lined avenues conjured from a certain part of Korea.
The Expo was huge. I took about 2 hours to complete the entire exhibition and I decided that I had enough of flowers and the crowd.
While waiting for the bus to the ecological bay, I realised that the Koreans had no concept of personal space. I could almost feel the breath of the ahjussi standing behind me and hear the constant rustle of his hiking jacket as he twitched from time to time, adjusting his haversack.
And nothing, I repeat, nothing stands in the way of a Korean and his fervent desire in boarding the oncoming bus. I was pushed, shoved, poked and pulled aside (not kidding you) due to the onslaught of Koreans wanting to board the bus. People who were not in the line at all, started to emerge mysteriously to join the queue. Apparently they had a representative in the line and would converge as a huge group when the bus arrives. It was war.
Miraculously, I managed to get on the bus. The perks of being a solo traveler; you can almost always squeeze into a crowded bus or train without having to worry if there’s enough space for your comrades. The driver signalled for me to get on and I waved triumphantly at the ahjussi with his 10 or so comrades and wished him all the luck for the next battle for the bus.
Suncheon Ecological Bay
Suncheonman Bay Ecological Park is a protected area with mudflats and the widest reed bed in Korea. Up to now, I still consider Suncheon Bay as one of the prettiest places in South Korea.
Imagine walking through towering reeds swaying in waves along with the wind and spotting flocks of migratory birds flying in the distance. It was surreal and almost magical. It was also fun to spot cute mudskippers who looked like they got stuck in the stages of evolution and tiny crabs crawling sideways from hole to hole. There were also small wooden boats just hanging out along the streams, adding a nostalgic touch to the scenery. The bay was so huge that I felt like I had the whole place to myself.
Spotted the sign for the lookout post and walked for about 15 minutes to reach the top of the hill. Then, I knew why I felt like I had the whole place to myself. The entire world was up there at the lookout post, armed with their tripods and big-ass cameras, taking up every single spot along the ledge. I somehow managed to quietly squeeze in between two tripods and waited for the show that everyone else was waiting for – the sunset.
The Sun really took its time to set, as if it knew that an audience had gathered and was clamouring to capture it in all its glory at the best angles possible. The sky turned pinkish at first with specks of yellow and transformed into a crimson-gold hue. Soon, the fiery ball of red started to move slowly down towards the horizon and dip below the waters, spreading its rays across the bay. It was breathtaking.
Everyone had to walk down the hill in total darkness and through the boardwalk of reeds to get to the bus stop. The night walk was ethereal, with clear skies displaying sparkling stars, crickets chirping in the mudflats and reeds swaying in the dim moonlight.
Reached the entrance of the park and spotted a Family Mart and an Angel-In-Us coffee shop. Guess what I had for dinner!
Naganeupseong Folk Village
The next morning, I decided to tour Naganeupseong Folk Village and Jun Seok, the hyperactive, selfie lover, decided to tag along. The folk village was huge and spanned a history of 700 years. About 100 families still reside in the traditional houses, going about their daily lives with tourists milling around. It was a village of traditional huts with roofs made out of straw framed by an imposing fortress wall built to fend off intruders in the past.
We strolled around and found a glorious 600 year old ginkgo tree in its amber yellowish splendour.
There were also traditional craftsmen demonstrating the art of knife-making and straw basket weaving. Jun Seok and I had a hilarious time trying out the various traditional games (arrow throwing, wheel spinning, hopscotch and skipping) which I totally sucked at. And he too by the way. My favourite were the giant swings standing at almost two storeys tall. Jun Seok almost had a heart attack as I swung myself up almost perpendicular to the beam of the swings. Fun.
Got hungry and scoured the food street for snacks. I polished off a plate of fresh rice cakes or tteok and Jun Seok kindly informed me that eating tteok makes me fat. -_- We wandered around aimlessly and I had to take many pictures for Jun Seok in various poses. Kept telling myself to breathe in and out and not to push him off the fortress wall every time he inspected the picture in the camera and instructed me to take it again, at the same position with the same pose.
There were folks dressed in traditional garb, acting as guards, officials and peasants and we had fun taking silly pictures with them. We also had a go at making tteok (the thing that makes you fat) and removing rice from its husk by hitting a whole bunch of them against rocks. Was tired out after a few tries and the kind halmeoni patted me on my head (I had to bend over) and said good job. We finished the tour of the village and bade farewell to each other. Jun Seok was kind enough to wait with me and made sure I boarded the correct bus back to Suncheon. He was going to God-knows-where to dig for clams in mudflats. And I returned to Suncheon Hostel for my daily dose of cryptic Ted.
Do try to make a trip to Boseong from Suncheon. Read about Boseong in this post!
Drop me a message or an email if you have anything to ask about Suncheon, Park Jun Seok or Ted.