With Seoul behind, after a relatively short journey, the little town of Yaro is a refreshing experience of Korean countryside and calmness. Surrounded by rice/onion fields, hills and rivers, I really enjoyed the change of pace. Sometimes visiting manly cities can make one forget that the world isn’t always so hectic.
During a day-off from volunteering for a family in Yaro, I headed to the Haeinsa Temple, just a short bus ride away.
Haeinsa is an active Buddhist temple which, luckily, has been spared both during the Japanese Invasion of Korea and the Korean War. In the latter case, Kim Young Hwan, the leader of the Air Force’s pilots, disobeyed his orders to preserve the artifacts preserved in the temple.
This means that today the colorful set of temples, the beautiful forests and the historical artifacts are still there to be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone. Interestingly, there is also the possibility of a temple stay to fully experience the Buddhist life.
Wandering around the smaller temples and paths surrounding the main building was properly relaxing, especially when unexpected snow started to fall and add the final touch to the winter scenery.
Cold and content, I waited for the hourly bus and returned back to Yaro.
Jeonju, just a few hours ride away from Seoul, is an active little town famous for its food culture. Called the food capital of Korea and added to the Creative Cities for Gastronomy by UNESCO, it is truly an interesting place for food explorers.
Cute cafe surrounded by lots of toys
The town is also famous for having its local version of bibimbap (popular Korean dish made with sautéed and seasoned vegetables over a bed of white rice), giving it yet another food-related reason to visit Jeonju.
Discovered on Atlas Obscura (a website collecting the most curious and strange places in the world), a travel friend and I set out to reach and explore the Gonjam Psychiatric Hospital, in Gwangju.
As we had read, the hospital had been closed but left on its own, making it a great place for made-up horror stories and creepy adventures.
Walking through the city, the view of the palace, making its way through the modern skyscrapers, is definitely a refreshing one as downtown Seoul can become a bit overwhelming (old illustration of the palace).
Gyeongbokgung Palace, surrounded by parks and museums, is definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in Korean history.
Inside the palace, youngsters, wearing traditional clothes and holding selfie sticks and cameras, walk around the stunning location trying to immortalize the past, or at least a representation of it.
In fact the palace, during the Japanese rule of Korea, went through a systematical destruction by the Japanese Imperial Army. Their goal was to eradicate this symbol and heritage of the Joseon dynasty, which ruled over Korea before the Japanese occupation.
The journey from Beijing went smoothly and by early morning, I reached the center of Qingdao.
The city is quite modern with many interesting features to make it stand out from the rest.
Whilst the downtown is rather unimpressive, the seaside is what makes this little coastal town excel.
With a 40.6km path, the seaside should be fully traversed to fully enjoy the mix of architecture styles, natural beauties and bits of history still present in the area.
The Temple of Heaven makes great use of colors and space to convey the importance this location had in Ancient China. Surrounded by a beautiful park (straightforwardly named Temple of Heaven Park) and, often, by storms of tourists, it dominates the scene. As well as being a temple, it is an imperial complex containing multiple structures and buildings.
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
In fact, as the name hints, this temple is where emperors, regarded as Tiānzǐ (literally Son of Heaven), would go to connect with Heaven to pray for good harvest. Two special ceremonies were held here each year: one on winter solstice and the other on New Year’s Day. The winter solstice ceremony was deemed of utmost importance, any imperfection would be a bad omen for the harvest of the entire year.
During my stay in Beijing, I hung out with my two Argentinian travel mates and their local friend who they had met back in Europe.
Extremely friendly, easygoing and like-minded, he showed us bits of student life, excellent food and places.
After mentioning our interest in visiting the Great Wall, he told us he would bring us to a less well known spot near the village Changyucheng, as other parts of the wall can get crowded and partially icy.
A moment after sunset – View from the top of the mountain
And so our team, equipped with excitement, cameras and very little else, jumped into the car to head to Changyucheng.