backpacking, chasingkm, Europe, Germany, travel

Eurotrip Part Four – Berlin

Berlin, a city steeped in history, a city that has suffered so much, yet a city that is a pleasure to explore. Amongst the hustle and bustle of people getting on with their everyday lives, 5 star hotels, shopping malls and parks – you wouldn’t say this city had been nearly destroyed by the end of World War two.

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backpacking, chasingkm, Europe, Germany, travel

Eurotrip Part Four – Cologne and Dusseldorf

We stopped through Dusseldorf on our European adventure as our friend, Jade (from Durban whom we met in Korea) is currently living there. She offered us her futon in her gorgeous apartment as well as local beer and wine on arrival (now that’s a friend)! The few days we were with her were well spent, exploring both Dusseldorf and Cologne.

Continue reading “Eurotrip Part Four – Cologne and Dusseldorf”

Amsterdam, backpacking, chasingkm, Europe, spring, thelazyfisherman, travel

Eurotrip Part Three – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We are finally on the adventure of our life time (up ’till now)! After resigning from our jobs teaching English in South Korea in February, we are traveling through Europe, visiting Paris, BelgiumThe Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland and Austria. We spent almost a year planning our two month trip to Europe which eventually evolved into a ten month journey that will see us crisscrossing Europe, Ireland and the USA for a few months. Central America may (hopefully) make its way onto our itinerary.

The way we travel is a combination of hostels, couchsurfing, workaway and friends. This means we get to experience regular life and meet locals in the places we visit as opposed to just being main stream tourists. It also means we can stretch our budget further and travel for longer!

Amsterdam

The first things that come to mind are Red Light districts, “coffee shops” and liberality. You will find these in abundance all over the city center. Amsterdam has much more to offer than just this though. We started our first full day in the city with a “free” walking tour with Sandemans NewEurope. These tours are not actually free as you have to tip the tour guide afterwards. It does mean you can pay what you feel they deserve or you can afford, though. They are usually quite good and are a nice way to find your bearings in a new city, and pick up bit of history along the way.

Things to see/do:

The Red Light District. If you wander through it during the daylight hours it is a fairly tame area. Most of the window boxes are empty or have their curtains drawn. Basically each window is privately owned/operated by the lady inside. She will stand in the window to attract clientele. The later it gets, the busier it gets. So more of the windows will be filled and the streets will be teeming with tourists, stag parties, tour groups and curious onlookers. No photos/video are allowed in the area and apparently you will get chased down if you try. We also saw a few of the ladies pull their curtains shut if any youngsters walk past. All of them were clothed in about the same amount of clothing you would see on the average beach on a sunny day.

The Museum Quarter.

Here you can find all the major museums in the city. Our highlights were the Rijksmuseum and The Van Gogh museum. The first has a range of exhibitions from many famous artists though the ages (Rembrandt, Van Gogh etc) and covers more than 800 years of Dutch and world history. When we were there it even had a whole section on Dutch history in South Africa which was very interesting. The Van Gogh museum takes you through his whole life, his influences and his troubled end with displays of his paintings and his peers/mentors and idols. Interesting even for the non-Van Gogh fans. This area is also home to the I Amsterdam sign (in front of the Rijksmuseum). Get there early if you want a photo as it gets super crowded! There is also a nice park/square where you can hang out if the weather is good. The Anne Frank house is not in the Museum Quarter, obviously, as it is still in its original location. If you know exactly when you will be in Amsterdam books these tickets online, way in advance. They sell out quickly! If you don’t do this you have to wait in a queue, possibly for hours. From 9am to 3:30 pm you can get tickets for a certain time slot. After this you join the queue and buy a ticket at the door. If it’s too busy you won’t make it inside. We joined the queue at about 3:50pm and waited 2 hours to get inside. It was so busy you were just bustled through each room and it felt like the museum had no actual impact. Not the recommended way to do it.

Walk the streets.

Amsterdam has something for everybody. From trendy bars and cafes, hipster hangouts, street markets and buildings dating back hundreds of years. Amsterdam was also where the Dutch East India Company (VOC) started up, probably the first stock exchange/market/publicly traded company in the world. The city is, of course, also filled with canals. These are still used for boat transport, cruises, fishing (I tried this one evening from the banks/bridges) and the mooring of houseboats/cafes/bars. We love to walk around the cities making our way from landmark to landmark on foot with breaks in between to people watch and enjoy some local beverages and snacks.

Dam square, right in front of the Royal Palace, is a popular hangout spot in the center of the city. Most of the trams/busses also pass near here. You could easily spend a few hours here in good weather with a few drinks watching the goings on of the tourists and locals (pro tip – the bigger department stores usually have bathrooms if you’re desperate).

The public transport in Amsterdam is well organized and reasonably priced with single ride to 72 hour passes available. The city center is very walkable though so do a bit of research before you invest in a pass. We were in a hostel just outside the center and found that most days a single ride ticket in and out was sufficient. The other way to get around is of course cycling. Most of the roads have dedicated cycling lanes and cars/pedestrians usually give way to the cyclists.

Useful information:

We stayed at WOW Amsterdam. It is outside the city center but has some supermarkets and tram/bus stops nearby. Beds were comfortable and the rooms were spacious. Bathrooms were well equipped and close to the rooms, towels were provided. There was no kitchen worth speaking of. Just a small room with a bar fridge, microwave and basin. No cutlery or crockery. The breakfast was sufficient to start the day, buffet style, cold meats, bread/rolls, cereals coffee tea etc. The wifi was patchy most of the time.  Can’t really complain too much as it was only 10 Euros a night for a mixed dorm.

Albert Heijn supermarkets are great. They usually have good food specials, you can get a loyalty card free, most of them also have free wifi.

The Apple store has free charging stations and wifi if you have an iPhone.

The train network is quite extensive and many places are within day trip distance from the city itself. Kayley went to Keukenhof for the morning and we both spent an afternoon in the nearby town of Harlem. Beaches are also within reach.

Google maps worked fine for the public transport. If you don’t have a sim card be sure to download the offline map before you head out and screen shot all your transport options for later in the day.

 
We have found apps that have offline functions to be specifically useful. What has been the most useful app you’ve downloaded for traveling? 
Fishing, South Korea

Irrigation Dam/Tank

irrigation tank

Irrigation tank aka “The Secret Spot”

 
This irrigation tank has been an incredible and strange spot to fish. Not sure if it’s even allowed but there are no “no-fishing” signs and nobody has complained. But to be safe I won’t be sharing this location. 
 
I have seen lots similar irrigation tanks along all the big rivers in South Korea and I presume they just siphon water from the river and then let it flow into irrigation channels which the local farmers use for their crops. Bass and other fish obviously get trapped in there and it becomes an ideal spot for them to breed and grow! They are usually a good spot to try if you’re looking for somewhere new.

 

irrigation tank

Trying our luck

Son (my Korean friend) and I drove past the irrigation tank one day on the way to Hapcheon. He said he had always wanted to try this place so suggested that we do just that. We had already tried a random river along the way where he caught a crucian carp on his first cast, so his luck was in. 

Fish on

It wasn’t long till he hooked a fish in the irrigation tank and it turned out to be a 40cm plus bass. Needless to say, we spent quite a bit of time here after that. The day wasn’t so great for me as I hooked and lost a few fish in the thick weeds, I was fishing with mono and it just wasn’t up to the task. 
 

Gear upgrade

Later Son lent me his spare rod with braid and things looked up! I hooked a decent size bass which we lost trying to pull it up the wall!! I did land a few in the irrigation tank though and most were top water strikes which are just super exciting. 
 

We even caught fish in a narrow channel that was about 1,5m wide and water about 0,5m deep, covered in weeds.

irrigation tank

 

Perfect spot for lunch

By this stage our lunches had also evolved from cup noodles to barbecues in the shade with a few beers to wash it down. These really improved the mood as the days were getting hotter and more humid as summer took hold. The area next to the irrigation tank was nice and level and a great spot to set up.

irrigation tank

Record fish

We have since been back there a few times and I have caught my two record bass in Korea there as well as a number of other bass. The fishing conditions will vary as the seasons change. The amount of weed growth by the end of summer nearly covers the whole body of water.

irrigation tank

 

irrigation tank

 

The fish at the end of this video are a type of carnivorous carp called 강준치 (Gangchunchi). They are abundant in the river systems here in South Korea. Most fisherman are annoyed by them and I’ve seen many left to die on the river banks after being caught. They are not the most fun to target as they have very small mouths and although very aggressive its difficult to get them hooked. They also just go limp after being hooked. Not an ounce of fight in them.

Fall, Korea, life in korea, National Parks, nature, seasons, South Korea, thelazyfisherman

Seoraksan National Park

Korea has an abundance of many things, mountains and National Parks are near the top of that list. What better place to show of your latest hiking gear in seasonal colors than hiking a mountain inside a national park? Or, if like us, you don’t have matching couples hiking gear and when you’re keen to head up a mountain you just wear whatever is handy and go. This often brings a few stares and questions like: are you going to be warm enough, cool enough and possibly some variations of are you seriously going up the mountain in that? Maybe they were just laughing at my skinny legs?

Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan is one of the better known parks and boasts an impressive number of trails to suit all abilities as well as a cable car if you really just want some nice views and no effort. We have been to Seoraksan twice, once in Spring and once in Autumn. I feel like each time we went, we were visiting a different park. The park also obviously boasts a temple (can’t turn around in Korea without seeing one of these), the largest, (seated, bronze) Buddha in the world and some impressive grounds and statues before you even get to the actual hiking.

 

Seoraksan in the Fall

Our second visit to the park was during Autumn and the main reason was the see the foliage in all it’s splendor. We were not disappointed. This time around we chose a shorter hike up to a cave that housed a temple (of course) as well as a monk who lived up there! The hike started  off as a pleasant walk through the forest with lots of leaves to oooh and aaah at. Things get a bit more rough underfoot as the trail goes along a river, which was quite impressive, there had been a lot of rain and it was in full flow. The rushing water provided a great soundtrack to our hike. After this things got a bit more serious as we started to climb. The trail goes past Biseondae, a rock which has some Korean folklore attached to it. After this you head straight up to the cave housing the temple. The view from up here is breathtaking and on a quiet day the monk will even brew you a cup of tea.

Cable Car

This is very well managed and you can buy tickets ahead of time for a specific time that day. This means you don’t have to wait in line for ages. Once you reach the top there are a few look out points and another short trail that goes even further up. Take this trail. It’s worth it. The trail goes to the peak itself, which unlike most viewpoints in Korea has no railings or platforms. Most people just scramble up the steep mountain side to see how high they can get too take the most impressive photo. Unfortunately for us it had been a rainy weekend and there were lots of clouds about when we got to the top.

If you’re looking for a park to visit in Korea definitely add this one to your list. It is also very close to Sokcho which has nice beaches and is easily reached by public transport. When we visited in the Spring we took a bus from Busan to Sokcho (it was long and torturous). This time, however, we visited Seoraksan National Park on Day 2 of our trip with Enjoy Korea (on Day 1 we had visited The DMZ and the 4th infiltration tunnel).

We don’t often travel with tour groups, but for something this far and action packed, sometimes it’d just easier. How do you prefer to travel – group tours or on your own? 
Korea, nature, outdoors, South Korea, The DMZ

THe DMZ aka propaganda central

The rest of the world knows very little about South Korea other than the fact that they have super fast internet and are technically still at war with North Korea.

This war leads to sporadic missile tests by their childlike leader and the odd foray into the demilitarized zone, otherwise known as the DMZ, by North Korean soldiers. This is a zone that stretches from the west coast to the east coast. It is 4 km wide and 250 km long. Lined on both sides with electric fences, tank traps, landmines and waiting armies. It serves as a barrier between the communist North and the democratic South. Also lining each border, here’s the strange part, are observatories where the public can visit.
At these observatory points you can try and peer through the fences and across 4 km of mountains and valleys and on a clear day catch a glimpse of the dreaded enemy territory! If this doesn’t work they have cameras with telescopic lenses set up all over. Inside the building at Eulji Observatory Post, we were lucky enough to get a short talk by a Korean soldier in English. He explained all about the DMZ and what it entails, took us through all the camera views, zoomed in on North Korean outposts, farm lands and mountain peaks and told us a few tales about the happenings of the DMZ. I don’t want to ruin the experience and tell you everything, but there are tales involving naked ladies…

Conditions at the observation points are pretty strict, no photos allowed, armed soldiers everywhere, buses get searched before they get to approach. They even ask you to turn off the location services on your phone in case you get tracked by the enemy! Before we did this, we quickly opened our maps and took a screenshot of how far north we were!

After visiting the actual observation point we went down to view an infiltration tunnel dug by North Korea. This was the 4th infiltration tunnel discovered by the south, and was quite a sight to see. You get to the tunnel by walking down a spacious tunnel drilled with some impressive equipment that the South Koreans used to intercept the the North Korean tunnel. Once you get to the interception point you get to go on a fun ride on an electric train for a short trip into and back out of the NK tunnel. It is at this point that you realize the stark difference between North and South resources. Having just walked down a tunnel you could very easily swing a couple of cats in, you get to a small tunnel, barely high enough for most people to walk hunched in. Apparently the average height of the NK male is 1.6m. The walls show the marks of picks and some holes drilled for dynamite. They must have taken ages to get as far as they did. Once South Korea got wind of their tunnel, they drilled through and intercepted it in short order.
The other thing that really stood out when we visited this site was the “information” video we had to watch before being allowed into the tunnel. This turned out to be nothing more than a tirade on how evil and disingenuous the North are, constantly trying to infiltrate and take over the South. Quite a laugh actually. We realised how propaganda plays a part everywhere, not only in the North where we are told it happens so severely.
We also made a short visit to an area just outside the DMZ called Dutayeon that had for many years been off limits to the public. Here they had a few interactive experiences and displays. At these displays, you can hear what gunfire and mines sound like and see some of the gear that was used during the war. The area itself was quite beautiful with a river running through the valley, a waterfall and of course the fall foliage on display. Photo opportunities for days.

A photo posted by Mark Scrooby (@thelazyfisherman) on

We did this whole day as part of a group tour with Enjoy Korea and it was well worth it. We spent the Saturday traveling up north to the DMZ and the Sunday at Seoraksan National Park. The tour included all transportation and accommodation as well as entrance fees  and registration at all attractions. Everything was planned out and arrangements were made prior to our arrival. We just had to arrive on time. Although we usually prefer to travel on our own and make our own arrangements, Korea has very little of their tourism  geared towards English speakers, so the language barrier can be an issue. We have never been disappointed on an Enjoy Korea trip.

How do you prefer to travel? Group tours or your own way?

Korea, life in korea, outdoors, running, South Korea, thelazyfisherman

Running in Korea

Before I left South Africa I’d become quite hooked on running. Particularly trail running. I had done a number of races of varying distances, some stage races and a few road runs. My highlights being a 3h54 road marathon as well as the 73km Golden Gate Challenge (3 day stage race with some massive climbs). Kayley also did her fair share of running back in SA, she actually convinced me to try my first trail run. She has completed numerous trail runs, many 10kms, as well as a half-marathon.

So I duly packed some running kit with road and trail shoes for our time in Korea.
Running here has definitely not been as easy as back home. I first landed in early spring which is colder than the middle of winter back home. After dealing with the jet lag I did finally manage to drag myself out of bed in the morning for a few runs only to realize I was pretty unprepared to run in the cold! Very soon after that I got the worst case of flu I had ever had in my life! This may or may not have been due to the cold morning runs, or exposure to a new environment and lots of children etc.
I did however, eventually find my feet and settled into a rhythm. I was delighted to find a few trails near my apartment that went up and around the hills as well as some single track through some of the parks. Hiking is a big thing in Korea so this has been great for me as a trail runner. There are trail heads almost everywhere, most have a rough map as well. I have had a few startled glances from the hikers on my morning runs but most of them are very friendly.

Road runs have also been pretty good to get some mileage in. Most motorists have, surprisingly, been quite courteous when I’m trundling along where there are no pavements.
I have only done two trail races in my time here. Actually, it was one race that I did twice, last year and this year. It is called the Baekyang Challenge and takes place annually in Busan. 26km up and around a mountain. Lots of fun, tough climbs, great single track. This race is organized by a foreigner who lives and works in Busan so entering it is easy!

Which brings me to road races in Korea, for these you will need help, unless your Korean skills are good. Mine are not. Kayley and I have done a few 10km races and they have been fun. They are really well organized. You have to enter at least one month before online. Your race number, timing chip and shirt get delivered to you about a week before the race date. So on race day you just pitch up and run. If you get there early enough you can enter a lucky draw to win some prizes, this is done before the race and we’ve seen people gong home with TV’s. This is usually followed by some speeches and then a group warm-up coordinated by some dancers/performers on stage to the beat of K-pop. This is quite a sight to see and is hilarious.

Just before the race starts everyone gets a pep talk and shouts of “fighting” and fists in the air are the norm. Sometimes you will also get a shoulder rub from the person behind you and in theory you should be giving the person in front of you a shoulder rub. Then fireworks (for every event) and you’re off!

The routes are always well marked, lots of marshals along the way and decently stocked water tables. Timing is spot on as well. After the race you can collect your medal which will come with a small bag of treats. There is also free food served after the run, fishcakes (odang) and tofu. There are also free bag storage facilities at the start/finish and ample parking. Usually within an hour of the race you get a text message with your official time and about a week later they send you a certificate with a photo of you at the finish, race details and time.
If you are a runner I would definitely recommend trying a race in your area. If you are not a runner I would still recommend doing one just for the experience. There are usually a few events on offer, ranging from 5kms to 42kms. At all the races we’ve attended there has been a very mixed batch of participants. From the super cool, dressed to kill and faster than a speeding bullet pro’s to the loving couple who walk and hold hands and even the first time runner who bolts off, nearly has a heart attack and walks for the rest of the way until he sees the crowds at the finish line type. As foreigners we also get extra cheers and shouts of “Woawaaahhhh”!

Overall running in Korea has been a positive experience. It is a great way to explore new suburbs and trails. It also, for me at least, is a great time to think and reflect or to just zone out completely and forget about everything else. Another benefit is that it keeps off a few kilograms so you can try more of the delicious food!! This is a constant battle as we love trying all the food in new countries, and have really loved Korean food.

Do you have any running stories to share? Have you tried a race in Korea? Let us know in the comments below!

Fishing, Korea, life in korea, South Korea

Yongwon dams: 두동제 1,2 and 3

 

 

***disclaimer: These dams near Yongwon are no longer accessible due to South Korea’s inexhaustible drive to build apartment complexes. I hope that when the construction finishes at least one of these dams will have survived destruction and be teeming with bass that have not been disturbed by a fisherman in years!

Yongwon

Yongwon is the town where I live in South Korea. It is right on the coast and at the very edge of the Changwon municipal area bordering Busan. 
I’d been pouring over google maps trying find dams that looked accessible by bus from Yongwon. I finally found these 3 dams situated very close to each other that could be reached by a few transfers and a 1km walk. However I never had enough motivation to actually do it! When we eventually got a car I was determined to go look at these dams. 

Disappointment

On our first trip there I was turned away by an old Korean man who was sitting in a little hut on the access road, presumably watching for fires as it was late fall. I drove off rather crestfallen and parked down the road out of sight where I had seen a small footpath leading up the steep dam wall. Upon reaching the top I was greeted by a beautiful view and was certain there would be bass in this dam!

Yongwon
My first view of the dam

 

Vindication

It was only months later that I finally fished there after speaking to a Korean fisherman at the Ungcheon dam who told me that fishing was definitely allowed there. 

I made my way back to the dam near Yongwon in due course and it has since become my go to dam for a quick outing after work or before work in the summer. 

Yongwon
Some of the fish caught there

 

The technical stuff

There are three dams very close to each other and all three have produced fish ranging from 10 to about 40cm. Through most of the summer they consistently fished well. I even ran there one morning before work, 3.5km from Yongwon, fished for an hour and then ran home. I took only one rod and a few soft baits and caught a few fish.
They are however also irrigation dams for the farms in the Yongwon area and the levels fluctuate dramatically through the planting season. 
The dams were heavily fished at times by catch and keep fishermen so tended to go quiet every few weeks. I had one great week of fishing there when I fished every morning and evening and managed about 6 fish per session with a few fish over 30cm which is quite a decent size for these dams.
I have seen only bass caught in these dams near Yongwon but have spotted a few blue gill hiding amongst the weeds as well as the odd carp cruising around. 
In the summer the two small dams get very choked up with weeds and become difficult to fish, especially when the water is low!

All three are relatively easy to fish off the bank as you can walk around most of the banks. There are lots of well worn paths from other fishermen. The small dams do have a lot of vegetation on the banks and by the height of summer some areas were inaccessible. In summer I also found there to be quite a few ticks around as well as hordes of mosquitoes so plan/dress appropriately. 

Yongwon
Few more fish, the two in the right were caught at night.



Mark Scrooby

Korea, South Korea, Travel

Jeonju Hanok Village

Jeonju Hanok Village
If you’re looking for good food, hustle and bustle and some traditional Korea, Jeonju is the place to find it. Tucked into the city is a traditional Hanok village that seems to be the tourist hot spot of Korea. It has a wide river running along one side with traditional Korean  bridges dotted across the water.  With no cars being allowed in during certain times, it really gives you the feeling you’re in old town Korea.

Continue reading “Jeonju Hanok Village”

bass, Fishing, fly fishing, Hapcheon, thelazyfisherman

Hapcheon Dam 합천

bass fishing in Hapcheon

 

 

Bass fishing in Hapcheon (합천)

bass fishing in Hapcheon
Some fish and the view
 
As mentioned in a previous post I met and became friends with a Korean bass fisherman. His name is Son and he has become a good friend as well as given me loads of advice and tips on how to catch more fish. 
 
My first trip with him was to go bass fishing in Hapcheon, which is inland from Changwon, about 90 minutes by car from Jinhae. Son’s father retired out there on a small-holding and Son visits him almost every weekend. The first I’d heard of this area was when Son saw me at the Ungcheon dam flailing away and catching nothing. He told me about this magic place where him and a friend had recently caught nearly 50 fish in one outing and he had photos to prove it!

Invitation to go bass fishing in Hapcheon

I half jokingly asked him to take me bass fishing in Hapcheon when he went again. I was quite surprised to receive a message later that week asking if I was free on Sunday to go bass fishing in Hapcheon. I had to cancel plans with my girlfriend (now she’s my wife) but the trip was worth it!
 
I was a bit hesitant at first as we barely knew each other and I was in a strange country and couldn’t speak the language (still can’t apart from a few words here and there). But it all turned out well. We were joined on the day by another Korean fisherman I had met at the same time. We got through it with some broken English, sign language and my limited Korean. Definitely one of my most memorable days in south Korea.

I have pinned a location below, most of the dams in this area are fishable. Bass, bluegill and even snakehead in some. The one closest to the pin has been the most consistent and is the biggest in the area. It’s with driving around the area and investigating any of the dams you see.


 
 

My first day bass fishing in Hapcheon

We set off at about 7:30 am and hit the first dam just after 9. It was late spring so the weather was great. I caught nothing for the first 2 hours and I could see Son was getting worried after telling me amazing stories about this place. He was giving me lures to use, pointing out all the spots where he had caught fish and let me have the prime areas first. I did however, eventually hook into a very decent bass and ended up with 8 fish by the end of the day. 
 

 

bass fishing in Hapcheon
Some of the bigger fish I caught
 
 
We had fished in 5 dams all pretty close together and bass were caught in all of them. Biggest pushing 40cm.
 

It was but the first of many

I have subsequently been back there many times with my biggest haul being 20 fish in one day’s fishing. 
 
As mentioned in other posts all these dams are also irrigation dams. They suffer the same dramatic fluctuations in water levels during the planting season. 
 
One trip out there we found all the dams to be almost empty or completely empty. We had to drive around for hours looking for a decent spot to fish. This led to us discovering a very strange fishing spot. My biggest in Korea was caught here.
 
bass fishing in Hapcheon
Few fish from the area. My Korean friend Son in blue.

 

 

 
 
 
Mark Scrooby