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, Belgium, The 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!
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.
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.
Trying our luck
We even caught fish in a narrow channel that was about 1,5m wide and water about 0,5m deep, covered in weeds.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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.
How do you prefer to travel? Group tours or your own way?
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.
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!
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.
|Some of the fish caught there|
The technical stuff
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.
|Few more fish, the two in the right were caught at night.|
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.
|Some fish and the view|
Invitation to go bass fishing in Hapcheon
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
|Some of the bigger fish I caught|
It was but the first of many
|Few fish from the area. My Korean friend Son in blue.|