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South Korea

Author: Maria Zehentner
Beitrag vom: 27.01.2018

The land of silent lambs!

South Korea, November-December 2017

It was boarding time for the crossing to South Korea. Leander was not allowed to drive Akela onto the ship by himself. In quick action, he explained to a DBS employee, how our oldie worked and could only watch with a crying eye, how the truck was loaded. It was the first time since Akela was in our possession, that he had to leave a stranger behind the wheel. Even with me, there were mostly grunts. I let the clutch slip, switched too abruptly, got the reverse never in ... which is why I don`t have any.
Our ferry had the nice sounding name "Eastern Dream", which actually sounded very promising. A spark of hope spread throughout us, that a corresponding equipment of the ship, or a great service on board would justify the horrendous ticket price. Wrong thought! Instead of a luxury liner, a run-down steamer awaited us. On board, the staff told us, that we were upgraded from Second Class to Family Suite. This message in turn gave hope. But who now associated with the word "suite" the premises in a luxury hotel, is wrong. We entered a room with four thin yoga mats. On each pad was an even thinner blanket and a pillow, that's all. This is not about luxury, but for € 2,500 we could have booked a week's cruise which would have been funnier.

The crossing was extremely bumpy. The high waves on the open sea triggered a small rebellion in our stomachs.
After nearly 24 hours crossing we hit the harbor of Donghae in the late morning. Located on the east coast of the Sea of ​​Japan, the port maintains the headquarters of the South Korean Navy, and that's what it looked like. One military ship next to the other, in line and link. With shaky legs, we stalked through the person control, which went surprisingly jagged across the stage. While Akela was driven to safe ground by a shipping company employee, we did the paperwork for the truck and motorcycle with Mr. Kim from DBS, who was already waiting for us.

We hoped to escape on the spot with our arguments of double taxation, as mentioned in the last report. Without success! We have been insured for both companions a motor vehicle liability insurance. Also for the Cross, although we did not want to use them. In addition, Korean law provided that a fee had to be paid for both vehicles to a company that would guarantee us in case of damage. For your understanding, we had to pay for a Korean Carnet de Passage (ATA Carnet), because our international was not recognized here. Korea did not seem to care much about international affairs. Every approach to a discussion ran in the sand. "This is corean law", was the only thing we got to hear over and over again. Much effort, time and money without apparent logic. We like! We did not come around and paid the equivalent of 500 €. So we should not have any problems with Korean correctness for at least the next three months.

Akela was already waiting for us on the harbor area and seemed to have survived the crossing well. We threw in our backpacks, jumped into the cab and sputtered us to leave the harbor area as soon as possible.

Wow, we were stranded in South Korea, probably one of the most exotic countries, we have ever visited. While a Stalinist regime had been established in the north since the division of Korea after the Second World War, South Korea was one of the so-called tiger states, due to its economic power with world brands such as Samsung, Hyundai or LG.

Kimchi, fermented and highly spiced cabbage, Korean pop music like "Gangnam Style" of the singer Psy, and statistically the most common cosmetic surgeries on women worldwide. That`s what Korea is standing for.

We looked forward to our first few kilometers on Korean asphalt. Out of the port city, we drove along the coast, where the sea thundered with violent waves to the beach. The city went fluent over in contemplative-looking villages. However, trees and green spaces were sought in vain. Presumably, they had fallen victim to the dense population of the country. We were confronted with the first traffic and street signs in Korean. The Hangeul alphabet consists of 24 letters, of which we had no glue. The next few weeks would be exciting? But fortunately, the boards were equipped with "English subtitles".

After the Russian cold we did not speculate with bathing weather, but we hoped to be able to take off one of the two winter jackets which was obligatory in Russia. Nope! The sun was laughing in all its glory, but the rough breeze, that was carried ashore by the sea made our limbs shiver with cold.

After a few kilometers we saw a huge parking lot directly on the beach, which looked like a good campingspot. We fetched the sleep from the ferry and made plans for the next few days. I was twice as happy for a short while. Finally, when I got rid of the stubborn bronchitis, I had caught a bladder infection on the cruise. As I lay in the truck wrapped in blankets and with a hot water bottle, Leander and Lennox explored the area. At least I could see from the window the kilometer-long sandy beaches. After two days, I felt fit enough to head to Sokcho. The city looked rather lackluster and was especially known as the starting point for the nearby Seoraksan National Park. We were surprised, when we rolled through the city, because on the beach countless surfers cavorted in the water. Korea as Surfspott, never heard before. The dance with the board on the waves fascinated us for a long time, especially Leander. But these temperatures where a no go for jumping into the water! No, thank you!? The fun in the water still had to wait. The surfers looked funny, when they climbed out of the water and slipped into their warm coats, that reached from crown to toe. Like penguins!

We strolled along the beach promenade and felt a hungry feeling. Eating in a restaurant or just have a snack on the road, we could not decide. The price tags of the restaurants were a mystery to us, and we did not get on with English. According to our understanding, the prices for a meal per person startet at 20 €, which was clearly too much! We marched on and got stuck at a local fast food. Our loud belly growling had probably distracted the brain cells from thinking. We realized, that we payed 23€ for a handfull of crabs, shrimp and a stuffed squid, and were still hungry. Confused, we trudged back to Akela, pitched the stove, and cooked proper home-style cooking, sausage noodles. They were cheap, tasted delicious and made the stomach completely satisfied. But the topic did not let us go. How could fish and marine animals, which were so abundant here, be so abysmally expensive?

But we were really shocked about the high price level, when we are on our first shopping trip in a large supermarket. Fortunately, the Koreans use Roman numerals, if that had not been the case, we would have guessed nothing for an ordinary purchase of $ 400. For a better understanding here are some examples: 3 kg apples 8 $, 1 kg grapes 15 $, 250g butter 9 $, 350g minced meat 24 $! We were so flattened by the prices, that it became funny in a way. What the hell! We had not expected such a high price level. How much did a Korean have to earn on average to keep up? We pushed the empty shopping cart back and consoled ourselves with the fact that we would not starve due to the high prices. We had some supplies bunkered, and otherwise they have instant noodle dishes, and these one`s were funnily cheap.
We knew about Remo, one of the two Swiss guys, who had been following us since Uzbekistan, that he was also in South Korea. Although he had already grazed Sokcho and the Seoraksan National Park, he jetted by bus from the capital Seoul to the East Coast, to visit us. We made an appointment with him at the local fish market of Sokcho.

For him as a Swiss, the price structure in Korea was not particularly shocking, which made him eat a tiny, fried pan potato for $3, without further thinking. For us it seemed to bee very expensive. After the first welcome hello and a little bit of small talk, we said goodbye for a while, because everyone had a lot to do for themselves. However, we made an appointment in the evening in a restaurant called 88.

There was no menu. In the middle of each table was a glowing iron ring situated, above which was cooked on a plate. The size of the fish plate served, depends on the number of guests. In addition there was rice, a bowl of soup and different kimchi variations. The preparation of the dinner directly at the table was unusual for us, but very interesting. And finally, we had the opportunity to taste kimchi, for which Korea was so famous. On average, a Korean eats about 22 kg a year of it. Mostly it is sharp, which has the consequence, that you start crying and your nose starts dripping. But you are not allowed to sneeze. This is considered in Korea as an absolute bad habit at table.

We were untrained and lazy the last few months. Cold and the many driving kilometers through Siberia had unwittingly degraded us to couch potatoes. A little movement in Seoraksan National Park would not hurt our bacon rolls on our bellies.
The hiking paradise is located only a few kilometers west of Sokcho and is one of the most beautiful natural sites in South Korea. Innumerable mountain routes and hiking trails lead through the terrain and connect the highest mountain, the Daecheong (1708m) with several waterfalls and temples. 1,400 plant species and over 2,000 different species of animals are said to the park.

While we drove to the park after dinner in the 88, Remo took the first bus from the city to the national park. He and Leander had planned a mountain and photo tour to Mount Daecheong, while Lennox and I wanted to start the seven-kilometre waterfall tour after breakfast. The weather was fine, and the atmosphere was exuberant. The path ran along the river and snaked through bare forests. It was nice, but it soon became clear, that we were here at the wrong time of the year. One or two months earlier in autumn, when the trees proudly presented their multicolored leaf splendour would have been perfect, almost kitschy. But you can't have everything! We spent a varied day and expected the summit climbers back towards the evening.
Completely exhausted, Leander trudged into the truck, Remo immediately took the bus back to his accommodation. A bad weather front accompanied by snowfall, and too tight mountain boots, forced them to turn around.

Throughout the night, Leander put his sore toes on ice bags. The attempt to get into normal shoes the next morning, failed miserably. Only his fat Mongolian winter boots he endured without pain. Among all the Koreans wrapped in mountaineering equipment from head to toe, as if they were coming from a Mount Everest expedition, he looked like Santa Claus with his chunky boots, which had a thick sheepskin tulip on the way. But that didn't stop us from wandering to the Ulsanbawi observation deck, which offered a breathtaking view over the national park.

We rounded off the Seoraksan region with a visit to the nearby Aquapark. Thank God Lennox fulfilled the size for the slides, which made the day a complete success.
One thing was clear. Koreans were crazy about regulations! Whether for one's own protection, or personal well-being, or not to care or think about anything, we do not know. The fact was, they adhered to every predetermined rule. There are signs on walking trails, to walk only in one direction, on roads the speed limit is adhered exactlx, you are not allowed to jump into pool from the edge, and the life jacket is obligatory. If one dares to find the attempt to fall out of the role, immediately someone is there, to points you back to the right path. Signs and prohibitions are chasing each other, and the Korean`s are following them all like sheeps.

For the visit of the capital we had to cross the peninsula from east to west. In order to escape the toll motorway, we tried overland roads. However, we quickly abandoned this project. Korea was densely populated. The city and the local boundaries flowed into each other and left little room for free driving. So we switched to the toll road. After a short drive we already got the first cash register house. The tactic was acting stupid. Leander cranked down the window and smiled at the lady. She looked shyly, with wide-open eyes out of the window, and grabed the telephone. As she hung up, a Korean swarm of words bounced down on us. Leander kept his smile, shrugged his shoulders and answered: "Do I look like I understand Korean?" She did not know what to do next, so she came out of the house and took note of our license plate, whatever. "Cashy, Cashy," she replied nervously gesticulating.
Leander continued to grin and handed her our credit cards. But they couldn't do anything with them. The queue of waiting cars that had lined up behind us did not contribute to the relaxation of the employees. Again, she reached for the phone. During their conversation, she repeatedly threw at us the words "Cashy, Cashy" and "Money." But as our son used to say, "I only understand banana!" Eventually she gave up and waved us through. With this method, playing the stupid tourist, we passed all toll stations in Korea. Did a bad conscience plague us? no! Korea extracted so much empty money from us through pointless regulations, that we didn`t have a bad feeling.

We approached the capital Seoul, or, to emphasize it officially, the "special city of Seoul". The core population is 10 million. The city is the center of the Sudogwon region, home to about 25 million people. This means, that half of all South Koreans are concentrated in the metropolis and its satellite cities.
Seoul does not have to hide behind any other capitals. Within the economically, technically and culturally advanced world city, companies such as Samsung, the world's largest technology group, LG and Hyundai-Kia are gathering. The world's largest subway network is located here, and according to UN statistics, Seoul is considered one of the most livable places in the world, ahead of cities such as New York, Melbourne or London. The hosting of major international events such as the 1988 Olympic Games, or Olympia Pyeong Chang 2018, also ensures, that the eyes of the world are increasingly focused on this vibrant city.

If possible, you support each other on travel, and help as best you can. Through a travel forum we received from Coen,, the coordinates of a free pitch in the city. A search for a parking space with our calibre usually looked like a sheer horror in cities. Countless skyscrapers were lined up close together, free areas or even green spaces were searched in vain. Public parking spaces were controlled by supervisors, who either refused us entry from the front, or wanted to suspect us vigorously. There was definitely a rush hour, but it was not clear, when it was started. Gigantic tin avalanches pushed through the metropolis in stop and go traffic. We were happy, when we were finally able to turn off the engine in the said backyard of a coffee.

There was a lot to discover in Seoul! However, on our first trip to the centre, we were able to experience, that one liked to underestimate the dimensions to get from A to B. The way from the pitch to the metro station cost us half an hour on foot across the road through the traffic. Once there, we sat or rather stood, on average at least 40 minutes in the express way to reach our spots. Often we were so exhausted from the journey, especially Lennox, that the chosen object of desire had already lost some of its charm before arrival. Nevertheless, we took in attractions such as the Deoksugung Palace, Palace of Virtue and Long Life, the Lotte Tower, completed in 2016 and 555m high, the Myeongdong Market, where several hundred thousand visitors crowded through on peak days, the fish market, Lotte Adventure Park and more. In order not to overwhelm Lennox and not to spoil his desire for sightseeing, he and I repeatedly put in rest days in the truck. On these so-called "Lennox days" we played, tinkered or watched a film classic on our laptops. Leander used the time without appendages and sprinted crisscrossing Seoul with his camera to capture Seoul's most beautiful facets. Mostly accompanied by Remo, who, as always, was close on our heels.

Korea was in many ways different from all the countries before we visited before. The strangeness of our faces or our truck were as uninteresting here, as when a bicycle fell over in China. Occasionally we got a stealthy smile or a thumbs up. Don't get it wrong! We didn't care about the lack of the spotlight, we or our oldie often stood in as soon as we showed up in one place. The impression arose, that people would not have time to raise their heads to perceive their surroundings. Looking rigidly at the mobile phone, they quickly walked along the streets. But exceptions confirmed the rule and so it happened that an elderly lady, who took a walk with her daughter, came to us. Curiously, they asked us many questions and showed enthusiasm for our project, especially the mother, who herself liked to be on the road. A camper like Akela would always have been her dream, she smiled. They quickly handed us their address and invited us into their home for dinner for the coming weekend. Of course, we were very happy to accept this invitation.

Those who travel to South Korea do not stumble over the name or the brand "Lotte". Almost every street corner is denounced by the lettering from the walls, which is in bold red. Lotte World, Lotte Department Stores, Lotte Hotels, Lotte Supermarkets, Lotte Tower, Lotte via Lotte! But who, or what was behind the multinational conglomerate with the German name, whose corporate assets were estimated at USD 50 billion?
Shin Kyuk-ho, now 95, from South Korea. He was so fascinated by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and especially by his novel "The Sorrows of the Young Werther", that he gave his company the same name in reference to Charlotte, or Lotte for short. And grace God, this man truly has a clue how to pull the heavily-deserved Won out of the pockets of the entertainment-addicted Koreans. Because where ever you see Lotte, you have to pay a lot of money.

An obviously good bourgeois life requires from the young generation, to submit themselves under a constant pressure. Only few start to raise a family. Why? Well, they don`t have time, they are working 70 hours and more a week. Years ago, a South Korean daily newspaper gave the current generation the name "Sampo". Which can be roughly translated as "three losses". More and more young Koreans are giving up hope of finding a life partner, ever getting married, or having children. Not because of the desire to strive for alternative life plans, or out of rebellion against the state-obsessed society. No, the struggle for a permanent job eats up all their money, and all their free time. This is most evident in the birth rate, where Korea ranks fifth in the world. So it was not surprising, that we could count the few children we saw on the street on one hand.

In order to get better opportunities, many Koreans blame their counterparts for a high standard of living by becoming highly indebted at a young age. This is sometimes the main reason why Koreans stay in their parents' room until old age. Marriages are decides by money and not by love. As soon as parents retire, tradition dictates, that their kids take care of their well-being – even financially, because the state pension system is still in its infancy.
Hardly noone sees a different way for themselves, than to chase the absurdly high performance requirements! In Korea, it is extremely rare for someone to have the courage to publicly oppose the tide. The comparison with a flock of sheep sounds nasty, but hits the nail on the head. One sheep is trotting ahead and the rest is running after it.

In order to shorten the unhealthy pressure to perform, it helps the female population in particular to look nice and noble. Why women spend their sparse free time in beauty salons, beauty clinics and bathhouses, so-called jjimjilbang's. Strictly separated according to male and female, and completely naked, one first softens the skin in different temperate pelvics. Afterwards, it is washed, trimmed and scrubbed, until it starts hurting.
After my visit to the Dragon Hill Spa I was very impressed but also quite shocked by the scenery presented to me. The body care of Korean women has no longer much to do with healthy hygiene. Moreover, the water consumption in Korea must be enormous. It is a by-product of the constant social pressure, in which the external appearance naturally plays a major role. Beauty must suffer and Korean women can truly sing a song about it.

After more than 12 days of big city hustle, we broke off our tents and headed south to the city of Busan. We saved ourselves from moving forward on overland roads from the beginning, because there wasn't really much to see. A charming landscape did not exist and traditional villages had to give way to unsightly residential silos to meet the number of people.

Busan is South Korea's second-largest city after Seoul and is located at the southeastern end of the Korean Peninsula. From a tourist point of view, the city is not necessarily a must. The city is one of the leading industrial areas in the country and operates as the fifth largest container port in the world. For us, the city was mainly interesting because of its ferry connections to Japan. If possible, we wanted to avoid shipping with DBS. According to the Internet, there were some shipping companies that mediated the routes to the land of the rising sun. However, the websites of the agencies were exclusively in Korean language, which we didn`t understand. Since our e-mails went unanswered, we had no choice, but to rattle off the respective offices directly at the port.
We reached the port terminal early in the morning and parked Akela directly opposite, in the middle of the road. The choice of ferries was reduced automatically, as only Camellia Lines was willing to take our monster on board. The compact unit between truck and motorcycle mostly exceeded the visual imagination of the employees. Annoying about the price calculation for the crossing was again the separate calculation of the bike, although it was fixed on the rack and included in the volume specification of the truck. Insurance in Japan for both vehicles was, of course, mandatory. Shortly we were thinking about to leave the cross somewhere, because the balance between inconvenience and fun with the thing was out of proportion. If it had not been shown properly to the German customs, it would mean a predicted loss of €3,000. These are the rules of the Carnet the Passage.

We decided on a round trip ticket, because according to our research so far, all other planned shipments from Korea seemed cheaper than from Japan. We also got a bargain! At DBS Ferries we would have had to pay twice the price and would only have come to Japan.
A good friend of us once told us: "On a world trip you should only do one thing per day!" For today, our workload was fulfilled. We wanted to get out of town and catch some fresh air. The offshore island of Hallyleo Marine Nature Park, whose main island Geoje was connected by a bridge, seemed to offer itself excellently.

From Busan it was about 90 km to the southern tip of the island, which turned out to be almost a one days drive. The road led us over hills and mountains, through villages and towns, serpentines up and down. Tedious! But in the end we found a suitable pitch on a hill overlooking the sea. We didn't know what was in the small container house, that was standing next to the parking lot, but we received pure free internet, which was very beneficial. We were too stingy for a local Sim Card in Korea. Hair-raising what was required for it. So far we have been hitting the country with WIFI spots, which was annoying and impractical especially, when a lot of information had to be collected, as it was right now.

We roamed the surrounding area a little and made the acquaintance of a farmer, who was guarding a handful of goats. As far as I can remember, these were the only farm animals, that had stayed on the peninsula, even though Koreans were very fond of animals.
Dogs in particular seemed to have done it to the people. However, they had a fondness for small poodles. They dress them in small sweaters or jackets with stylish hairstyle and carry them proudly in small hand bags. Well, everyone's own!
Otherwise, we didn't spend much time on the island. When the strong sea breeze and the cold temperatures allowed it, we walked to the beach and raged on the rocks of the coast.

The evening work was much more tedious for Leander and me when Lennox slept. We had to research and flesh out our plans for what would come after our stay in Japan. In the meantime, we had put a direct shipment to Australia or New Zealand on hold. The costs of 8,000 € and more just to get the truck there, as well as the horrendous quarantine regulations of the respective countries, were not worth the effort at the moment. It required an enormous amount of planning and paperwork, not to mention the cleaning process of Akela.
Honestly? We were so annoyed of spending all evenings in front of the computer. Sometimes we sat until 02:00 in the morning and longer. It was time to unpack the bathing clothes and relax. We were looking for sun, beach and sea, surfing, yoga, exercise, fun, coconut smoothies... just let your soul dangle and enjoy, you could also call it a holiday. For many people, the thought is definitely shooting through their heads, "but they've been on holiday for over a year!". That would be really great but, unfortunately our reality is quite different.

In order not to overburden our budget, we had to find a reasonably affordable solution. Another reason why Down Under and the land of the Maori temporarily left. We studied the map up and down and got stuck with Indonesia again and again. The land of 17,000 islands seemed to combine many of our priority needs. Contacts, addresses and information we had gathered in the meantime, made the decision easier for us. Now it was time to find the shipping companies, get offers, compare prices and services, check entry regulations for us as well as for the truck... ! A thousand important little things, that kept catching up with us and devoured tons of evening hours, internet, time and patience. Thanks to free internet at our camping spot, we were able to send a flood of emails and, in addition, expand our home video library with a few movies. In this sense, thank you very much to whomever!

The last days before the ferry to Nippon left, we returned to Busan, to our old-fashioned parking lot in front of the port terminal. Shortly there was the idea of visiting the west coast of Korea, but we quickly rejected this idea. Korea certainly had its charms, but not in winter. At least not for us! Instead, we did some nice things in Busan. We visited the Busan Sea Life, managed to go ice skating despite all the excessive precautions of the Koreans and walked through the world's largest shopping mall. Which, who wonders, happened to belong to the Lotte group.
Asia's largest fish market, the Jagalchi Market, I can only encourage every Busan visitor. Incredible abundance of marine animals has been touted here. I couldn't assign a lot of it and was completely alien to me. Dead, stacked, alive in tubs and aquariums or skinned alive. Not always easy to accept for animal lovers, but lasting experiences for nose and eyes.

And then, there was the matter of Christmas. It didn't take long and christmas was just around the corner. Despite the predominantly practiced religions such as shamanism, Confucianism and Buddhism, a large part of the population felt part of Christianity, which also celebrated Christmas. But more quietly and secretly, than we were used to it, as it looked like. Hardly visible decoration, no Christmas carols, no gifts shopping frenzy. nothing! And for the first time I had to admit, that I was missing all these things. The prepotent marketing of the festival like we do it in Austria was massively exaggerated, but nothing was also too less for me. A bit of Christmas magic needs to be in Akela, and we already knew how to do it!
Lennox and I browsed to our kitchen storage and found all the ingredients for vanilla kipferl. However, they had to succeed by the first time, because at 9 € for 250 g of butter we could not afford a second try. I know self-praise stinks, but they tasted better than at home, and the sweet vanilla scent revelled in every crack of the truck and lasted several days. Magnificent, a familiar touch of Christmas!

After a month's of staying in Korea, the time had come and the day of saying goodbye was just around the corner. Usually we always left a country with a laughing and a crying eye. But to be honest, in Korea it was two laughing eyes. The lack of nature, the attitude of the people, the high price level, the wrong season, it was simply not our country to get it to the point! What wasn't too bad, the more we were looking forward to Japan.

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