S.Korea 2015 – Day 4 – Garden of Morning Calm, Itaewon

We were out this morning to tackle Gapyeong county, way out to the east of Seoul, the train ride was long going into maybe 2 hours ride out into the countryside, where the skyline slowly turned from office buildings to vast forested mountains. Initially we were going to do Nami island as well, but my brother hasn’t been faring so well on ferries as of late so we decided to skip it and head straight to the second destination of Gapyeong’s tourist shuttle bus – Petite France.
Oh, we also got to watch some girl doing the floppy head dance on the train as she was drifting in and out of sleep, it was hilarious.
The bus driver of the shuttle was unintentionally comical and terrifying, with possibly the worst case of road rage i’ve ever seen – hornblasting about 1 in every 3 cars that pulled out in front of him, at one point he literally pulled alongside another car and started swearing at them in korean.

I had seen a little bit of Petite france from an episode of Running Man, and so was kind of intrigued in seeing what it was like in person, however shortly after we paid our entrance fare and walked through the main plaza, we knew our stay at petite france would be a short one.
We were actually pretty desperate for some food, but the bistro inside was closed, and the ‘town’ is pretty isolated from the rest of the world, basically just a stop on the side of a large road through the mountains, we ended up paying an extortionate amount of money on a bunch of shitty snacks from a small shop, maybe twentysomething pounds for what was essentially microwave food, lesson learnt – eat before leaving Seoul.

We’d poke around a little more, wandering up the steps and checking out the small european styled buildings which are dotted around, though it was all basically over before we even began, the path we took to the snack shop essentially being the entire width of the place, and only a small staircase which lead to nowhere was left for us to explore – and that ended up leading to a room with creepy clown dolls and shit. On our way back, a show had started up in the main plaza, and everyone had gathered around to watch a piss-poor puppet show. I hate to be that guy, but even punch and judy would have been more entertaining, perhaps the show was designed for kids, but something about seeing a grown woman jump some dolls around in time to music and an actual crowd of people watching was just.. depressing… The doll even had to practically beg for applause afterwards.

Back on the bus for another ride round the Gapyeong mountains til we eventually landed at the Garden of Morning Calm, again situated in pretty much the middle of nowhere, yet at least this time it worked in it’s favor. Didn’t really know what to expect from this, but it was an absolutely huge national park style area situated between some very picturesque valleys. The park was littered with asian style bonzai trees and buildings, and featured waterfalls and streams, along with plenty of well maintained flowers. We also found a semi-dry stream bed which people have evidently transformed into ‘tiny stone tower’ land, similar to what we found in Iceland, we of course helped and built our own small tower. At one point it looked like it was about to rain, so we popped into a cafe to have some dessert of shaved ice, ice cream and peanut mochi – the weather held out in the end though (even though we’ve been predicted thunderstorms for pretty much the whole holiday).

After our long trip back to the city, we’d head for Itaewon – we sort of knew that the area had something to do, but we weren’t entirely sure what, it’s just one of those names that sounded familiar, not entirely unlike Gangnam. Upon arrival, the main road seemed about the standard for Korean fare, though we did notice a surprising amount of Kebab, Halal and Turkish restaurants. A further explore would reveal a whole other world thriving on just the other side of the main road, consisting of night clubs, bars and restaurants of surprising variety. The majority of places in Korea only seem to serve korean food, or maybe pasta on occasion, however Itaewon was fully representing just about every cuisine from British Pies to Thai/Japanese fusion over multiple stories (as, lets not forget, Koreans like to build vertically as well as horizontally). Essentially, where other cities have chinatown, Seoul has Itaewon’s InternationalTown, the huge variety of food (along with the fact it was friday night) meant the place was absolutely heaving with people, MERS be damned.

Ended up having dinner at a place called Busan Galbi, which was actually amazing, as soon as we finished ordering they brought out about 10 small side dish plates, before following up with the BBQ pit and cuts of beef and pork – unlike other BBQ places however, they cook the meat for you, meaning all you have to worry about is eating (you can cook the meat yourself if you want of course). Aside from 4 servings of BBQ meat in lettuce with trimmings, we had a cold noodle dish, and a raw beef/pear salad thing again as we had developed a taste for it in the other BBQ restaurant we visited.
While walking around after dinner we also saw some crazy looking ice cream with smoke coming out of the cup, not sure if that was nitrogen or dry ice or what but it looked cool as hell, didn’t get to try it though as we were too full.