16 August 2008

Itinerary Planning

Whenever I travel, I become extremely perfectionist and details-oriented. I just cannot head for my destination without planning out the list of must-cover sights, how I will navigate the streets (public transit, walking, driving, or otherwise), and relevant historical information. Of course, actual itinerary ends up different from my plans, but I still need to plan ahead - and have alternate plans, in case a sight is either closed or a dud.

This long-term Seoul trip is no exception, and I want to get a lot done during my stay. I've been checking out many South Korean websites since confirming my air itinerary, and now am starting to have an idea of what I will do. Not bad, considering that returning to Seoul was the very last thing on my mind even just a month ago.

I will be based in downtown Seoul; despite all its bustle and hustle, it's only a subway ride away from Bukhansan National Park, with its free admission and numerous hiking trails. I will certainly spend some time there; given that Seoul is a city known for its scenic terrain rather than its sorry architecture, and given that this is a retreat trip for me, it makes sense to take in the nature. I will also visit an artificial forest the city government recently built on the shores of the Han River. And speaking of the Han River, I will rent a bike, take advantage of the riverside bike trails, and take in the lovely river views; given Seoul's mad traffic, dedicated bike trails are the only safe places to ride a bike anyway.

I will also visit the city's famous sports facilities, built for the 1988 Olympic Games and the 2002 FIFA World Cup; some of the Olympic facilities are located next to a 2,000-year-old fortress, itself worth a look. In addition, there are some museums worth a look. Re-visiting the royal palaces won't hurt either. For a peek at everyday urban Korean life, I may also visit a local Costco; Costco has six South Korean locations, four of them in Seoul.

I am planning on leaving Seoul three times. One day trip will be to the Everland Resort, which is run by the Samsung neoliberal empire (grrr...) and includes the largest amusement park in the nation, a safari, an art museum, and a car museum. The car museum sounds especially interesting, as its website says it exhibits both oddball foreign cars I've not seen yet (Citroen Traction-Avant, Trabant, etc.) alongside early South Korean cars (Hyundai Pony, Kia Brisa, etc.), all of which I will be very glad to see.

I will also try to take the KTX bullet train to Busan - again. Last time, it was a day trip, and my activities were limited due to 21 heads of state, including W, taking over the Haeundae Beach resort area. This time, I will overnight, and will enjoy biking around Haeundae as well as taking in the sights I had missed last time, such as the UN Cemetery and Beomeosa Temple. I will also explore my father's former neighborhood in the Jagalchi Market area, and if possible, climb the hill in the neighborhood, which he says he climbed every morning as a teen.

The third trip will be the most adventurous; it will be a road trip! I'll rent a car and drive to the historic city of Gyeongju, often described as an open-air museum, and home of Bulguksa, the nation's most famous Buddhist temple. I expect two full days exploring the sights in Gyeongju, one day driving there, one day returning to Seoul. During the drive, I will also stop by at two other important Buddhist temples in South Korea - Haeinsa (home of Tripitaka Koreana) and Beopjusa. If this goes ahead, this will be my first driving experience on the Eurasian landmass (I've driven in the UK, but that is an island...). I'll get to experience the Korean car culture first hand. I'll need to make sure that the constant road rage that's part of the Korean driving etiquette doesn't get to me though!

It's a long stay, with endless options, possibly limited only by my pocketbook. I'll see what I'll be able to make out of this trip.

Preparations are well underway. I have my International Driving Permit, and a visa will be applied for within the next few days. Afterwards, I will order 500,000 won as my initial supply of cash (it will set me back $500 US). Research into even more possible sightseeing destinations will continue.