When I go on holiday, I often search for interesting day trips to find different sights further afield from where I am staying. So when I was staying in Seoul, I naturally looked at the bus trips to different districts to give me a chance to explore new areas of South Korea that I hadn’t seen before. I chose a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Buyeo, which is a peaceful town in the South Chungcheong province.
Bear with me, for a quick Korean history lesson. The Three Kingdoms period lasted from 57 BC to 668 AD and there are many palaces and temples from this era preserved around Korea, although many have had to be restored after invasions from Japan. These kingdoms were Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla, each with their own unique histories. Seoul is located in what used to be Goguryeo, so after exploring many of the palaces in this area, including Gyeongbokgung (the largest palace built during the Joseon dynasty), I wanted to go see something new.
Buyeo was the capital of the Baekje kingdom and the tour that I found featured lots of different interesting stops around the area. So I met with the tour guide who helpfully provided lots of recommendations for my trip and we embarked on the two hours bus ride from Seoul to Buyeo.
On the way, we stopped at a service station and can I just point out that Korean service stations are literally amazing? The food stalls serve such a variety of hot food and I was overjoyed to get my daily fix of ddeokbokki (I literally ate my entire bodyweight in these spicy rice cakes during my time in Korea!). It was here that my tour guide gave her first recommendation. She showed me a stall which handmade walnut cakes with red bean paste inside and they are apparently particularly popular in this region of Korea. They made them in front of you, packaged them warm and they were delicious. They were also incredibly cheap so I got a large bag of 12!
After munching on my walnut cakes for the remaining bus ride, we arrived at our first stop. Gunamji Pond was the first artifical pond built in Korea and it has a really interesting story about the King building it to impress a Princess who he later married. I was lucky enough to visit during lotus flower season and on a beautiful hot day, so I got to enjoy walking around enjoying the scenery, before sitting in the pavillion in the middle of the pond to soak up the sun.
We then went to a traditional korean restaurant to have 냉면 (a cold noodle dish). A note for vegetarian travellers, this dish is made with a beef broth. Although the chef, host and tour guide tried very hard to be accomodating, vegetarianism isn’t very common so they just don’t get what you can and can’t eat. The tour guide explained to them for me and they served all components separately so that I could avoid the parts with animal products. There was no meat in the actual dish, but the broth was cooked with beef and I’m pretty sure they just drained the noodles after cooking them in this broth because the flavour was weird and it did make me feel a little ill afterwards, so you just have to be careful.
From lunch, we went to see a traditional Korean performance. There was singing, dancing and comedy sections throughout and it was a really interesting experience. When we entered the theatre, I was told that there would be English subtitles on the screens above the stage, but that they are very fast so I might find it difficult to understand. Luckily, I understood enough Korean to have a grasp of what was going on (although some of the jokes in comedy section went over my head). I was mesmirised by the ladies playing the traditional instruments for most of the performance anyway.
From here, we walked through the streets towards the next destination. It was really hot and I distinctly remember the tour guide asking me multiple times in the day if I was wearing sun screen, because she was so worried about my pale skin getting burnt. One of the less traditional parts of the trip included listening to busking musicians sing Ed Sheeran songs. They were very good though!
Then, we arrived at the gigantic Baekje Cultural Park, which is a huge historic landscape featuring examples of different living quarters for different classes of people within the palace and other historic sights. There was a lot to explore and I was particularly excited about this part of the trip due to my search for filming locations of a Korean drama I liked (Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo). I went to the Buddhist temple on the grounds and knelt at the shrine, saw the throne room of the king of the Baekje dynasty and climbed to the top of the viewing platform to see the whole park from above.
Then, I found a place where you could write a souvenir post card to send to your loved ones. I asked the person working there if they would send the postcard to England and he told me that foreigners outside of Asia don’t usually come here so he didn’t know. I thought I would try anyway and I wrote a postcard to my Mum. As I was writing my message, I got really emotional out of nowhere. It was one of the only times in my travelling that I have felt homesick and I had to go find someone to sit and cry for a minute.
It’s not that I don’t miss my family and friends, but I don’t get homesick. At least, I didn’t think I did until now. The whole month I was travelling the first time I didn’t really miss any aspect of home until the last couple of days when I started to crave a Greggs pasty. The second time, I was really enjoying my time for the majority of it (besides the arguments I found myself having with my travelling partner). When she went home early and I found myself completely alone on the other side of the world, I found it more difficult than I thought I would. It’s silly, because I wasn’t spending any time with her except when we were in the room at the same time. I was planning my own day trips and spending the majority of my time alone anyway before she left. But, the homesickness hit me when I wrote out this letter to my Mum.
I obviously hope to travel more in the future and I hope to be abroad long term from the end of my degree, so my next solo holiday in the summer will be a test to see how I handle feeling homesick. I speak to my friends and my Mum every day when I’m on holiday and I feel like that’s what I need at the end of a day. I love excitedly sharing my stories and finding out about what’s going on at home. I just needed to tell myself that it’s completely understandable to miss these people from home and feeling lonely, because you’re alone thousands of miles away is perfectly reasonable. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop travelling and it doesn’t ruin my experiences abroad at all.
From crying on a bench in Baekje Cultural Park, I rejoined the group and we went on to see some street performances. It started as traditional Korean dance, then it went to modern street dance and it finished off with a really dynamic Taekwando routine. The walk back to the bus at the end of the trip went through a market selling lots of handmade goods. I bought a really pretty floral candle for my Mum, as she was still on my mind and I decided to give it to her as a birthday present when I got home.
The drive back to Seoul in the evening was spent mostly asleep and the second stop at the service station brought me another serving of ddeokbokki to finish off my day. It was one of my favourite days out of my Korea trip and it gave a great opportunity to learn about such an interesting culture. I would definitely recommend looking at trips further afield than Seoul or in the lesser known areas for anyone visiting Korea.
Here’s some pictures from the day I wanted to share: