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We’d changed planes in South Korea but had never toured there, so on our return flight from India we decided to stay a week and do some sightseeing. The picture above is taken during the daily ceremony at the entrance of the Deoksu Palace in Seoul. The traditional changing of the guard ceremony, as it was done in the Chosun Dynasty from the 14th C to the 19th C - is very colorful and beautifully done. They even provide free costumes for tourists to use for posing with performers. What a nice gesture from the people in charge; it certainly helps tourism.

 

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Incheon airport is some 43 mi west of Seoul. We started and ended our tour in Seoul.

 

On the left is our GPS track for S. Korea. We drove a total of 950 miles.

 

Except for a day-tour to the DMZ, we had arranged for a tour with a local company called All4U Korea Tour. We highly recommend them.

 

The tour experience was one of the best we’ve ever had. Our guide Choi Yun-Ho was one of the owners of the company. More on him later.

 

Seoul is a super-modern, super-clean fascinating place.

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Eating is a big deal in S. Korea and it’s delicious. There is a lot of emphasis on meat.

 

Our excursion to the DMZ took us to the border region where the 3rd tunnel is located (the N. Koreans built it for a possible invasion).

 

On the right is the locomotive of a train that was shot up by machine guns in 1950 as it was taking supplies northward.

 

Only one man was brave enough to run the train at that time and he escaped and ran. That was the last time a supply train ran during the war. The train was left off the tracks in the DMZ until 2004; it was removed, restored and then first shown to the public in 2009.

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We got a glimpse of N. Korea with their flag. We were told that many of those structures are phony facades.

 

On the right (and below) is our guide Choi Yun-Ho. The driver Mr. Kim is next to Choi Yun-Ho in the picture on the right.

 

Choi Yun-Ho went out of his way to have us experience a wide variety of Korean dishes. All of them were delicious. Wherever we were he made sure we had the dish the place was famous for. This was a new experience in travel for us.

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This was actually the first meal we had after arrival and one of the few times Choi Yun-Ho didn’t wear a baseball cap.

 

Our vehicle was a 10-person custom-made Zaiant van/limousine and was luxuriously equipped.

 

Each of us had a vibrating seat! The frequency (slow, fast), location (back, thighs, and calves) and intensity (gentle to hard) of the vibrations could be controlled by the wands we have in our hands. It felt great and we used it a lot during the many miles we travelled in this vehicle.

 

Our driver, Mr. Kim, was a really nice albeit formal person. He didn’t speak much English but that didn’t stop us from communicating well and having a lot of fun with him.

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The van also had three TV monitors. A large screen was just in front of us above. The photo was taken while we were watching a beautiful art film set in the Korean past. It put us in the right mood.

 

The major reason why Choi Yun-Ho showed the movie (and gave us a copy) was, however, that the movie was partially filmed at an 18th c. house in which we would later stay (see below).

 

The 2003 movie is ‘Untold Scandal’ directed by E J-Yong. It’s based on Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses but set in the 18th c. Korean Choson society.

 

Needless to say, we also had a state-of-the-art GPS (bottom right in the picture at the right). We were lucky and cherry trees were in full bloom everywhere!

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We visited the National Museum of Korea in Seoul which has an excellent collection of Buddhist art.

 

Buddhism arrived in Korea in the 7th c. and flourished until the Choson dynasty when Neo-Confucianism became dominant.

On the left and below are examples of exquisite Buddhist sculptures.

 

The image just below to the right (also used as the background) shows a bodhisattva in a pensive pose that we hadn’t seen before. We saw this image a number of times in Korea.

 

This ‘pensive’ Buddha or Bodhisattva image (even though it originated in India) became iconic for us for Korean Buddhism. It was popular during the late Silla Dynasty (57 BCE to 935 CE).

 

 

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On the left is one wing of the Chongmyo Shrine (Choson Dynasty 1392-1897), another UNESCO WH site.

 

The shrine dates from the early 15th c. It is the earliest surviving Confucian royal ancestral shrine.

 

The 15th c. Changdeokgung palace complex is an outstanding example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design and is an UNESCO world heritage site.

 

On the right is the Injeongjeon throne hall originally built in 1405.

 

 

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Interior of the Injeongjeon throne hall.

 

The garden of the Changdeokgung palace complex is one of the most enchanting spaces of Korea.

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Azaleas in bloom.

 

Choi Yun-ho took us to lunch at a place that specialized in freshly prepared stuffed dumplings served in a broth. It was absolutely delicious.

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In the Namsangol Hanok village (located in Seoul), houses from the Choson era (1392-1897) are beautifully and faithfully restored.

 

The first stop after leaving Seoul was the Korean Folk Village (see map above). The village has reproduced over 260 traditional houses and also offers performances and re-enactments.

 

On the right is an incredibly artistic dance-music performance in traditional costumes. These guys have very long white ribbons attached to their hats. They run and jump and spin all the while keeping those ribbons all doing the same thing. One is visible at the top left.

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The Korean Folk Village also enacts events in the lives of the people.

 

The picture on the right is of a traditional wedding ceremony showing the bride and groom. In the picture below, the bride is carried off in a palanquin. The groom is on the horse.

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A lake in the village with traditional boats and rafts.

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We drove to Andong and visited the Hahoe Folk village (another UNESCEO WHS) which is famous for its traditional houses dating from the Choson period.

 

On the right is Mandaeru, a Confucian academy in the Andong area.

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This was a collection of wooden sculptures we found along the road.

 

This is a special Korean dinner in the Andong area.

 

Neither Choi Yun-ho nor Mr. Kim drank, but that didn’t stop them from competing to serve Juergen.

 

Here Choi Yun-ho is serving beer to Juergen’s left hand glass and Mr. Kim is pouring sake into his right hand glass!

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Our tour operator/guide Choi Yun-ho was especially proud of arranging for us to stay at an old Korean estate near Andong called Okyeonjeongsa. The estate consisted of several houses (one for the men, one for the women, and a gate with house).

 

The houses of the estate were built in 1586 during the Choson period. The house on the left was the women’s quarters. Two other Korean tourists stayed there and had breakfast with us in our house.

 

This house belonged to a famous Confucian teacher.

 

We stayed in the men’s quarters on the right.

 

It was this house that was used in the film mentioned above (the one we saw in our limo).

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Another view of Okyeonjeongsa.

 

This was the inside of our one-room house. There was no furniture and the floor was heated through “tubes” under the floor which were accessible from the outside. They shoved burning logs in the width of the room (it took one log that night). The floor was cozy and warm.

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We were served a traditional Korean breakfast. Two other tourists (Koreans from Seoul) were staying in the house next to ours.

 

We agreed in advance that our room would be used for breakfast, so we shared breakfast (the lady on the left and in the picture below on Juergen’s right is the caretaker).

 

Traditional Korean breakfast in a traditional Korean setting.

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Our limo outside Okyeonjeongsa. The very artsy looking fellow on the far right is the other caretaker. They’re husband and wife and love living in this home. They live in one room in the gate house (their kitchen is in the hallway). We went there to send off email – the monitor is at the foot of the bed.

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From Andong (where we stayed at Okyeonjeongsa) we drove to Gyeongju, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla (57 BCE – 935 CE). We stopped for lunch in a fast food place. Look at the fancy dishes and how everything is sparkling clean. And it was delicious too.

 

The Bulguksa temple in Gyeongju dates from 775 CE. It was totally destroyed by Japanese invaders in the 16th c. but faithfully rebuilt in the 20th c. The temple served as a center of Buddhism in the Silla period.

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The Bulguksa Dabotab is a 30’ tall pagoda dating from 751 CE. It differs in structure from other pagodas in other countries.

 

The Gwon-eum-jon shrine has this image of Avalokiteshvara.

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The 7th c. Cheomseongdae astronomical observatory is the oldest surviving observatory in Asia.

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The Gyeongju National Museum has a superb collection.

 

Among them, the divine bell of King Seongdeok (771 CE) is considered a masterpiece of Silla art. It weighs 19 tons.

 

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Clay image of a civilian official dating from the 7th – 8th c.

 

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Above and left are Buddhist images.

 

The pensive Bodhisattva image two rows above on the left dates from the 7th c. On the right of him is a Vairocana Buddha from the 9th c. One row above are gilded and stone Buddha images dating from the 8th c.

 

The pensive Buddha on the left dates also from the late Silla period.

 

The Haein temple (Silla period, early 9th c.) is a very special place and a UNESCO WHS because it houses the Tripitaka Koreana.

 

This is a Korean collection of the Tripitaka (Buddhist scriptures, means three baskets in Sanskrit) which were carved onto 81,258 wooden printing blocks in the 13th c.

 

It is the world’s most comprehensive and oldest intact version of Buddhist canon in Hanja script with no known errors or errata in the 52,382,960 characters. Because of its accuracy, the Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese versions of the Tripitaka are based on the Korean version.

 

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On the left are some of the shelves which contain the Tripitaka Koreana.

 

Each block is made of birch wood from the southern isles of Korea which was treated to prevent the decay of the wood.

 

They were soaked in seawater for three years, then cut, and finally boiled in salt water. The blocks were then placed in the shade and exposed to the wind for three years at which point they were carved.

 

After each block was carved, it was covered with a poisonous lacquer to keep insects away and was framed with metal to prevent warping.

 

Part of the Haein temple complex housing a bell and a big drum.

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We stayed overnight in Jeonju which is famous for the Korean signature dish called Bibimpap and we were taken to this place known for the superb quality of this dish.

 

Bibimpap means “mixed meal” and is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with sautéed and seasoned vegetables and chili pepper paste. Common additions are eggs and beef. The ingredients are stirred together just before eating. Like all the other food in Korea, it’s delicious.

 

The next morning, we drove back to the Maisan provincial park.

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We visited the Geumdang temple at the Maisan (Horse Ear Mountain) provincial park.

 

The temple complex dates from the 9th c. CE.

 

Garden of the Geumdang temple complex.

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Also at the Maisan (Horse Ear Mountain) provincial park is the Tapsa temple with originally some 120 stone pagodas.

 

In 1885 the Buddhist hermit Yi Gap Yong (1860-1957) came to Maisan to meditate. Over the next 30 years Yi Gap Yong constructed, single handed, the pagodas - all without mortar.

 

On the right, statues of Yi Gap Yong.

 

Many years after he started the stone pagodas the site became a Buddhist temple.

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We found this pensive Bodhisattva image in the temple.

 

Yvonne tried a big drum at Tapsa and was surprised….it was REALLY loud!

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Tapsa. The drum above is at the middle of the picture to the left.

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One of the peaks of Mt. Maisan.

 

Finally, two more food pictures taken in the Maisan park.  On the right a delicacy that probably wouldn’t be a favorite for calorie counters…

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At the eating stands, the above and the birds below were offered to be cooked. Having the embryo eggs inside is obviously a delicacy.

 

 

We thought this gender guidance was cute.

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