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“Where is Seoul’s soul???”, Seoul, April 7th, 2012

“Where is Seoul’s soul???”, Seoul, April 7th, 2012

“Come with me please!” says the security officer at Manila airport after screening my bag. I am cool but as he pools out a book of regulation and informs me that I violate the Philippine law my heart starts to beat a bit faster. “Only 10.000 Pesos (about 300 Dollars) are allowed and you are taking 25.000 Peso out of the country sir, that implies a penalty and you have to explain yourself.” Dog’s eyes, the fact that I return in just 5 days to Manila and that I won the money playing poker about 20 minutes ago is convincing, I am allowed to change everything exceeding 10.000 into Dollars and off I go to Busan, South Korea.

Why am I going to Busan, South Korea for just 5 days? I admit, simply because I want to “click” it, and because it sounds good. More justifiable reasons are that flights from Manila are very cheap and most likely I will not come across the chance to visit South Korea again in the near future. It’s not a vacation hot spot and a business trip is unlikely too. However, it has one of the new 7 world wonders of nature (Jeju Island) and by visiting it I will have seen all of them. How cool is that? At least as cool as the ATM upon arrival.

Busan, a big city in Korea’s south reminds me of Tokyo a bit. Crazy dressed teenagers, no talking – just excessive Smartphone activities in subways and busses, lights and advertising everywhere, sliding doors seem popular and obesity is an issue like all over the western world. I wonder why looking at KFC, McDonalds, BK and All you can eat buffett 24/7 right next to each other.

Early next morning Jeju Airways  takes me to its equally named island. Its fame comes from 3 different natural “wonders”. Mount Hallasan, crater Ilchubong (on most fotos) and the underground lava tubes. I direct my rented Honda Accent (wonderful) to Mount Hallasan first and walk it up in a couple of hours. Its spring time, therefore rather chilli and not as green but the beauty and exceptional landscape are visible, the low numbers of tourist make it an enjoyable hike with lots of time to think about all sorts of stuff including missing sinks to wash hands……

On route to my night stay I realise that South Korea hosted a world cup in soccer 2002 and I stop at one of the stadiums where Germany made its way to the final.

Easter Friday (here known as holy week) becomes an intense tripod day and holds 3,5 highlights for me. Sunrise at Ilchubong crater. Despite the tripod my pics can not capture the magic that you feel when the sun rises in the ocean behind this inverse crater full of life you can not see and the changing colour as the minutes pass. Even more impressive the 6km long underground lava tubes  that were formed millions of years ago. Only 1km is accessible but its enough to understand the immense power of melted stone and the formed beauty once it cools down. Highlight number 3 is of human kind. I, the perfect never forget anything Frank, leave my black baby (I phone 4) on the white roof of my car and go for a 2,5 hour walk. Only as I return I realise the mistake, pump about 10 litres of blood through my veins per second panically searching my rucksack when I see that someone has put the phone on the car door. Whoever it was, may god, luck, money and all good of this earth be with you, forever.

Half a highlight represents the local family fish lunch I have on this exciting day. It looks great, it tastes wonderful but after finishing it totally it sits in my stomach like stones making me want to vomit or go to the toilet at all times but nothing happens, it just sits there, letting me have the taste of fish for another 3 days.

I do not like A to B back to A flights and so I manage here as well. Instead to Busan I fly to Seoul for a day before returning to Manila. Korea is expensive, Seoul even more so. I like adventures and seeing new things. Consequently I book myself into what is cold “Metro Spa Cabin” and it turns out to beat my smallest accommodation (Hong Kong) on my world trip by far. Its part of a Spa club where people (South Koreans) go 24 hours a day and these little cabins are saunas, individual steam beds for an hour or two. The owner thought by turning the steam off and adding wifi internet to it he might attract backpackers looking for a cheap stay. He is right, it attracts me, I love it.

Even the lonely planet, usually not shy when it comes to using excessive amounts of adjectives to praise a destination, has problems suggesting tours for Seoul beyond 2 days. Do not get me wrong. Seoul is a modern, nice city, filled with friendly people. But it lacks attractions, it lacks character, history, architecture, charm, it lacks a soul. So I hit the main things they have (TV tower, market, downtown) and wonder about the outputs of western civilation…………..

Then I leave this collection of efficient housing, superefficient transport and well organised work places -- 6 big companies basically run this country and provide jobs for millions of people alone in Seoul. One day in Seoul was certainly short but not too tight. Only 3 visits to the Philippines in 6 months would definitely be not enough and so I fly back to Manila for the 4th time since October. This time for more poker but mainly to dive with David and swim with whale sharks, yes……………………..

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