Sharing the passion for Korea

Written by on August 8, 2014 in Special Report, Travel
It ‘s almost one week ago since I got back from an other exciting trip to Korea with some of my Hapkido students.

After my first trip to Korea in 1994, I couldn’t imagine that this country would have this great impact on me.
Since 2000 I really felt in love with this country, its traditions and culture, the cuisine, its nature.  As a Hapkido master I travelled to Korea quite often in the last 20 years. My students were always curious why Korea is so attractive to me beside Korean martial arts.
Even though I did my best to explain it is still difficult to explain what is so exciting about Korea to people who never visited the country. 
So last year I started a blog and a Facebook account related to Korea and since then more of my students got interested in Korea. Some even encouraged me to organise a new Korea trip. And so we did, 8 years after the last in 2006. Five of my students registered for this trip, among them 2 who already visited Korea before and 3 newbies. Tickets were booked in January 2014 and from that time we looked forward to the depart. But first of all we had to make a plan. 
Even with 20 years travel experience in Korea making a plan was not that easy. Korea has so much things to offer and we had only limited time. So we had to pick our destinations carefully to offer a well balanced mix between traditional, historical, cultural spots combined with a participation of our students at a Hapkido Championships.
To enjoy as much of this trip we motivated our students to explore some information on Korean history and general facts on Korea. To test their knowledge we set up a daily quiz during the trip.
On July 16th, 6 Belgians, among them 5 men and 1 woman, left Belgium from Brussels direction Incheon Airport via Frankfurt. It took 11 hours to get there. After picking up the luggage an airport limousine bus took us direction Pyeongtaek city. The first night we had a dinner with my wife’s family. For our students it was a good occasion to deal with local Korean people.
Korea-2014-summer-1 kopie
From next day we start touring and exploring Korea, starting with a short trip to Suwon where we visited the famous Hwaseong fortress (Unesco’s World heritage) and attended the traditional martial arts (Muye 24 ban) performance at Hwaseong Haenggung palace. At the fortress we enjoyed the experience of traditional Korean bow shooting. Not so easy as it seems to be.
The next day my sister in law drove us direction Gongju where we visited the local fortress and took some time to make pictures in dobok. In the afternoon we visited the beautiful Magoksa temple. We ended our day at Oeamni Folk Village where we ate delicious haemul pajeon with refreshing dongdongju. On the way home al of us slept in the van, being tired of the trip and the jetlag.
Korea-2014-summer-9 kopie
Sunday 20 July we took the subway for amost 90 minutes to Seoul. Our students took their time to fill out the daily Korea quiz. Our first stop was at the new Seoul city hall and the starting point of Cheonggyecheon stream. Our students experienced all kind of traditional games and made their own calligraphy. Passing Admiral Yi Shin Sun and King Sejong on our way, we arrived  at Gyeongbokgung Palace to watch the changing of the guards. Like almost every weekend it was very busy. Hours later we left the palace for Bukchon in search for the Hanok that we booked in a small alley near Changdeokkung palace. We ended our first day in Seoul in a traditional restaurant in Insadong.
Korea-2014-summer-8 kopie
Monday July 21st we left early and had breakfast at Dunkin Donuts. After buying some souvenirs near Jogyesa we took the subway to Jamsil to visit Lotte Departement and Gangnam. Our students didn’t want to skip the unique opportunity to do some iceskating at Lotte World indoor iceskate park. Later on we visited COEX, which is still under renovation, and the nearby Bongeunsa temple. This was the first big temple our students ever visited and they were hugely impressed by its beauty and peaceful surroundings in the middle of this busy city. Before going back to Pyeongtaek by bus we ate at a Japanese restaurant in Gangnam.
Korea-2014-summer-5 kopie
On tuesday July 22 we took the Saemaul train to Daegu and from there we took the KTX train to Gyeongju. After our arrival we ate bulgogi before we checked in at the Hanok, located in the middle of the city nearby the Tumuli park.The Hanok, owned by a female artist from Seoul, was amazingly beautiful. Afternoon we made a long walk visiting the tumuli park, the Cheomseongdae observatory tower and the old house of Choi’s family. At night time we enjoyed Anapji pond and the nearby lotus pond. This was another great day !
Next day we took a taxi to the Bomun lake resort to spent some relaxing time. It was very quiet over there and it made us going to Bulguksa temple earlier than we planned.
The bus dropped us at the parking lot near the local shops and restaurants. After a delicious lunch we checked in for the Templestay programme at Korea’s most renowned temple. We were warmly welcomed by an English speaking guide and a Korean monk. It was the start of two days full of surprises and probably the two most remarkable days of our journey. We ‘ll report more about this in a next blog.
Next day we woke up early in the morning to attend the daily service in the Main Hall at 04.00 am. Sharing the wakening up of all beings together with the monks in this amazing temple. Just awesome ! After the service we spent time on meditation and we had a great Kuksundo class on stretching and pressure points. The last part of our stay brought us to Seokguram grotto, also listed as UNESCO’ s World Cultural heritage and currently under renovation. At 12.00 we said goodbye to our guide and the monk who gave us an unforgettable templestay. From here we went to Gyeongju station and took the train back to Pyeongtaek.
Korea-2014-summer-7 kopie
Friday July 25 we were expected in a dojang in Anyang to meet some Korean Hapkido grandmasters and also some of our hapkido friends from Russia, Germany, Austria, Canada, Hungaria. So we had a quite relaxed day before the championships. We ended up in a typical Korean barbecue restaurants together with our Austrian friends. Our students loved the food over there.
On saturday July 26 our students took part at the 22nd Daelim University Hapkido Championships at Daelim University in Anyang. They gave a really nice performance of their selfdefense skills which resulted in 2 gold medals, 1 silver and 1 bronze medal in different categories. At the end of the day we got on a touring bus direction Byeonsanbando. We arrived at midnight and immediately started a barbecue. It was very welcome after an exhausting day. No need to say that we went to bed very late. But at 10 am we went to the nearby beach where we had some great photoshoots.
Our Korean friends started to cook for lunch and after the meal we went to Byeonsanbando national park to make some pictures. On the way home we passed the 33 kilometers long impressive Saemangeum dyke.
Korea-2014-summer-6 kopie
Monday July 28 in the morning we went to Namdaemun where we checked in at Seoul Backpackers. We visited Namdaemun market and Myongdong for shopping. In the late afternoon we went to foot of mount Namsam where we took the cable car to the N Seoul Tower. As usual there were many visitors, many of them admiring the many love locks on the fence. The upcoming fog made it difficult to have a good view on Seoul. When it became dark Seoul became really well enlighted. We came down walking down the stairs. We drunk some Korean beer at a hof near Namdaemun and had a nice talk with the Korean barkeeper.
Tuesday July 29 was our last day in Seoul. We walked along Cheonggyecheon stream and visited the Korea Tourism Organization to pick up some posters and other useful information for our next trips. After we left we went to Jongak to make some pictures of the Boshingak pavillion. At the Samseong tower we took the elevator to the 33rd floor to enjoy an amazing view on Seoul. From here we pointed our last destination … Dongdaemun.
Korea-2014-summer-4 kopie
On our way to Dongdaemun we had a glimpse of the traditional Gwangjang Traditional Market. Our students liked the atmosphere of this cosy market where all kind of traditional stuff from food to hanbok can be found. At Tongdaemun our students visited Doota tower and the surrounding clothing markets. With full bags and empty wallets we went back to Insadong for a last Korean meal in one of the traditional restaurants.
At the restaurant we had an extensive talk about our trip who almost came to an end. We discussed the 3 best memories of each during this trip. The templestay at Bulguksa with the experience of the 108 bows was their best memorie. They were also deeply impressed by the beauty of the Korean country, the cheap and convenient transport system but most of all by the kindness and hospitality of the Korean people.  They were all very happy to be part of this group visiting Korea and to show their appreciation they surprised us with a nice gift … a bronze statue of the Buddha and a beautiful buddhist bracelet.
Next day we took the express train to Incheon International Airport where we left for Belgium, packed with nice memories and already looking forward to our next Korea visit. Some days after the trip one of my students sent me a text message to tell how impressed they were and that they finally can understand my excitement about Korea. I was happy to read this but I was even more happy to share my longtime passion for Korea with them in the last 14 days.

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About the Author

Guy Kusters

Guy KUSTERS (Belgium) came in touch with Korea by learning Korean martial arts since 1984. He travelled to Korea for the first time in 1994 to train Hapkido. On his next visit in 2000 he felt in love with the Korean country, the traditions, the culture and cuisine. He holds black belt ranks in different Korean Martial Arts and he was a guest member of the Korean Hapkido demo-team. So far, he visited Korea more than 20 times now for training, traveling and guiding people around. His interests related to Korea are food, buddhism, music, language, photography and promoting Korea by sharing his Korea experiences. From september 2014 he will start living with his parents in law in Korea.