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Korea

Seaweed, Dinosaurs, and the greatest Isle in Korea

I so wish I had time to type this up…. maybe later when life isn’t so busy.  But, the kids and I had a wonderful road trip last week.  After visiting the beaches and bamboo forests we headed south to the island of Wando where we learned about seaweed a the Seaweed Center: it was a great museum!  I’m always so impressed with Korean museums.  From there we drove on the local roads toward Jindo island, but stopped mid way when we saw a sign for a dinosaur fossil sight.  Being only 3km off the road meant we were definitely taking a detour.  And it was incredible!  Again, I could type and type about this cool place.  It was fossil footprints of dinos and even pteranadons, plus outdoor exhibits and an incredible museum that would cost and arm and leg elsewhere.  Here, it was $4 for the three of us.  We spent HOURS!   We did finally make it to Jindo just in time to see the Jindo Dog center before it closed. Cute overload.  Found a hotel for the night after driving around a bit looking for a seaside camp site.  The island is huge and mountainous, so no luck on beach camping.

The next morning we drove to Gwanmaedo.  Again, this place was incredible.  What a great final trip in Korea.  We camped at the beach, hiked the trails, found treasures in the sand, and scooter-ed around the adorable village. It was a 2+ hour ferry ride to this place at the edge of nowhere, and it certainly felt like it.  so nice.

So short on time….. here are pics instead.

 
 
 
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Beaches, Bamboo, and Tea

After the packers wrapped up all our junk, stuffed it into crates, and drove off with it, we grabbed our camping bag out of the ‘no pack’ zone and headed out for a final week of Korea road trip.  My goal: the southwest.
Being the weekend meant Bryan joined us, too!  We drove south on I-15 to the town of Kunsan and drove across the largest seawall in the world – at 33km it felt pretty long!  It also made a great shortcut connecting two peninsula’s and making our route a bit more direct. We found a cool rest stop along the way where two huge wind turbines rotated right next to a playground.  From there we continued to the Buan seashore and Byeonsanwha national park.  

The beach side campground was nearly empty on Friday evening, so we picked a spot on the end right next to the beach and enjoyed the night hanging out on the beach.  Of course, by mid Saturday afternoon the place was packed…. Our little tent was now crammed in a mass of giant yellow Korean tent houses.  But, we stayed on our awesome spot.  The kids played in the water, dug in the sand, and found pet crabs. Avi made friends with another Korean family and played with their kids for along while.   We also spent a long time picking our way along the cliff edging the beach.  There were cool anemones in the tide pools, fun rocks to jump on, and an adventure beating the tide around to the next beach. 
For an afternoon adventure, we drove the area and found a super cool silk worm museum. We learned all about silk worm and silk production, saw lots of worms and played at their playground.  We also got some ice cream at the nearby beach town and spent the evening on the beach again.  Bryan treated the kids with some fireworks….he was the first dad out with the kids, and soon a bunch of Korean dads were keeping up and made a little show. 
The crowded campground was surprisingly quiet, but we did wake up early to the sound of thunder and distant lightening.  We packed up just in time for a torrential rainpour!  Drove back across the seawall through the storm and found Gunsan Air Base to drop off Bryan for a bus ride home.  The kids and I then continued out of the rain to the cute town of Damyang where we lucked out with a clear spot in the weather to visit the bamboo grove.  The forest (Juknokwang) was beautiful, and kid Z super enjoyed this place; its interesting what the kids find fascinating.   We ran around, played at the playground, shook the rain from the bamboo and had a great time!  
From there we drove south along local roads – Zoe had fun sitting up front navigating for me – to the Wolchulsan national park where she and I chose the southern campground for the evening.  Well, we arrived to find that we needed to hike in the campground, but were not super prepared for the ½ km ALL UPHILL Korean style stone path route.  I through the necessities into a duffel and carried the handles backpack style and each kiddo carried their backpack with an extra something, and we made it just fine.  I do have some bruises on my shoulder blades, though!  Ouch.  We spent the afternoon and evening putzing around on the creek and following the water down some neato waterfalls.  When the bugs got too bad we retreated into the tent and noticed the silence!  WOW.  It was so nice to be actually out in the woods without anyone else around but a wild cat.  Yep.  An orange, wild, stub tailed kitty meowed loudly at us a few times and dug through our trash.  It was kind of comforting to hear him yeowl at us while doing some schoolwork.  Too funny!
In the morning there was no sign of kitty, but a beautiful day was brewing.  We played for a bit and walked up trail a little further to see the pretty rock outcroppings and then packed up and hauled our junk back to the car.  Down was way easier!  Our next stop was the area called Boseong which is famous for green tea growing.  We found the tea museum closed….it’s Monday, so not unexpected… but found a visit to the Dehean Tea Plantation quite amazing.  The tea shrubs are arranged in rows along some super steep sections of mountain.  Most Korean mountains are incredibly steep, so they are often left alone.  Having the tea grow up was simply gorgeous.   Avi was fascinated and found it a joy to lead me around via the map…he chose our route and wanted to be sure to see it all.  Zoe, on the other hand, was sleepy and in need of some alone time.  She took a different route and met us at checkpoints along the way.  I found the whole morning just lovely!
From there we drove further south to the coast a Yulpo where we visited a green tea and seawater sauna.  After 3 nights tenting it, the whole body scrubby felt amazing, and looking out along the beach while soaking in tea made it even better.   The kids, as always, love a sauna…. Especially dipping between the super hot and super cold.
outside the tea sauna
In the evening we drove to the island of Wando, and found it less exciting than expected.  It is pretty, but super hazy down here today, maybe we will wake to a clear day tomorrow and be more impressed.  Since we are all nice and clean I paid for a motel.  The kids were excited to see Motel Zeus was an option, and it ended up being the right price and right on the water front, so it was perfect for us!
Wando town
Wando town
seaweed drying day on Wando

Camping Korea’s Perfect Spot

Last weekend we drove a few hours east to a riverside that Bryan spotted from the air.  It was a beautiful river valley with wide sandbars and a bit of shade; perfect for a memorial weekend of camping. Really, the sky was bluer there and the air clear!  The mountains here are steep and verdant and gorgeous this time of year.  It was a nice hot weekend, too, so we easily spent our time playing in the cold water, collecting minnows and tadpoles and generally mucking about.

The kids built a ‘truckstop’ in the dirt.  Bryan gathered and chopped wood. Zoe and I sketched a bit.  We read 21 Balloons (which is a great book, btw), and waded in the river.  I even took both kids on a little float trip around a bend.  The river makes a huge S curve, but there is a cut through at the center with a little water fall.  Avi and I did the lower section.  We used our old blow up boat that is on its last legs and found a giant tree limb for some paddles.  It was fairly uncontrolled, but fun with some good rapidy spots.  Zoe and I walked through the waterfall and did the upper section where we saw some goats, and rolled down 3 pretty good rapids; 2 being too shallow for me to float so she did them on her own!  It was a blast and a super fun way to while the weekend.

We were one of three families camping along the river, but in a fairly unKorean manner everyone spread out so we could barely spot the other folks.  We did, however, make friends with the fishing couples downstream and sat at their spot (it was kinda the best, right at the big swimming hole and waterfall) for a long time pointy-talking and iphone translating.  They thought it was cool Bryan was a pilot, and said we were like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, so they must’ve been blind.  Of course they fed us so at dusk we returned the favor by bringing s’mores over to their campfire.

Tadpoles galore!

This is our kids being their typical funny selves.  They were ‘camoflauged’ and hiding being the tall grass to see Bryan and I kiss…then they would come running and giggling for us to stop

Zoe invented this game!  It’s called the Campfire game, and she worked hard on it for a week creating the idea, the cards, and even a clay dice!  We had alot of fun playing it!

Our spot!  Notice our new tent that I bought and surprised Bryan with!!  It’s great and a little roomier than our last.

This is the waterfall cut through

playing games with Avi… we really love the games at the back of his High Five magazine.

Zoe is an Uno fiend and will play viciously, especially during two-man rules.

Who doesn’t want to wake up here?

Our friendly neighbors down the road

This was a cool find.  We were all playing with smoke sticks around the fire and I snapped a picture of Avi!  We joked that it was his Patronus… a little T-Rex.  Can you see it?  Facing him.

mildly poisonous frogs living about the waterfall

 Spent two nights at that wonderful river, and came back home (where the sky is white) with 4 tadpoles and a giant wound…..    Bryan chopped his hand.   oops.   Avi wandered over to watch him splitting wood and Bryan glanced at him and, thinking his hand and axe were steady, chopped.  Avi looked mortified, and Bryan realized he didn’t get the log.   I guess it didn’t really hurt…thats how sharp his new axe is.  He calmly yelled, “Kat, need some help over here” and I looked up to see gushing blood.  ugh.   We stopped the bleeding and I butterflied and steri-stripped the flap back onto his thumb. Our medkit had lots of dried out stuff, so I need to refresh it.  Luckily I found a pop tab of Benzion tincture which he declared the most painful thing ever.  Well that sucks.  Probably it needed stitches, but who wants to go dnif over a little axe to the hand?   He is lucky he has a thumb.

Aside from that excitement it was a calm relaxing weekend that we all loved.  Our little tadpoles are all at different stages; one already turned into a frog and jumped out of the fish tank.  We released it out back….it’s still there, after a couple days, soaking in his tray of water.

The day we packed up, we didn’t quite feel like going home, so we meandered down a different river valley in search of another big sandbar Bryan noticed from the air.  Turned out to be stone and behind someones house, but we were undeterred and pressed on down stream to find another awesome little beach for an afternoon of play.  This valley was surrounded by massive cliff walls, and had a tiny vacation village with cottage rentals.  Our little raft made its final voyage in that river and was actively deflating as Bryan and Zoe puttered back in.  It has been a good raft.

Do you see this adorable old traditional Korean house?  It was abandoned, so I poked around a little.  It was super cute and nestled at the base of a cliff with a beautiful view over the valley.  I just imagined the little old ajuma who used to hang laundry on that line loving every day. 

Spring!

I love spring in Korea. The flowers are out, the weather is nice (most of the time), people are out, and we are biking everywhere again.  I got the kids each a little scooter, too, to ride around for fun, but also to take in our carry on luggage to Spain for some motation when we first arrive!  They’ve been having fun riding around on the road in front of the house in the afternoons…. and Avi brings his into base some times to ride at the playground while Zoe is at music and art.  He has started biking in sometimes, too, it just depends on the weather and how much time we have.

Bryan was in the Philippines for two weeks for an exercise, which was fun for him.

https://www.dvidshub.net/image/1903821/balikatan-2015#.VVCEbOkcTDc

We were able to go out to the flightline when he arrived, which is always fun.  The kids got to hear his voice on the radio, too, since he was leading the flight.  Zoe got to say something on it and yelled, “pilsung. i love you daddy” It was cute for everyone to here, I’M SURE.

The kids and I have been busy at schoolwork.  Avi has renewed interest in school; it’s like a little lightbulb turned on.  He seems to love math work; it’s fun counting and measuring and comparing stuff in our Singapore K curriculum.  He also likes to write…he has been doing well with Writing Without Tears that we got from the preschool he attended last fast, and also just traditional copywork that I write for him. So, although he likes the letters and recognizes them he is still not super motivated to sound them out.  He can do some basic three letter words but drags his feet.  I just let that be right now.

Together the kiddo’s do history and science and art. Zoe will read and note-take for both subjects, and also listen to our read-alouds, but they both do the experiments, mapping and crafts.  Right now, all three subjects are super aligned because we studying renaissance time and astronomy.  Its really fun to delve in.   Zoe read a biography about Magellan, Copernicus and Galileo.  They are also loving their wooden solar system mobile craft. We paint a new planet to hang as we learn about it.   Star spotting has been tough, though, with all the light pollution and haze.

Some crystals we are growing

Zoe has progressed through her Singapore 2nd grade math just in time for Standardized testing that we are doing this week.  Today was the first day – reading, vocabulary, and sentence structure tests – she said it was easy.  We have 3 more days of tests this week.

For mothers day this past weekend I was treated to an alone night at the Turumi!   It’s so nice to get some focus time for myself, and that is what I wanted for the day.  So, Saturday afternoon they dropped me at the library, where I worked on some of my writing project.  Then I popped over to the BX for lunch and checked in for a night to myself.  It was great.  On Sunday I had Bryan pick me up and at home the kids had some beautiful gifts for me.   They picked an amazing wildflower bouquet from the park and some crafts.

Other than that I’ve been scanning the local sales website for 220v appliances to replace our old ones and bring to spain.  I’ve gotten a hairdryer (i do own one, it’s for crafts, an iron, a hot glue gun, and some converters for our nice things like the blender and vacuum that I wont’ replace.  It’s been fun, also, to go through EVERY room and donate stuff.  I took 3 large black trash bags full of stuff to the thrift store.

Zoe’s little project she devised one afternoon
 
Avi’s Skippyjohn Jones mask at library storytime.

Gurypo Beach Camping

I’m so glad it’s camping weather again!  It so refreshes me to enjoy a weekend outdoors where the kids can run around wild and play freely while I can relax and read a magazine. 

This weekend we drove out to the Taean National Seashore where we’ve been before.  We camped at at a nice campground along Gurypo beach.  The kids played in the sand, searched for shells and seaglass, explored tidepools and sketched in their sketch books.  The water was too cold to swim, thankfully, so I didn’t need to worry about all that. 

We pitched the tent on a nice hill overlooking the beach and spent the afternoon out by the water.  I sat on our mat and read most of the time; it was bliss. Later, we returned to the tent to find a group of Ukrainians having a giant cookout right by our tent.  I guess it’s their regular spot, as Igor explained to me, but they just came for the day.  I was irritated, but let it go.  Avi and I spent some time resting in the tent, reading and playing Uno.  Zoe ran around with the Ukrainian kids Yulia and Igor; it all worked out fine.

At night we had a great fire for hotdogs and marshmallows.  All the kids came over for roasting and playing with fire… what could be more fun.  Once the Ukrainian friends left, we moseyed into our tent for books and bed.  I slept like a baby!

We spent all morning today walking along the water – the tide was in – and then following the coastline trail a mile or so up to the next beach.  The coast in Korea is quite rocky with cliffs falling into the water.  It’s pretty.   We had fun a the next beach collecting things and watching the giant barges go by.  On our return trip we picked our way along the base of cliffs – the tide had gone out a bit – and even had a fun, kinda sketchy, adventure crossing around a bit of a ‘gorge’ where the water was still rushing in and out.  Luckily, the water is very shallow and we were all careful!

Avi carried this ‘snowball’ the whole way home, and was so excited to find a Viking shield washed up on the rocks!

On the way home we stopped at a roadside memorial to a particular Korean who helped lead the resistance to the Japanese occupation at the turn of the century.  His birth home is there and was super neat to see with it’s traditional courtyard and thatch.  There was also a memorial with missiles and tanks and carved flags of ally nations. Seemed to immortalize a particular battle.  Not sure if this was anti-Japanese fighting or Korean War era; it’s was hard to tell.  Still, neat.  The kids especially thought it was cool as we had seen some bunkers facing the sea along our hike earlier.

Spring Lessons!

We have been back from Germany for a week or so.  The first week back was a bit rough with jet lag waking us up early and needing to nap in the afternoon …. which dragged into the evening.  It was great to see Bryan for a while and we tried not to wake him; especially when I found myself wanting to do laundry at 3am a couple mornings. 

Trying to keep busy we have delved into school and had friends over quite often.  We have gotten into the school routine pretty quickly, which is nice.  Zoe was able to finish out a chapter while we were on our trip, so we returned to begin a fun new section on fractions!  She is so excited about this and has grasped the concepts so quickly.  For example, she nearly intuitively understood to reduce 5/10th or 3/6th to 1/2.  It was shocking me….she even reduced to quarters and is able to add simple fractions with common denominators; all which seemed to be simply obvious to her.  Bryan stumped her with 3/2nds though.

One morning she asked for extra fractions worksheets
Yummy lemon fraction cakes

One thing we weren’t able to do in earnest while on our trip was science class!  Getting home we finished up our Earth Science book.  This final week was all about weather….which we experienced in a crazy way during our trip (snow in PA, storms in Germany, and that sleet in Maine).  Anyway, our final lesson was about storms – hurricanes and tornadoes.  Next week we move on to Astronomy!

Our own tornado!

 The best part about being back home for school, though, is art!   We did a super messy melted crayon craft that I don’t recommend ever trying.  I accidentally spilled melted crayon on the floor and had to scrape it up and iron paper towels to get it all up.  yuck.  But the results were pretty.

Our next project was more tame:  we enjoyed another episode of Art Through the Year.  A free art video series we have done previously.  This episode was focused on impressionism, with the projects using pastels to create a cat and a dog.  It’s was fun!

Avi’s dog – it’s in a house!

Kat’s cat and dog.

Zoe’s cat and dog
 
The messy melted crayon fiasco!

Turned out cute.
 

Another amazing thing about being home is the weather!  It’s been beautifully sunny and in the 70’s all week.  The cherry blossoms finished up as we arrived and now the gorgeous azaleas are everywhere.  They just cover this country!!  The are in the park, along the roads, growing wild on trails, and even in vacant lots.  Everywhere!!

 
This week at the base school was STEM focus – Science Technology Engineering and Math – so Zoe went in extra time to see the starlab. It’s a portable observatory.  There was also an evening event for the whole family with tons of kids and neato table top experiments.
 

Of course, the tough part is that Bryan headed to the Phillippines on TDY last Sunday.  We lucked out with an extra day since his flight was delayed.  Still.  I think I’m getting a little too much kid time lately.  We miss him.  I’ve been busy going through stuff to prepare for our big move to Spain, and have been in contact with the International school Zoe will attend.  Zoe is excited for some more independence.  At first she was quite resistant to the idea of attending a school, and wanted to homeschool in Spain.  But, after visiting Aunt Bethany and seeing a super nice international school, comparing that to American-style school, and seeing all the fun stuff on their website, she is on board and ready to try it.  She has started walking down the road to Harmony mart for me; it’s up over the park hill, not far.  So, we are hoping to keep up that walking/biking lifestyle in Spain.  It’s been fun looking at houses; we’ve decided to live in town, trading off a giant house and yard for the fun and convenience of continuing to walk to school and shopping.  I’m so excited for this move!  Can’t wait for Bryan to return next week.

Avi was helping Bryan pack, and I couldn’t help taking some pictures.



Asan Spa

Our last day of road tripping was to Asan Spavis….. I wrote an article for the Stripes about this one, here it is!
 
Half Off at Asan Spavis
Recently Molla Korea posted a series of discounts on their Facebook page; most designated just for USFK (United States Forces Korea) members.  Ever looking out for my comrades here on the ROK, I decided to try using my privileges at Asan Spavis.  Verified!  I received 50% off as Asan Spavis !  When checking in with my two children I showed my ration card with its giant USFK logo to ask for the discount.   I don’t believe there is currently an expiration date for the discount; as far as I could tell it is the new policy.  They also offer a 30% off Pyeongtaek resident discount.  This could change with the seasons, so go now!
Asan Spavis is a large indoor / outdoor waterpark and Korean sauna using oncheon (hot spring) waters.  There is no jjimjil, however, so if you are used to the Korean relaxation halls accompanying your sauna experience don’t expect it here.
On a Thursday morning in March my two children and I were the ONLY people in the women’s locker room and sauna. If you’ve not been to a Korean sauna, this is a wonderful one to start.  As with all Korean saunas, genders are segregated and you are expected to be nude; children 4 and under can go in the women’s with mom.  Bring a little basket of bathing supplies, go in and find a shower head (seated or standing) and scrub, scrub, scrub.  Get CLEAN!  Once you are spotless, and pulled up your hair, you can get into the many hot tubs and dry rooms. Asan Spavis had seven indoor tubs, two outside and four dry rooms.  Some were themed like the ginseng bath or the green tea bath, while most were simply the oncheon waters at different levels of hot.  There is also a freezing cold tub for dipping.  My children love the sauna; it is a very family friendly activity.
a snarky pic inside the sauna because it was empty.
 
After a bit of sauna lounging, we put on our swim suits and found ourselves to be the only people swimming and playing at the waterpark!  There is a large indoor kids water play structure with warm water and slides.  There is also a large adjacent bade pool where I did my water workout circuit while the kids played.  Actually, I mostly sat on the underwater massage jets with my ball cap on.  Yes, like other Korean pools, you need a head covering.  Kids should have a swim cap (you can buy them at the facility), but grownups can get by with a ball cap keeping any long hair pulled into a bun.
kids pool
 
 
 
the bade pool
 
 
Outside is a large oncheon area with multilevel hot tubs, a large swimming pool, a small baby pool, a swim-in cave, and a couple short slides under construction. The kids and I ran out through the freezing air to hop in the warm water, and it felt so good.  Again, we had the place to ourself except for the lifeguard who was obliged to follow us around. 
 
 
 
 
Back through the indoor area is the outdoor waterpark; half of which was surprisingly open in the winter!  The large pirate ship themed spray-play-slide complex was shooting warmish water into the freezing air.  My daughter found it refreshing and fun until she joined my son and I in the area hot tubs; after that it felt too cold. There is also a short, covered, sometimes-wave-pool lazy river around this area, but we needed life vests.  Inside, I shelled out W6,000 (W4,000 + W 2,000 deposit) to rent a couple for the kids and we went back to try it. The guard then indicated that I also needed a life jacket, which I regarded as simply idiotic; the water is waist deep and there are gigantic yellow inner tubes floating around.  He shrugged and laughed at my, “nope, I can swim” as I jumped in with the kids for a loop around. Later, I wasn’t so lucky when a different guard insisted I stay out and freeze as I watched my kiddo’s head off into the churning river.  I suppose there is always something “not quite right” here in Korea.  My suggestion is to just skip it.  It is short and not worth the money paid for renting life jackets.
 
 
 
Sufficiently frozen, we went back inside for some food. During our mid-week visit the cafeteria was closed, so the food options were limited and overpriced.  Without a choice, we dressed and got some lunch out in the common area while our skin recovered from its pruning.  If you go mid-week it would be prudent to simply pack a small lunch.
We then did it all over again!  By the afternoon, a handful of Korean people had joined us, but none with such enthusiasm as my kids. 
The discount made this place a really good value.  I would not deep it worth paying full price.  The usual fee is W37,000 adult, W28,000 for kids, but the discount brings it to a reasonable 18,500 for adults and 14,000 for kids.  You may choose the sauna only for W9,000 adult, W7,000 kids before the discount, and that would make a lovely cheap relaxing afternoon.  Prices go up during peak season in the summer when an expanded outdoor waterpark with a beachy wave pool and large slides is in operation.
Asan Spavis is easy to get to from Camp Humphreys or Osan Air Base.  Drive south on route 45 (there is a right entrance from little 1 just south of Songtan), be sure to take note of the two ramps route 45 takes to join and then depart 38 and 34, follow signs for Asan Spa and turn right onto dinky road 628.  Don’t follow signs for Asan – it is a city a bit further south, while Asan Spa is a tiny town with Asan Spavis and a ton of hotels. Coordinates: [36.855644, 126.98059] 

If you want to stay over for an early start, the Woowa Hotel at the top of the hill has a wonderfully new feeling with lots of amenities in the room and oncheon water in the bath, plus the attendant spoke English and offered us a great walk in rate.  We paid W40,000 on a Wednesday evening in March for one of the semi suites; each room has its own art theme.  Most of the hotels have their own small oncheon sauna in the basement that is included in your nights stay.

Daegok valley

This morning we drove through the longest tunnel I think I’ve been in.  Korea is full of tunnels, but this one beat them all.  We were heading over the mountains to Ulsan and the Daegok valley.  Being down south,  it’s not possible via expressway so we traversed the country on local roads.  It was a beautiful day for it and only took about an hour and a half to find our first stop.

The amethyst mine.  This place was wierd. No mincing words here; it’s a former amethyst mine that has been turned into a crazy attraction.  We were the only visitors here on a Wednesday morning.  The option exists to take a boat through or walk: I chose walking for us as it was cheaper and a better way to burn out the kids.  

Inside the mine we found a maze of passageways leading to oddly kitsch themed rooms.  There was a large collection of Egyptian stuff, a few faux mummies, an area with scale models of mans’ evolutionary stages, a large cave lake with a fountain, political propaganda for dokdo island, a large collection of wood carvings and photos of native New Guineans, an actual temple, plus some randomly placed trick eye pictures.  It was all too bizarre.  There was a small section showing actual amethyst and mining techniques from days of yore, but did I mention the coffee shop and stage?  A variety show of sorts also appears inside this cave!  

Feeling a bit bewildered by it all, we left to get some lunch in a nearby town.  I got some take away pizza and found a playground.

Next, we headed for the Daegok valley.  This is real history; prehistory actually.  This valley has petroglyphs like we might see in the American southwest, but from iron age Koreans. Fascinating.  The petroglyph museum was free and very well done.  It has life size models of the actual cliffs and neato interactives that the kids loved.  They could touch a giant screen, choose a petroglyph, and it would show us the animal or human it represents.  Bonus that the museum itself is shaped like a giant whale- the whales being a dominant feature of the carvings. 

From there we followed signs down the road to a .5 mm hiking trail out to the big cliff. It was a glorious warm sunny nearly-spring day and this valley felt so homey with its wide river and cliff walls. I’d live here if I were a prehistoric korean. There was also a fossilized dinosaur trackway!! So the kids were pleased.  Avi found a big piece of bamboo to ride on as if it were a horse-headed monster and Zoe was content grazing the ground with her eyes for interesting rocks and digging in the mud.
Getting to the cliff is a bit of a let down because it’s across the river with no bank so we had to just gaze at it from afar and use the installed binoculars to see the carvings.  Plus we discovered the best time to see them was in an hour when the sun gets lower and lights it all up. It sounded lovely to me, but there was no way the kids were waiting around for that.
Took this through binoculars… Maybe you can see the carved wild boar. 

Back at the car, we drove around the valley to another petroglyph site which was much easier to see!  Of course it was not as awesome as the big one – this featuring geometric designs instead of animals, but there was another set of dino prints to please the kids and plenty of mud from the spring thaw. 

By now the sun was getting low, so I figured we’d drive up the road an hour or so to Gyeongju or Daegu and find a hotel.  The kids, however, fell asleep so I just kept driving into dusk and then it got dark.  By the time Zoe woke we were near Daejeon and she voted to get all the way to our next destination. Avi was still asleep… so another couple hours heading north and we rolled into Asan Spa village.  I let Avi pick the first hotel to inquire, and it was a good price! ₩40,000 is the going rate this trip. The Woowa hotel was awesomely rainbow lighted and new and empty.  Our room was huge for a Korean hotel, with lots of little amenities and hot spring water.  It was a good find after a long drive which ended at about 4 hours from the valley to here. We aren’t too far from home tomorrow after we visit the hot springs

Gaya

Waiting for an assignment has been draining me… AND it’s an exercise week so Bryan will be busy and tired, So the kids an I are on a road trip to the southern mountains of Korea.  It’s an area called Gaya.

The first thing I wanted to see was Haeinsa – a temple on my list of must-do sights since we came here.  It’s all tucked into a quiet and not super convenient corner of the country, so I’m glad we had the opportunity to come.
Our drive down was great.  Quick and easy three hours until we stopped at a wonderful rest stop for some dinner – remember Korean rest stops have cafeterias and playgrounds and shops in addition to nice potties.  After some kimbap and udon, the kids played while I perused the local maps for other sights and found some interesting museums and hot springs that may just make this area well rounded.  

After an another hour, we rolled into the Gayasan national park and found the parking lot is1.5 km from the Haeinsa temple.  Being that we were in the car all morning, I didn’t mind the pleasant walk.  The weather was warm and sunny – even got a little bit warm in my coat.  The kids didn’t whine, and Avi spent the time taking pictures with an old camera I let him use.  It keeps him interested.  Zoe is fascinated by almost anything, while Avi is a bit pickier.  So a camera gives him the chance to focus on some details.

He took it seriously too, and wanted to visit every little temple hall and snap pics of statues and shrines and signs and leaves.  Zoe didn’t want to see all the little buildings; she was content to take some time meditating in the large temple.
After exploring, we walked up the steep stairs to the back of the huge temple complex to see the real reason we were there: the Tripitaka Koreana.  It is a unesco heritage site.  The three long buildings house thousands of wooden carved printing plates from the 1200s when they were used to print buddhist texts.  They were made as a gift of gratitude because the Koreans were able to fight off the Mongols. The plates are housed like a library with row upon row of them arranged on shelves up to the ceiling.  We weren’t permitted to go into the storage room just see in the windows, but they did have a fun reproduction – typically korean! – for pictures!

A final activity was to walk the temple meditation labrynth; which was, with the newly warm weather, a mud pit.  Oh well, it was fun and both kids were really into it.

It was late and the sun setting when we made our way back to the car: the kids were troopers with that hike back down. We drove up the road a tinge to find lodging; there is always a little town in national parks but Gaya was super adorable.  I just drove around to find it full of empty hotels and minbak. Uphill I spotted a gorgeous little hanok – like a traditional korean upper class home as a hotel, and inquired of the man washing out his car.  Only ₩40,000 ?   Yes! That’s about $40, and we got a great ondol room with ensuite bath in this old place!

Spent the evening doing our lessons for the day, eating some ramon noodle dinner, and watching a show before bedtime. I slept like a log on the nice warm floor.  
We woke to a surprise snowfall!!!  While I packed up, the kids played and tracked a kitty.  
Back in the car we drove a half hour around the mountains to our next spot: the Daegaya (old Gaya) museum.  This was fascinating, and you need a bit of Korean  history to appreciate it…. Around the time of the first century the peninsula was divided into the three kingdoms period – Baekje, Silla, and Goryeo (from whence the word korea).  Around that time there were, apparently, other small holdout kingdoms – the Daegaya being one of them.  So, this museum had in it artifacts from the Stone Age occupants of this area, then the bronze and iron ages leading to the Daegaya society.  It was facinating to see how cultured and modern these people lived pre-AD!  I mean, they had heated floors, folks!  

Anyway,  the Daegaya were unique in that they took mound graves to another level- traditional korean graves are mounds, but these people put their kings’ grave mounds at the top of a mountains AND buried servants and guards (maybe alive) with him.  This was very odd in korea – common in China, ala Xian etc… – and was banned by the time the Silla united the three kingdoms.  
The museum had a great kid area too, that focused on the technology of ancient Koreans like pottery and grinding stones, but also had a big area devoted to printing where they got to try their hand at printing from a wood block like the ones we saw yesterday at Haeinsa!  

There was also a single one of these giant burial mounds left openly excavated so we could wander inside and see the arrangement of king and his pottery and servants.  Avi liked finding the skeletons, and wondered where the queen was.  She is not there: apparently she got to live and get her own mound in her own time.  Zoe thought it interesting enough to make it the focus of her journal. The royal crowns and jewelry were her favorite. 

Outside the snow was really coming down in beautiful big fluffy flakes, so the kids wanted to hike around the mound loop!  I was ready to be inside, but they convinced me to stay and hike and I’m glad they did! We had a blast walking in the snow and seeing all the mounds – many labeled with their date of burial (between 0-600s AD!)
Finally cold and wet, we got in the car for a drive southward away from old Gaya and into the hot springs mountain town of Bugok. It’s really just a town of hotels – most of which have their own little sauna or spa with the hot spring water.  The biggest is Bugok Hawaii, so we went there.  It was wildly devoid of people!  In fact I wasn’t sure it was open until we entered and found a huge indoor swimming park just for us!  Took a while to find the changing rooms,  which ended up in the sauna so we went to the hot tubs first.  It was just the three of us and another lady who left after a bit!!!  I took our waterproof camera figuring it was my only chance for photos inside a sauna.  I’ll have to post those later.  
The sauna was fancy and jungle themed.  It had lots of showers, a walk through cave, hot tubs and the spring water tub, plus dry sauna rooms and waterfalls.  Spent a long time before donning the swim suits and caps (oh how I hate theKorean  swim cap requirement) and hit up the pool.  

The kids first tried the big tube slides which were closed (and Avi too little anyway), then ventured into the giant pirate ship, and finally had fun playing in the kids lazy river and kiddo slides.  It was fun but the water wasn’t warm enough for me.  We spent about an hour and then finished out in the sauna again. 
A final surprise was the Grand Show!  This was a wild variety show held on a huge stage between the pools.  There was talent here!  A magician, contortionists, acrobatics, hula, strength acting, and more.  The sad part was that I figured out we had spotted the tale-end of the other daily show right as we went to the pool, and they had no audience. Yet the show went on! We were sure to watch the last show of the day and had it almost to ourselves.  A group of ajumas had been dropped off – seemed like a retiree outing – and watched half with us. At the end, though, it was our own private hour long performance.  They were good!  

I wouldn’t say the whole place was awesome.  It was a bit old, kind of dark,  and lifeless without others, but maybe it’s  feast or famine here with Korean crowds on the weekend.  The price was right for us – the kids enjoyed it immensely and were oblivious to the “has been” vibe I got.  There is a sizeable outdoor water park and rides-area that is closed in winter, so maybe that is their bacon.
This evening we found a nice cheap hotel down the road here in Bugok. Definitely it’s off season here; an empty town means good deals on hotels! 

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