I am so excited to be writing this blog post right now! I haven't had a really good adventure to write about in quite some time, so this is extra exciting. This weekend I ventured out of Seoul into the real Korean countryside and had a blast doing so!
Last week, I saw that a MeetUp was going to the Muju Firefly Festival, and I thought it looked interesting. However, they were going on a Sunday just for the one day, and I had prior obligations. I wouldn't be able to make it. But I told my friend Romeo about it, and he suggested that we try to make it happen on Saturday. After a bit of planning and staring at a map, we figured out a way to make it work (he was going to be in the south part of the country prior to, so we were going to have to meet there).
So, Friday night I was making my preparations and after extensive time searching the internet, looking at bus timetables, and otherwise gathering tons of information, I felt like I had my head around the situation. Then, Romeo calls me and tells me that he might be late due to a flat tire and other unforeseen circumstances. So, I have to reevaluate my bus times.
Since I was finding conflicting information online anyway, Romeo suggested that I call this tourist information hotline for foreigners in Korea. I was actually pretty nervous to call at first, but I sucked it up and dialed. (For anyone reading this who might ever need the number, from a Korean phone, dial 021330) The woman who answered the phone was incredibly nice. I asked her for the departure times for the buses to Muju. She told me they left at 7:40, 9:20, and 10:40. Since they take about 3.5 hours to get to Muju, factoring in the time Romeo was planning to arrive in Muju, I decided to plan to take the 10:40 bus.
The next morning, bright and early, I got up and got ready for my day of adventure. I made a few pitstops and made it to the Nambu Bus Terminal at around 10:15am. I went to the ticketing window and after sheepishly saying "Muju" in my best attempt at a Korean accent, the woman shows me the screen. It says 1:40, not 10:40. I give her a questioning look, point to my watch, and ask 10:40? She makes the usual x with her fingers to indicate no. I asked "Sold out?" And she nodded. DAMN!
I bought the 1:40 ticket, but that was 3 hours away, plus 3.5 on the bus, I wouldn't arrive until after 5pm! I sat down and called Romeo. He ingeniously suggested I look into taking a bus from Seoul to Daejon (another larger city south of Seoul), then transferring to a bus to Muju from there. I called the tourist help line again, and asked about this option. The sweet lady looked up all the bus times and terminals and helped me plan the best route.
Basically, I needed to go to a different bus terminal (thankfully only about 15 minutes away from my current location), and buses depart for Daejon every 10 minutes. Once I got to Daejon, buses left every 40 minutes for Muju. I decided this would be a much quicker option, although I was hesitant with transferring buses part way. I returned my ticket for the Muju direct bus, and headed to Express Bus Terminal on the subway.
I got to Express Bus Terminal and, of course, got lost. Well, not technically lost. Just turned around. It's a rather large station and things in Korea tend to have more than one name, and more than one spelling of each name. So when I was looking for the right exit from the subway to go to the terminal, I couldn't find a clear answer. Finally I managed to get there, and the ticket lady pointed me to a completely different building. I trudged across the street and found the correct ticket window. I bought my ticket and climbed on the bus at 10:58, and it departed promptly 2 minutes later at 11:00am.
So, after quite some rerouting, I was finally on my way! I sat next to a sweet old lady who "helped" me put on my seatbelt. We didn't talk but she smiled at me. Oh, and the lady I bought a water from at the terminal took my money and in the place of "Thank you, have a nice day" that you might expect (or the Korean equivalent), she jabs at her eye, then at me, and says "Beautiful! Eye color is beautiful!" This isn't really that unusual in Korea, but I still blush hard and give a lower than normal bow when I respond with "감사합니다" aka "gamsahabnida" aka "thank you".
I slept most of the 2 hours it took to get to Daejon. When we arrived I headed straight to the ticket counter (which was also in a different building across a street than the one I arrived at). After deciphering the color schemes of the buses, I bought a ticket to Muju that conveniently left in 15 minutes. I spied a Krispy Kreme donuts and got myself a congratulatory-donut. (A side note: donuts are not uncommon in Korea. However, good donuts are rare. Dunkin Donuts here does not have the same quality as their American counterparts, and Krispy Kreme does have some different selections, but I would definitely say the quality is the same, and they have the same staples as US branches. Basically: I get really excited when I see a Krispy Kreme!)
I got on the bus to Muju and grabbed the front seat where I could see out of the windshield (my backseat driving / need to feel in control showing), and settled in for the 50 minute ride to the countryside. And let me tell you, Korea has some beautiful countryside. No pictures I can take would do it justice, but it's gorgeous. I didn't realize this before I moved here, but Korea is 70% mountainous. And it's really pretty! So I stared out at the surroundings and rested.
When I arrived in Muju I basically just got off the bus, looked around, picked a direction and walked. I had no real idea where I was going or what to do. I saw some tents and decorations set up for the Firefly Festival, but I wasn't sure where anything actually was. I wandered down by the stream that runs through the town and saw that this was basically a family carnival/festival (duh, you might say. But I wasn't sure what to expect!) Then I saw...
Actually, I think I will stop here for tonight's post and go on to Part II tomorrow. A cliff hanger, I know! I'll continue soon, I promise. :)