TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Why did we visit South Korea?
- Dinosaur footprints in Namhae
- Things to know before you go
– Highway truck-stops
– One challenge getting to Namhae
- Getting around
- Where to stay
- Budget for South Korea
- South Korea overall
WHY DID WE VISIT SOUTH KOREA?
Truly? Our trip to South Korea was all about dinosaurs. Namely, with the sole plan to ‘hunt’ for dinosaur footprints in Namhae, on the coast.
Yup; all the way to South Korea, to hunt for dinosaur footprints!
We quite literally flew from Osaka, Japan to Busan in South Korea; purely with the intention of driving down the coast to find the fossilised dinosaur footprints in Namhae. We did also have a great few days exploring Busan. We loved the Seafood Markets and street food, and had fun jumping on and off the subway to get around and explore different areas of the city.
From Busan it was straightforward to get the fast train to Seoul, but the biggest adventure of our time in South Korea was hiring a car to adventure on our own. And yup; driving down the coast to make all of Oscar’s dreams come true and find the dinosaur footprints in Namhae…
DINOSAUR FOOTPRINTS IN NAMHAE
We are at our best when exploring the outdoors, and although I have never really considered South Korea for that… It turns out it fits right in.
From Busan, we hired a car and drove the three hours down the coast to the island of Namhae.
We had read about the discovery of fossilised dinosaur footprints in this area. Although there wasn’t much information online, we thought it sounded like the perfect balance of randomness and adventure to make it surely worth pursuing.
There are actually two main areas in Namhae with fossilised dinosaur footprints. The first, in Gain-Ri felt very remote, and we only saw two other people there while we were visiting. Gain-Ri village is only small, and the site is less documented online. It is described as a primitive type of fossil site, but actually includes 34 footprints of pterosaurs (flying dinosaurs) as well as multiple clearer large footprints of herbivores and sauropods.
From the carpark you walk along a short path past a Sesimisa Buddhist Temple onto a basic boardwalk above the wide sheeted rock of Dongdaeman Beach. The site is signposted with information about the different locations of the footprints and also matches details of the prints with photographic models. The signs are in Korean but the photos depict the different species of herbivores and sauropods that have left the largest footprints – some are 60cm long! Other species of herbivorous ornithopods have left footprints that can be distinguished with three toes on each foot.
We set off the next morning with a picnic, and followed our four year old leader to find those footsteps…
FIND THE GAIN-RI SITE:
GOSEONG DINOSAUR FOSSIL SITE
The second site we found in South Korea was the Goseong Dinosaur Museum and Park. We didn’t even know at the time that there was an entire dinosaur museum there as well! The first site in Gain-Ri was so remote that we were expecting something similar. It turned out to be a well signposted park with boardwalks that stretch the shoreline for a few kilometres in each direction. The footprints were easy to spot and fascinating to see such clear tracks and trails.
We took our time and wandered the entire length of the boardwalks. The boys even met some Korean kids on the beach on the way back and ended up going for a swim with them! (Yes, it was pretty freezing in the water – but how often do you get to swim and admire dinosaur footprints in the same day?!).
The museum itself is fairly in depth and has a bunch of different sections plus a cafe and playground outside. A pretty cool find considering we didn’t know anything about it! It even has a few basic rides for the kids to play on – right next to one of the worlds largest dinosaur footprint fossil sites, and with stunning views of the coastline.
FIND GOSEONG DINOSAUR PARK
If you are thinking about visiting South Korea as a family; do it! Especially, if you happen to have any dinosaur-obsessed members of the family… We didn’t want to tell Oscar about the footprints until we were on our way. We still weren’t even sure if we would be able to find them. (Not for lack of palaeontology expertise I’ll have you know. Far more for a concern of navigating the Korean highways and toll roads to find our way to the coast!).
The coast is beautiful, and relaxing to explore. It feels far from the bright lights of Asian cities, though technically is under three hours from Busan. It turned out to be the perfect family adventure, and seriously… Pretty dam cool to be setting off in search of dinosaur footprints!
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
HIGHWAY STOPS FOR KOREAN FOOD
Some of the highways between Busan and Namhae are enormous! Despite not being able to read the road signs as for the names of exits, we started to recognise the warning signposts for huge roadside truck stops. The truckstops also showed up on our map apps which was handy as it was nearing lunchtime and the drive is about three hours from Busan. We had no idea what we were ordering at the time, but always find adventure in the unknown… Even with our food choices in South Korea!
GAMJA HOT DOG: ✔️
Not bad… its coated with french fries crumbed on the outside!
Also not bad! These are small sausages plus Tteokbokki – spicy rice cakes – in between. Rice cakes cooked like this are a really common South Korean street food.
ONE CHALLENGE GETTING TO NAMHAE?
The toll roads of South Korea are definitely a challenge for first-timers like us, but after driving once (*ahem, ok; maybe three times) through the wrong toll channels at the toll-gates, we eventually did figure it out. The guards came running out at one road, and we had to backtrack and drive off into the guard/traffic-police area to try and explain ourselves and pay up… We still aren’t quite sure if we paid the toll, a fine, or some form of bribe to allow us through, BUT we made it through and despite not understanding anything, the guards were firm but friendly at each toll gate, and conversations finished with cheek-pinches and calling over of their colleagues to see our two blonde boys in the back!
The shops and cafes are all signposted in Korean, so that side is also slightly challenging, but makes for more of an adventure… and some creative lunch-stop planning! 😁
Admittedly, we were a little apprehensive on contemplating the public transport in South Korea. That, and the thought of navigating South Korea in order to find dinosaur footprints… But, overall we were pleasantly surprised.
The train systems in Busan are easy to use. The underground and over-rail are all colour coded and numbered. People were friendly and helped us buy tickets to start with, until we clicked on to how the ticket system worked and we easily found our way using the train maps and pre-downloaded GoogleMaps to get to our hostel on day one.
RENTING A CAR IN BUSAN
We hired a car through Avis Rentals in Busan; this was an easy pick up and drop off at Busan Airport, and cost us $196 NZD for 3 days, including one car seat. (We had actually arrived in Busan two days earlier, and so picking up the car at the airport meant another train journey to get there, however the route was straightforward).
The staff at Avis were awesome and I also have to say that we had asked an extra special favour from them which they delivered without hassle. Gavin’s International Driving Permit was about to expire and so we ordered one online from New Zealand and had it sent to the Avis Rental office in Busan. They happily handled this request through emails in English and notified us as soon as the licence arrived (we were in Taiwan at the time). I would highly recommend their services for car rental.
After visiting the dinosaur footprints in Namhae, we took the fast train to Seoul. We booked tickets for this on our second day in Busan so as to secure a seat and know where we needed to be on the day. There is a ticket booth at the main train station in Busan. The staff were very friendly and helpful and spoke English well. It was a smooth, relaxing ride to Seoul.
WHERE TO STAY
In South Korea we really enjoyed where we stayed in Seoul (K-Hostel) and found it to be in a good location, clean, a big buffet breakfast (kind of hostel-style, and eaten in the basement!) and very friendly staff. In Busan and Namhae we found good places to stay, though neither particularly outstanding.
- Busan: Kimchee Hostel [good location, nice room with fridge and bath; close to convenience stores and subway; shared spaces and kitchen not clean; vibe of party hostel].
- Namhae: Santafe Pension [family-run; well set up, self-contained apartment; but, expensive!].
- Seoul: K-Hostel [good location, close to metro; big breakfast, friendly staff, nice room].
- Average accommodation: $113 NZD ($75 USD)
- Average daily spend: $88 NZD ($59 USD)
SOUTH KOREA, OVERALL
We really enjoyed our time in South Korea, and travelling with kids, we were stopped by people every day! When I updated our posts about Korea, there actually hadn’t been a day where we hadn’t been given a gift of some kind from a random stranger. They’d been given juice drinks, milk drinks, superhero stickers, chips, lollies, a cheese stick(!), and plenty of hugs and squeezes.
We had heard mixed reviews about South Korea, and were even ‘pre-warned’ about cultural differences that we would surely see. But from what we had actually seen, and of the people we have met, we feel extremely grateful for finding yet another country we were so welcomed to travel in.
On the way to find the dinosaur footprints in Namhae, Oscar was having a more-than-Oscar-winning tantrum in the middle of a 7-Eleven store, crying because we wouldn’t buy him a toy dinosaur egg… The Korean delivery man, who spoke no English at all, heard his crying, bought one and came and gave it to him.
We left feeling very thankful for the Delivery Man, and the Octopus Lady; and the superhero Train Man, and the hotel owner with chips. Not just for the dinosaur egg and the hold of a sticky octopus; but for affirming our insight into a cool culture!