Why South Korea?
Truly? Our trip to South Korea was all about dinosaurs.
Yup; all the way to South Korea, to hunt for dinosaur footprints!
What we loved most…
Busan Seafood Markets
Wow. Korea. Ew, and wow.
Jagalchi Fish Market | Jung-gu, Busan.
‘Worldschooling’ on a whole new fishy level!
Just when we were thinking we had seen the wet markets of Asia… Behold; octopi, baby sharks, giant rays, monster eels, freaky flat fish, squirting sea slugs, and Urechis unicinctus (the penis fish).
The fish mongers were lovely, and proud to show us their stalls. It was definitely an eye-opener of culture and biology of a different kind, that’s for sure!
Namhae Dinosaur Footprints
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!
We hired a car and drove three hours down the coast from Busan, to the island of Namhae.
We had read about the discovery of fossilised dinosaur footprints in this area, and although there wasn’t much information online, we found a cute B&B for the night, and set off with a picnic, and followed our four year old leader to find those footsteps…
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, as we weren’t even sure if we would be able to find them (not for lack of palaeontology expertise, but more 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!
Kimchi and Korean Food
This is an iconic Korean style of pickle, made with fermented vegetables. We read that Koreans consume an annual average of 18kg of kimchi… That’s literally Oscar’s weight in kimchi!
Spot Gavin and his chopsticks joining the locals at the awesome Pajeon market stall…! We really enjoyed trying all kinds of different Korean food. The Gukje Markets were particularly good for street food stalls. Pajeon was our favourite; these are delicious – a savoury pancake, and a staple of the Korean streetfood list. The boys were into the dumplings, and a lady walking past gave them a huge ‘Ppopgi’ cotton-candy lollipop! A market outing for the win!
Pajeon (savoury pancakes): ✔️✔️✔️
These are yummy! (Probably just as well we aren’t hanging around too much longer!)
Mandu (Korean Dumplings): ✔️✔️✔️
The boys loved these! (We all did!).
A giant sweet, sugar-candy lollipop. (Sorry teeth! 😬)
Ppopgi shavings: ✔️✔️✔️
Patbingsu: ✔️ ❌
A Korean version of shaved-ice dessert. The boys loved the jelly and tinned fruit ice toppings, but were not so keen to find red beans at the bottom…
Gimbap: ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
A Korean version of sushi… we love it!
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 in Korea?
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 were easy, and the underground and over-rail were 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.
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).
We booked tickets for the fast train between Busan and Seoul, on our second day so as to secure a seat and know where we needed to be for this. There is a ticket booth at the main train station and the staff spoke English. 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 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.
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!