Rolling in the Deep…Mud

Just kidding. The mud is shallow and safe to play in and great fun!

What’s probably now known as the most famous mud festival in the entire world, the 10 day Boryeong Mud Festival is came to another close last week. Another successful year it was. We went through tons of mud, a slew of memory cards, and many servings of hangover soup. But if you are looking to extend your buzz, there’s a lot more mud where that came from in Korea.

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Korea is a peninsula that has beautiful beaches along the east and south coasts. But on the west coast there are these massive fields of mud, otherwise known as mudflats. People in this side of Korea know how to appreciate nature’s bounty and can be frequently found rolling in the mudflats or digging up clams and other seafood. The mud flats are then renewed and revitalized each and every day as the high and low tides brings in new life.

korean-flawless-skin

Another noticeable feature of the west coast residents is their beautiful skin. A trait that is attained by frequent visits to the mudflats! A weekend for a local here is not complete without a quick roll in the mud. Cool and slick to touch, the feeling of mud on your skin is terrific.

in the mud

Perhaps, some might find the idea of wallowing in the mud like blissful piggies, distasteful. But how many times have we been taught not judge a book by its cover? Rolling in the mudflats of Korea is not the first thing that will come to mind when you think of tour in Korea, but it’s definitely worth a trip even before or after the Boryeong Mud Fest!

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The mud on the west coast is mud at it’s best. It has a clean, earthy mineral smell and the texture is thick and silky. You can dive, roll or just plop your feet in it. The mud doesn’t get too deep so you can be reassured every step you make. So it’s perfectly safe! No fear of drowning. No fear of being stung by jellyfish or other critters. And if children running around slip, then soft, cool mud is there to catch their fall.

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So spend the day at the mudflats! It’s definitely worth the experience. It’s a great way to enjoy beach activities with that added safety. Pitch an umbrella or a tent in the sandy areas. Lay out in the sun and build mud castles and of course, mud pies. There’s also areas where it’s full of crabs and other wild life to catch. You can set them back free or have a feast later in the evening. The mudflats offer much more to do than your traditional beaches.

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And don’t worry about cleaning up. There are showers within walking distance and guesthouses all along the beach area. Rent one out for the night and you can get all spic and span in the comfort of your own room. Most of them are nicely renovated and offer a variety of different amenities including hot tubs. Let us know if you are interested in us taking you there. It makes for a great tour of Korea.

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And remember that the mud fest is only a fraction of the multitude of activities to be enjoyed in Korea. There’s yet a whole new world to be discovered here!

Guts, Glory, and Ramen Noodles: Online Gaming in Korea

“Noooooooooo!!!” you hear MakNooN howling as one of our clients kills his Champion. MakNooN is a professional online gamer and the game is League of Legends (LoL). LoL is a multi-player game played online and in Korea LoL has a massive following and manic subculture. MakNooN is one of the highest-ranking LoL pro gamers in the world and he offers LoL coaching through his YouTube page.

Our latest clients were avid gamers and we wanted to create a gaming experience as part of their trip itinerary in Korea.

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MakNooN and our gamers

Korea is a hotbed for breeding talented, up-and-coming gamers. We called in MakNooN to host a casual tournament and coaching session with some of our clients at a PC café in the Gangnam district. Our clients were interested in the unique presence gaming has in Korea, a country where you can make a living by playing video games.

The first hour was spent setting up our clients at their computer stations on the Korean servers and making sure their headsets were functional. The headsets are necessary to be able to communicate directions to other team members (it’s also a lot of fun to trash talk during the competitions). A typical team in LoL has five members. We only had four clients, but we filled the last position with a random high-level player on the LoL Korean servers. We also invited a local team to come out as the opposing team to really create the atmosphere of an actual competition. The gaming session was divided into two parts. The first part was practice with MakNooN as the coach and following a quick noodle delivery to the PC café for lunch, the second part commenced, the mock tournament.

MakNooN the coach
MakNooN the coach

Dark underground room, brightly lit screens, the click clack of mechanical keyboards, and the slurping sounds of gamers eating their noodles mid game. For me the land of gaming is unknown territory. Playing Diablo, Age of Empires, and the Sims was the extent of my gaming experience. The gaming community is actually quite large and the demographic has a wide range of ages and professions. League of Legends is one game that is loved by office workers in their 30s and middle school kids alike. Developed by the game company Riot Games, LoL has a huge following in South Korea and the best of the best are selected to play on teams competitively in national and international e-sport tournaments. Currently, SK T1 is the top team in Korea and arguably in the entire world. The latter half of the tour included watching them compete.

Yongsan eStadium
Yongsan eStadium

Esports have their own season of competition in Korea and major corporations like Samsung and LG sponsor the teams. We entered Yongsan E-stadium, a venue dedicated to hosting online gaming competitions. On either ends of the stadium there are glass atriums with five computer stations where players take their positions. In the middle of the stadium, there is an enormous jumbotron screen showing the entire gaming action taking place while commentators below provide an endless stream of rapid-fire analysis. If you didn’t know where you were, you would think they’d be commentating on Monday night football based on the frenzied atmosphere. Responding to all this, you also have a huge audience of super fans going crazy in a sold out stadium cheering on their favorite teams. In the end, SK T1 sweeps the main event and retains their title. SK T1 is the undefeated champion of the current season. We got our clients exclusive access following the match to meet their online hero Faker, the SK T1 player who is heralded as the Lionel Messi or Michael Jordan of LoL. Clutching their freshly autographed neck strap and beaming at the selfie they took with their favorite LoL player, it was easy to see that our clients had the time of their lives.

Autograph from Faker
Autograph from Faker!

Anyone can participate in this gaming experience in Korea. Whether you’re a diehard LoL fan like our clients or just an explorer of subcultures like me, I guarantee that the whirlwind enthusiasm of gamers in Korea will have you captivated.

Jeju Island – A Cheaper Alternative to other cities in Korea

It’s about as cheap as it gets. 49,800 Korean Won or close to $45USD.  That’s all you pay when you book a round-trip ticket to Jeju Island from Seoul around this time of the year. That is way cheaper than taking a KTX Bullet Train going down to Busan just one way. Jeju is now a super cheap alternative when thinking about different places to travel in Korea. We are talking about getting on a plane for 1 hour on a Tuesday, enjoying the lovely island of Jeju for 3 nights and coming back on a Friday in time to party it back up in Seoul. Check out Jeju Air, Jin Air or Air Busan for discount airliners.

A view from Hyeobjae Beach during the wintertime.
A view from Hyeobjae Beach during the wintertime.

Granted it is still cold and the ticket is for the weekdays, but quite frankly, who cares cause we are going as tourists! Practically, everyday is a weekend for us! Plus if you were planning on vacationing at sunny beaches, you probably wouldn’t be in Korea in the first place.  We have that in the summertime, but Jeju is far more known for its beautiful scenic trails and natural formations. And it’s all even far more charming during the winter seasons here. Jeju is a small island, yet it’s home to Korea’s tallest peak. And seeing other oxymorons like snow on palm trees leave us with impressions that this is a place is not like too many places you’ll see. 

Sand and Snow
Sand and Snow

I love Jeju because it’s enough. You stay there a few days and it’s enough. You’re not overwhelmed or regretting when you leave because you didn’t make the most out of your time.

Continue reading Jeju Island – A Cheaper Alternative to other cities in Korea

Understanding the Korean Spice – And how to be at one with Kimchi

I get a lot of tourists saying to me, “Rob, I’m a foodie! Take me some place good to eat where all the Koreans go!” Or, “Rob, I’m an adventurous eater! I want to try new things!”.
Seeking out for some of the exotic
Seeking out for some of the exotic
I say, “Alright, let’s do it! I know just the place”
And they say, “But nothing spicy. I don’t like spicy.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 9.22.30 AM And then my mouth just drops. Whaaaaaa?? How can you tell me you are any sort of self-respecting adventurous eater of foodie, if you can’t indulge in anything spicy? It is the crux of Korean cuisine and the centerpiece of every dining table here. Look, I get it. You were hurt once. Stung…and you don’t want to feel the pain of it again. But that was years ago…it’s time to move on!

kimchi
kimchi

The Korean spice is a very different kind of spice. Other spices will give a sharp sting on contact and leaving a lingering singe in your mouth. Others you’ll feel it after you ingest it as it makes its way through your stomach and eventually scorches the other end of your gastro-extremities. The basic Korean spice is a bit of a warming spice. You won’t feel it right away, but as you fill your stomach with beef, rice and kimchi. And more beef, more rice and more kimchi…you’ll start to notice some tingling sensation in your taste buds. Things are starting to get warmer but you can consume it at a pace where you don’t overwhelm your mouth with any singular flavor.

soon dubu jiggae
soon dubu jiggae

Continue reading Understanding the Korean Spice – And how to be at one with Kimchi

How to go Ice Fishing in Korea

I finally got out to visit one of the many ice fishing festivals that take place in Korea’s wintertime. Through one of my tours, I was able to take a group to the Jaraseom Sing Sing Ice Fishing Festival in Gapyeong. The things to do here is to catch fresh water trout and eat it immediately! Many back and forth thoughts on these festivals, but the bottom line is that they are just flat out fun! There are at least half a dozen ice fishing festivals taking place in parts of Gangwon and Gyeong-gi Provinces right now and will mostly end sometime towards the last weekend in February. I came onto a lesser advertised festival called the Jaraseom Sing Sing Winter Festival near Nami Island in Gapyeong just a little over an hour from Seoul.

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When we got there, they let us park on an empty field. Because its not paved, watch out for puddles and mud when walking towards the festival’s main area. Walk towards the ticket booth to get your entry into the frozen stream. Tickets were 13,000 won (a little less than $13), but they give you a 5,000 won gift certificate to be used on anything at the festival, including food and fishing equipment.

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As you are walking towards there, several things come to mind. On one hand you are wowed by the shear number of people standing on top of that frozen pond. And to think, there are drilled holes in the ice about 3 meters from one another where you stick your fishing rods in to catch fish, so the ice has to be super thick.

On the other hand, you notice that there is a massive river right next to the pond and NONE of which is frozen at all! What’s up with that?? That’s when things start to kick in about the authenticity of the ice festival. Being on the 38th parallel, we have volatile weather conditions, so its not going to be frozen over the entire winter. Instead we artificially freeze the part of the stream to ensure the safety that no one plops through.

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Authentic or not, it’s not the point of the festival as there are still tons of people out there having a great time. So as soon as you pay for your entrance, follow these instructions to get the most out of your ice fishing experience:

1. They’ll give you a sticker ticket and a fastener. Loop the fastener into one of your zippers and peel the sticker portion of your ticket onto it, much like you would for a ski lift ticket. Make sure it’s visible for the personnel to see. A picture of the ticket is shown at the top of this post.

Continue reading How to go Ice Fishing in Korea