Okay so here’s the thing: you don’t want to travel on Korean holidays. It might seem like a blessing to have a three day weekend (or longer), but don’t you dare let that tempt you into thinking you can go somewhere and do something.
No! Stop it! You’re questioning me! Just believe me!
Okay fine, I’ll explain and you will be convinced.
Last we left off, Andrea, Scott, Ricky, Jess and I had just had a great (albeit hot) time at the Penis Park. We’d also had a fairly good few days on the beach, but we were sandy in all those crevices you don’t want to be sandy in and hadn’t showered in 3 days. We were, therefore, looking forward to getting home.
We hopped on a bus from the Penis Park to Samcheok where we’d catch a bus to Gangneung. Andrea and Scott would leave us at Donghae (the rest stop between the two aforementioned cities), and so we said our goodbyes after bestowing upon them the gifts of our tent, sleeping bags, and other camping gear since we had no more plans to go camping again before leaving.
We arrived at Gangneung around 4pm. This was our second error. The first error was that we hadn’t bought our tickets days in advance, when we’d first arrived in Gangneung.
For, as we stepped up to the counter, we were told that all tickets to Cheongju had sold out. What was more, so had all the tickets to Daejeon, Chungju, and every neighbouring city.
While Ricky and I would have considered taking a sick day and getting tickets early the next morning, Jess had used up all her sick days from a stint in the hospital a few months back: she needed to go to work or she’d be instantly fired. What was more is that she had farther than us to go as she lives in the distant rural town of Boeun. Her last bus from Cheongju was at 9pm.
This left us, understandably, in a bit of a pickle. Cab drivers were shouting loudly and frantically all around us, giving a general sense of frenzy to the ticket booths and we moved to a quieter area to discuss our options. We could take a cab from here, but it had taken four hours by bus and that was a lot more than any of us could pay. In fact, I wasn’t even able to pay for a cab at all. (This had been a surprisingly pricey weekend considering camping was free, just for the cost of transport and food we’d all pitched in).
Ultimately the only thing we could think of was to find the nearest city in proximity to Cheongju and take a bus – or, worst case scenario, a cab – from there. Jess offered to pay the full fare (which I can’t thank you enough for – thank you thank you thank you, Jess!!!), and so we checked the available tickets. It seemed that Wonju (Andrea’s city) was our best choice, being only a 2 hour cab journey away and about 1.5 hours from Gangneung (ended up being over 2 with traffic though).
We got our tickets (thankfully there were just enough seats left for us) and boarded the bus.
Once we got to Wonju, we checked for bus tickets. Due to the fact that it was well past 7pm at this point though, all tickets were sold out. There was nothing we could do. It had to be a cab.
First off, the line at the taxi stand was absurd – between 20-30 people in front of us. When we finally got to a cab, he straight off wanted 200, 000W (over $200). We waved him off, knowing full well we could get a cheaper ride than that. Our friends have made the trip from Seoul to Cheongju before, roughly the same distance, for $50. While we didn’t expect a deal that good, $200 was simply absurd.
Although we tried calling Jess’ boyfriend to help with the Korean, he wasn’t available which left us to haggle on our own. The best agreement we ended up coming across was a driver who would charge by the meter. Figuring this was the fairest option, and genuinely too exhausted to argue anything else at this point, we hauled our gear into the trunk and hopped into the back seat for the long ride.
Unfortunately, even with a GPS, we got lost in the city on the way to the express bus terminal. With the clock ticking down to 9pm, the pressure was getting higher and higher for Jess to be able to catch her bus.
Finally we made it to a terminal with mere minutes to spare. Not even having time to grab her bag from the trunk, we assured her we’d take care of it for her and she managed to sprint to her bus. So there was at least one happy ending that night.
Meanwhile Ricky and I had to grab another cab to get home from the terminal. This wasn’t difficult so much as it was a pain in the rectum, but we persevered knowing that our apartment sanctuary awaited us at the end of this last leg of the journey.
And indeed, once we stepped in the door and laid down our baggage for the last time, it was bliss. We both showered right away and lay down in the cool, soft sheets of the bed, wanting nothing more than to stay there forever. (Except lol jks, we had work the next day…)
Anyway, considering we got in to our apartment at around 9:30pm and had begun traveling from the Penis Park at roughly 1pm, our 8.5+ hours of traveling could have comparatively got us most of the way to Australia if we’d been on a direct flight. My neck is still all messed up from the awkward angles at which it hung while I nodded off in buses and taxis, and I am still kicking myself for our foolish presumptions that we’d get a ticket on the day of our departure.
Because this isn’t the first time it’s happened.
You might have been wondering why I put “Namhae Part 4” in the title. Well, I figured I might as well get around to it – particularly because this is the very topic I was going to cover this time last year.
Last year we also went camping, as you might remember from having read Namhae Chapter 1, Namhae Chapter 2, and Namhae Chapter 3. We got our first taste of how bad the holiday congestion situation might be when our friends tried to drive from Busan to Namhae – a four hour trip – and they had to, at 9pm, pull off the road and turn back because they’d been waiting for two straight hours in standstill traffic at the entrance to the island.
Ten hours. TEN HOURS on the road. In traffic.
Because of this, we decided we had no choice but to pack up and leave a day earlier than intended so that we could get a bus home before everyone caught them on the last day of the long weekend.
Well, we weren’t quick enough. Our intention was to get tickets to Jinju, the original city we’d traveled via, but all tickets were sold out. That said, there were other route options.
And yet, planning on catching connecting buses to Wonju and Cheongju from the city of Masan, we were foiled again by incredibly heavy traffic. We missed our connections (not that there were any tickets left in the first place) and were left to ponder, somewhat desperately, what to do.
Our other friends we were with at the time said that we should just spend the night there. They’d been planning on doing that all along, and we figured hey, what the hell. Thus we decided to jump on it and spend some well-deserved time in a luxurious love motel (which was well welcome after sleeping on cardboard in soggy tents).
And luxurious it was indeed – had a see-through glass bathroom wall, sparkly crimson bathtub/hot tub, a bed big enough for three (or four), and tons of porn channels on TV.
It also led to our adventures in Masan, which I posted about here.
It was a night of awesome, especially because we found the most amazing Mexican restaurant – probably the most authentic one I’ve ever been to in my life. (We went again the next morning, as its first customers upon opening.)
After that, we went to the bus station where we’d sensibly bought our tickets the night before so we didn’t have a recurrence of being stranded. Took three hours to get home, but because we’d booked early tickets, the traffic wasn’t as horrendous as we’d anticipated (yay!).
Though it could have turned out much worse, luck was with us for that trip and one of my favourite things about the whole experience ended up being our waylay in Masan.
Anyway, back to the point I was making and to tie in this year’s Buddha’s birthday with last, we should have known better. There, I said it: experience is giving me a big fat, “I TOLD YA SO”.
We should have bought tickets in advance for going back to Cheongju.
I guess the problem was, having seen the absurd race of madness of last year’s holiday compared to the (seeming) leisurely pace of this one, I underestimated the power of national red days. I thought it wouldn’t be the same. But alas. Learn from me, my readers!! Learn that it is foolish to assume because, as my uncle always loves saying, it makes an ass out of u and me.
So I guess I revise my aforementioned proclamation – you can travel on Korean holidays. Just be prepared: physically, mentally, emotionally (not even joking, tensions run high under these times of stress), and BUY TICKETS AHEAD OF TIME, for god’s sake. Oh, and one last thing to take into account is the fact that your vacation is going to be spent about 2/3 in transit.
Anyway that’s all for now! Finished off my Namhae diary AND Buddha’s birthday segments (go me!). Hope this comes in handy.
Until next time.