Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Namhae Ride and the Yeosu EXPO!!!

The usual suspects gathered for this summer ride to Namhae Island (남해도).: Jenny, Tim and Gibby. However this time there was one more addition to the crew - Guy aka "Terminal Velocity" or "The Frenchman". He's not actually French but his name reeks of continental Europe. In reality Guy hails from Cornwall and he has the misfortune of sitting next to me in the office. Having only recently started cycling regularly, this was to be his first cycle trip and he was soon to learn a painful lesson about cycling. You see Guy loves riding down hills, but he's not so good with brakes.

Why cycle to Namhae? Well that's a good point. Firstly, it's a beautiful island that hasn't been overdeveloped   and secondly, because we were going to be hooking up with a whole host of people at a pension overlooking the sea on the south coast. As our friends Sean and JoJo were getting married at the end of the week, they organised a big night on the island. Their family and handful of friends had flown over from the States, so this gave them a chance to see a little bit more of Korea outside of Gwangju. Having a week off, it would have been criminal not to make the most of it and cycle down to our destination.

I found a nice route on Naver Maps using the cycle route function which managed to avoid any major highways. The route is not too challenging. The majority of the route follows a river so there are not too many hills... until you get to the coast. Namhae is a very hilly island which is happy to put you through your paces. Gears come highly recommended but not obligatory as proven by Tim. Once again Tim decided to show the hills of Korea who's boss on his single speed Schwinn, a relic from the seventies.
Gwangju to Namhae cycle route

Day One: Gwangju (광주) to Gurye (구례).

The plan was to get to Namhae in two days. We set off on a Monday morning after night being held hostage by Sean's little brother who insisted that we had to keep drinking. Eventually we managed to escape unscathed at about 3am, but we had to postpone our departure until about 10:30am. We forgot to tell Guy. Whoops! By 9 am he was wide awake, fully packed and ready to go and none too pleased.
On day one we cycled from Gwangju to Gurye, a town just south west of Jirisan, the highest mountain on the mainland in South Korea. The route was really simple to follow.

The ride kicked off by heading north out of Gwangju on highway 29. It's a pretty uninspiring start to the cycle as you head out of the city, but soon you turn east onto road 60, which really signals that you're out of the city. This road is reasonably quiet as there is a major highway nearby which takes the bulk of the traffic. You basically keep heading east along 60 towards 13 following the signs for Gokseong (곡성). It's really well signposted. At Okgwa (옥와) you head south east on road 27. Once you have passed through Samgi Village (삼기면) take a left turn and head up the hill on 60 to Gokseong.

namhae002 namhae003
This is one of the few hills on day one. It's a little tiring but nothing too bad. It's followed by a magnificent downhill into the next valley. This road was incredibly quiet.
namhae004 namhae005 namhae006
This couple joined our convoy on their ATV for about 15 mins. They looked as miserable as sin...
...unlike Timmy! In all of the photos I took of Tim he looks completely deranged. I wouldn't blame you for thinking he has ADHD. He's not as annoying as he looks.

We took a lunch stop at the kimbap cheonguk restaurant in Gokseong.
Guy aka "Terminal Velocity" fuels up on Gatorade and RamenBokki.

Some friends  in the UK complained that I never put any shots of myself on this blog. Well here you go! I decided to grow a moustache for Sean and JoJo's wedding. I really wanted people to look back on the photos in years to come and ask "Who's that creepy guy with the tash?". Well that's not likely to happen  because several people were sporting moustaches at the wedding. So I spent a few weeks cultivating these barely distinguishable whiskers while resembling a sex offender for no good reason. Never again!

From Gokseong we headed south east along 17 following the signs to Gurye.
Gokseong has a train museum which looked interesting, but we didn't really have the time to visit, but we had the pleasure of passing this steam train while heading south.
There's a bunch of touristy stuff round here that people seem to eat up like these pedal carts that run along the train tracks.
Road 17 follows the Seomjin River and it has some stunning views. The road was relatively quiet but a much more enjoyable road was waiting for us on the other side of the river, so we crossed over at this point and took the more relaxed option.
namhae014 namhae015 namhae016 namhae017 namhae018 namhae019
There was next to no traffic on this road so Jenny and Guy the Frenchman got to work practising their no hands skills.
Meanwhile Gibby practised being an obnoxious punk.
namhae021 namhae022 namhae023
At the end of this road we took a left on to road 18 which headed straight to Gurye.
The question: "Makkoli?"
The answer: "Yes!"

There's not much to be said about Gurye. We just pitched up and crashed the night in the motel. There's not a great deal going on here. That said the bowling alley looked pretty bumping! It's a shame we didn't have the energy to go down there and get some turkeys.

Gibby's arms turned a wonderful shade of lobster.

Gurye was a plague of mayflies. They were everywhere! The windows were swamped with them, the road was littered with them and Tim had a field day throwing them on everyone. The town was also was also alive with the sound of frogs - tons of them.

Day Two: Gurye (구례) to Seomyeon, Namhae Island(서면, 남해도).

Chinese for breakfast? Why not?

namhae028 namhae029
We took an accidental detour along a riverside dirt path. really we should have just headed south east out of town on road 861. The directions from here were simple. Follow this road all the way to Hadong (하동), then cross the river and follow 19 to Namhae.

namhae030 namhae031 namhae032
The ride to Hadong is amazing. It's such a peaceful road and it follows a river valley with steep mountains on either side. There's an abundance of plum trees along this whole route. All of the farming in this area was fruit, barely a rice field in site. The river has wide natural sand banks which makes a change from a lot of the concrete river banks that exist in Korea.

Tim is quite simply in awe of his new rack. Before the trip he purchased a "Freeload" rack from philshop. It's a neat little rack that can be attached to frames without rack mounts. It's really sturdy and can hold quite a lot of weight. It didn't disappoint him!

namhae034 namhae035
Is that Yoda? Tim's shadow was weird.

Who invited the hipster postman?

namhae037 namhae038 namhae039 namhae040 namhae041 namhae042

After crossing the river in Hadong we popped into a little restaurant run by a couple who initially seemed really hostile. They turned out to be really friendly and plied us with this sour plum (maeshil - 매실)cordial.

namhae043 namhae044
Sweaty creep.

The food in this restaurant hit the spot. All of the sides were spot on and the soups were sublime - the perfect fuel for the rest of the afternoon.

After Hadong we took road 19 towards Namhae. The traffic increases a lot from this point as do the amount of hills.

Somehow we ended up cycling through this horrible tunnel. It turned out there was a little detour which could have avoided this. Unfortunately we were way past the junction when we realised this. Such is life.

namhae047 namhae048
Our first glimpse of the coast. We soon got off the highway and took a little short cut down to Geumnam Village (금남면).

Premature celebrations. The hills were yet to come.
namhae052 namhae054 namhae055 namhae056
On Namhae island we decided to take road 77 which hugs the coast instead of taking the busy 19.

We found this wonderful bit of taxidermy on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. It was a bizarre find. I'm assuming that it must have washed up in the sea. I should have kept it for my coffee table. Nothing impresses guests more than a stuffed cobra and a mongoose engaged in mortal combat.


namhae060 namhae061 namhae062 namhae063 namhae064 namhae065
We spent the night in Seomyeon (서면) and stopped off at this lovely restaurant which had myeolchi sambap (멸치삼밥) on the menu. Fishy, salty, spicy goodness. The restaurant was full of friendly middle aged women wasted on soju and makkoli.

Mischief and the victim.

namhae067 namhae068
Seomyeon is a super dull town with little more than a ferry terminal and huge and mostly deserted sports complex. There's zilch going on there at night so we stopped to watch some guys practise baseball and drink a few beers.

Mega moth.

Day Three: Seomyeon(서면) - Sacheon Beach (사천해변) - Pension.
My salt encrusted shorts.

We stayed in a nice minbak called Hae Sarang (해시랑 - sea love) by the harbour with a pleasant view over the sea towards Yeosu. The room was pretty cheap, just 50,000 won for the night.

From day three all the riding was easy going as we didn't have much distance to go. Getting to Namhae on the first two days was the hard. Nevertheless, the kilometres we would cover were quite tough as the hills get bigger the further south you go on the islands. On day three we had two aims: go hang out on the beach and get to the pension late afternoon.

namhae072 namhae073 namhae074 namhae075 namhae076
These dogs weren't keen on us.

namhae077 namhae078 namhae079 namhae080
Careful now Tim.

Terminal Velocity. Guy in happier days.

namhae082 namhae083
Tinkles could be letting one rip, or he might just be excited about the beach up ahead.
namhae084 namhae085 namhae086
Sacheon beach was deserted! The only bad thing about it was the everything was closed. EVERYTHING. Coastal towns are not much use when it's not the holiday season. A lady did sell us some beer though, which kept the calories up!

namhae088 namhae089
Guy loves German techno. Look at him pumping his fist in the air.
namhae090 namhae091

FAMILY MART!! Finally a place to grab some food, albeit complete junk. Boiled eggs and cracker were high on the list. See that umbrella? Keep your eyes on him.

namhae093 namhae094
This damn umbrella tried to kill Tim. A gust of wind shot it into the air and it narrowly missed him as he tried to remove his cash from the ATM. Coincidence? I doubt it. That umbrella looked well shady.

The pension: "See You House". Relatively expensive, but amazing rooms and views.

namhae097 namhae098 namhae099 namhae100
These two puppies belonged to the pension. They followed us all the way down to the sea on the rocks below.
namhae101 namhae102 namhae103
namhae104 namhae105
After a hard nights BBQ and feasting I fell asleep while watching football.

Day Four: Pension - Seomyeon - Yeosu (via ferry).

There were no real plans for day four. Tim and Gibby suggested going to Yeosu to see the world EXPO. To get to Yeosu we would have to take a ferry from Seomyeon. We could have headed back on the route we came along, but we chose to head east instead and loop back round to Seomyeon via Darangee Village and Nam-Myeon.

namhae106 namhae107
Darangee Village. From the pension it was a slow constant climb to this point. The hill that followed was steep. It twisted and turned with sharp blind corners. The road is quite narrow as well, so you can't really take wide turns around the bends.

namhae108 namhae109
Two thirds of the way down the hill we stopped to check our map to see where we needed to turn. Four of us rolled up, but Guy was nowhere to be seen. It quickly figured that Guy must have had an accident up the hill. A couple of minutes later he slowly rolled into shot, blood pouring down his arm.
namhae110 namhae111
Guy took a sharp corner too wide at high speed and took a serious tumble. The gash in his arm is much deeper than it looks in this picture. I had to pick a whole bunch of debris out of there. There were all sorts of twigs and stones embedded in his flesh waiting to be found. Some locals who were hanging out under a gazebo promptly bundled Guy into a car and whisked him off down to the village hospital in Nam-myeon. The cleaned him up pronto and sent him on his way. The locals were super generous and paid for Guy's treatment, refusing any money from either Guy or Tim. This was to be the end of Guy's Namhae adventures. Sean picked him up and drove him back to Gwangju. It transpires Guy hates Yeosu, so it could be that this was an elaborate plan to get out of visiting the place. Unfortunately he consequently had to get two surgeries to his elbow. The village doctors had done a less that adequate job of patching him.

namhae114 namhae115
Just after Guy's crash we came across this English language sports magazine with instructions on how to corner at high speed. Shame we didn't find it earlier! Sod's law.

namhae116 namhae117
Imjinseong Fortress (임진성).

Moley roadkill.

From Seomyeon we caught the ferry across to Yeosu. It wasn't all that pricey, perhaps about 10,000 won. We drank some lager tops on the boat, but it was disgusting because we used Chilseng cider instead of lemonade. Big mistake.
namhae119 namhae120 namhae121 namhae122 namhae123 namhae124
The approach to Yeosu EXPO.

namhae125 namhae126
Cycling through Yeosu was a nice change. After days of riding through rural Korea it was quite exciting to ride through a modern city. The traffic in Yeosu isn't half as bad as Gwangju.

namhae132 namhae127 namhae128 namhae129
In Yeosu we met up with Zachary, Michelle and their wee baby, Arrow. I'm not sure why I don't have a photos of them. I think I was having too much fun watching Arrow tear up the restaurant.

After checking into a motel down a dodgy looking alleyway we made our way to this seafood restaurant. It was the only inviting restaurant on the street. I ordered this Jeonbok bi bim bap (전복비빔밥 - abalone bi bim bap). Some of that green seaweed looking stuff is called "sea pineapple". I couldn't figure out why, but it tasted fantastic nonetheless.


We got up early for the EXPO. It was a weekday, but we expected it to busy anyway. The idea was to beat the queues. Fortunately this evil bus didn't mow us all down. For a country with some pretty gung-ho Christians I'm surprised this number hasn't been outlawed.

namhae134 namhae135
Beating the queues was a dumb idea. This photo was taken at 9am. See that building in the background? Well that's the aquarium and here's Gibby at the back of the queue. One of the workers politely informed us that it would be a 3 hour wait to get into the aquarium and that we would be better off waiting until 6pm and coming back. We weren't too sure whether to believe her, but in the end our impatience encouraged us to take her word for it. It turned out that she was bang on the money. When we returned at 6pm we only had to queue up for 15 minutes! So that's my top tip for the EXPO: save all the popular stuff for late afternoon or early evening.

We came up with a plan of action. We would walk around all of the international pavilions, starting with the empty ones then we would hit up the ones that were overrun later in the day. First stop Sweden...

By the way, the theme of the EXPO is "The Living Ocean and Coast".

namhae136 namhae137
Sweden's display was a minefield of promotional material and interesting facts about Sweden. I even got to try my hands at being a sexy Swedish girl. Check me out! Who could resist?

The other thing I liked was the pee poo bag. What is it? Here's the blurb from their website:

Peepoo is a personal, single-use, self-sanitising, fully biodegradable toilet that prevents faeces from contaminating the immediate area as well as the surrounding ecosystem. After use, Peepoo turns into valuable fertiliser that can improve livelihoods and increase food security

The German display set the tone for the rest of the EXPO. We got ourselves stuck into a scrumptious lunch. We had sausages, of course, with gravy, mash, sauerkraut and some proper beer. From this point my personal theme for the EXPO was "eat and drink to my heart's content".

Above: Jenny looking graceful.
Below: Myself looking like a German/Australian backpacker with Tim and Gibby.
Jenny bought her dress the night before, but she needed a belt for it. That pink fashion statement around her waist is actually a shower scrubber from the motel. Not one person noticed this strange adornment. Good work Jenny.
Sausage muncher.

Lithuania had one of my favourite exhibitions. They basically had a display of dozens of pieces of amber with insects and lizards trapped inside them. As you leave they had a bar that sold cheese and some fantastic beer from Syvrutys. They had two types: Ekstra and Amber.


While enjoying our beers we got invited to the opening of an exhibition of work by a renowned Lithuanian photographer, Algimantas Aleksandravičius. I stuck out like a sore thumb wearing a bright blue wife beater and a bumbag. Nobody seemed to care though. It was a really refreshing change from all of the standard EXPO displays that we had seen. Algimantas gave a talk which was followed by more cheese and beer! All I can say is that Lithuania is now high on the places I want to visit.

namhae142 namhae143 namhae144
The international pavilions were a mixed bag. For food I would highly recommend a visit to Germany, Uruguay, Russia, India and Sri Lanka. India had some super cheap curry and some of the best Chai tea I have drunk. Sri Lanka also served some fantastic food on a budget. Their displays however were not so good.

For drinks, pay a trip to Germany, Lithuania, Russia and Argentina. Argentina had some good wines that were very reasonably priced. Don't mention the Falkland Islands though, or Las Malvinas!

Some of the display acted simply as souvenir shops whereas other would just promote tourism. That said, quite a few countries took the aquatic theme seriously and focused on scientific and environmental issues.

At 6pm we made our way over to the aquarium. Our wait paid off. We waited for barely fifteen minutes before we got in there.

namhae145 namhae147 namhae148 namhae149 namhae151 namhae152 namhae153 namhae154 namhae155 namhae156

namhae157 namhae158
Looking haggard at the end of a very long day.

We finished the day in the Russian restaurant where we drank some Baltika beer. It was a nice way to finish the day off before watching the light show finale.

I've heard a lot of people complaining about the EXPO, but we had a great time. The key is not to try and beat the rush. It doesn't work. Wait until later in the day when everyone else is burnt out and you'll walk straight in. There is quite a bit of mediocre stuff in some of the pavilions, but the good ones more than make up for it. Enjoying the food and drink that's on offer makes it a much more pleasant experience. The entrance for the even cost 33,000 won, which I don't think is that bad for an all day event. That said there is a lot to see and I would be tempted to go for another as I missed quite a bit of stuff.

So remember:

  1. Don't be a chump.
  2. Lower you expectations.
  3. Drink.