I was given a reservation number, and the whole transaction proceeded seamlessly. We were booked on the 12:20pm train from Seoul's Yongsan Train station. Note...Seoul has two major train stations, so you need to make sure you know which one your train is leaving from!
The 12:20pm train was scheduled to arrive in Gwangju at 3:15pm. A distance of about 300 kms (186 miles). You'd think it would make the whole trip in about an hour, right!!
Nope. I'll explain in a minute.
We were up around 7:00am, and were ready to go at 10:30am. Had a couple of subway transfers to make and we managed that without a problem.
Waiting for the subway at an above ground station. The Seoul subway platforms have sliding doors between the platform and the rails! Never seen this before anywhere else we have ridden the subway.
Seoul's Yongsan Station.
Made it into Yongsan Station with an hour or so to spare. Went to the ticket counter and just had to show my passport and the reservation number, and they handed us our tickets. I had prepaid by credit card when I booked it the day before.
The 300 km (186 mile) journey on the high speed train cost 36,900 won ($41.00) each. Not bad!
That's my ticket!
And there's the schedule. Our train is highlighted in red.
We wandered around the station for a few minutes. This is dried seaweed!
This is our train, ready to hit the rails!
Ready to go!
And, the train departed at exactly 12:20pm!
Taken out the window, looking at the Seoul financial district.
Unfortunately, our window was filthy dirty on the outside. Not great for taking pictures, and then we had the sun our side for quite a while as well which made it even worse.
Once we got out of the city, the train picked up speed. You could tell you were going fast, but we had no idea. Now, we do have a borrowed iPhone for the rest of our time here in Korea (thanks June!) but I couldn't figure out how to download the "app" that would say how fast we were going.
We finally realized that at certain times the monitor would flash what our current speed was. It tended to only say it once we got up to top speed.
I once saw it as high as 299 km/h, but never saw it at 300 km/h!
But it only travels that fast for about 15 minutes! The rest of the time we had stops to make and I don't think it got much faster than a normal train. Now, I did some reading up on this and apparently they are building a new section of rail that the high speed trains can actually travel their designed speed on. The section that we were on simply wasn't designed for the trains to go that fast. It's supposed to be open in early 2015, and we actually saw the new section a few times and it does look close to being ready.
This is part of the new high speed section. The yellow fields in the foreground is rice.
So, while it was fun to be going that fast for the short time that we did, we were kind of expecting a little more. From what I understand, there is an express train from Seoul to Busan (and return) that does in fact follow the entire route at high speed. Maybe when we come back some day we'll try that out!
Somewhere along the route.
We pulled into Gwangju exactly two minutes late at 3:17pm. Not bad to be that accurate for a three hour journey! They are so efficient with everything here.
At the train station, they have a tourist information place. And, they have a girl who speaks English! Good thing, because it would have been interesting trying to find a place to stay without her help.
Thanks to Jang eun-jeong who helped us out at the tourist info center! And to her associate Kim who took this photo! :-)
Gwangju is South Korea's sixth largest city. It's not on most visitor's list of tourist destinations. We find that western visitors go to Seoul, Busan, or Jeju Island and don't really stop anywhere in between. As you know, we like to get off the beaten path a little bit. Anyhow, Gwangju is a little place of about 1.5 million people.
Jang had suggested a small hotel close to downtown. We told her we wanted something cheap, and for two nights. She knew just the place. 35,000 won ($40.25) per night, and a short walk to downtown. She even called to confirm they had space, and mentioned that the guy speaks enough English to get by. Nice!
She said we could take a bus there. The city buses here cost 1,200 won ($1.35) per trip no matter the length. And taxis are really cheap as well. In fact, with the two of us it was going to cost 2,400 won ($2.70) by bus and she said the taxi would be around 5,000 won ($5.75)...so we took a taxi!
Jang wrote out instructions in Korean for the taxi driver and we went out front to the taxi stand. No problem. The guy was fast and efficient and his cab was spotlessly clean. When we arrived at the hotel, the bill on the meter was 4,000 won ($4.60). There is no tipping in Korea, so the bill is what it is. If you try to give them a tip in a restaurant or cab, they'll look at you like you must be from another world and just hand it back to you. Man, it is so much easier this way!
The hotel guy was great and so is our room. More than what we were hoping for considering the price. This is the Windmill Motel, beside the tax office in downtown Gwangju.
Does it have a "power wash" function??
42" flat screen tv (all in Korean) and all the amenities!
We got things settled and decided we had better go out and explore a little bit.
People tend to stare at us a little bit. In Seoul, it's a big cosmopolitan city and we would fairly regularly see other nationalities besides Koreans. Not here...we stand out like a sore thumb. Especially since I'm almost always the tallest person around. It doesn't matter. Just something I wanted to point it out.
A five minute walk from our motel.
Pretty busy looking, isn't it??
Guess we're gonna have to figure out how to get some food at some point.
All girl rock band giving a performance.
We haven't yet told you why we came here, but that will be tomorrow's post! What we didn't expect is that they have a street festival going on right now! The Korean's are big on their festivals, and this is a good one!
Held every October, the Chungjang Recollection Festival is one of Gwangju’s most representative festivals. The festival theme is the 1970s and 80s and creating a nostalgic atmosphere with various performances, exhibitions, and hands-on programs.
During the festival, the streets in the venue are made to be similar to the scene of 70s and 80s. The Chungjang Recollection Festival hosts various programs such as a street parade, alumni reunions, intangible cultural asset performances, and more.
The streets are busy!
One of the main streets.
Street food. Kimchee?
This was kind of neat!
We finally found somewhere to eat. Total bill was 13,000 won ($15.00) for the two of us.
Taken about two hours ago. Busy place!
Again, we have had a great day.
Gwangju is not on the tourist route, but it should be. We've only seen a small amount of this city, but so far...we're impressed. Tomorrow, we're going to do some hiking. That's why we came here!
300 kms (186 miles) from Seoul to Gwangju on the train.