The Transnistria parliament building with a statue of Lenin out front. In the city of Tiraspol, Transnistria. Photo taken December 9, 2016.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Tiraspol, Transnistria...the country that doesn't exist.

Where are they going next? Northern Moldova. Arrive December 11th.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Riding the rails at 300 km/h (186 mph)!

Yesterday, I had been on the Korail website to check what time our train was going to leave. I had read that from Monday to Friday you can easily travel without a reservation. But it looked like it was really easy to book, and the website was all in English, so I went ahead and bought our tickets online.

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.

Nice room!

Huge bathroom

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?

Performances.

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.


25 comments:

  1. Livin' the high life at that hotel, for sure!
    I really like the sliding door idea at the subway station. Nobody taking a header onto the tracks, whether intended or not. Smart thinking.

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    1. The hotel is pretty good compared to some we have stayed in that were at least twice the price in the US. It is very clean and pretty quiet. Our only problem is that last night we had several mosquitoes in the room that were very annoying!

      Yep, I think more cities should invest in these sliding doors.

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  2. You know, I would have never thought of going on a trip to South Korea but this has opened my eyes - so modern, so clean, so neat, so interesting! Love it!!!

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    1. June already said that she would be your guide, so what's stopping you! It is a beautiful country and such friendly people.

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  3. Intangible cultural asset performances? That's a mouthful.

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    1. It sure is and just imagine the mouthful if you had to say that in Korean. ;-)

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  4. So nice that your hotel turned out to be really nice for $40 - Canada has a thing or two to learn from other countries, that is for sure. You showed us the food - any idea what it was? :)

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    1. We are actually very happy and very surprised at out clean the room is. It has all the amenities that we need for a hotel room. Our only issue was that we had mosquitoes in the room last night which we thought was odd.

      Kevin had an rice with a plain egg omelette covering the rice and then a very spicy tomato sauce with seafood. I had was is called bibimpab, which had rice, beef, vegetables and mushrooms. Kevin had to scrape the sauce off of his meal and pick out the seafood in it because it was REALLY spicy but otherwise he liked it. Mine was very good.

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  5. Have you bought any food in a grocery store?

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    1. Yes, we have. Our second last night in Seoul I made dinner for June and Park. We found a health food store that had corn tortillas which we bought and they also had some homemade gluten free desserts that they sold by the piece so we picked up a couple of those to split between us. After that we went to a local shop that sold groceries, just a small shop not a big supermarket. Prices were a little more expensive than we were expecting. I think the markets would be the best place to shop for most products but we didn't have one that close by.

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  6. What was the country like between the two cities? I saw the rice fields and the new high speed train tracks. Is it tropical?

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    1. Pretty much like what was in the two pictures. There was quite a lot of agricultural land which seemed to be mostly rice, also lots of greenhouses, several other smaller cities and it was fairly mountainous. I am not sure tropical is the word as their temperatures aren't too much different from Canada or the US. They get snow in the winter but normally the temperature doesn't go much below 10C (15F) and in the summer it can get hot and humid. Having said that there are lots of forests that do sort of have a "tropical or jungle like" feel to them.

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  7. Replies
    1. Sorry, I must be a little slow on this one because I am not quite sure what you mean. :-)

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  8. Another wonderful adventure, thanks for sharing the trip

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  9. Nice write-up so far about the journey down to Gwangju... I enjoyed reading about your experiences so far and I hope you continue to enjoy your travels throughout Korea!

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    1. Thank you very much for taking time to comment. We have really enjoyed this area and wished we had more time to explore it a little better unfortunately we are on the move again tomorrow. Hopefully one day we can make it back again and spend some more time here. We are looking forward to our travels through the rest of the country.

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  10. Looks like it might be a bit wet on Jeju this weekend, thanks to super typhoon Vongfong...

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    1. Kevin had a look at that and it looks like it will be more on Sunday and Monday, guess we will have to plan some indoor activities on those two days. There is a museum about the women divers on the island that looks like it would be interesting along with the local market in Jeju City.

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  11. What a great time. I would be scared if it was a USA train going that fast:)

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    1. We did have a good time but we were a little disappointed with the train ride because unfortunately it only went at a high speed for about 15 minutes. We would love to try it out again once they get the new track for it up and running.

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