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Take a weekend trip to Jejudo
Jeju Island is Korea’s tropical garden, a volcanic rock with the nation’s highest peak (Hallasan, 1950m) at the centre. It is easy to get to from the mainland, but don’t stay in the capital, Jejusi. There are great beaches, an extinct volcano to climb for sunrise on the eastern peak (Seonsan Ilchulbong), and the world’s largest lava tunnel welcomes you for a dark and chilly 2km walk through and to lava rock pillars and back.
The odd thing is, it looks like Connemara in the West of Ireland with sunshine and palm trees. Seriously – tangerine orchards excepted, much of the countryside is filled with small stone-walled fields, black from volcanic rock. But it’s also the pace of life, easier and far removed from the bustle of the mainland. It even has its own Aran Island, Udo, on the east coast: rent a bike or get a ticket for the hop on-off bus to get great views of the volcano and explore the grottos and caves along the coast. Watching the aging haenyeo divers is another great way to spend a few hours but that’s another story. Google it. (Bring your passport)
Once you settle in to life here and you’re used to your teaching schedule, you consider taking up Tae kwondo. It’s a great way to get fit and gives you a real insight into culture in South Korea. When you’ve finished teaching English for the day, you’ll find it’s something you’ll really look forward to. It’s almost a rite of passage for young males to take up Tae Kwondo although it is popular amongst girls and adults as well. The truly hooked expat can earn a black belt in under a year if they stick to classes of an hour or more 4 or 5 nights a week. It will involve a lot of high kicks and gruelling exercise but it will get you fit as well as teach you self defence. (World Tae Kwondo Federation: www.kukkiwon.co.kr)
Do a Templestay
Many temples will offer a tour with insight to temple life and green tea but dozens of temples invite you to spend the night. The programmes vary but typically you will arrive early Saturday, tour the temple, try your hand at lantern-making, eat a vegetarian dinner followed by brief worship and then perhaps watch and practice some martial arts. Bedtime! Up early (4.30ish early) for an hour’s meditation before breakfast, after which you will be taught and expected to attempt the ritual of 108 bows. Then you’re given a cuppa and taught the etiquette of tea drinking before enjoying lunch. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll it ain’t but it’s a weekend you’ll never forget and one you won’t experience at home. Expect to pay $20+.
Visit the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ)
The world’s most fortified international border invites you for a daytrip. For some reason there are restrictions for Korean visitors but we foreigners can peer over to stern-faced North Korean troops. The no-man’s land is one of the most natural landscapes on earth due to having been unmolested for 55 years. Guides will steer you clear of all the barbed wire and line mines to show you the North Korean tunnels built into South Korean soil, an observatory platform and the Joint Security Area. It’s an easy trip from Seoul but you must travel in a tour group. How many of your friends can say they’ve peered into North Koreas back yard, a must see! Don’t forget to bring your passport.