Now that I’ve moved to a city I decided that I should go do the things I want to do. I’m no longer tied down by how difficult it is to catch the bus. This includes going to festivals I want to see. With cherry blossom season in full swing I decided I wanted to see THE cherry blossom festival in Korea. It is, however in Jinhae, which is closer to Busan. (And thus far from me)
I thought I’d go on my own. Make a day trip or a weekend out of it. But then while talking to Gina, she mentioned she was going via WinK. I checked their Facebook events, found the tour and e-mailed them to see if there was any availability left. There was! Which meant I didn’t have to worry about getting there or getting back, or finding my way around. I didn’t have to find a place to stay last minute or worry about almost anything. I just had to pack and be at Seoul National University of Education Station Exit 14 at 10:30pm after work on Friday.
Here’s the schedule we had:
- 10:30ish depart from in front of WINK taphouse. (short walk from exit 14)
- Pick up people along the way to the Jimjilbang/motel after about 3 in the morning.
- Meet at 8:15 back at the bus to go to the festival. (Receive muffins!)
- 9am-Jinhae festival
- FREE TIME
- 11am- Leave Jinhae
- 1pm- arrive in Gyeongju and rent bikes
- FREE TIME
- 5pm return bikes and head to hostel
- 6:30/7pm bbq dinner at hostel
- 8:00 night walk tour of tombs and Anapji pond
- 7:30am Bagels and hot drinks
- 8am Bulguksa Temple/Namsan Hike
- 9:30am Seokguram Grotto
- 11am pick up everyone who tried to sleep in
- 12:30 Buffet lunch
- 6:30pm back in Seoul
Pretty busy trip for sure. I wasn’t particularly excited for Gyeongju as I’d already spent an entire Chuseok exploring the city my first year and nothing on our itinerary was new to me.
But this post will cover up through Jinhae. Gyeongju will be in a second post.
First thing was the long journey from Seoul to our Jimjilbang. Practically everyone slept during the bus ride, including our guides. We stopped at a couple spots to pick people up throughout the night/ early morning and there was one “rest stop” included in that. The rest stop was really the bus picking someone up and the rest of us, who were awake, running into a nearby hotel to use their lobby bathroom.
I tried to sleep the rest of the time, grateful I’d brought my eye mask, until our bus driver started yelling. We were making our way up hill and he got stuck due to traffic and seemed rather unhappy. It took a moment for our guides to rouse and in a dazed way figure out why he was unhappy. Turns out the jimjilbang was up a hill and our driver refused to go the rest of the way. So (late) we unboarded and made our way up the steep hill at 4am. Not fun. We all huddled on the steps as our guide tried to get us in. The front desk at first told us that there wasn’t any space available. But our guide reminded them we had a reservation and started calling off our names in groups of threes to collect our jimjilbang pajamas and locker key.
This was my first time staying at a jimjilbang. I’ve heard about them countless times before. Everyone calls them spas and they’re known as a cheap alternative to a hotel/motel/hostel to stay at in South Korea. So cheap, that everyone told me they only cost a couple thousand won. (a couple bucks) When I heard that this one was 10,500 won I thought, oh it must be nice and fancy. It was also much cheaper than staying at the motel which was where or bus had driven off to and which cost about 35,000 won extra.
I headed off with the other ladies on our trip to the women’s locker room and dropped off my shoes in the shoe locker and then my stuff in the big locker. Both went with the number on the key band and then I separated from the rest of the group to head downstairs to take a shower.
For some reason I thought there’d be more. I don’t know why, but I thought toiletries would be included. Or at least more than communal bars of soap. The ground felt grimy and I really wished I had shower shoes. A couple other people headed down with me and I took, quite possibly the quickest shower in my life. I’m not sure if it’s different if you’re with a bunch of friends or if there’s more people and it’s less exhausting. There were pools or baths, but they were mostly drained and I really just wanted to go straight to bed. So I put on the pajamas, dropped my towels off in the used towel bin and headed upstairs.
The majority of the group had changed into their jimjilbang provided pajamas and headed upstairs to sleep earlier. Apparently there was a specific room for women and another for men that had been set aside for us. However when I got upstairs everyone had gone to sleep and I didn’t want to get too close to the bodies sleeping in various corners to inspect and see if any of them looked familiar. I found one of our guides laying down on some chairs, grabbed a very flat mat and made do near the water fountain.
I did not sleep. I couldn’t. It was too hot. People kept getting up and walking past. Many people were loudly snoring. I was also at the first stages of getting sick which was making me miserable and part of me wished I’d stayed on the bus. One girl from our tour got so fed up with all the sound that she grabbed her stuff and slept in the locker room, where she found a cockroach.
It might’ve been better in the lady only room, which I still don’t know where it was, or shelling out an extra 25,000 won for a motel room. But the people who stayed at the motel didn’t get much sleep either and had a lot of difficulty checking in and the ladies in the women only room ended up not getting much sleep either due to some snoring.
It also didn’t help that at 6am one of the ladies who ran the place decided to high pressure wash all the bathrooms near us and then take out the trash and shake it past everyone sleeping as she walked.
So eventually I gave up, got up, retrieved my stuff from my locker, tried to charge my poor phone, dropped off my key at the desk and then stood outside to wait with everyone else for the bus.
Stay at a Jimjilbang in Korea check. Am I fan? …nope. (However I did miss out on probably everything that people do actually enjoy about jimjilbangs. But I also am not one who can handle heat)
The first thing we got on the bus was our choice of muffin (from Costco) and then we headed to the festival. The muffins were good but several people also spotted the nearby McDonalds and before the bus left ran off to grab coffee and other less sweet breakfast items. (Gina was very kind and brought me back a hash-brown.)
Maps were passed out and our first stop would be to visit the train station which is only open during the festival. It’s the iconic photo anyone who goes to the festival takes. It was also the furthest away from everything else we were going to do and the thing we had the shortest amount of time for. There were flower crowns being sold everywhere with the sneaky way of being sold as the sellers would just walk up and put them on peoples heads and then be like “Oh so pretty~”. The safest way to avoid this was beating them to the punch and buying one from someone else.
The Korail cherry blossom train is only available to visit during the festival. The area is pretty crowded but if you have time they set out lawn chairs so you can relax, almost lay down and watch them fall around you. It was absolutely stunning. But also very very crowded.
There’s a line to get pictures with the train depending on when you go. I didn’t want to bother with the line. I was worried about our time. I like being on time and I do get concerned about being left behind on tours. So I grabbed a picture of just the train with the cherry blossoms and I was quite happy.
I was also on the hunt for cherry blossom bread and was determined to find some. I wanted to bring some home to my new coworkers as well as try some. I didn’t find any at the train location, only general street food that I can find anywhere in Korea.
Gina on the other hand really wanted her picture in front of the train, and got in line, but we ran out of time so I ran to see when the bus was leaving only to find it leaving.
Problem: I had the map. My goal was elsewhere. Gina didn’t have the map. Her goal was a picture in front of the train. So she stayed to get her picture and I got on the bus. It was a bit stressful, trying to figure out how to tell her where we were with my dying battery (remember how I didn’t charge it the entire time we were at the jimjilbang???…yeah) So I stayed close to our guide as we headed to the next spot to try and somehow put the two of them in touch, since he could better tell her where we were and how to get to where we were going.
Our next stop was the stream….which was underwhelming. A lot of the cherry blossoms weren’t yet in full bloom yet. There was very little water in the stream and despite how I ran up and down along either side of it, no cherry blossom bread to be found. Meanwhile Gina met subscribers and got her picture. She also found a free shuttle which took her directly to the area we were in, was able to find an uncrowded side street where the cherry trees were in full bloom and was having a delightful time on her own.
Highlight of my trip at the stream? I did find cherry blossom ice cream. It was 3,000 won and delightful.
I also found a shop selling cherry blossom coffee with art of the festival on it, so I bought some as a “worse case scenario” back up gift for my coworkers. (Ended up giving it to the principal and vice principal and they loved it) I found information desk after information desk, showed them the bread I was looking for and they sent me “left and up the stairs”, “across the street and to the right”, “down that way past the intersection next to the bank”, “around the corner”, and no matter who I asked, no matter which way I went I couldn’t find the bakery that made them. Concerned about being left behind (the bus didn’t wait a second for Gina) I gave up and returned to the bus. I ended up so early that I was the first one aboard and I just collapsed in my seat and tried to cool off.
Where was the bread? Why was I sent all over downtown looking for it in conflicting directions? Turns out the bakery had made little pop up tents where they were selling the bread. I know this because I saw one of the tents as our bus drove away from Jinhae.
So was the tour worth it? (For the Jinahae section?) I’ve got mixed feelings. I feel like on the one hand it made it very easy to get in and out of the festival. We had a map to where everything of importance was. However due to the time crunch it made it difficult to actually accomplish anything. If you just want to go and see the flowers, it’s perfect. If you actually want to get specific pictures or buy something specific…a little less easy. It depends on what you want to do. I’m glad I went but there’s also free shuttles during the festivals that will take you to all the highlights of the festival. So part of me does somewhat wish I’d stayed in Busan and then gone to the festival in my own time and with more sleep. But that’s because I understand enough Korean to navigate public transportation on my own and would’ve liked to have slowed down and smelled the flowers.
For more on my trip with WinK you can read the next part here: Gyeongju Cherry Blossoms on a Bike