Hello friends! Hope everyone had a happy new year and all that great stuff! I am now on the two month winter holiday that is standard in South Korea and am currently trying to brush up on my Korean and go check out some cool spots outside of Seoul.
One of the great things about studying in Seoul is that transportation to other regions in Korea is very convenient and affordable, possibly attributed to the fact that Korea is rather small. As I may have mentioned in my Chuncheon post, if you want to get out of the big city and enjoy the countryside it’s all too easy. My latest excursion out of Seoul was to a small town called Onyang, located about two hours from Seoul via metro and I shall recount it here for your reading pleasure. The town of Onyang is known for the Onyang hot spring hotel which travelers can stay at for around $130 a night, not all that appealing to a penniless student such as myself, however on the lower level of the hotel there lies the Onyang hot springs which can be accessed for a mere $6.
Your enjoyment of the hot springs will depend entirely on how much importance you place on spring water and its alleged healing properties as the baths themselves are fairly basic as far as bath houses go. However, the difference here is that the water is being tapped from an actual hot spring instead of the usual heated tap water wherein lies the payoff.
Before my friend and I checked out of the hot spring we went to a restaurant that specialized in marinated Korean barbeque meat with flavour combinations that I had not before seen. We were a bit sceptical of the price at first which was higher than most barbeque places (about $10-12/serving) but the taste was worth it and with all the side-dishes you get with Korean meals you always have to factor in that you’re getting more than what is says on the menu. The boss was also fluent in English which was pretty helpful as even now I can only use Korean in basic scenarios.
After the hot spring we decided to seek out another bath house/sauna to spend the night, which is something you can do at most bathhouses/sauna or “jjimjilbang” (찜질방) in Korea for around $8 to $12 a night. Very convenient if you’re spending one night somewhere and don’t want to shell out for a hotel. After finding the jjimjilbang my friend and I concluded that it was much too early to turn in and so we decided to seek out a Korean pub or “sooljip” (술집) (lit. Alcohol House) and that’s where the most interesting part of this story takes place.
At first we had a bit of trouble finding a place that was open as Onyang is quite a small city with not a whole lot of night life, but sure enough we eventually found a place. This particular pub we chose at random and it was a small non-descript place that was a bit rundown and looked like it had been there for years. When my American friend and I walked into the place it was like one of those scenes in a western film where the hero walks into a saloon and everyone immediately stops what they were doing and stares as the hero makes his way to the bar.
As soon as we entered the pub, which was full of older local workers from the surrounding neighbourhood everyone immediately started staring at us and did not take their eyes off of us even when we sat down. It felt a bit tense to say the least. Eventually the boss of the pub, a woman in her 50’s, asked us shyly in Korean if we spoke any. I answered back in my basic Korean “Sure, a little bit” and suddenly everyone in the pub relaxed and went back to their various conversations. A table of older men directly behind us even started clapping as I delivered my answer and did so once again after I ordered a bottle of “makkoli” a traditional rice wine indigenous to Korea.
The rest of our time at the pub was very pleasant as even though we only ordered a little bit of food the owner kept giving us, and everyone else in the pub free “service” which included all kinds of kimchee, peanuts and two whopping plates of clams all for free! By the time we were finished we were totally stuffed. After that we headed to our bathhouse where we slept and had a decent sleep at that.
The next day we stopped by at Suwon to check out Hwaseong Fortress, which we could only see for half an hour as we arrived kind of late. However there was a park and a trail nearby which was fairly interesting. After that we hopped back on the subway to Seoul which took about an hour. All in all a fun and inexpensive excursion.