For some reason, the actual date it’s observed varies, but this year Buddha’s birthday fell on Friday, May 22nd. We decided to take advantage of our three-day weekend, and take a trip to Geoje-do, the second largest island in Korea. Departing by ferry at 9:00 am, the ride took about fifty minutes.
Joining us on the trip was another couple: Luke, a Canadian teacher at another branch of our chain of schools and his girlfriend Cindy, a Busan native.
As Buddha’s Birthday is a national holiday, many Koreans take advantage of the time off to get away. We had tried without success to book a hotel online. However, our friends seemed confident we’d be able to find a place upon arrival.
Knowing we wanted to secure a seat on the ferry to another small island, Odeo, boasting a famous botanical garden, our first mission was to get tickets for that trip. At about 10:00 am, we practically ran off the ferry from Busan and into the line for the second ferry making hourly trips to the small island. After waiting for almost an hour, we were set to take the first one available, which departed at 4:00.
The next thing on our list was ensuring a place to stay for the night. Finding few prospects near the ferry station, we hailed a cab and the driver took us to one of the smaller beach areas where he felt we might have a shot at accommodations. Cindy called the phone number displayed on each place we encountered and received the same response: “We’re full.”
Feeling rejected and losing hope, we came across a convenience store where Cindy noticed writing outside proclaiming it was a motel.
She conversed with the woman inside and reported one available room for 50,000 won (about $50). It was small, but it was a room! We decided to stay on the hunt for an additional room, so we wouldn’t all have to get too cozy.
We headed up a steep hill to “Rainbow Pension”, to try our luck there. An older woman confirmed she too had one room available, and gave us a look. A small bathroom was visible upon entrance to the room, which didn’t look terrible, but when she opened the door to the “bedroom” I almost laughed out loud. The room was tiny, and was nothing more than a bare wood floor. That was it. No bed. No mat. No table. No anything. Some Koreans sleep on the floor but this was pushing it, especially when she reported the price for one night was 70,000 won (almost $70). Although she offered to come down to 60,000 won as we were leaving, we couldn’t justify spending that money on that room.
A trip up another steep hill earned us the knowledge that the “Hotel Palace” was booked for the night, but would gladly accommodate us the following evening for 220,000 won (over $2oo). No thanks.
We decided that one room was better than none, and dropped our four bags off at the room above the store. We headed for the beach, conveniently located directly across from our new motel.
Ryan and Luke set off to fish along the rocks, while Cindy and I layed in the sun for a bit. A few hours passed and it was time to head back to the ferry for Odeo.
Once we were on the small boat heading to the island, Cindy attempted to translate the captain’s announcements. As we made our way across the water we passed endless beautiful rock formations. At one point we were instructed to make our way to the boat’s deck to get a better view.
The sight was breathtaking.
Once we were outside, the captain pulled the boat into a narrow entrance between two of the tremendous rocks, and for a second we feared he’d hit one.
We were told our visit had come at the ideal time of year. The water needs to be calm enough for the driver to commandeer the boat into such a small area and then out again. It truly was a perfect day. With a temperature in the high seventies it was sunny and clear.
After a few more minutes we docked at the island, consumed by the famous garden. It was beautiful. Topiary trees lined the entrance, and continued to the line the path up a hill.
On either side of us were palm trees, ivy, and scores of greenery and blossoms.
We wove through a cactus display, and up the hill to an area with columns and roses, which looked very Greek.
As we continued walking among tremendously beautiful flowers, Ryan captured some great photographs.
The sun was lowering in the sky, providing a stunning back-drop. We couldn’t get over how spectacular the island was.
Once the time we’d been given was up, we dashed back to the ferry for the half hour ride back to the station.
After climbing out of the boat, we collectively realized we were starving. I jokingly pointed out the “Meat Rak," a restaurant close to the ferry pier.
If the poor cow only knew what he was so enthusiastically advertising.
My fellow travelers suggested we at least check it out and see if there were any vegetarian options for me. Once inside, we realized the Meat Rak consisted of a massive buffet boasting not only meat, but an expansive salad bar and noodle station. It also offered various other appetizers and dinner options.
Seeing the spread, the boys looked like they had died and gone to heaven. After a quick chat with the host, Cindy informed us that the cost of the buffet was 13,000 won, equaling less than the same dollar amount. “That’s ok!” The boys said simultaneously, thinking they had misheard the inexpensive cost. Cindy smiled, and also reported that we’d have to wait half an hour for a table. “That’s ok!” The boys said, again in unison. Cindy and I laughed and agreed we’d wait too. The boys suggested we grab a beer from the convenience store while we waited. Drink on the street? Sure, we thought, it’s not like it’s illegal.
Once our name had been called, we set out to collect our dinner. Ryan must have had at least eight mini octopi that he grilled himself. He also enjoyed various kinds of beef and pork, which he said was delicious. The boys definitely got their money's worth.
I was content with a salad that included glass noodles, cucumbers and tomatoes, along with fruit and french fries on the side.
From our table-side window we saw a parade honoring Buddha’s Birthday, and I ran outside to snap a few pictures.
Finally we had sufficiently stuffed ourselves and headed to the beach across from the hotel where the boys put on a fireworks show. The pictures didn't really turn out well, but the remnants of the fireworks are here.
On the beach we ran into someone who happened to be from Portland. It turned out he was a graduate of Lincoln High School. It certainly is a small world.
We went to bed that night anticipating another morning spent at the beach, followed by a trip to the POW camp local to Geoje. However, when we awoke the next morning, we realized the weather had other plans for us. Not only was it cloudy, it was also drizzling.
We unwillingly skipped our beach plans, and bussed our way to the POW camp. On our way there, Cindy pointed out this sign, urging tourists to try their dog restaurant. The infamous rumor was sadly confirmed.
Approximately the same time we arrived at the POW camp, the rain decided it was done holding off, and it began to pour. We soon discovered that many parts of the camp and museum were outside.
In a way, the rain added a dramatic element to the scene. On the other hand, we were soaked. We tried to continue enjoying our vacation in spite of the rain and made our way through the camp.
June 25, 1950 (6-25) marked the North’s first attack and initiation of war with the south.
The life-like diorama of the camp was especially intriguing.
The makeshift weapons also piqued our interest. It seems the prisoners used barbed wire whips covered with cloth handles to attempt overtaking their guards. Ouch.
Outside again at one point, we entered the “photo zone.” Ryan “cooked” alongside the prisoners.
And then he... did other things.
I wish I could have captured the group of about fifteen people that gathered to witness the taking of this picture. I have never been so amused yet so embarrassed at the same time.
At least he cleaned up, right?
Once I had stepped in a third puddle, and the small umbrella Ryan and I were sharing showed signs of breaking, we were ready to go.
We settled for a quick bite at Mr. Pizza, and after dinner headed to the ferry station and home to Busan.
Exhausted (did I mention Luke's incessant and deafening snoring?), we slept on the boat, and arrived in Busan, where it was still pouring. We happily showered and crawled into our own bed.
We finished the weekend (still raining) by seeing “Robin Hood” at the mall on Sunday. Not the best movie ever, but we did stay dry.