A&E on the World Heritage Train East 2009 travel blog

Yul Gok - "Teacher of the nation"

Ojukheon: Yul Gok's birthplace

Sun Cruise Hotel, Jeongdongin

One year sand timer, Jeongdongin

North Korean spy sub!

South Korean battleship ready for anything

I'm now on the North-East Coast of South Korea in a city called Gangneung, mostly as a base for the two national parks near here. One of the best bits of the journey here was the rest stop at a motorway services, very busy and a very festive spirit all round in the car park and shops.

We drove through hundreds of miles of autumn-coloured, forested mountains to get here from Seoul; if it wasn't for the fact that it has started pouring with rain the hiking looked like it would be very good. I am staying in yet another Korean 'love' hotel. I think someone should do one of those architectural/design coffee table books about the architecture and decor of love hotels, it is unique and very interesting, though a bit hard to describe. Its sort of the interior design equivalent of wide open shirts with hairy chests and huge gold medallions, big set wavy hair and stillettos.

Gangneung is also the birthplace of Yul Gok, a national Korean hero who features on the 5,000 won note and is an important figure in Tae Kwon-do. He was a scholar, artist, politician and a big man in neo-confucianism, and a very precocious child by all accounts, and his mother is considered to be THE model of Korean womanhood. She was an accomplished artist and craftswoman, but not without also being a famously perfect wife and mother. She features on the 50,000 won note. So first I went to visit the museum complex around his birthplace, much to the amazement of all the Koreans who were there. I am clearly way off the tourist trail, as I have been stared at all day, either that or there is birdshit on my head.

By the time I had done that it was a bit too late to go hiking in National Parks, so I took a train down the coast to see some more unusual sights. The first of these was a cliff-top hotel made to look like a ship, and nearby a giant sand-timer that takes exactly a year to run through. These were all at Jeongdonjin, also famed as a very romantic place due to a Korean TV drama that featured it (Koreans are very big on sentimental dramas). It was nice to see the sea again, I always make a point of going there when I can, as I feel its really just one sea all around the world, and it joins together all the trips I've done, and home.

Then up the coast a short way to see a genuine North Korean spy submarine and what is reputedly the largest ship on land, though god knows why this Korean battleship is now on land rather than tied up next to it. The ship was interesting, the submarine was amazing, though more for its story than for wondering how on earth 30 people could possibly get in it. On a spying mission in 1996 the sub ran aground on the way back. The spies killed the civilian crew and then made a run for it across country to North Korea, all but one being killed or captured eventually. So as you can see, not the usual sort of cultural sights today.

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