^ Well, the Fukuoka area parks aren't part of next year's TPR trip, although Fuji-Q and Tokyo Joypolis (and maybe Tobu Zoo) are. Plus Nagashima Spaland and Universal Studios Japan, which didn't come until the end of this trip over 5 weeks later, are part of the add-on.
I've put basic public transportation information in this report to help anyone who wants to go early (or another time) and try to get to these parks on their own. And if anyone needs any help or advice, just ask. Remember, Hyperdia is your friend!
I'm not sure if Universal or Nagashima Spaland would be first on the pre-trip. But Hakata is about 2.5 hours to Osaka and 3.5 hours to Nagoya by bullet train. So, it's pretty easy to get there. You'd probably need three days to hit the three main parks, and could possibly add in the other two parks I did, as well.
Just in case any of this tempts anyone to try to get to these parks on their own. If not, I'm sure TPR will go back to Fukuoka soon.
^I'm just a super-fan of everything Japanese, so the overall level of Japanese awesomeness in these reports is what I'm enjoying, even though I know we aren't hitting all these same parks/sights on the 2013 trip. That said, I'm also very much looking forward to all the trip report segments in China, Korea, and Taiwan, too. Asia, in general, rocks.
Day 7, part 1: Fukuoka/Beppu, Japan. Kijima Kogen – coasting in the clouds!
This was the day I was nervous about. The whole reason I went to Fukuoka was to ride the Jupiter, one wooden coaster in Japan I hadn’t ridden on my last trip there. Weather reports for the entire weekend had been changing daily all week. In the end, the forecasts settled at about a 40% chance of rain for most of the day, but slightly less before noon. This changed my original plans, which were to go to Rakutenchi first, since it was a smaller park, and then spend the rest of the day at the larger Kijima Kogen. I always like to try to ride wooden coasters as late as possible, since they tend to get faster and better as the day goes on. But with the threat of rain, I didn’t want to risk missing Jupiter completely. And let’s be honest, Jupiter has never been a top-ranked coaster anyways, so I wouldn’t be missing too much by not riding it later in the day. I was already taking a huge gamble by leaving the woodie for the last day, since they would likely keep it closed if it rained. If it rained all day, I’d miss it, which would be a huge disappointment. If it did end up raining, I’d stall at the park, eating and doing whatever they had indoors, hoping for the woodie to eventually open. So, I got up early to ensure I'd be at the park before opening.
To get to the park, you can take several different limited express trains to the Beppu station: Sonic or Nichirin Seagaia or Yufu or Yufuin. The limited express trains make many fewer stops and take around 120-130 minutes. If you take the local versions of these trains, it will take significantly longer, which means it would have actually been better to wait for the next limited express train! At about $60 each way, this train ride is NOT cheap. So, you might want to double up and hit both parks in one day! Note that Beppu is also the train station closest to Wonder Rakutenchi. Both parks have busses that run to them from the station in opposite directions, although you could also walk to Wonder Rakutenchi. In fact, the busses leave from stops at opposite sides of the station. I had trouble finding most Japanese bus information online, since the bus schedules were only in Japanese, and it’s hard to figure out which bus goes where with only Google Translate or Babylon, especially when you don’t know the last destination of each bus, which is how the busses are listed. But after e-mailing Kijima Kogen, a nice PR person sent me the bus schedule for the days I’d likely be there. He also let me know that I could buy an “enjoy ticket” at the tourist office at the train station which included admission and the round trip bus ticket and would have saved me over $10, but it wasn’t open when I got there, and I didn’t have the time to waste, with rain looking very possible. Also, you can get the bus schedules from the toursist office, if they're open.
The bus ride to the park is a long, winding trip through the gorgeous mountains of Beppu. It was actually only 30-40 minutes, but with the ever-present threat of rain, it seemed like forever! But I really enjoyed the mountainous scenery.
When I got to the park, the park PR person actually came up to me in the line to buy tickets and introduced himself and welcomed me to the park! As the only white person in line, I must have been easy to spot. He also wanted me to let everyone on TPR know that they are very welcome at the park!
Meanwhile, the weather wasn’t looking good. It was VERY cloudy and looked like it could rain at any moment. In fact, about 5 minutes before the ticket booth opened, it started drizzling, while I was talking to the park representative. He assured me that Jupiter was open, at least for now. Wouldn’t it have been really crappy if it started raining minutes before the park opened, and Jupiter closed for the entire day?!? Luckily, the drizzle passed fairly quickly and never came back!
Needless to say, I rushed right over to the Intamin wooden coaster Jupiter, which was all the way in the back of the park! Luckily, it was open, and I got a few rides with no wait. I didn’t find it as rough as many enthusiasts have, but I also rode early in the day, when it wasn’t so fast. But it wasn’t exactly smooth, either. It was decent with a few pops of airtime. What was really cool though was that because we were way out in the mountains, there were actually clouds covering several of the hills. So, for the first time in my life, I was actually coastering IN THE CLOUDS! How cool! When you’ve been in this hobby as much as I have and have traveled as much as I have, it’s not often that you get new coastering experiences!
From there, I headed to the other coasters in the park to get my credits in. Although I did stop first at the nearby Intamin 2nd generation freefall ride, which I still think give the best freefall sensations of any of the many freefall types out there. And I’m not just saying that because they’re from Intamin! Plus, the view of the park and the surrounding mountains with the storm clouds all around was pretty spectacular! Next up was the Meisho looping Super fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo Coaster, which was fine, but nothing special. Then there was the Vekoma Roller Skater with the ingenious name of Roller Skater. Dragon was a powered coaster, and I don’t even remember for sure if I rode it, since I don’t count them, but I think I did. With so many of them in the trip, especially in China, they’re all a blur at this point. The Gold Rush compact mine train coaster would have actually been really good if there had been anything resembling leg room. I’d been warned that the seats were a tight fit, but this was crazy! I did barely fit, but it made for some painful riding! Which is a shame, because it was a pretty nice ride, otherwise. The park had a short, but decent shooting dark ride and a neat haunted walkthrough with the unique theming like one of those old serials with the evil society of bad guys. Two of the villainous henchmen types even took a picture with me strapped down to some spinning wheel! It was kind of odd having a villainous henchman taking a picture of me, but it was pretty neat, too! Then I went into this TINY 3D 360 degree theater with little stools in it to watch the surround 3D movie Poseidon, which had some of the more effective 3D effects I’ve seen in an amusement park. I’d later see this movie at other parks on the trip as well, though I didn’t sit through it again. The park also had another haunted walkthrough that had theming that was very cartoonish. I’m not sure if the characters were unique to the park or from some popular cartoon.
By this point, the clouds started clearing away somewhat, so it was time to get a bunch more pictures. I gave Jupiter another couple of rides. And I was pretty much done with the park in a few hours. There was hardly anyone in the park. I’m not sure if the threat of rain kept people away, or if it was just the end of the busy season for them. All in all, Kijima Kogen was a nice medium sized park with a decent collection of rides and an ok wooden coaster and some unique haunted attractions. While I’m not sure how soon I’d return, I’m definitely glad I went.
So, I headed back via bus to Beppu Station to go to Wonder Rakutenchi. Since it was a small park, this would likely leave a lot of free time later in the day. As I headed back to the station on the bus, a solution presented itself. As I passed this stop that a lot of people had gotten off the bus on the way to the park, I noticed a sign for the “Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway”, which was a cable car up into the mountains. I always love cable cars with great views, and I’d been admiring the spectacular mountain views all day. However, I didn’t want to take the chance of getting rained out or running out of time for Wonder Rakutenchi, so I skipped the stop, but planned to possibly return if time allowed.
Which it would. But that’s to come in part 2....
Coming up in part 2: Wonder Rakutenchi and the Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway. Plus meat on sticks! And the last update in Japan for quite a while.
The bus ride through the mountains to Kijima Kogen park. This clouds are not looking good for the weather today!
I might as well enjoy the gorgeous scenery. There isn't much I can do about the weather, other than allowing extra time.
Kijima Kogen park.
Jupiter, in the clouds.
It may be a little rough, but it's still an Intamin!
You can see the clouds from the station.
Those hills are right up in the clouds!
A train at last! It's hard to get coaster pictures with trains when there's hardly anyone in the park! Most of the time when a train was running I was on it!
Another Intamin in the clouds!
Super fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo Coaster, a pretty typical looper.
Dragon powered "coaster".
A Zamperla Roller Skater. Guess what it's called.
Roler Skater, of course!
I love the little roller skate cars, especially the bumper brake on the front.
The Gold Rush mine train coaster.
An evil minion in the walthrough.
It's so slow in the park that he's gotten bored waiting for people.
Aaah! The minion's got me!
Evil minions unite!
An overhead bat-man who flies out at you as you walk by.
The shooting dark ride had round cars you sit around.
A nice carousel.
A tiny theater with 3D SUPER 360, new for 2012. It was actually very effective 3D.
The little stools in the small room.
In the kiddie haunted walkthrough, dinner is served.
WTF?!? Is this even allowed on TPR?
A scary skeleton in the kiddie walkthrough.
Ghosts with candles.
Driving lessons for kids.
Hey, it's clearing up. I can actually see the freefall!
The weird levelled queue for Jupiter.
Yay! I can see Jupiter now. And I even caught a train!
And a train on Super fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo Coaster, too. It must be time to leave!
Hey, that looks cool! Maybe I should come back here later. The Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway from the bus.
The busses in Japan have an interesting way of keeping track of your fare. When you get on the bus in the middle door you take a ticket with a number that shows where you got on. As the bus goes along, it shows the current fare for tickets with that number. When you get off at the front exit, you pay the amount showed for you ticket number. Even a foreigher who doesn't speak any Japanese can understand it!
Back at the train station in Beppu. In Japan, Mister Donut's featured item is... pasta?!?
Last edited by David H on Thu Nov 22, 2012 2:43 am.
Day 7, part 2: Fukuoka/Beppu, Japan. Wonder Rakutenchi, Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway.
I arrived back at the Beppu train station from Kijima Kogen park to discover that I’d just missed the bus to Wonder Rakutenchi. Since I was now going to try to make it back along that first bus route to visit the Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway, I didn’t want to wait another 45 minutes or so, so I took a taxi. Taxis in Japan are very expensive, but the park wasn’t very far. It would have made more sense to visit the ropeway while I was already there, but I didn’t want to risk missing out on Wonder Rakutenchi if time ran out.
Wonder Rakutenchi isn’t all that much of a park. But what it lacks in rides, it makes up for in location. It’s built on the side of a mountain, much like Tibidabo park in Barcelona, Spain, although there aren’t elevators between levels. The rides are more built along the winding paths. To get to the park, you have to take a funicular, which offers nice views of the surrounding city and countryside, as does the park itself. For rides, they have a medium sized Jet Coaster, which is nice, but nothing special (other than the views), a Haunted House walkthrough, Jungle Safari (a shooting dark ride, where you shoot animals!) and a few other small rides. The park is probably most known for its double Ferris wheel, which presumably gives great views. It had the longest wait in the park, and since time was a bit tight, I didn’t ride it.
Most importantly, they have live DUCK RACES! Yes, some may think that it’s exploitative, and I’m usually uncomfortable about such things. But it seemed ok to me. They’re running for food. And after the race, they all get food, so it’s not like they have to run to keep from starving. I can’t see this as any more exploitative than having a cow on a regular farm or riding a horse. And it’s really neat!
One weird thing about the park was that they were having some sort of cosplay costume contest of anime characters. So there were all sorts of kids dressed up as characters I didn’t recognize (other than Nintendo’s Mario) with all sorts of fun hair colors. There were even one or two guy in drag as girl characters! At one point, nearly half of the people in the park were inside watching the judging for this contest.
Another weird thing about the park is that there are a bunch of animal displays randomly placed mostly around the back of the park. You wouldn’t expect to see a zoo in the middle of a small amusement park on the side of a mountain. There weren’t that many animals, but it wasn’t just ducks and goats and sheep; they had large monkeys and even penguins!
I walked around for a couple of hours and rode the coaster a few times, plus the two dark attractions, took a ton of pictures and made my way back to the funicular. I started to walk back to the train station, but ended up hopping a taxi so that I didn’t miss the next bus back towards Kijima Kogen and the Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway.
So, I took the bus back to the ropeway, which is what they called a cable car. The ropeway takes you up Mt Tsurumi from about 500m to 1300m above sea level. From there, there are paths to various observations platforms and the summit, plus shrines to “The Seven Gods of Good Fortune.” The views are supposed to be spectacular. Note that I say “supposed to be”. I was walking in the clouds, which blocked out much of the view. Still, it was a neat experience walking among clouds. It’s kind of like breathing in a cool sauna. It was a shame that they blocked much of the view, but I’d been wanting to walk in clouds on the mountains for days now, and I got my wish. I still walked around the entire set of pathways, which takes around 45-60 minutes. And it cleared up somewhat just as it was time to leave for the second to last car down, so I was still able to get a bunch of pictures.
I headed back down, took the bus back to Beppu and the train back to Hakata. I'd originally planned to do some minor sightseeing in Hakata, but the ropeway was way cooler. I finally had some time for a real dinner, rather than pub or fast food, and decided on some Yakitori. After all, you can’t go to Japan without having some meat on sticks, right? I walked around a bit, and took a few pictures, packed up and that was pretty much it for Japan for now. In the morning, I’d be taking a hydrofoil ferry to Busan, South Korea.
All in all, it was a pretty awesome day! Especially when you consider that there was a solid chance I'd spend it sitting at an amusement park waiting for the rain to stop and for the rides to open. Instead I quickly got through both parks on my agenda and had bonus time to take an unexpected cable car into the mountains.
Again, thanks to Elissa for the hotel recommendations. Both of these hotels in Japan were extremely convenient, not to mention both nice and cheap!
For Japan fans, the good news is that I saved the best of Japan for last on this trip, and at the very end of the trip -- after Korea, the long TPR China trip and Taiwan -- I went back to Japan, and visited Universal Studios (for their first full blown Halloween Horror Nights!), Parque Espana, Nagashima Spaland and the two Tokyo Disney parks! And all of those except for Parque Espana (which you can easily get to on your own) are part of the TPR 2013 Japan trip if you do the pre-trip add-on. So stay tuned, Japan fans.
Next up: Busan and Geongju, South Korea. A ton of culture and Gueongju World amusement park.
The castle gates of Wonder Rakutenchi.
You have to take a funicular to get up to the park. POP QUIZ: What other parks can you name with a funicular up to the park?
The spectacular view from the park is one of the main reasons to go!
For some weird reason, they have this big-ass bridge across the park. And they charge 100 yen (around $1.25) to cross it.
The bridge, up close.
Screw the credit, THIS is why you come to Wonder Rakutenchi!
Live duck racing! You gamble 100 yen on a duck!
Come on, pink! My gay duck isn't doing so well.
If you win, you get your choice of a crappy little souvenir towel or some duck stickers, both of which cost probably a nickel!
And hot chicks in anime costumes! Admit it, some of you boys (and a few girls) are jealous!
Wait, that's not a chick cosplayer. Japan's getting modern. Work it, girl!
There was apparently some sort of cosplay contest going on at the park that day. Here is the judging. Each one would go up and say something to a judge and the audience. Note Mario way on the left!
The park's jet coaster, conveniently names Jet Coaster.
The coaster sprawls around the middle section of the park.
Such a nice setting for a coaster, eh?
Haunted Houses don't usually look so medern.
Didn't I just see you in Tobu Zoo the other day, Timon? You'd better hide, befor Tokyo Disney realizes you escaped!
OK, I'll feed you, poor guy.
Despite the warmth, the penguins seemed happy.
LOL! Can we pay extra to see this?
A cute kiddie flume.
The Double Ferris Wheel.
Such amazing views!
Me, on the bridge.
The cat funicular car. The other one is a dog.
The Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway. Aka cable car.
You can still see most ofthe city below during the ride up.
A look down, back at the long, winding rouad through the mountaisn that the bus takes to both here and Kijima Kogen park.
Up on the mountain, I'm literally walking in the clouds! At last!
There are temples and shrines up on the mountains. That seesm a long way to go to pray to your gods! They're probably mostly there as a toursist trap,
Fukurokuju, the diety of happiness, wealth and longevity. He may not look wealthy, but he certainly looks happy and old!
So, this is what I'm supposed to see...
And this is what I can actually see!
Oh, well, I might as well take a picture of me in front of the vast whiteness.
So, I'm walking along the paths, and I run into this. And all I can think of is Blair Witch!
The summit of Mt. Tsurumi.
It's starting to clear up a little. I can see land and water!
The sourrounding mountains in the clouds.
Back outside Hakata Station. With my hotel in the far right.
A ate in the little yakitori restaurant with the red front.
Drinking some hot saki (which I didn't like) and some apple liquor (which I did!) And having some meat on sticks!
Not just meat on sticks, but bacon-wrapped cheese on sticks! And onions on sticks, too! (both are on the right.) This is just the second round of the meat on sticks, plus some meat dish the restaurant is known for. It was all very tasty!
Last edited by David H on Thu Nov 22, 2012 2:43 am.
^ But the evil minions were actually really nice. After they jumped out at me a few times, when they saw my camera, they insisted on taking the pic of me on the weel. It kind of took away from the whole "evil bad guys out to kill you and take ovfer the world" schtick, but it was pretty cool. And it was a really unique concept for a walkthrough scary attraction,
^^ I suspect that much of the business on that day at Wonder Rakutenchi was due to the cosplay contest. Most of the people at the park were either in costume or with people in costume. Given how much Japanese kids love to dress up as their favorite cartoon characters, it was pretty ingenius of the park to come up with this idea to get the usual sunday cosplay crowd away from shopping areas like Shinjuku and into their park. There were a bunch of families there too, however. Also, it was the last Sunday of the Summer, so that might have brought out many of the people, especially once the weather quickly cleared up.
Still, it was a nice, quirky park in a stunning mountain setting. It's worth going to the park, just for the views, which admittedly was the main reason I went. (I got to get some sightseeing done with the views, plus get a credit too! And bet on duck racing!
Day 8: Busan/Gyeongju, South Korea. A ferry, a tower and lots of culture.
A warning: this is a pretty big update with no amusement parks or coasters. However, there is a lot of interesting Korean culture that you porbably haven't seen on TPR before! Parks and coasters will return with the next three updates, though there will be lots of culture interspersed, as well. Hopefully, some of you will appreciate some of the other things that Korea has to offer. And if not, skip this stuff and there will be a few world class Intamin coasters and a B&M coming up soon!
So, a little introduction to the Korea portion of the trip. When I decided to do the TPR China trip, my very first thought was to try to add Korea to the trip. It’s nearby. But more importantly, it has two world class parks right outside Seoul, one of which has one of the top 3 wooden coasters in the world, and the other of which has a top rated unique Intamin coaster. I’d want to get there eventually, and what better time than when I’d be literally flying over the country anyways? Originally, I thought I’d just make it a 2-4 day stop and just hit those parks and do a bit of sightseeing, but one thing I learned from past trips abroad is that I enjoy and appreciate them more when I take the time to see other things in the country besides parks and coasters. Plus, there was another park in Gyeongju, far South in the country that I wanted to visit because it had a B&M inverted, and that is my favorite type of steel coaster. When getting some advice form a few other well-traveled coaster enthusiasts, one of them urged me to allow more time for Gyeongju to see the city, because it has a lot of ancient historic sites like burial grounds, temples, etc. And several people recommended the unique tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. This was now sounding less like a quick coaster stop, and more like a real vacation, which was perfect for me! Originally, I’d planned to fly to Seoul, and take the train down to Gyeongju, but when I discovered that there was a hydrofoil ferry from Fukuoka to Busan, South Korea – the second largest city in South Korea -- this seemed perfect. It was quite a bit more expensive, since I’d have been able to use miles for an award flight, but it would save me time from not backtracking and allow me to visit another city, as well. The down side would mean that I’d be lugging my big, heavy bag literally across the entire country.
Which actually brings me to a point I really wanted to make about Korea: the people were extraordinarily friendly and helpful. Since I was lugging a rolling suitcase and a big backpack, I moved much of the heavier stuff, like my laptop into the rolling suitcase, which made for easier going most of the time – until I hit stairs! And on two different occasions, random middle aged women who didn’t even speak English saw me struggling and just walked up and grabbed one side of my bag and started lugging it up the stairs with me! Could you imagine an American doing that for a foreigner here?!? Almost everywhere I went, people went out of their way to try to help me. And the early Southern portion of my trip was very challenging because very few people speak any English, and I didn’t have access to Google Translate or Google maps, because it’s very hard to get a sim card or wifi if you’re not a Korean resident. This should have been the hardest leg of the entire trip, but thanks to the people, it wasn’t at all. Almost every time I was on a train, especially in Seoul, when I’d be looking at my subway map to make sure I knew where I was going, someone would take the map from me, ask where I was going, and show me how to get there. (Which actually became a bit annoying, because I actually knew, but they were just trying to be nice, so it was hard to get mad at them.) At one station, some young guy actually missed his train to show me where to get on mine, despite my insisting he ge ton his train and saying that I could figure it out! Here I was, a foreigner with the arrogance to visit their country without learning so much as 10 words in their language, and they seemed grateful when I could say “thank you” in Korean, and got frustrated when THEY couldn’t help ME. The people really made visiting their country a pleasure I wasn't expecting! It was so very different than with Americans, who get angry with foreigners who don’t speak a lot of English.
So, today was mostly a travel day, with some quick sightseeing stops. Once I checked out of the hotel, I took the bus (which actually left from the other side of the train station) to the Hakata ferry terminal. Then I took the ferry from Hakata, Japan to Busan, South Korea. There is a slow ferry that takes over 6 hours or overnight, but I took the fast ferry that’s only 3.5 hours. It was a nice trip, with some nice scenery leaving and entering the ports. Getting through customs is much easier and faster by ferry that it is at the airport, too. At the ferry terminal, there was a tourist booth that gave me advice on getting around and told me that my best bet would be to leave my bags at the train station a short bus ride (or a couple of subway stops) away. From there, I took the subway – which had English signs on the trains and in the stations! – to Yongdusan Park that’s up on Mt Yongdusan, named because it’s appearance resembles a dragon’s head. This park was the center of the city when it was occupied by the Japanese as well as the base of the South Korean Government during the Korean War. It’s also home to the tall Busan Tower, which affords great views of the city, the port, the sea and the surrounding mountains, which was the reason I was there. You have to take a long series of escalators to get up to the park, several of which were down for maintenance. I was glad I'd left my bags in the train station! There are also a few small museums and temples and statues at the base of the tower that I stopped in briefly. A quick stop, but the view was worth the trip. And it gave me a taste of a city I’d have otherwise just traveled through.
There are actually three different ways to get to Gyeongju: bus, train and high speed rail. The HSR was the most convenient for me, although it meant having to take a bus into downtown Gyeongju, because the HSR train is quite a way’s outside town. But the bus station is right downtown and where I had decided to book my hotel. For a hotel in Gyeongju, you basically have three options: a very cheap hostel or guest house or the equivalent, a cheap “love motel”, or an expensive nice hotel that’s way over by the lake in town, which just happens to be near the city’s amusement park. The hostels, while VERY cheap (often under $20!), seemed really sparse, many of them without even real western beds. The nicer hotels were significantly more expensive at $150 and up. But more importantly, while they were convenient to the amusement park nearby in that tourist area on the lake, they were pretty inconvenient – well out of town – for everything else. Staying there would have made it very difficult to do very much sightseeing in the day and a half I had there, and that was one of my major goals for the stay.
So I opted for a “love motel”, doing my best to find one that got good reviews on TripAdvisor and elsewhere, as well as one where I could reserve a room in advance, and one where I could leave my bags the next day, while I was at the amusement park and the tourist spots. And I got one for around $40. I’m certainly no prude anyways, even if the places were somewhat tacky and garish. While the idea of a “love motel” where one can have some fun makes some sense to me, I found the whole area in Gyeongju to be somewhat puzzling. The ENTIRE area around the bus stations was full of love motels. Like 10-20 of them. Normally, I’d expect to find hookers and strip clubs and pick-up clubs and the like in such an area. I think I saw one small strip club, and that’s pretty much it. Not even one street hooker, and I seem to have a knack for unexpectedly finding those on vacations abroad! Maybe the area is just dead on weeknights, but is hopping on weekends? Otherwise, who’s filing these love motels? Are there that many men in south/central Korea with mistresses? Or that many couples looking for a sexy getaway, away from the family? It’s rare that a sleazy area like this puzzles me so. Does anyone know? I’m genuinely curious. Interestingly, many of the love motels in Gyeongju advertise on many of the online hotel sites like Kayak and hotels.com without mentioning their more sordid uses, although it’s often brought up in the user reviews by offended unexpecting tourists!
In any case, my hotel wasn’t really that bad. At was actually pretty nice. Cheap, convenient, clean and spacious. Yes, it had pictures of scantily clad women on the wallpaper of one wall. Yes, it had a full collection of condoms and lubes and ticklers and the like, along with hair and skin supplies. And it had some tacky fringe as shower curtains. (My room didn’t have a hot tub, although some of the more expensive ones did.) The most jarring thing for me was actually the toilet. They had one of those super toilets you find all over Japan. But unlike those, the heater on the seat was already on. Not what I was expecting, especially in 80 degree heat! I also wasn’t expecting the bidet attachment to be set on super high pressure!
OK, let’s bring this back to a G rating, ok? The funniest thing about the place was it was owned and run by this nice old couple, which wasn’t exactly what I expected. The lady even came into the room a while after I checked it to try to show me how to use the TV remote control (which was useless to me, since all of the channels were in Korean) and how to turn on the various lights, which included several colors of LED’s!
So, after checking in to my hotel, I headed out to the nearby Tumuli Park, with its royal burial mounds. Apparently, there are over 200 of these mounds scattered all over Gyeongju, but 23 of them are in this one park (which happened to be right down the street from my hotel!), including the Cheonmachong (Heavenly Horse) Tomb, which is open to the public. During the Silla Dynasty (which ruled eastern Korea through most of the first millennium AD), kings and queens were buried in tombs that were then covered with sticks and/or rocks into those sometimes huge burial mounds, which were then covered with soil, which eventually started growing grass. As the center of the Silla Empire, there are also lots of other temples and artifacts all over the area. First, I checked out a nice temple across the street from the entrance of the park, then entered the park itself. Strangely enough, most of the tourist sites in Gyeongju require an individual ticket, but the tickets are really cheap, like the equivalent of a dollar or two. It’s odd that they even bother charging such a small admission, and staffing the booths for so little money, but I guess it buys a lot more in Korea, outside Seoul, at least. I walked around the park and through the Heavenly Horse Tomb, which had most of the artifacts they unearthed displayed in the tomb. To see artifacts from other tombs, I’d have to go to the city’s national museum the next day, because like most museums in the world, it’s not open on Monday.
I exited the back exit of the park to do some more sightseeing. But first, I decided to have some dinner. Western food is pretty scarce in Korea outside of Seoul, so I opted for a traditional Korean barbeque dinner, which includes a TON of side dishes of a whole lot of vegetables I was unfamiliar with, plus kimchee, which is very popular, and which I’d tried in Tokyo a week earlier. Honestly, the beef and soup were pretty bland, and most of the veggies were weird to my tastes. But at least I got a taste of Korean culture, literally. From there, I stopped in a bunch of tourist trap souvenir stores. One thing Gyeongju is famous for is their Gyeongju bread, filled with red bean paste. But they only want to sell it to tourists in these big boxes with dozens of pieces in them for like $10-20. I had to try like 10 places before I could find one that would sell me ONE piece of each kind of the Gyeongju bread. It was ok, but nothing special. I’m glad I didn’t buy the big box of it!
From there I did some more sightseeing, even though it was pretty dark by then. I went to the Cheomseongdae, the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia from the 7th century, which is a whopping 9.4 meters tall, but the city is very proud of it! Then I stopped by the Anopji Pond, with its pretty lotus plants and the rebuilt Imhaejeon Palace. I ended up taking a taxi back to the hotel, since they’re very cheap in Korea, unlike in Japan! I actually got a lot more sightseeing done in Gyeongju than I expected to, given that I had a late start.
Tomorrow, I’d see the other big sites in town, but only after hitting the city’s big amusement park, Gyeongju World.
If you're looking to get from southern Japan to southern Korea, the ferry is a nice way to go. The JR Kyushu Beetle is the fastest boat.
Asians love to wear English. At least this shirt has correct, if obvious, English.
Goodbye, Japan. For now, at least! I'll be back in 5 weeks!
Busan is actually much bigger than I'd expected.
It's actually the second biggest city in South Korea. To the right, you can see the top of the Busan Tower I'll soon be visiting
Here's the very modern train station. I was leaving my bags here, and taking the subway. The high speed rail also leaves here for Gueongju and Seoul.
The Korean subway stations have doors thet open when the train arrives. Somehow, they manage to perfectly line up the trains. I'd never seen this before, but it's pretty common in Korea, Taiwan and parts of China. Many of the stations also have video screens that tell you where the next train is and when it will arrive. It's so much less frustrating to know how long you'll have to wait!
To get to Yongdusan Park from one side, you take a long set of covered escalators. On the way up, there was this colorful temple.
Yongdusan Park, home to the South Korean government during the Korean War, as well a home to the Japanese local government during its occupation of Korea.
The Busan Tower.
Dragons are always cool! Where's the Khaleesi?
Some old Korean clothes on display at the museum at the base of Busan Tower.
The view of Busan and the surrounding mountains from the tower.
For those keeping count, this is the second tower or tall building I've taken pictures from on this trip. Plus a funicular and a cable car. There will be many more!
On to Gueongju, where they're very proud of the area's historic artifacts. They even have a small museum in the train station, which is miles outside the main city! (The HSR station is actually called SinGyeongju.)
The burial mounds that Busan is famous for. They're so widespread that these ones aren't even in any park or tourist area. They're just randomly scattered around the city. The entire city is a Unesco World Heritige Site because of all of the historic burial mounds and temples there.
The entrance to Tumuli Park, which is home to more burial mounds than any other place in the city, including one of the only ones open to tourists.
IN Gueongju when you go to "the throne", you REALLY go to the throne!
A pond in Tumuli Park.
The Heavenly Horse Tomb, named after one of the artifacts found inside.
Inside the unearthed tomb.
This crown is among the artifacts found in the tomb which are still displayed there.
More burial mounds among some pretty flowering trees.
One of many temples scattered around the city.
My Korean barbeque meal. Usually, this would be enough beef for 2-4 poeple, but since I'm a fat western carnivore and not much of a vegitarian, they game me more beef than usual!
Geoungju bread, generally only available in big boxes.
I finally managed to find a store willing to sell me individual pieces. These are the two main kinds, both of which are filled with a sweet bean paste. It's better than it sounds, but I wasn't a big fan either.
Cheomseongdae, the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia, from the 7th century.
You'd think you'd want to be higher than 9.4 meters/31 feet to see the stars! I guess that must have been tall in the 7th century!
Anopji Pond, with it's lotus plants. And a glowing heart.
Part of the rebuilt Imhaejeon Palace.
A large model of one of the original gates of the palace.
Some artifacts found on the site.
The palace overlooking the pond.
The klassy part of town I'm staying in. You'd never guess that these were "love motels", would you?
Very klassy! But not my hotel, actually.
This was my hotel. The J Motel. It got decent reviews on TripAdvisor. And was actually pretty nice, believe it or not.
Look at how klassy these rooms are! They have pictures of them advertised outside, so you can choose the one you want by number.
I loved the signs on the elevator doors!
Now THAT'S klass!
Let's get a close-up of the well-stocked sink area. Have you ever seen a hotel room with so many hair brushes? Not to mention the French ticklers! (I actually took these to give as gag gifts to Robb and Elissa in China, but forgot to give it to them!)
The Japanese-style super toilet! But the seat heater was left on! And watch out for the bidet spray, set on super high pressure! Talk about a "shocker"!
More Klass! Strangely enough, the shower was alone behind these curtains, but around the corner and down some stairs.
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