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No.44 – Korea Somehow a strange country

Jul 23, 2015 | Asia, Blog, Korea

It finally became warmer and nature virtually exploded. I discovered many species of birds that are also native at home in Germany. A nuthatch, green and spotted woodpeckers and even the jay in a national park. The plants are also often the same and therefore I got hay fever for the first time in 2 years again which threw me off track for a while.

I took a break in a Jimjilbang from sneezing and stayed there for 2 days.

Again, I was bathed here by a woman I didn’t know. In a pool another woman even touched my boobies and slapped me shortly afterwards on my bum.

Why? No Idea. I found that rather strange. I was watched closely here as well. I had the impression that I was constantly being observed by the eyes of the others as to what I was doing.

In the sauna the women sat on the floor and played cards.

Some puzzling things happen in this country. I would say the culture is just so different that I was really somewhat overwhelmed and certainly one time or another I behaved incorrectly.

In my view, women tend to put others in their place or to prescribe what others have to do. That’s in many cultural circles the case, but I found it very pronounced here. Sometimes they have a very spirited way of voicing their opinions.

The men, however, are more calm and relaxed. But I also had a couple of strange encounters there, but more on that later.

Korea is frightfully expensive. Fresh fruits and vegetables are so insanely expensive that I bought nothing but bananas. When an apple costs 5 euros, eating is no fun anymore.

Also rice and pasta are so expensive that I decided not to cook for myself, because I wouldn’t have saved any money doing so – other than with the instant noodle soups which are available everywhere, but which I only found disgusting.

I would like to have tried more of the very foreign food, but I always remained with the same food in the end, because everything else was simply unaffordable.

Kimbap – vegetarian rice roll was the cheapest on the menu, mostly they were 1,500 or 2,000 won which is about 1.80 Euro. Two pieces are a meal. Mostly there is a little broth and the ultimate Kimchi.

Kimchi is boiled Chinese cabbage with chili sauce. It comes cold from the fridge and always tastes the same. Also everything else that is served is always cold. As I already mentioned before, in Korea there is nothing just standing around, it’s all in the fridge and it is served directly from there. Whereas Kimbap is processed with hot rice and is thus served lukewarm in the end.

There are even cold noodle soups. Also I saw a dish with pasta and ice cubes. If you order rice with something else, even the rice is usually only lukewarm. The only thing I always got hot was a kind of tofu – soya bean stew that is served piping hot.

The rice is done well. Part of it is mixed with black rice. It is sticky and very tasty.

The cities and towns are not really anything special. If you’ve seen a city or a village, you’ve seen it all somewhere. Everything is brand new and built from the ground up. 

There’s no flair, nothing old, only luxury, glimmer and shine on every corner.

When there’s something old, they are museums for which one must pay admission; and in the end all these places all look the same. Whereby, some royal tombs really impressed me.

The landscape consists of endless hills. In between them many rivers flow and there
are many roads and bridges.

I visited the national parks, where I again met fully equipped Koreans on short walks. They were equipped as if they were on the way to “Mt. Everest”. And always a potpourri of clothing. I found it just plain comical. Korea is colorful everywhere. They love to illuminate all kinds of buildings

with color, all night long.

To get in contact with the people is not so easy. Although I experienced many positive surprises. I was invited to eat in small restaurants a few times, and sometime I was given portions for me to try. From time to time I was also able to harvest a smile or was asked where I came from. But often the people were simply overwhelmed by my presence.

Coming from Taiwan, Korea was a disappointment. The measuring stick was just placed too high and for that reason, I probably never really developed a relationship to Korea. In Taiwan, everyone had been absolutely nice to me; in Korea, however, I felt somehow uncomfortable. Many people ignored me, or I had the impression they wanted to tell me what I have to do. Somehow I was constantly doing
something wrong. I think I was just suspicious to them.

If you’re traveling solo, this is a bit exhausting. It’s bad enough that you can’t read or ask anything, especially when most people then also shyly ignore you or the opposite, and simply stare at you; it’s not really any fun. Add to that a boring landscape, a lot of rain and everything overly expensive. The frustration comes quickly, and I was very close to reaching that point.

I moved on to the East Coast and found a few really nice places there, but one cannot speak of idyllic landscapes anywhere. Constantly, cars squeezed past me, taxi drivers and bus drivers honked like mad and are the kings of the road. All other motorists on the other hand are not bad drivers. But I could have strangled one or the other taxi driver.

Shortly before arriving in Busan I met three male cyclists. Female cyclists are totally rare. The three were businessmen who invited me to lunch and wanted to treat me to something special.

The octopus legs floundered around on the table in front of me. In addition there were raw sea cucumbers and some other stuff I’d never seen before. Out of politeness I somehow had to get through this. With the chopsticks I gripped the octopus legs securely despite the heavy flopping around and knew I had to just close my eyes and tough it through.

In my mouth, the creature sucked itself with its suction cups tightly onto my jaws and I tried to push it to my teeth with my tongue, because this sucking monster was just disgusting. I chewed as fast and as hard as I could, until I felt like the creature was finally dead. It was disgusting and one thing was mega-certain, I would never eat another creature with wriggling legs again.

Everyone understood my situation and the men ordered boiled octopus, which was not really much of a treat either, but it was edible. I didn’t touch the rest of the things on the table, except for the freezing vegetables and the lukewarm rice.

I was sure the lunch had really cost a lot of money and I felt really sorry that I was unable to muster any enthusiasm for it. But it was an experience, although I never had to experience it ever again.

During the meal I was then told again very casually, who had what position in which company. And again, in turn, I was handed their business cards.

The three men were very concerned about my intention to camp wild in the middle of the huge city of Busan, but none of the three came upon the idea to invite me to their home. It seems to me no one invites someone into their home unless they know them well, just like in China.

I found it very positive that the country is absolutely safe. I could leave my bike just wherever I was, and I never had to worry that someone would steal it. It was always possible to camp anywhere I wanted and I never had any worries.

In Busan I camped on a green space, but after I found the spot too loud that night, I switched the second night to a lookout platform on one of the many mountains around Busan. When I woke up the next morning it was pouring rain and I barricaded myself in a toilet house, since it already rained into my tent. I had hung my wet sleeping bag on one of the many toilet doors and my raincoat on the door handle to dry. I also sat there on the floor and waited for better weather. There was no other way to protect myself from the rain.

Each lady looked at me in horror when she entered the toilet. Apparently some Koreans cannot comprehend that you would sit reluctantly in the pouring rain on a bicycle. I didn’t disturb anyone, because I sat in no one’s way. In Taiwan, someone would surely have come to me and had organized some tea. Here, however, one of the ladies contacted a security guy who finally drove me away.
Of necessity, I continued in the pouring rain.

If I didn’t have Russia on my plan and hadn’t already sent my passport to Germany to get
a visa through an agency, or had ordered a few things via mail from home and had it sent
to Brad to Seoul, I would certainly be in Busan on a ferry to Japan and would have left the
country immediately, but I was stuck and had to wait.

So I sweetened my time in a Jimjilbang and stayed a few days until I became sick there.
Suddenly, I couldn’t speak and had probably caught something in the dry air from the many
people there.

The Jimjilbang again had been kind of strange. I ate for days only Kimbap in the same
small restaurant, directly in the lounge. Every time the owner thought I wouldn’t pay or
they thought I wouldn’t have given her the money. There was always some problem.

There were people who slept just as long as I in the Jimjilbang. Didn’t they have a home?
Did they live there?

After a few days I wanted to leave the Jimjilbang briefly, only 5 minutes. My bike was right
at the entrance, for days and everyone knew who I was. “So when you leave the Jimjilbang,
you have to give the key back and then check in again if you want to come back. Those are
our rules. “I tried to persuade the man, but no, the rules are the rules and the Koreans
have many of them.

So I had to take everything out of my locker, packing my bags in, check out and check
in again after 5 minutes and then put it all back into the locker.

I don’t like rules that are so useless that they employ people unnecessarily.

My cold was no better, but eventually I wanted to get back on the road. I was lucky in Busan
and for less money than at home, I was able to get a new tent, a new sleeping mat, new shoes
and a new raincoat. It was time to do that, because everything was just totally kaput after
such long use.

It still rained often, but it became hotter every day.

At first I headed on a bike path again towards Seoul, but left it again soon for the same
reasons as before. But also, as on the way south, the way north wasn’t any more exciting,
although the first few kilometers were not ugly. This time, above all, the many greenhouses
blighted the landscape.

I was still very short of breath. That tormented me. One day it was better, then the next day,
worse again and I stopped to rest frequently.


Brad had received all my stuff and I was a happy owner of two brand new
Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tires sponsored by SCHWALBE . My front Schwalbe tire
came finally to an end after 38,000 long kilometers on the road.

From the small German company ORWI  I recieved two bike jerseys made of Merino wool,
which I am supposed to try out for durability and are super nice and cozy.

I am, of course, very pleased about these two sponsors.

Another sleeping bag from my old inventory from home was in the package, also my passport with a Russian visa which is valid from 1 June for 90 days, and some other things that I could make good use of. Especially 2 packages of Haribo Colorado mixture and 2 bars of Milka chocolate.

On my way to Brad, I lost my speedometer and he said we should go to his well-known bike shop, because he might be able to get a good price for me.

At the end the guys gave me a brand new speedometer and even centered my wheels. Super classy guys who were really laidback.

In another bike shop, which specializes in Ortlieb panniers, I made another bargain and sold my old bags and got 4 brand new ones for a little extra charge. Unfortunately, there were no more spare parts for my old models, so I had to buy new ones, because the brackets for two panniers were broken since China, and it also rained into all four panniers.

The trader was very wild about my old bags because he wanted to do a small exhibition to show customers what is possible with such bags. I was photographed and maybe hang now somewhere on his wall.

I slept at night in my tent on small lawns or on a wooden pavilion somewhere on the bike path in Seoul. It’s really great when you can simply camp safely somewhere in one of the largest cities in the world.

The first morning I was woken up by the police and had to leave the area, on the second morning I was awakened by the cleaning crew around 7 o’clock in the morning. So for me, that’s in the middle of the night.

On the 3rd morning at 5:30 clock. When I camped on a wooden pavilion, a old guy came and did his gymnastic exercises exactly there and hopped back and forth on the wooden platform. He always thundered his back against one of the pillars, and made strange  noises and screamed shortly afterwards loudly into the world for many minutes.

At home, people would think he needs to be send to a nuthouse.

I opened my tent, looked at him and asked him in German if he is mad, it’s 5.30 in the morning. Of course, I knew that he didn’t understand me, but he gave me a single glance and ignored me completely.

After about 30 minutes, he disappeared again.

Two mornings in a row I was lucky to find a place where no one woke me up.

I sat for a while in a subway hall and used the WIFI there. The security types, of course, didn’t like where I was sitting and asked me to go somewhere else. But I began to ignore them just like the others ignore me. I had no desire to ever follow any useless instructions.

However, some people came over and brought me some food. I got the impression they thought I was a hobo. In a way, I guess I am indeed. I live on the street. If I had laid out a hat, people would certainly have thrown money into it.

I had previously experienced the same thing at night in a bank’s ATM room. I used the electric outlet to charge my computer, when a man came and wanted to give me money for a hotel.

This is the contradictory thing in this country. On the one hand, there are super nice people and on the other, simply controlling and totally uncool people.

A few times I ate in small restaurants and took the time to recharge my computer
there. But after a short time, I was clearly kicked out, because loading the computer was
a problem. It was always the same hand movement. Exactly the same way you would
dismisses someone you find stupid. Finally, I had left money there and I had asked for permission.
I asked others and got the information – power is not expensive in Korea.

At some point I’d had enough of Seoul and wanted to continue and I felt reasonably fit.
After I had a fixed entry date for my Russian visa, I unfortunately had to stay for  few more
days in the country.

One evening, I camped on a beautiful wooden plattform on the bike path, no one except
me was there; it was almost idyllic, if there wouldn’t have been the noise of the street and
the train

What happened? At 4:30 in the morning a man ran directly toward my tent, jumped up
and down, and made a lot of noise; he did that until I opened the tent and looked at him.
He ignored me and walked away. Isn’t that very strange? Was that curiosity? Is that control?

On the same day, I went to a pub. I pointed to the food of a guest, and then asked  what it costs. It came again to a misunderstanding and I was delivered the wrong thing. I had clearly pointed in 10 cm distance to a soup at the next table and got pasta that nobody had on their plate. Okay, so explain again.

“How much is the soup?” I was sure I understood the number correctly. 

Then I ordered something else and used the time again to charge my computer. But again, it made me very unpopular. The place was completely empty. I hadn’t taken a seat away from anyone; I had eaten two dishes and was thrown out.

When paying there I got stress, since the food suddenly cost 2,000 won more. Had they
included the power in the calculation? Was it a misunderstanding? I tried to understand
the bill, and asked about it again. But it was not long before the elderly lady freaked out
and yelled at me, wanted in no way any money from me and threw me on the street a
handful of salt behind.

A man who was watching had to smile and I did not know what it meant. Never had
anyone thrown salt at me before.

In the end I had learned that, with my question, I doubted the statement of the elderly lady,
and coming from a younger person, made her look ridiculous in the eyes of others.

The salt cleanses the house of the evil. I left bad luck which someone now has to
cleanse. I thought they wanted me dead, I was glad that it was only that.

I would have liked to go to the DMZ, to the North Korean border, but now I was out of
time and I didn’t feel any better anyway. So I took the train to the port, where the ferry
went to Vladivostok.

At the port, there was stress again with the payment. I had the ticket reserved and a printed invoice in my hands, on which the price was listed exactly, but she didn’t want to accept it.

That is a billing from Seoul and doesn’t apply here. The price is significantly higher, the bill was incorrect.

“What? This is the same company!” Back and forth it went and, in the end, I had to convince some people on the phone, who were trying to convince me that this bill does not apply. An hour later, someone apologized to me and I paid the price on my bill and I said to myself, “just one more day, and you’ve made it.”

That evening I met a nice Harley Davidson Troop, all Expats. They sent me to the doctor.
Since it was the weekend, all the doctors were closed, but there at the Harley Davidson
meeting was an ambulance that could drive me to the hospital. They convinced me
to accept the offer. With siren and an English speaking Harley rider we drove to the
hospital. It was embarrassing to me without end.

The doctor said I had a sore throat – the main reason for my complaints, but it was
guaranteed due to the elevated levels of pollutants in the air, which is currently 10
times above the allowed CO2 level and this would cause lung problems for many
people, and therefore the cold would not subside.

I shouldn’t worry about it and he gave me pills for the inflammation. He was convinced,
once I’m in Russia, my complaints would be over.

The Korean Harley rider wanted to pay the bill and then took me to the party. It was
the best night of all time in Korea. I met Sonia from Germany who had lived a few years
in Seoul and thus the evening was twice as enjoyable.

South Korea is a country that remain a mystery for me.

Now on to Russia!


  1. What an adventure – a rather strange adventure! It’s certainly a time you will never forget – especially the live octopus Yuk!
    It must have been strange being on your own and feeling unsure about local customs and whether people might take offence about what you were saying or doing. The salt being thrown must have been a bit unnerving!
    Thank you for compiling this excellent account of your travels in Korea for those cyclists who would love to do something similar but are able to go to now tour Korea from their armchairs.

  2. Hello Heike,

    I am sorry for the off-topic but what is the vendor of your shoes on these pictures? They look really nice and durable. Thank you and good luck in your jorney!


    • Hi Hristo, sorry I don’t know any longer….I think I bought them in Korea so maybe it was an Asian brand?
      Can’t help….cheers Heike

      • No problem, I was just curious to know. No big deal. Thank you for taking the time to reply. Much appreciated.

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  1. What an adventure – a rather strange adventure! It’s certainly a time you will never forget – especially the live octopus Yuk!
    It must have been strange being on your own and feeling unsure about local customs and whether people might take offence about what you were saying or doing. The salt being thrown must have been a bit unnerving!
    Thank you for compiling this excellent account of your travels in Korea for those cyclists who would love to do something similar but are able to go to now tour Korea from their armchairs.

  2. Hello Heike,

    I am sorry for the off-topic but what is the vendor of your shoes on these pictures? They look really nice and durable. Thank you and good luck in your jorney!


    • Hi Hristo, sorry I don’t know any longer….I think I bought them in Korea so maybe it was an Asian brand?
      Can’t help….cheers Heike

      • No problem, I was just curious to know. No big deal. Thank you for taking the time to reply. Much appreciated.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


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