Before tackling the capital of South Korea, we thought it would be nice to visit a smaller town on the way to avoid overdosing on the big city lights. Consulting the “trusty” Lonely Planet (I’m not going to lie, we’ve been let down by LP before) borrowed from the Busan hostel led us to choose a hot springs resort town called Suanbo, about halfway up the country on the way to Seoul. It turns out that we left at the perfect time, as, over the following week, Busan was lashed by three consecutive typhoons. Schools were apparently closed and people started stockpiling water and non-perishables. We were glad to have missed that.
Pheasants! Plastic Pheasants EVERYWHERE!
Turns out, Suanbo was a bustling resort town – IN THE 70s! Now, the streets are quiet, many hotels looked closed/abandoned and the average age of anyone we saw was 60+ (which is fine, it just seemed strange that any young or middle aged folk had completely vacated the area). Pretty much the only thing to do is to choose from one of the 33 pheasant restaurants in town (each competing to have the most/largest/creepiest fake pheasant statue advertisement) to have “Pheasant 8 ways”. I’m talkin’; pheasant dumplings, pheasant sushi, pheasant hot pot, crispy pheasant skin, and all of the other possible ways you could enjoy pheasant!
Gamey and delicious, but you get tired of it pretty quickly. One pheasant night was enough for us. The pheasant restaurant we went to claims it is the oldest in Suanbo. A few culinary awards and photos decorated the walls and it was nice to see the same owners in those pictures still working there that day. The wife of the chef helped instruct us on how to eat our various courses and it was a pretty cool experience. But – that was about it.
We did go for a walk in the nearby national park. It was good to stretch the legs and get some fresh air – nothing spectacular. Suanbo seemed to be a very tired town – worn out from the initial hustle and bustle as a resort town and now falling apart due to decades of neglect. There were some signs that attention is beginning to be paid to potential attractions that could lure the tourist dollars back into town. Hopefully it is done properly and “Pheasant 8 Ways” can return to it’s rightful place atop Korean cuisine!
After three days in Suanbo, it was on the bus again, heading north to the capital of the “good” Korea – Seoul. It was time for round 2 of our Chinese visa adventures (part 1 is mentioned in our Busan post). Ashley made his way to the Chinese Visa Application Centre (CVAC) to hopefully get the process started ASAP. After finally finding the correct floor in the correct building, it turned out that they were closed – it was the annual “Golden Week” over in China so all Chinese workers had the week off and we would have to wait until Monday to apply. The lack of visas was becoming a nuisance at this point since we couldn’t book our outbound flights to China without being sure we would be allowed in the country.
Monday eventually rolled around and we were able to successfully submit our applications. We’d been told that you can fake your flight and accommodation bookings and still get it all approved but we didn’t feel like pushing our luck, so booked actual, non-refundable flights while at the CVAC. The hostel reservations we also booked under pressure at the CVAC, but planned to cancel after receiving our visas. We also needed to draw up a detailed itinerary of what we would be doing during our first, 51 day visit to China. Initially, we tried to be truthful but that was too much effort. So we just submitted a list of all of the attractions in Beijing (28 days worth) and Shanghai (23 days worth) with plenty of rest days interspersed (download here – if you’d like to borrow it). Thus, were able to leave the CVAC with a guarantee that our passports would be ready for pickup on Thursday of the same week – this meant we could book a tour to the border with North Korea for the coming Saturday (passports required) – read all about that tour in our 5 Steps into North Korea post!