Knowing our time in Korea was running short, and to escape the busy highways near Seoul, we decided to take a bus to Gyeongju – a town about 100 km from Busan that is known for its many ruins and monuments. It should allow us a couple of days of riding without feeling rushed such that we can explore more side roads and avoid busy highways.
Taking the bus in Korea turned out to be pretty easy, once we found a real bus station. Scott showed the bus ticket agent where we wanted to go, and we were sold a ticket for a city where we would need to change buses, in this case Daejeon. Once we arrived in Daejeon, we were able to purchase tickets to Gyeongju. The buses ran frequently enough that we did not need to wait more than an hour at either station. There was no surcharge for bikes (nice), but the luggage area was smaller than other buses we have travelled on, so we needed to remove our gear and seats in order to load the bikes. Fortunately, most people travelling on the buses have little or no luggage, so we could take over two complete compartments without a problem.
All week, we have seen the mourning and outpouring of grief: there have been shrines set up everywhere we’ve passed, with huge condolence cards, flowers and people in black suits. Many of the people we saw at the shrines were in tears. Today as we were travelling, every television we saw was tuned to the funeral coverage, and many people in the bus stations were glued to them. On the buses, we got continuous radio or television coverage.
We also noticed a visible presence of military in South Korea, both on the ground with uniformed soldiers using public transit, and jets and helicopters in the sky. We wonder if this is normal or if this is related to the recent threats by North Korea. On that note, we are glad that we decided to forgo the DMZ tour on Wednesday, as the tension would have been extreme, if we had even been allowed to go.
After 6 hours (2 hours waiting and 4 hours on buses) we were in Gyeongju. We looked at a hotel near the bus station. It was a bit old but nice, clean, and cheap at 30,000 Won ($30 CAD); however, it did not have an elevator or Internet. Given those requirements, our best option was another “love motel”. Becky continued to be entertained by the tackiness of these places, such that she had to check out several before we made a decision. We ended up staying at the Sky Motel – mainly because they gave us a better deal than anyone else and the room did not smell smoky. When we went to walk away, the price for two nights dropped from 130,000 Won for two nights to 100,000 ($87 CAD). Given that tomorrow night is a Saturday (weekend), the price was the best we could find.
While Becky was checking out rooms, Scott was taking photos of the motels, especially their methods for preserving the anonymity of guests, from license plate covers to fully enclosed guest-lockable garages. He was also fascinated by the decor, especially the nighttime lighting, which gave a Las Vegas flair to the Love Motel districts.