Snapshot Sunday: Special Edition – The Shibuya Scramble

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo is famed for being the world’s busiest street intersection. Giant neon advertisements and video screens entertain pedestrians as they wait for the light to change – when it does, they scatter across streets in every direction. This (creative) time lapse video shows a few cycles of what is known as the “Shibuya Scramble”.

Make sure to watch this with the sound on!

Snapshot Sunday: Vermillion Gates at Fushimi Inari

[ptcPhoto filename=”gates640.jpg” title=”Gates at Fushimi Inari” caption=”Gates at Fushimi Inari, Kyoto, Japan” position=”center”]

Fushimi Inari Taisha is a shrine that honors Inari, the Shinto spirit (kami) of fertility, rice, sake, and agriculture. Since he’s is also the kami of general prosperity and worldly success, it’s common for Japanese businesses to donate the torii gates that hedge the paths on Mount Inari.

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.

South Korea Costs: $105 a Day

Even if it’s way more affordable to travel in South Korea than in, say, Western Europe, we still had a bit of sticker shock after traveling in places like India and Nepal. But Korea brought our expectations of cost back up to a healthy level after getting used to $2 meals and $6 hotel rooms. Maybe we could have cut back in some areas (like nice meals and alcohol), but it was definitely worth the extra costs to indulge in good ‘ole South Korean voracity. After all, when will we ever find another culture that so wholeheartedly embraces meat and liquor?

We experimented with several types of lodging in Korea, which is known for its love motels and bathhouses (called jimjilbangs). While some love motels are seedy (and can be rented by the hour), we found that they were a great value – most offer reasonable rooms for less than $40 a night. Some jimjilbangs offer sleeping rooms and only charge $10-12 for 12 hours in the facility. There are separate rooms for men and women, and the sleeping space includes a simple mat and a block for a pillow. But considering the spas are included, they’re a bargain. We also tried couch surfing for the first time in Korea, and making new friends made free lodging even better. We’ll write an article soon about some of South Korea’s alternative accommodation options.

Most of the sights in South Korea are priced very reasonably, with temples, museums and palaces ranging from $1-3 for admission. Open air markets are some of our favorite attractions, and they don’t cost anything as long as you can resist the temptation to load up on souvenirs. There are also a lot of free (or almost free) parks to explore, like Seoul Forest and the Tomb parks in Gyeongju.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Yorkie.jpg” title=”How much is that doggy” caption=”In retrospect, the ukulele isn’t so impractical” position=”left”]

It should be noted that there are shopping arcades around every corner in Korean cities, and our budget for incidentals grew as a result of our clothes shopping. It was about time to replace some gear anyways, after months of wearing all the same outfits. I also commandeered a ukulele in Seoul. That expense is omitted here since it’s a completely random purchase and doesn’t fairly represent the cost to travel in South Korea.

The daily average cost for our visit was $104.99 (or $52.50 per person per day), so we came in close to our goal of $100 a day.

Here is a breakdown of all our costs during our stay. This table does not include costs to enter the country, which included an $89 flight from Kathmandu (we used miles for this flight and only paid taxes).

Type of Expense Total Cost
(for 35 days)
Daily Average Notes
Lodging $1,205.29 $34.44 Our lodging choices ranged in price from $27 in Gyeongju and on Jeju Island to $54 in Busan.
Food $1,250.76 $35.74 For $6-8, you can usually find a tasty, healthy meal.
Transportation (within country) $524.97 $15 Buses between cities are very cost effective, as are Busan and Seoul’s modern metro systems.
Entertainment $95.85 $2.74 Includes a baseball game, Hwaseong Palace, archery, Seongsan Crater, and Haeinsa Temple.
Alcohol $368.84 $10.54 Bottles of soju (local rice liquor) are only around $1 in convenience stores.
Incidentals $228.87 $6.54 Includes the costs for items like sunblock, internet, clothes and donations.
Grand Total* $3,674.58 $104.99 *Total reflects expenses for two people. It does not reflect costs to enter the country (i.e., visas or airfare)

Some Examples:

Korean BBQ dinner for two – ₩25,000 ($22.50)
1.5L beer from a convenience store – ₩5,750 ($5)
Metro fare, one way – ₩1,200 ($1)
A boba milkshake (try one, they’re good) – ₩4,900 ($4.50)

Snapshot Sunday: Lanterns at the Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine

[ptcPhoto filename=”Lanterns640.jpg” title=”Paper Lanterns” caption=”Paper lanterns, Kyoto, Japan” position=”center”]

It takes some effort to elbow your way through the throngs of shoppers at Kyoto’s Nishiki Market. But if you make it all the way to the end, you’ll be rewarded with the simple beauty of the lanterns that await you at Tenmangu, a shrine dedicated to the god of learning.

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.

Twelve Reasons We Love Korean Food: Part One

We’re adventurous eaters by nature – what some might call aspiring foodies. So we felt right at home in South Korea, a country that some speculate has the highest restaurant-to-person ratio in the world. Their feasts of meat and alcohol verge on excess, and by the end even we felt a little guilty for our level of consumption. But when in Seoul…wait, is that the right idiom? Anyways, here are twelve reasons we loved eating in Korea.

#12: It Takes You by Surprise

With the exception of one so-so meal at a Korean restaurant in Nepal, neither of us had tried Korean food before we got to Seoul. Back in Denver we dabbled in a lot of different types of food, from Vietnamese to Ethiopian – but somehow it never occurred to us to try anything from the Land of the Morning Calm. Not having any expectations made our visit that much better, since we couldn’t have guessed it would be so downright wonderful.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Gimbap.jpg” title=”Gimbap” caption=”Udon seafood soup and gimbap (rice rolls)” position=”center”]

We can’t be the only people to have this experience, as Korean fare tends to be some of the most underrated, underrepresented world cuisine. Maybe that’s because Korea is nestled in between two culinary powerhouses – Japan and China – whose food has made it to most dinner tables in one form or another. While both countries’ cuisine has certainly informed gastronomy on the peninsula, Koreans have crafted many dishes that are distinctive and oh-so-tasty.

#11: It’s a Great Value

Eating out always takes its toll on a traveler’s budget, but we found that most restaurants in Korea had reasonable prices. If you stick to bibimbap and stews (more on those later), meals are usually priced around ₩6,000 ($6) each. Side dishes called banchan are included with every meal, adding to the value. Ambling through Korea’s many outdoor markets, you’ll find all sorts of stalls that sell piping hot street food for only a couple of dollars. Want something to wash it all down? Bottles of soju (the local rice liquor) are sold for as little as ₩1,200 ($1.20) at the convenience stores that dot almost every city street.

[ptcPhoto filename=”AffordableFood.jpg” title=”Food at a market” caption=”Markets are full of cheap eats” position=”center”]

#10: It’s Everywhere

Koreans love to eat out, meaning that the next restaurant is always right around the corner. You’ll rarely have an issue finding a place to eat – rather, the problem is always choosing where. On days when Eric and I were feeling indecisive, we might walk around for an hour before finally settling on a restaurant. However, if you’re in Seoul or any of the other major cities, it’s hard to make a bad choice since most eateries seem to have their signature dishes down pat.

It’s also useful to note that many restaurants will convey their specialties by displaying them in tanks out front (in the case of seafood), or by hanging signs with photos of the types of animal they serve. In many cases the animals portrayed will look happy-go-lucky (sometimes they’re even popular characters from children’s shows), much to the chagrin of vegetarians passing by.

[ptcPhoto filename=”RestaurantAnimals.jpg” title=”Restaurant signs” caption=”Can you guess what these restaurants serve?” position=”center”]

#9: It’s Communal

It’s unusual for people to eat out alone at sit-down restaurants in Korea since culturally, the emphasis is on sharing. Eating out is as much about enjoying the company of your friends, family and colleagues as it is about the food. The banchan and main meat dish are always communal, and sometimes the soup will be as well. Normally you’ll be served your own bowl of rice but otherwise it’s a free-for-all, with chopsticks digging through all the plates on the table. Korean barbeque is almost always served in portions large enough for two or more, and some restaurants won’t even seat you if you’re eating alone since you’d be using a table that could seat a larger party. So if you visit Korea alone (or with a vegetarian), you may have a very different experience.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Cheesy.jpg” title=”Cheesy” caption=”Although I could have eaten this cheesy concoction all by myself” position=”center”]

If you do find yourself in Korea without a dining partner, noodle dishes, soups and hotpots can generally be served in smaller portion sizes. There’s also an increasing number of western-style restaurants available, although opting for American or Japanese food might diminish your experience somewhat.

#8: It’s Interactive

A lot of places allow the diners to cook for themselves. There’s something about being involved in the creation of the dishes that makes us appreciate them that much more. If you’re out for stir-fry or barbecue you’ll be presented with a hot grill and a slew of raw ingredients, and the eating doesn’t begin until everything has been cooked to perfection. The anticipation builds along with the aromas that waft throughout the restaurant and spill out onto the street, beckoning new customers to join in on the fun. The servers will dash from table to table, monitoring progress and assisting when necessary. So it’s like everyone in the restaurant is a chef of sorts, taking part in a symphony of stirring, cutting, flipping and frying.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Interactive.jpg” title=”Interactive” caption=”Cutting dinner into bite-sized pieces” position=”center”]

#7: It’s Fresh

One benefit of a place where everyone eats out all the time is that the food turnover is high – meaning that the ingredients are always fresh. You really can taste the difference when the food came from the the butcher (or out of the sea) that very day. There are many fish markets throughout the country where you can pick your fish or seafood while it’s still swimming and watch them prepare it for you. It’s not for the squeamish, but it doesn’t get much fresher than that.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Fresh.jpg” title=”Fresh” caption=”Fresh from the ocean” position=”center”]

Want to see our favorite dishes? Stay tuned for Part Two!