Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Vegetarian Korea and Raw Vegan Village

Back to travel track, I and two friends took the ferry from Weihai (Shandong province, China) to Incheon, South Korea. The trip takes about 14 hours, plus a couple of hours of waiting at the harbour. The service is run by Weidong Ferry, check their site for details. It's not a super fancy boat like the ferries between Sweden and Finland, but it's decent enough. A little shop, a restaurant serving nothing vegan, a Karaoke bar, and coin lockers that for some weird reason only accept Japanese yen (on a boat between China and Korea!). We went economy class, but surprisingly didn't get the Japanese style thin mattresses on the floor but proper bunk beds, with curtains and everything. Pretty good, I would think.

After a while of figuring out what's next and where to change money, we went to town for a first Korean meal. The Seoul metro runs all the way to Incheon, so it's rather convenient, although it doesn't go to the port but you need a few stops in a bus. We started with the Sosim vegetarian restaurant on Insadong, as it was closed the last time I was in Korea. The food was decent, but not very tasty really.

The two travel companions were much into couchsurfing and considerable time was spent finding accommodation, but as nothing was found for the first night we checked in to a hostel. A pretty decent place actually, and later it turned out the Korean member of staff used to be vegetarian for a while and even grew her own food in her garden, but later gave up as it was just too difficult in Korea. Anyhow, our path led straight to Sticky Fingers, the vegan bakery. It was amazing, as always. Expensive, but so worth it!

The next day we went walking in a park and as luck would have it, they were hosting the high-wire world championships at the time! People walking 1 km over the river on the wire. Cool stuff, and a nice drum concert to precede it. From there we went over for a second dinner at Insadong in another place I didn't visit last time, Han Gua Chae. It's a buffet place, Korean style, and by now my companions were saying they're not fond of Korean food. They did like the Korean pancakes though. I must agree that the food there wasn't all that great again, but thought it quite ok.

That night we actually found couchsurfing hosts, and as there were two hosts with small places, we split up: I went to one and the duo to another. My host was a very nice Lithuanian guy who spoke fluent Korean and a long list of other languages also. His flat, however, was tiny (about 14 sq m) and had no furniture at all. We went to the top of a hill with one of his friends to try some Korean drinks.

Next day it was time to hit the other branch of Sticky Fingers in Seoul, this one a proper café and as the weather was nice, we enjoyed the goodies outside at the table. There's even wireless net, it's absolutely perfect. From there we parted ways for some hours, I went to see traditional Korean houses and they went to a flea market. But bought no fleas. The house thing was rather small scale and not that special either.

We met up for dinner at the SM vegetarian restaurant (these restaurants are listed at happycow). The SM stands for Supreme Master, as in Ching Hai. They also had Supreme Master TV on. In any case, the food was deemed a bit better than the previous ones, possibly due to being more Chinese in style. From there we went to meet a bunch of couchsurfers in a bar, and from there I had to rush back to the place of my host to let in a new couchsurfer as the host himself was away. It was the first time I tried being a couchsurfing guest and even then the hosting crept up on me!

I figured it was time to move on though, and took the train to Gyeongju the next day. The others stayed behind. Gyeongju is the old capital from the Silla era, and has tons of old graves that just look like weird little hills. I bought a bagful of goodies from Sticky Fingers as I thought there'd be no food in Gyeongju, but I ended up eating almost all of them on the train. They were just too damn good. I checked into a hostel in Gyeongju, I'm not that crazy about the whole couchsurfing thing.

Next day I went off to see a temple and a grotto, supposedly the finest around. It was pretty nice, I suppose, but behind a glass and not so large, so it was far less impressive than the Longmen Grottoes in China. Nice hike nonetheless. Afterwards I asked the tourist information about vegetarian options in town. They directed me to a vegetarian restaurant called Baru. They only wanted to serve me bibimbap, but it was good and at 6,000 won it was much more worthy of its price than the more expensive Seoul restaurants!

Now comes the interesting bit though, the hostel map marked something it called "Ura, special vegetarian village". So I asked the tourist information what, and most importantly, where, was this. They told me it's a village of raw vegans (without using those words) not too far from town. To get there you have to take bus 350 at 7:30 in the morning all the way to the end station of Sannae, and there continue at 8:20 by bus 351 until its final stop at Ura village. From the bus stop it's about 1 km hike up to the village itself. So this I did.

The village had approximately 20 houses. This was daytime during a weekday so that, probably, is why I didn't see many people, only a few old women busy collecting nuts of some kind. They only spoke Korean, and my Korean is very limited, so I mostly just walked around the village by myself. It's in a beautiful setting, and there was music coming from a loudspeaker as well. But the village seems to have no services, no restaurants, hotels, or even a shop, so a couple of hours was certainly enough with nothing to do. I then had a bit more of a chat with one of the women, she told me, I think (very poor Korean indeed), that there live around 50 or so raw vegans in the village. She offered me some juice and fruit, and then I went on my way. Unfortunately the bus back doesn't come until 15:30 or so, and hence I started walking back. Soon I realised what a long walk it was and decided to try hitchhiking, if there'd be any cars around. Eventually one came and gave me a ride a bit closer, and a small tractor gave me ride for the rest of the way to Sannae, from where the buses to Gyeongju run every 20 minutes or so.

In Gyeongju I decided to continue to Busan, which is only a short and comfortable bus ride away. After checking into a hostel I went over to what might still be the only vegetarian restaurant in town, the Namsadae buffet. They actually have pretty good Korean food with nice fake meats, so if not counting for Sticky Fingers, this was probably the best meal of this Korea visit. However, I was more excited about Japan and the next day, after visiting a beautiful seaside temple, I boarded the ferry to Japan. I decided to save money by taking the slow overnight ferry rather than the fast three hour one. Not only is the fast one more expensive, it would also mean having to pay for a hostel night in Japan immediately.

This time I did get the Japanese style of an economy class, but it wasn't bad in my mind. This ship had even less services than the other one, only a restaurant not serving anything for vegans, but strangely they wanted us to board hours before the boat left despite the restaurant onboard also being closed. There were vending machines, only accepting Japanese yen -- this time it was more understandable but I still didn't have any. When buying the ticket they told me one is supposed to have a return ticket from Japan booked when entering the country, but didn't seem too bothered about it when I told them I didn't, and the Japanese customs said nothing. They did, however, search me very thoroughly, went through all the bags and even my shoes. Haven't been so checked in a long time. Well, not since the US at least.

But the rest belongs to the Japan article... Regarding vegetarian Korea, there used to be a nice site called but it seems gone now. Hope it comes back later, but if anyone needs info on restaurants not in happycow, send me an email, I have the archive of that site from Sept. 2007 and it contains a lot more than happycow does.


Anonymous said...

Wow, so envy of your travels & you work while you travel?
Is it alright to reveal what's yr job? Am thinking of career switch...Need some ideas...I like to travel too...

avegancalledbacon said...

Ching Hai again!? That crazy chick! Have you seen her in any other countries, too? I'm quite intrigued by her.

Jari (travelling-vegan) said...

My job, I do research in computational linguistics for a big multinational. So the thing of a charity business in my introduction didn't really happen as the employer gave me more liberty to travel... it's just easier that way.

As for Ching Hai, she's big all over Asia. Lots of stuff in China and Taiwan (which, I think, is where she's from) obviously. The troubling part is that it's a bit of a personality cult, but nothing obvious wrong with her teachings per se. A well-known figure in Indonesia as well.

Guess Who said...

Did you have to lift up the corner of your trousers in order to get a hitchhike? lol

Luaay said...

nice man

Lei said...

Jari, I wonder if you ever heard of there's self-sustained (maybe only partially) farming community in Beijing? I read it somewhere a while ago.. I'm actually considering the possibility to moving to either Beijing or Shanghai, do you know which city is more vegan friendly?

Jari (travelling-vegan) said...

Frances, just a little flash, it doesn't count, surely... ;-)

Lei, haven't heard of that community, but I can ask some friends if they know. Sounds challenging in Beijing, they're even running out of water over there! Beijing or Shanghai... well, I know Beijing better, but I think it is more vegan friendly, given the wonderful vegan social club and a bunch of restaurants. Granted, Shanghai has a bunch of vegetarian restaurants too but I haven't heard of actually vegan ones there. Shanghai air quality is a bit better though.

Linnette said...

I was wondering if you could provide some directions to the "Sticky Fingers" in Seoul!

Jari (travelling-vegan) said...

Hi Linnette, I actually posted directions after my previous visit to Korea, they're still valid. So see here:

Enjoy! :-)

Jari (travelling-vegan) said...

The directions are at the very end of that post.

Luaay said...

is there a Sticky fingers in Vancouver or in West coast of CAnada?

Jari (travelling-vegan) said...

Afraid not. As far as I know, only in Seoul and Washington DC.