- Buses and assigned seats: Yes, people do care about them. You get assigned a seat whenever you ride on an express bus here. The bus seats are either in rows of one and two (one separate and two together) or two and two. Tickets seem to get assigned row by row until all the rows get taken up. I've never paid too much attention to my assigned seat number and have sat wherever I wanted to. No one had ever said anything about it all year until one of a group of four college-age girls approached Rochelle and I after we'd sat down. (Note: the driver had checked our tickets and hadn't said anything about us) Even though we knew we were technically in the wrong, we tried to explain that we sat together because we're a couple, but the girl insisted, so we ended up sitting apart from one another. The downside to this was we couldn't easily talk to each other during the ride, but it did allow us time to catch up on our music. Lesson learned: if traveling with one or more people, buy all of the tickets at once so you can sit together.
- Do not book motels with agoda.com: The site will charge your credit card before you arrive at the motel and it will charge you the first night's stay if you cancel the day of your arrival. They'll also will not refund any money if you check out early. We heard about this firsthand and our Korean buddy Young-hoon confirmed it too. He said that most Koreans don't like the site. I like booking.com and asiarooms.com because neither site deducts money up front; while they do ask for a credit card number to hold an accomodation, you do not actually pay any money until you show up to check in at wherever you're staying.
- Check your motel's location on the map. What looks close on the map isn't always so in reality. Then again, what looks to be in the middle of nowhere my still be accessible by bus. Again, something learned firsthand. I'd booked our motel, the Good Stay Motel Hill, because it had affordable rates and good amenities, but upon consulting the map, it looked like getting in and out of town would cost a fortune in taxi fare. Not true. We found that it's located 20 minutes outside of downtown Gangneung by bus and 10-15 minutes by taxi. Today we took a taxi in and rode a bus out.
- Good Stay Motel Hill basic room rate: 40,000won/night. Room includes refrigerator, computer (with Internet), TV, air conditioning, and a balcony. There's a water cooler and a microwave downstairs as well. Despite being outside of the downtown area, it is an excellent deal. The motels and hotels near the bus terminal cost 70 to 90,000won a night. By staying here, you may pay more money in cab fare (if you choose to forgo the buses), but you'll still come out ahead. Plus, you may get an ocean view.
- Study your Korean. Motel and hotel clerks may not know or speak much, if any English. The two older ladies running this place speak next to no English and we'd originally had some trouble with getting the details of our stay figured out. Young-hoon provided invaluable help over the phone.
- On a practical note, you may note, you need to study the phrase "There's a problem with ~" in case there's something wrong with your room. Having a digital camera around to take a picture of the problem can help immensely as well. This happened to me in Daejeon because the refrigerator in the room was leaking water onto the floor. The hotel clerk did know some English, but I took a photo with the iPad and showed it to him and he understood right away.
- Korea has excellent public transportation and taxi systems. This isn't so much a lesson as an observable fact. A nearby hospital with a taxi stand solved the taxi problem and we figured out the somewhat-confusing bus routes after studying them for a few minutes. And even though the schedules can get confusing, please note that Korea has excellent public transportation. This seemingly-remote motel's on more than one bus line and the buses run every 20-30 minutes. Fares are 770won (~75 cents) with a T-money card and 1,000won with cash .[Well, my T-money card had no money on it and the drive didn't object to the 1,000won bill I put in the box at least]
- You may end up with cab driver who can't read a map or think to use a GPS. The key word here is may. Every other cabbie I've known has known exactly where to go and how to get there, but yesterday's cabbie couldn't figure out who to get to our motel. I'd shown him the place's address in Korean and he had a GPS in the cab but he didn't use it. It didn't help that he spoke no English and I didn't know enough Korean to keep up with what we was saying. We drove to the tourist office to ask about directions, but it was closed because it was after 5 on Saturday. (Idea: keep tourist offices open on weekends because that's usally when tourists go traveling) The clerks in the nearby City Hall (somehow it was open) told him where to go. He eventually drove us there, but he missed the turn off and proceeded to miss the front entrance.
- As a side note, when we finally arrived, a patient from the home for mentally disabled next door was outside and ushered us inside. Rochelle and I both knew that we weren't in the hotel, but we'd also long ago learned that it's best to follow along with the Koreans. We walked inside to find more than eight patients eagerly wanting to meet us. Among them was an older white man who spoke English with a European accent. He did the standard Korean thing asked us where were from. Despite feeling overwhelmed, we greeted everyone amicably because they were all quite nice and then made our exit. We must've missed Nurse Ratched; she was nowhere in sight. Another observation: Korean zoning laws are nothing like they are in the US. You would never see a mental hospital next to a motel in the States.
My Daejeon-Seoul bus ticket. Note the Korean and English writing. You can't play the "dumb foreigner" card with this one.
The motel from the outside.
The view from our 6th floor balcony. You can see the East Side (aka the Sea of Japan) in the background. Yep, we've an ocean view.
Korean cultural lesson: Notice the lack of a 4th floor. Most Korean buildings do not have a 4th floor because the Sino-Korean word for four, sa is sounds like the Chinese word for death.
Next up: photos from Gangneung, including the Terarosa Coffee Factory and Gyeongpo Beach. Cheers!