It was the first week of May in Bangkok, Thailand. I had just returned from visiting my daughter and her family in Los Angeles, USA. The new academic year at the college where I worked was due to begin in 10 days time, but I still had the travel itch in me. So, on a sudden impluse I shot an email to Mr. Kim in Seoul saying that I was planning to make a trip there, and would he make hotel reservations for me. I was thinking of joining a tour when I reached Seoul. Well, Mr. Kim sent me a reply that he would take a few days off from work and show me around. That took me by surprise as I really didn't know him that well. I had met him only a couple of times when he was stationed in Bangkok for a few years with his firm.

I went to my trusty travel agent, and he gave me a good fare from Bangkok to Seoul return on Cathy Pacific which is known for its good service. In all my years of living in Thailand, I stuck to just one travel agent and we even became good friends. Anyway, I had to change planes in Hongkong which I didn't mind, and the short layover at the huge international airport there was quite comfortable as they had various facilities one of which was free internet service in the departure lounge.

When I arrived at Incheon International airport in Seoul, Kim was waiting for me with a big grin on his face. I was expecting him to take me to a hotel downtown, but instead he told me that he had booked a hotel in a suburb of Incheon city. He added that he would take me to a small island called Jakyakdo in the morning.

South Korea is known as the 'Land of the Morning Calm' because of its natural beauty and tranquility in the countryside, particularly in the calm of the morning. Well, it was certainly calm at this small hotel in the rural part of Incheon. I didn't see any other guests, but it was quite comfortable and certainly very quiet.

In the morning after a light breakfast we went to this small harbor to take the ferry to Jakyakdo island. In spite of its small size the harbor had a tourist information office near the pier and I took the opportunity to get some free brochures and pamphlets at this office. The lady there even spoke reasonably good English! The ferry itself could take on cars, and it was a pleasant and short 'voyage' to the island. There were only a few passengers and cars. Kim told me that this island was always crowded when they were making a popular Korean TV series on it.

I found the beach on Jakyakdo quite clean and sandy, and as mentioned above, there were only a few people around when we were there. I also discovered several walkways and picnic spots, a restaurant, and seasonal rental accommodation. After a short tour we took the ferry back, and had lunch somewhere in Incheon city. We met some Korean cylists with their full gear outside the restaurant and I took some pictures with them. Kim interpreted for me as none of them spoke English.

Kim had told me earlier that he would take me to Gangneung a medium sized city on the east coast of the country. He said I would like it as the city is situated along the East Sea/Sea of Japan and had a very long beach called Gyeongpo Beach. I suppose he wanted to kill two birds with one stone as Gangneung was his hometown, and he would take this opportunity to visit his mother, as well as his old friends there.

We arrived there late in the evening, and Kim checked me into a hotel in a wooded area near the beach and we had dinner in a nice downtown restaurant. After dropping me back at the hotel he went to his mother's house to stay there for the duration of our time in Gangneung. I had a very nice room with a view of the beach. Another feature of the room was it had a computer with internet connection, which I had never seen before in all the hotels I have stayed in around the world! I think Kim knew the manager of the hotel, so I got a good room plus a hefty discount.

The following morning Kim came to pick me up and we did a whole day tour of the city, including the beach area. I really liked this city. Kim told me that the city was very popular with young people from Seoul who would come here to relax during weekends, especially in the summer months. We were there in May which was off season, but I still saw a lot of people on the beaches, and in the city itself. Gyeongpo is the main beach of the city but is connected to stretches of smaller beaches outside the city limits. We went to one of those beaches as he wanted to visit a friend in that vicinity, plus show me the 'coffee museum' nearby. It was an interesting experience for me as I had never been to a coffee museum before, and we actually enjoyed some fresh house brands at the small coffee corner of the museum.

It was another round of sightseeing the next day. We went to this museum called the Ojukheon House, one of the oldest houses in the country. Actually it is complex of old Korean architectural style houses on a large piece of land, and all of the buildings are perfectly preserved to show how people lived during the Joseon Dynasty. We also went to the big lake located near the city center.

I had been in South Korea for four days, and I had not seen the capital city of Seoul yet. I wasn't that worried because I knew that we would be traveling direct to Seoul on our way back from Gangneung. The drive back was another long one and we arrived in Seoul in the late afteroon. Anyway, I had the chance to see the Korean countryside both times on our trip to Gangneung.

Kim had his own apartment in Seoul so he took me to a small but comfortable hotel, not far from the city center. The next two days was spent going around the teeming modern metropolis that is Seoul, the highlight being the Gyeongbok (meaning shining happiness) Royal Palace built in 1395 during the Joseon Dynasty. We spent one whole morning and part of the afternoon in the vast compound. Actually, Gyeongbok is the main and biggest palace in the network of five grand palaces which are inter-related. I also visited the National Palace Museum located on the same grounds as the palaces. Believe it or not, this museum contains over 40,000 artifacts and royal treasures of the former Korean Empire.

Before closing, I would like to mention something about Korean cuisine. During my week's stay in the country I had nothing else but Korean food everyday. I'm quite certain it is not everybody's favorite food, but I never got tired of eating it morning, noon and night. There is such a variety of it, and although I am not a great fan of kim-chee, they had so many kinds of this pickle and I tried all of them.....not bad at all!

Kim drove me to the airport on my departure date. I couldn't thank him enough for his kind hospitality and spending his time to take me around to see other parts of the country. After I checked in at the Cathy Pacific counter we said our goodbyes, and I flew back to Bangkok via Hongkong.