Lifestyle

KIA BUZZ: SO-KO ROAD TRIP BLOG #4 – Guest Post by journalist Jonathan Thompson November 10th, 2016

 

The SO-KO Road Trip Blog series is a 5-part guest posting series by UK travel and lifestyle journalist Jonathan Thompson on his 9 day trip through South Korea. Jonathan regularly writes for leading UK media and was recently honored with the ‘Travel Writer of the Year Award’ by the British Guild of Travel Writers. Connect with Jonathan on his social media accounts: Instagram, Twitter

 

All photography was done by London-based photographer Mark Chilvers. Visit his website!

 

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SLEEP IN HEAVENLY PEACE

 

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There’s only one mandatory rule at Baekyangsa Temple: everyone – guests included – must attend morning service at 5am.

It’s a profoundly tranquil experience as the Buddhist monks chant, sing and shake instruments, while the first fingers of light reach slowly across the temple floor.

Once the hour-long service is over, we emerge blinking into the new day, before each being handed Hogwarts-style brooms. Our task: to shift the dust and stones from the temple’s main courtyard before breakfast. It’s an odd job, but we set about it with gusto, energetically moving debris around the courtyard in our loose-fitting temple clothing.

 

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“You’re not really cleaning the floor”, one of the shaven headed monks tells me as I take a breather. “You’re cleaning your mind.”

As part of our road trip across South Korea to mark the 25th anniversary of Kia Motors UK, we’ve arrived at one of the country’s most famous Buddhist sites for an overnight temple stay. It’s an enlightening experience to say the least.

 

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Dressed in our temple garb, we sleep on the floor of simple rooms, and all meals are eaten together with the entire fraternity. Bowls must be completely empty when returned, so we’re warned to only take what we can finish.

The food is simple and fresh, and the prevailing atmosphere up here in the hills of Naejangsan National Park is one of perfect serenity. But the faithful are not entirely without worldly possessions. There are a number of cars in the temple parking lot, and one of the nuns proudly points out the yellow Kia Sorento on the end which is hers.

She casts an envious glance at our shiny new Kia Niro, and soon we’re discussing cars – via a translator – with a 70-something Buddhist nun at a remote mountain temple. (She’s a particular fan of hybrids and electric cars it emerges).

Bidding farewell to our wise new friends we head north on the most picturesque part of our road trip, joining the east coast of the peninsula at the start of Route 7.

 

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Korea’s answer to Route 66, this famous road is as beautiful to drive as it is to observe, snaking smoothly through rice fields, forests and mountain tunnels as golden beaches appear and reappear on the right hand side of our trusty Niro, which glides smoothly past in Cruise Control.

We stop to relax on c Beach and are surprised by how much it looks and feels like California. Everything from the lifeguard uniforms to the weather and the waves shouts Santa Monica – except the loudspeaker on the truck telling everyone the beach is about to close. That definitely shouts Korean.

 

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It’s been a superbly peaceful penultimate leg to our journey, but now the bright lights of the big city are drawing us in. Tomorrow we leave the coast and head inland for the final stop on our South Korean odyssey: Seoul.

 

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This story is the fourth of a five part series. Don’t miss out on the last story about travelling through Korea in the coming weeks!

▶ Read Part 1: KIA BUZZ: SO-KO ROAD TRIP BLOG #1: INTO THE SOUL OF JEJU

▶ Read Part 2: KIA BUZZ: SO-KO ROAD TRIP BLOG #2: KOREA’S FORGOTTEN CAPITAL

▶ Read Part 3: KIA BUZZ: SO-KO ROAD TRIP BLOG #3: TAEKWONDO TOWN