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PTR:David's EPIC Asia trip! TPR China +Japan, Korea, Taiwan!


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^ Yeah, it was really frustrating. But a few factors mitigated that somewhat. First off, the park was pretty dead, at least by Western standards. I mean, it was never more than two train wait for anything, and that's with one train going out every 10-15 minutes. So, even with such poor operations, the wait was never much more than 20 minutes or so. Also, the park was open until 9 PM, so, even with flying in that morning and stopping at the other park first, I still had plenty of time there. And I really didn't have any other plans for the day, other than possibly walking around Hakata a little. So, I didn't feel stressed or rushed to get everything in, like I might have felt on a slower or more busy day.

 

Still, it's frustrating waiting so needlessly. I mean, I'm used to getting excited to ride when I sit down in a coaster train. At Space World, I knew that I wasn't going to ride for at least another 5-10 minutes!

 

But they get away with it because the Japanese never seem to mind waiting. It's definitely a cultural thing. I'm not sure if it's because they as a rule don't generally question anything and just accept that this is how things are. Or if they're just used to accepting how things are and waiting for everything and genuinely don't mind.

 

It shows in the behavior of Japanese both in parks and elsewhere. For instance, in the US, if there were an empty seat, someone would try to ride in it. Or at least ask. But they don't in Japan. And someone will ask to sit in the front or the back rows, because they want to sit there, and who not ask, even if it means waiting an extra train. They very rarely do that in Japan. They're conditioned to just go where they are told to and not even ask for anything else. I saw this again and again across Japan. And if I would ask for anything even slightly out of the ordinary, like no sauce on some food, they would seem genuinely confused. Like when I asked to have my ice cream cone in a cup at McDonalds, and they said no. It's just not how it was done, and the clerk didn't even understand why I would ask. It's very different from the American standard of giving the customer whatever they want, no matter how unreasonable the request. And it probably doesn't hurt their business, because that is how it's expected to be. And it's not like you can just go somewhere else, where they'll accommodate special requests.

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Day 6: Fukuoka, Japan. Mitsui Greenland.

 

Of the three major parks I was hitting in Fukuoka, Mitsui Greenland was added last. My priorities were the woodie at Kijima Kogen and the theming and Intamin and Arrow coasters of Space World. But Mitsui Greenland is probably the biggest amusement park in Japan that I hadn’t been to, so if I could add it, I wanted to. And when I rearranged some of my trip to allow another full day in Fukuoka, it was mainly to add this park. I originally planned to visit this park on Sunday, my last day in Fukuoka. With the threat of rain being able to close either or both of the other two parks that were higher priority, this would have allowed me to rearrange things and replace the other park or parks with Matsui Greenland. But just before the trip started, I discovered that the park had changed their scheduled hours for this weekend since I had last checked them, and was staying open until 11PM on Saturday, which was a big deal, since they’re almost never open that late, and were originally supposed to be open until 5 PM that night! They were doing some sort of nighttime celebration of the end of summer that night which they advertised as being about all of the night lights in the park, and which I’d later find out included a quite long fireworks show. Plus, having the park open so late might allow the possibility to visit two parks that day if I got rained out of one of the other parks, even with the parks being so far apart.

 

Mitsui Greenland is a very big park, both in terms of the number of attractions and rides and in physical size. There is even a section up a mountain that you take a chairlift to get to. And another chairlift across a park of the park, which has been nicknamed the “chair lift of death” on TPR, for reasons I’ll go into in a bit. Depending on how you count your coasters, they have anywhere from seven to ten coasters, with two powered coasters and a pair of coasters, with one sitting and the other standup. They also have a good collection of dark rides and walkthrough attractions scattered all over the park. Plus the usual assortment of flat rides and water rides, few of which I’d have time for that day. They even have an archery range, something I’d see at several parks in Asia. To be honest, they don’t have any coasters that are so good that you’d go to the park just for them, but the whole collection overall is decent.

 

An interesting side note for those I work with, the park is near the city of Kumamoto, famous for its oysters, some of the most popular in my restaurant, although we get them farmed from Washington state. But they're orginally from near here.

 

To get to Mitsui Greenland, you can take the JR Kagoshima line (the same one you can take to Space World, but in the other direction) about an hour to Omuta station. From there, there is a bus to the park that should take about 20 minutes. But since the park was open extra late, I had to take two different trains back to Hakata, because the last direct one from Omuta leaves at about 9PM. If you want to take a taxi and not wait for the bus, the Tosu station is actually somewhat closer to the park (which means a cheaper taxi), but the bus doesn’t go there.

 

Since the park was open so late, I took the opportunity to sleep a little late. And, of course, when I got to the Omuta station, I’d just missed the bus. Who plans these bus schedules anyways? You’d think that if you run a bus whose primary function is to get people from the train station to an amusement park that you’d run it AFTER the train from the largest cities in the area arrives, not just before it arrives, right? I’d run into this wonderful scheduling again several times in Asia. So, I used the time to pick up some snacks at the local store while I waited, since I might not have time to eat at the park.

 

Once I got to the park, I saw that it was much busier than I’d hoped, although it really wasn’t as busy as I’d feared either. But with so many coasters and dark rides, this day was going to be tight, even with the late closing time. It turned out that with so many rides there, only the top coasters and the alpine slide actually had significant lines. I had planned to start at Gao, the biggest coaster in the park, which towers over the entire middle area of the park, but it had a line that was over an hour long, so I decided to get some of the smaller coasters out of the way. I ended up pretty much taking a route around the entire park going clockwise, starting with Grampus Jet, one of the few Vekoma suspended coasters left out there. It was nice, but nothing special, which would be the case with pretty much all of the coasters at the park. I would have ridden the Ladybird powered coaster, but since there was somewhat of a line for it, and since I don’t count it as a coaster (coasters need to coast to count in my book -- it’s in the name!), I skipped it. But I was pleased to discover that the Milky Way pair of coasters, with one standing and one sitting, had pretty different layouts. Different enough to count twice in my book. I only count racing coasters once if the layouts are essentially the same with minor variations. But these were different enough to count them. That made up for not getting the powered credit!

 

From there, I went around the park, making my way to the first chairlift. But the chairlifts at Mitsui Greenland are an attraction unto themselves. Since they have no lapbar or restraint of any kind, they’re scarier than any other attraction at the park! It says something about the Japanese that they even let little kids ride by themselves, since the Japanese aren’t stupid enough to do anything that will make them fall off the ride, unlike Americans – who would undoubtedly sue the park into oblivion if they fell off the ride, entirely of their own doing. The main charlift is a regular sized charlift fairly high off the ground, which made me nervous. But the smaller chairlift in the park was MUCH scarier because the seat was TINY, even though the ride never went terribly high. I’m talking my fat ass barely fit on it at all, and there’s nothing whatsoever to hold you in. And then there’s only the bar that goes between the seat and the top to hold only – for dear life! Look at the pictures and see what I’m talking about!

 

In any case, I got up to the top of the park and enjoyed the view and the horror Tower. Then it was time for the alpine slide. Normally, I’d go pretty fast on these things, but with one of the longest lines of the day (45 minutes or so), the ride was croded enough that you couldn’t get up a really good speed before you’d catch up to the person in front of you. Which was actually good, because I had visions of the accident that Scottish Steve and TPDave had – and their extensive bloody scars – on this ride!

 

I basically made my way around the park, deliberately leaving the Vekoma SLC for last, because even though it was probably the most popular coaster in the park, I’ve ridden so many of them – and would ride many more (both real and Chinese knockoff) on the trip to come. So if I ran out of time, it made sense to leave out a coaster I’ve essentially ridden many times, especially since it had one of the longest waits in the park. This would actually turn out to work out very well for me, because during the fireworks, the queue went from about an hour to essentially ZERO! The longest waits for the day were for Gao, the huge coaster that didn’t really do very much, but had a really cool dinosaur façade around its main lift hill, and Ultra Twister, which had a long line because of its low capacity, with 6-seat cars. The weird thing about Ultra Twister is that you could buy a stick of wood that you could write your name or a slogan on, which they would display in the very slow moving queue. And they also posted computerized pictures of the Ultra Twister champions who had ridden the most times, and the number of times each had ridden. The winner had ridden over 200 times, which is about 190 more times than I’d ever need to ride an Ultra Twister. They’re nice, but over 200 rides on one?!?

 

A quick note on park operations. While they weren't super efficient, they were a whole lot better than at Space World the day before. Of course, they only ran one train on everything (except for the mouse), no matter how many they actually had! It's Japan, after all.

 

So, I managed to get on just about everything I wanted to except for the SLC and was about to go on the Chair Lift of Death, but it was shut down. I was really disappointed, because it was one of those crazy Asian rides you’d never see back home in the US, Luckily, it turned out that it was only down for the fireworks, which I didn’t even know about at that time! The fireworks show was quite good and quite long. Around 30 minutes, which is among the longest fireworks shows I’ve seen at any park! Clearly, the show was the major draw for the day, since afterwards, the park CLEARED OUT. I was smart and headed to the SLC anyways, but there was literally no line! Woo hoo! All credits done! And the chair lift of death opened up, So I got to experience that, and rode it both ways.

 

Overall, Mitsui Greenland was a really nice park, with a nice collection of rides. I'm glad I managed to get there, though I wouldn't be in any hurry to get back there. Who knows if or when I'll ever get back to Fukuoka.

 

I managed to get through everything I wanted to an hour or so before the park closed, so I headed back to Hakata early. I was worried how I’d get back, since the busses were supposed to have ended many hours earlier, and with so many people leaving the park (although I stayed nearly an hour after the mass exodus after the fireworks), I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find any taxis. Luckily, the city or the park was smart, and they actually ran busses as long as the park was open! Unfortunately, traffic getting out of the park was hell, and took and extra 20 minutes or more to get back to the train station. Since I was already cutting it close to make the train, and the next one was an hour later, I was getting nervous. It didn’t help that bus drivers in Japan drive about as slowly as someone in a wheelchair! So, even when we passed the traffic backup from the park, we never drove much more than 15 mph or so! Of course, that made me miss my train by about 3-4 minutes, dammit! So I was stuck sitting at the station for nearly an hour. I find it odd that with the busses in Japan generally being owned by the various train companies which are SO efficient and on time that the busses in Japan run so DAMN slowly.

 

I could have used that extra hour of sleep, since with the threat of rain the next day, I needed to get up very early to catch my 2.5 hour train and 30 minute bus to Kijima Kogen to be there at opening.

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Taking the train through the countryside of Fukuoka and Kumamoto.

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I wonder if you can actually buy these dragons in the park's gift shop?

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You gotta love Japanese t-shirts! They love their Enrish, even if they have no idea what it means or that they have the word booby on them!

Not quite a boob credit, but close! Sorry, Robb!

But at least I have Slowly life now!

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Grampus Jet, one of the few Wekoma suspended coasters left.

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It's nice when a park has the room for a little nature amidst the coasters and rides.

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I didn't have time to wait for a train for the pictures, but I did manage to snap one from way over here.

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The Ladybird powered "coaster". I didn't have time to wait for it, since I don't count it.

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I wish I'd had time to ride the wheel to get some nice pictures of the park and the surrounding mountains. Luckly, I'd be able to get some good pictures from a distance from the upper section of the park.

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Gao's giant dinosaur towers over the park.

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Gao sprawls all over the middle of the park. it's pretty fast, but doesn't do all that much, in terms of forces.

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You have to be really patient and have a lot of time to spare to catch a train on a coaster in Japan. Neither of those describes me!

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A first look at ... THE CHAIR LIFT OF DEATH! Is my fat ass really going to fit on that tiny seat? That tiny Japanese girl barely fits!

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Milky Way. One side is stand-up and the other is sit-down.

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To me, that's not enough to count them as two coasters. But, as you can see, the the profiles are very different. Yea, two credits!

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Gao and Milky Way.

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Sphinx. Pretty nice theming for a family coaster, eh?

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You can see Gao from anywhere in the sprawling park.

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Mitsui Greenland is nicely spread out, with mountains all around it.

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Spin Mouse, which didn't spin too much and had a surprisingly short queue.

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The alpine slide. I wonder if I can find any of Steve or Dave's blood?

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The big chairlift up the mountain. note the lack of any lapbar or restraints. And the lack of stupid people falling to their deaths.

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They even let little kids ride alone! Never in Americe! Then again, they wouldn't run with no lapbar in America!

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A nice view from the chairlift.

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This view gives you some idea of how big this park is. That's not even half of it!

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Inside the Horror Tower on the mountain.

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A head in the head.

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This might actually be the safest way to use a squat toilet!

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Ohh, sexy!

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The view from the upper part of the park.

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That's a long line for an alpine slide! And that's not even half of the queue!

That's the Horror Tower behind it.

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Apparently, they left the loop from the Atomic shuttle loop coaster when they shut it down in 2009. Such a tease!

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Spin Mouse behind the rapids.

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The Panic Jungle dark boat ride.

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Scary!

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I always thought that this was a weird idea for a ride, but they're all over Japan. But usually, they're taller than this one.

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Megaton! Aka low capacity Arrow pipeline.

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Something to read while you sit in line forever!

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I'm not sure I'd be proud of having ridden a pipeline coaster 210 times! Hopefully, he did it on days with no wait!

I wonder what the 390kg signifies?

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Megaton! The sun went down while I waited in the queue.

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The long queue for Gao. I can't put it off any longer. You walk through a dinosuad mouth.

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The park also has an ice house.

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The park decided to throw a fireqworks show in honor of the American who came thousands of miles to visit their park! Thanks, guys!

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Actually, it was an end of summer celebration.

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It was actually a pretty nice fireworks show. At around 30 minutes, it put Tokyo Disney's 5 minute show to shame!

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After the fireworks, most of the poeple in the park left. Which meant the SLC which had had an hour wait all day was now walk-on! I actually forgot to take any pictures of it! I could probably just post a picture of any of the doaens of other SLC's in the world, and no one would know the difference!

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The wheel lit up.

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At long last, the CHAIR LIFT OF DEATH. I was holding on to that pole for dear life! Seriously, look at the size of that seat. That tiny girl barely fits. I was all panicking on the thing, and she's just sitting there casually checking her watch.

Edited by David H
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The haunted toliets in that walk-through were hilarious--looks like they've added to them a bit since I was there in 2007.

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I think the main reason it was busy was because the park heavily promoted that day as a last weekend of summer promotion. They stayed open much later than usual (until 11PM, something rare for Japan, outside of Disney or Universal for Halloween) and had a LONG fireworks show, as well as lights all over the park, which they heavily promoted. They even had lighting all around the alpine slide, though it wasn't lit when I rode it a couple of hours before sundown. Plus, it was a Saturday in the Summer.

 

Luckily, the large number of attractions spread the queues out, with only the bigger attractions having longer lines. Basically, Gao, the SLC and the pipeline, plus the alpine slide had long lines of 40-60 minutes each. Nothing else was much longer than 10-20 minutes maximum. And I didn't end up waiting for the SLC, because no one was in line at the end of the fireworks. But for the alpine slide and the pipeline, the queue was mainly because of such low throughput. If the coasters at the park had been good enough to ride many times, I wouldn't have had time. But since they weren't, I had plenty of time for everything, even though I arrived a couple of hours after opening, since they closed at 11 PM.

 

Despite being summer, it wasn't all that hot. I suspect that the typhoon that I'd just missed a few days earlier cooled things off quite a bit. Plus, whatever weather systems had had them predicting rain for all weekend, until things cleared up at the last minute.

 

Perhaps the more moderate weather (still in the 80's, but for southern Japan in the summer, that's quite cool!) helped bring out more people to the park as well?

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^ Well, the Fukuoka area parks aren't part of next year's TPR trip, although Fuji-Q and Tokyo Joypolis (and maybe Tobu Zoo) are. Plus Nagashima Spaland and Universal Studios Japan, which didn't come until the end of this trip over 5 weeks later, are part of the add-on.

 

I've put basic public transportation information in this report to help anyone who wants to go early (or another time) and try to get to these parks on their own. And if anyone needs any help or advice, just ask. Remember, Hyperdia is your friend!

 

I'm not sure if Universal or Nagashima Spaland would be first on the pre-trip. But Hakata is about 2.5 hours to Osaka and 3.5 hours to Nagoya by bullet train. So, it's pretty easy to get there. You'd probably need three days to hit the three main parks, and could possibly add in the other two parks I did, as well.

 

Just in case any of this tempts anyone to try to get to these parks on their own. If not, I'm sure TPR will go back to Fukuoka soon.

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^I'm just a super-fan of everything Japanese, so the overall level of Japanese awesomeness in these reports is what I'm enjoying, even though I know we aren't hitting all these same parks/sights on the 2013 trip. That said, I'm also very much looking forward to all the trip report segments in China, Korea, and Taiwan, too. Asia, in general, rocks.

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Day 7, part 1: Fukuoka/Beppu, Japan. Kijima Kogen – coasting in the clouds!

 

This was the day I was nervous about. The whole reason I went to Fukuoka was to ride the Jupiter, one wooden coaster in Japan I hadn’t ridden on my last trip there. Weather reports for the entire weekend had been changing daily all week. In the end, the forecasts settled at about a 40% chance of rain for most of the day, but slightly less before noon. This changed my original plans, which were to go to Rakutenchi first, since it was a smaller park, and then spend the rest of the day at the larger Kijima Kogen. I always like to try to ride wooden coasters as late as possible, since they tend to get faster and better as the day goes on. But with the threat of rain, I didn’t want to risk missing Jupiter completely. And let’s be honest, Jupiter has never been a top-ranked coaster anyways, so I wouldn’t be missing too much by not riding it later in the day. I was already taking a huge gamble by leaving the woodie for the last day, since they would likely keep it closed if it rained. If it rained all day, I’d miss it, which would be a huge disappointment. If it did end up raining, I’d stall at the park, eating and doing whatever they had indoors, hoping for the woodie to eventually open. So, I got up early to ensure I'd be at the park before opening.

 

To get to the park, you can take several different limited express trains to the Beppu station: Sonic or Nichirin Seagaia or Yufu or Yufuin. The limited express trains make many fewer stops and take around 120-130 minutes. If you take the local versions of these trains, it will take significantly longer, which means it would have actually been better to wait for the next limited express train! At about $60 each way, this train ride is NOT cheap. So, you might want to double up and hit both parks in one day! Note that Beppu is also the train station closest to Wonder Rakutenchi. Both parks have busses that run to them from the station in opposite directions, although you could also walk to Wonder Rakutenchi. In fact, the busses leave from stops at opposite sides of the station. I had trouble finding most Japanese bus information online, since the bus schedules were only in Japanese, and it’s hard to figure out which bus goes where with only Google Translate or Babylon, especially when you don’t know the last destination of each bus, which is how the busses are listed. But after e-mailing Kijima Kogen, a nice PR person sent me the bus schedule for the days I’d likely be there. He also let me know that I could buy an “enjoy ticket” at the tourist office at the train station which included admission and the round trip bus ticket and would have saved me over $10, but it wasn’t open when I got there, and I didn’t have the time to waste, with rain looking very possible. Also, you can get the bus schedules from the toursist office, if they're open.

 

The bus ride to the park is a long, winding trip through the gorgeous mountains of Beppu. It was actually only 30-40 minutes, but with the ever-present threat of rain, it seemed like forever! But I really enjoyed the mountainous scenery.

 

When I got to the park, the park PR person actually came up to me in the line to buy tickets and introduced himself and welcomed me to the park! As the only white person in line, I must have been easy to spot. He also wanted me to let everyone on TPR know that they are very welcome at the park!

 

Meanwhile, the weather wasn’t looking good. It was VERY cloudy and looked like it could rain at any moment. In fact, about 5 minutes before the ticket booth opened, it started drizzling, while I was talking to the park representative. He assured me that Jupiter was open, at least for now. Wouldn’t it have been really crappy if it started raining minutes before the park opened, and Jupiter closed for the entire day?!? Luckily, the drizzle passed fairly quickly and never came back!

 

Needless to say, I rushed right over to the Intamin wooden coaster Jupiter, which was all the way in the back of the park! Luckily, it was open, and I got a few rides with no wait. I didn’t find it as rough as many enthusiasts have, but I also rode early in the day, when it wasn’t so fast. But it wasn’t exactly smooth, either. It was decent with a few pops of airtime. What was really cool though was that because we were way out in the mountains, there were actually clouds covering several of the hills. So, for the first time in my life, I was actually coastering IN THE CLOUDS! How cool! When you’ve been in this hobby as much as I have and have traveled as much as I have, it’s not often that you get new coastering experiences!

 

From there, I headed to the other coasters in the park to get my credits in. Although I did stop first at the nearby Intamin 2nd generation freefall ride, which I still think give the best freefall sensations of any of the many freefall types out there. And I’m not just saying that because they’re from Intamin! Plus, the view of the park and the surrounding mountains with the storm clouds all around was pretty spectacular! Next up was the Meisho looping Super LS Coaster, which was fine, but nothing special. Then there was the Vekoma Roller Skater with the ingenious name of Roller Skater. Dragon was a powered coaster, and I don’t even remember for sure if I rode it, since I don’t count them, but I think I did. With so many of them in the trip, especially in China, they’re all a blur at this point. The Gold Rush compact mine train coaster would have actually been really good if there had been anything resembling leg room. I’d been warned that the seats were a tight fit, but this was crazy! I did barely fit, but it made for some painful riding! Which is a shame, because it was a pretty nice ride, otherwise. The park had a short, but decent shooting dark ride and a neat haunted walkthrough with the unique theming like one of those old serials with the evil society of bad guys. Two of the villainous henchmen types even took a picture with me strapped down to some spinning wheel! It was kind of odd having a villainous henchman taking a picture of me, but it was pretty neat, too! Then I went into this TINY 3D 360 degree theater with little stools in it to watch the surround 3D movie Poseidon, which had some of the more effective 3D effects I’ve seen in an amusement park. I’d later see this movie at other parks on the trip as well, though I didn’t sit through it again. The park also had another haunted walkthrough that had theming that was very cartoonish. I’m not sure if the characters were unique to the park or from some popular cartoon.

 

By this point, the clouds started clearing away somewhat, so it was time to get a bunch more pictures. I gave Jupiter another couple of rides. And I was pretty much done with the park in a few hours. There was hardly anyone in the park. I’m not sure if the threat of rain kept people away, or if it was just the end of the busy season for them. All in all, Kijima Kogen was a nice medium sized park with a decent collection of rides and an ok wooden coaster and some unique haunted attractions. While I’m not sure how soon I’d return, I’m definitely glad I went.

 

So, I headed back via bus to Beppu Station to go to Wonder Rakutenchi. Since it was a small park, this would likely leave a lot of free time later in the day. As I headed back to the station on the bus, a solution presented itself. As I passed this stop that a lot of people had gotten off the bus on the way to the park, I noticed a sign for the “Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway”, which was a cable car up into the mountains. I always love cable cars with great views, and I’d been admiring the spectacular mountain views all day. However, I didn’t want to take the chance of getting rained out or running out of time for Wonder Rakutenchi, so I skipped the stop, but planned to possibly return if time allowed.

 

Which it would. But that’s to come in part 2....

 

Coming up in part 2: Wonder Rakutenchi and the Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway. Plus meat on sticks! And the last update in Japan for quite a while.

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The bus ride through the mountains to Kijima Kogen park.

This clouds are not looking good for the weather today!

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I might as well enjoy the gorgeous scenery. There isn't much I can do about the weather, other than allowing extra time.

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Kijima Kogen park.

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Jupiter, in the clouds.

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It may be a little rough, but it's still an Intamin!

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You can see the clouds from the station.

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Those hills are right up in the clouds!

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A train at last! It's hard to get coaster pictures with trains when there's hardly anyone in the park! Most of the time when a train was running I was on it!

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Another Intamin in the clouds!

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Super LS Coaster, a pretty typical looper.

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Dragon powered "coaster".

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A Zamperla Roller Skater. Guess what it's called.

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Roler Skater, of course!

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I love the little roller skate cars, especially the bumper brake on the front.

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The Gold Rush mine train coaster.

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An evil minion in the walthrough.

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It's so slow in the park that he's gotten bored waiting for people.

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Aaah! The minion's got me!

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Evil minions unite!

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An overhead bat-man who flies out at you as you walk by.

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The shooting dark ride had round cars you sit around.

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A nice carousel.

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A tiny theater with 3D SUPER 360, new for 2012. It was actually very effective 3D.

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The little stools in the small room.

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In the kiddie haunted walkthrough, dinner is served.

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WTF?!?

Is this even allowed on TPR?

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A scary skeleton in the kiddie walkthrough.

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Ghosts with candles.

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Driving lessons for kids.

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Hey, it's clearing up. I can actually see the freefall!

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The weird levelled queue for Jupiter.

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Yay! I can see Jupiter now. And I even caught a train!

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And a train on Super LS Coaster, too. It must be time to leave!

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Hey, that looks cool! Maybe I should come back here later. The Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway from the bus.

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The busses in Japan have an interesting way of keeping track of your fare. When you get on the bus in the middle door you take a ticket with a number that shows where you got on. As the bus goes along, it shows the current fare for tickets with that number. When you get off at the front exit, you pay the amount showed for you ticket number. Even a foreigher who doesn't speak any Japanese can understand it!

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Back at the train station in Beppu.

In Japan, Mister Donut's featured item is... pasta?!?

Edited by David H
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Day 7, part 2: Fukuoka/Beppu, Japan. Wonder Rakutenchi, Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway.

 

I arrived back at the Beppu train station from Kijima Kogen park to discover that I’d just missed the bus to Wonder Rakutenchi. Since I was now going to try to make it back along that first bus route to visit the Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway, I didn’t want to wait another 45 minutes or so, so I took a taxi. Taxis in Japan are very expensive, but the park wasn’t very far. It would have made more sense to visit the ropeway while I was already there, but I didn’t want to risk missing out on Wonder Rakutenchi if time ran out.

 

Wonder Rakutenchi isn’t all that much of a park. But what it lacks in rides, it makes up for in location. It’s built on the side of a mountain, much like Tibidabo park in Barcelona, Spain, although there aren’t elevators between levels. The rides are more built along the winding paths. To get to the park, you have to take a funicular, which offers nice views of the surrounding city and countryside, as does the park itself. For rides, they have a medium sized Jet Coaster, which is nice, but nothing special (other than the views), a Haunted House walkthrough, Jungle Safari (a shooting dark ride, where you shoot animals!) and a few other small rides. The park is probably most known for its double Ferris wheel, which presumably gives great views. It had the longest wait in the park, and since time was a bit tight, I didn’t ride it.

 

Most importantly, they have live DUCK RACES! Yes, some may think that it’s exploitative, and I’m usually uncomfortable about such things. But it seemed ok to me. They’re running for food. And after the race, they all get food, so it’s not like they have to run to keep from starving. I can’t see this as any more exploitative than having a cow on a regular farm or riding a horse. And it’s really neat!

 

One weird thing about the park was that they were having some sort of cosplay costume contest of anime characters. So there were all sorts of kids dressed up as characters I didn’t recognize (other than Nintendo’s Mario) with all sorts of fun hair colors. There were even one or two guy in drag as girl characters! At one point, nearly half of the people in the park were inside watching the judging for this contest.

 

Another weird thing about the park is that there are a bunch of animal displays randomly placed mostly around the back of the park. You wouldn’t expect to see a zoo in the middle of a small amusement park on the side of a mountain. There weren’t that many animals, but it wasn’t just ducks and goats and sheep; they had large monkeys and even penguins!

 

I walked around for a couple of hours and rode the coaster a few times, plus the two dark attractions, took a ton of pictures and made my way back to the funicular. I started to walk back to the train station, but ended up hopping a taxi so that I didn’t miss the next bus back towards Kijima Kogen and the Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway.

 

So, I took the bus back to the ropeway, which is what they called a cable car. The ropeway takes you up Mt Tsurumi from about 500m to 1300m above sea level. From there, there are paths to various observations platforms and the summit, plus shrines to “The Seven Gods of Good Fortune.” The views are supposed to be spectacular. Note that I say “supposed to be”. I was walking in the clouds, which blocked out much of the view. Still, it was a neat experience walking among clouds. It’s kind of like breathing in a cool sauna. It was a shame that they blocked much of the view, but I’d been wanting to walk in clouds on the mountains for days now, and I got my wish. I still walked around the entire set of pathways, which takes around 45-60 minutes. And it cleared up somewhat just as it was time to leave for the second to last car down, so I was still able to get a bunch of pictures.

 

I headed back down, took the bus back to Beppu and the train back to Hakata. I'd originally planned to do some minor sightseeing in Hakata, but the ropeway was way cooler. I finally had some time for a real dinner, rather than pub or fast food, and decided on some Yakitori. After all, you can’t go to Japan without having some meat on sticks, right? I walked around a bit, and took a few pictures, packed up and that was pretty much it for Japan for now. In the morning, I’d be taking a hydrofoil ferry to Busan, South Korea.

 

All in all, it was a pretty awesome day! Especially when you consider that there was a solid chance I'd spend it sitting at an amusement park waiting for the rain to stop and for the rides to open. Instead I quickly got through both parks on my agenda and had bonus time to take an unexpected cable car into the mountains.

 

Again, thanks to Elissa for the hotel recommendations. Both of these hotels in Japan were extremely convenient, not to mention both nice and cheap!

 

For Japan fans, the good news is that I saved the best of Japan for last on this trip, and at the very end of the trip -- after Korea, the long TPR China trip and Taiwan -- I went back to Japan, and visited Universal Studios (for their first full blown Halloween Horror Nights!), Parque Espana, Nagashima Spaland and the two Tokyo Disney parks! And all of those except for Parque Espana (which you can easily get to on your own) are part of the TPR 2013 Japan trip if you do the pre-trip add-on. So stay tuned, Japan fans.

 

Next up: Busan and Geongju, South Korea. A ton of culture and Gueongju World amusement park.

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The castle gates of Wonder Rakutenchi.

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You have to take a funicular to get up to the park.

POP QUIZ: What other parks can you name with a funicular up to the park?

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The spectacular view from the park is one of the main reasons to go!

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For some weird reason, they have this big-ass bridge across the park. And they charge 100 yen (around $1.25) to cross it.

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The bridge, up close.

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Screw the credit, THIS is why you come to Wonder Rakutenchi!

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Live duck racing! You gamble 100 yen on a duck!

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Come on, pink!

My gay duck isn't doing so well.

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If you win, you get your choice of a crappy little souvenir towel or some duck stickers, both of which cost probably a nickel!

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And hot chicks in anime costumes! Admit it, some of you boys (and a few girls) are jealous!

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Wait, that's not a chick cosplayer.

Japan's getting modern. Work it, girl!

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There was apparently some sort of cosplay contest going on at the park that day. Here is the judging. Each one would go up and say something to a judge and the audience. Note Mario way on the left!

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The park's jet coaster, conveniently names Jet Coaster.

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The coaster sprawls around the middle section of the park.

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Such a nice setting for a coaster, eh?

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Haunted Houses don't usually look so medern.

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Didn't I just see you in Tobu Zoo the other day, Timon? You'd better hide, befor Tokyo Disney realizes you escaped!

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OK, I'll feed you, poor guy.

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Despite the warmth, the penguins seemed happy.

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LOL!

Can we pay extra to see this?

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A cute kiddie flume.

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The Double Ferris Wheel.

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Such amazing views!

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Me, on the bridge.

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The cat funicular car. The other one is a dog.

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The Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway. Aka cable car.

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You can still see most ofthe city below during the ride up.

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A look down, back at the long, winding rouad through the mountaisn that the bus takes to both here and Kijima Kogen park.

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Up on the mountain, I'm literally walking in the clouds! At last!

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There are temples and shrines up on the mountains. That seesm a long way to go to pray to your gods! They're probably mostly there as a toursist trap,

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Fukurokuju, the diety of happiness, wealth and longevity.

He may not look wealthy, but he certainly looks happy and old!

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So, this is what I'm supposed to see...

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And this is what I can actually see!

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Oh, well, I might as well take a picture of me in front of the vast whiteness.

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So, I'm walking along the paths, and I run into this. And all I can think of is Blair Witch!

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The summit of Mt. Tsurumi.

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It's starting to clear up a little. I can see land and water!

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The sourrounding mountains in the clouds.

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Back outside Hakata Station. With my hotel in the far right.

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A ate in the little yakitori restaurant with the red front.

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Drinking some hot saki (which I didn't like) and some apple liquor (which I did!) And having some meat on sticks!

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Not just meat on sticks, but bacon-wrapped cheese on sticks! And onions on sticks, too! (both are on the right.) This is just the second round of the meat on sticks, plus some meat dish the restaurant is known for. It was all very tasty!

Edited by David H
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I recognize the duck race guy! He's the same one from all of our visits!

 

Also, the park seems to be doing much better since it briefly closed several years back. One of the operations girls that works there even did Disney College Program here in Florida!

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^ But the evil minions were actually really nice. After they jumped out at me a few times, when they saw my camera, they insisted on taking the pic of me on the weel. It kind of took away from the whole "evil bad guys out to kill you and take ovfer the world" schtick, but it was pretty cool. And it was a really unique concept for a walkthrough scary attraction,

 

^^ I suspect that much of the business on that day at Wonder Rakutenchi was due to the cosplay contest. Most of the people at the park were either in costume or with people in costume. Given how much Japanese kids love to dress up as their favorite cartoon characters, it was pretty ingenius of the park to come up with this idea to get the usual sunday cosplay crowd away from shopping areas like Shinjuku and into their park. There were a bunch of families there too, however. Also, it was the last Sunday of the Summer, so that might have brought out many of the people, especially once the weather quickly cleared up.

 

Still, it was a nice, quirky park in a stunning mountain setting. It's worth going to the park, just for the views, which admittedly was the main reason I went. (I got to get some sightseeing done with the views, plus get a credit too! And bet on duck racing!

 

Coming up shortly: Korea!

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Day 8: Busan/Gyeongju, South Korea. A ferry, a tower and lots of culture.

 

A warning: this is a pretty big update with no amusement parks or coasters. However, there is a lot of interesting Korean culture that you porbably haven't seen on TPR before! Parks and coasters will return with the next three updates, though there will be lots of culture interspersed, as well. Hopefully, some of you will appreciate some of the other things that Korea has to offer. And if not, skip this stuff and there will be a few world class Intamin coasters and a B&M coming up soon!

 

So, a little introduction to the Korea portion of the trip. When I decided to do the TPR China trip, my very first thought was to try to add Korea to the trip. It’s nearby. But more importantly, it has two world class parks right outside Seoul, one of which has one of the top 3 wooden coasters in the world, and the other of which has a top rated unique Intamin coaster. I’d want to get there eventually, and what better time than when I’d be literally flying over the country anyways? Originally, I thought I’d just make it a 2-4 day stop and just hit those parks and do a bit of sightseeing, but one thing I learned from past trips abroad is that I enjoy and appreciate them more when I take the time to see other things in the country besides parks and coasters. Plus, there was another park in Gyeongju, far South in the country that I wanted to visit because it had a B&M inverted, and that is my favorite type of steel coaster. When getting some advice form a few other well-traveled coaster enthusiasts, one of them urged me to allow more time for Gyeongju to see the city, because it has a lot of ancient historic sites like burial grounds, temples, etc. And several people recommended the unique tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. This was now sounding less like a quick coaster stop, and more like a real vacation, which was perfect for me! Originally, I’d planned to fly to Seoul, and take the train down to Gyeongju, but when I discovered that there was a hydrofoil ferry from Fukuoka to Busan, South Korea – the second largest city in South Korea -- this seemed perfect. It was quite a bit more expensive, since I’d have been able to use miles for an award flight, but it would save me time from not backtracking and allow me to visit another city, as well. The down side would mean that I’d be lugging my big, heavy bag literally across the entire country.

 

Which actually brings me to a point I really wanted to make about Korea: the people were extraordinarily friendly and helpful. Since I was lugging a rolling suitcase and a big backpack, I moved much of the heavier stuff, like my laptop into the rolling suitcase, which made for easier going most of the time – until I hit stairs! And on two different occasions, random middle aged women who didn’t even speak English saw me struggling and just walked up and grabbed one side of my bag and started lugging it up the stairs with me! Could you imagine an American doing that for a foreigner here?!? Almost everywhere I went, people went out of their way to try to help me. And the early Southern portion of my trip was very challenging because very few people speak any English, and I didn’t have access to Google Translate or Google maps, because it’s very hard to get a sim card or wifi if you’re not a Korean resident. This should have been the hardest leg of the entire trip, but thanks to the people, it wasn’t at all. Almost every time I was on a train, especially in Seoul, when I’d be looking at my subway map to make sure I knew where I was going, someone would take the map from me, ask where I was going, and show me how to get there. (Which actually became a bit annoying, because I actually knew, but they were just trying to be nice, so it was hard to get mad at them.) At one station, some young guy actually missed his train to show me where to get on mine, despite my insisting he ge ton his train and saying that I could figure it out! Here I was, a foreigner with the arrogance to visit their country without learning so much as 10 words in their language, and they seemed grateful when I could say “thank you” in Korean, and got frustrated when THEY couldn’t help ME. The people really made visiting their country a pleasure I wasn't expecting! It was so very different than with Americans, who get angry with foreigners who don’t speak a lot of English.

 

So, today was mostly a travel day, with some quick sightseeing stops. Once I checked out of the hotel, I took the bus (which actually left from the other side of the train station) to the Hakata ferry terminal. Then I took the ferry from Hakata, Japan to Busan, South Korea. There is a slow ferry that takes over 6 hours or overnight, but I took the fast ferry that’s only 3.5 hours. It was a nice trip, with some nice scenery leaving and entering the ports. Getting through customs is much easier and faster by ferry that it is at the airport, too. At the ferry terminal, there was a tourist booth that gave me advice on getting around and told me that my best bet would be to leave my bags at the train station a short bus ride (or a couple of subway stops) away. From there, I took the subway – which had English signs on the trains and in the stations! – to Yongdusan Park that’s up on Mt Yongdusan, named because it’s appearance resembles a dragon’s head. This park was the center of the city when it was occupied by the Japanese as well as the base of the South Korean Government during the Korean War. It’s also home to the tall Busan Tower, which affords great views of the city, the port, the sea and the surrounding mountains, which was the reason I was there. You have to take a long series of escalators to get up to the park, several of which were down for maintenance. I was glad I'd left my bags in the train station! There are also a few small museums and temples and statues at the base of the tower that I stopped in briefly. A quick stop, but the view was worth the trip. And it gave me a taste of a city I’d have otherwise just traveled through.

 

There are actually three different ways to get to Gyeongju: bus, train and high speed rail. The HSR was the most convenient for me, although it meant having to take a bus into downtown Gyeongju, because the HSR train is quite a way’s outside town. But the bus station is right downtown and where I had decided to book my hotel. For a hotel in Gyeongju, you basically have three options: a very cheap hostel or guest house or the equivalent, a cheap “love motel”, or an expensive nice hotel that’s way over by the lake in town, which just happens to be near the city’s amusement park. The hostels, while VERY cheap (often under $20!), seemed really sparse, many of them without even real western beds. The nicer hotels were significantly more expensive at $150 and up. But more importantly, while they were convenient to the amusement park nearby in that tourist area on the lake, they were pretty inconvenient – well out of town – for everything else. Staying there would have made it very difficult to do very much sightseeing in the day and a half I had there, and that was one of my major goals for the stay.

 

So I opted for a “love motel”, doing my best to find one that got good reviews on TripAdvisor and elsewhere, as well as one where I could reserve a room in advance, and one where I could leave my bags the next day, while I was at the amusement park and the tourist spots. And I got one for around $40. I’m certainly no prude anyways, even if the places were somewhat tacky and garish. While the idea of a “love motel” where one can have some fun makes some sense to me, I found the whole area in Gyeongju to be somewhat puzzling. The ENTIRE area around the bus stations was full of love motels. Like 10-20 of them. Normally, I’d expect to find hookers and strip clubs and pick-up clubs and the like in such an area. I think I saw one small strip club, and that’s pretty much it. Not even one street hooker, and I seem to have a knack for unexpectedly finding those on vacations abroad! Maybe the area is just dead on weeknights, but is hopping on weekends? Otherwise, who’s filing these love motels? Are there that many men in south/central Korea with mistresses? Or that many couples looking for a sexy getaway, away from the family? It’s rare that a sleazy area like this puzzles me so. Does anyone know? I’m genuinely curious. Interestingly, many of the love motels in Gyeongju advertise on many of the online hotel sites like Kayak and hotels.com without mentioning their more sordid uses, although it’s often brought up in the user reviews by offended unexpecting tourists!

 

In any case, my hotel wasn’t really that bad. At was actually pretty nice. Cheap, convenient, clean and spacious. Yes, it had pictures of scantily clad women on the wallpaper of one wall. Yes, it had a full collection of condoms and lubes and ticklers and the like, along with hair and skin supplies. And it had some tacky fringe as shower curtains. (My room didn’t have a hot tub, although some of the more expensive ones did.) The most jarring thing for me was actually the toilet. They had one of those super toilets you find all over Japan. But unlike those, the heater on the seat was already on. Not what I was expecting, especially in 80 degree heat! I also wasn’t expecting the bidet attachment to be set on super high pressure!

 

OK, let’s bring this back to a G rating, ok? The funniest thing about the place was it was owned and run by this nice old couple, which wasn’t exactly what I expected. The lady even came into the room a while after I checked it to try to show me how to use the TV remote control (which was useless to me, since all of the channels were in Korean) and how to turn on the various lights, which included several colors of LED’s!

 

So, after checking in to my hotel, I headed out to the nearby Tumuli Park, with its royal burial mounds. Apparently, there are over 200 of these mounds scattered all over Gyeongju, but 23 of them are in this one park (which happened to be right down the street from my hotel!), including the Cheonmachong (Heavenly Horse) Tomb, which is open to the public. During the Silla Dynasty (which ruled eastern Korea through most of the first millennium AD), kings and queens were buried in tombs that were then covered with sticks and/or rocks into those sometimes huge burial mounds, which were then covered with soil, which eventually started growing grass. As the center of the Silla Empire, there are also lots of other temples and artifacts all over the area. First, I checked out a nice temple across the street from the entrance of the park, then entered the park itself. Strangely enough, most of the tourist sites in Gyeongju require an individual ticket, but the tickets are really cheap, like the equivalent of a dollar or two. It’s odd that they even bother charging such a small admission, and staffing the booths for so little money, but I guess it buys a lot more in Korea, outside Seoul, at least. I walked around the park and through the Heavenly Horse Tomb, which had most of the artifacts they unearthed displayed in the tomb. To see artifacts from other tombs, I’d have to go to the city’s national museum the next day, because like most museums in the world, it’s not open on Monday.

 

I exited the back exit of the park to do some more sightseeing. But first, I decided to have some dinner. Western food is pretty scarce in Korea outside of Seoul, so I opted for a traditional Korean barbeque dinner, which includes a TON of side dishes of a whole lot of vegetables I was unfamiliar with, plus kimchee, which is very popular, and which I’d tried in Tokyo a week earlier. Honestly, the beef and soup were pretty bland, and most of the veggies were weird to my tastes. But at least I got a taste of Korean culture, literally. From there, I stopped in a bunch of tourist trap souvenir stores. One thing Gyeongju is famous for is their Gyeongju bread, filled with red bean paste. But they only want to sell it to tourists in these big boxes with dozens of pieces in them for like $10-20. I had to try like 10 places before I could find one that would sell me ONE piece of each kind of the Gyeongju bread. It was ok, but nothing special. I’m glad I didn’t buy the big box of it!

 

From there I did some more sightseeing, even though it was pretty dark by then. I went to the Cheomseongdae, the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia from the 7th century, which is a whopping 9.4 meters tall, but the city is very proud of it! Then I stopped by the Anopji Pond, with its pretty lotus plants and the rebuilt Imhaejeon Palace. I ended up taking a taxi back to the hotel, since they’re very cheap in Korea, unlike in Japan! I actually got a lot more sightseeing done in Gyeongju than I expected to, given that I had a late start.

 

Tomorrow, I’d see the other big sites in town, but only after hitting the city’s big amusement park, Gyeongju World.

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If you're looking to get from southern Japan to southern Korea, the ferry is a nice way to go. The JR Kyushu Beetle is the fastest boat.

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Asians love to wear English. At least this shirt has correct, if obvious, English.

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The Beetle.

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Goodbye, Japan. For now, at least! I'll be back in 5 weeks!

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Hello, Korea!

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Busan is actually much bigger than I'd expected.

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It's actually the second biggest city in South Korea.

To the right, you can see the top of the Busan Tower I'll soon be visiting

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Here's the very modern train station. I was leaving my bags here, and taking the subway. The high speed rail also leaves here for Gueongju and Seoul.

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The Korean subway stations have doors thet open when the train arrives. Somehow, they manage to perfectly line up the trains. I'd never seen this before, but it's pretty common in Korea, Taiwan and parts of China. Many of the stations also have video screens that tell you where the next train is and when it will arrive. It's so much less frustrating to know how long you'll have to wait!

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To get to Yongdusan Park from one side, you take a long set of covered escalators. On the way up, there was this colorful temple.

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Yongdusan Park, home to the South Korean government during the Korean War, as well a home to the Japanese local government during its occupation of Korea.

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The Busan Tower.

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Dragons are always cool! Where's the Khaleesi?

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Some old Korean clothes on display at the museum at the base of Busan Tower.

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The view of Busan and the surrounding mountains from the tower.

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For those keeping count, this is the second tower or tall building I've taken pictures from on this trip. Plus a funicular and a cable car. There will be many more!

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On to Gueongju, where they're very proud of the area's historic artifacts. They even have a small museum in the train station, which is miles outside the main city! (The HSR station is actually called SinGyeongju.)

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The burial mounds that Busan is famous for. They're so widespread that these ones aren't even in any park or tourist area. They're just randomly scattered around the city. The entire city is a Unesco World Heritige Site because of all of the historic burial mounds and temples there.

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The entrance to Tumuli Park, which is home to more burial mounds than any other place in the city, including one of the only ones open to tourists.

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IN Gueongju when you go to "the throne", you REALLY go to the throne!

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A pond in Tumuli Park.

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The Heavenly Horse Tomb, named after one of the artifacts found inside.

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Inside the unearthed tomb.

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This crown is among the artifacts found in the tomb which are still displayed there.

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More burial mounds among some pretty flowering trees.

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One of many temples scattered around the city.

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My Korean barbeque meal. Usually, this would be enough beef for 2-4 poeple, but since I'm a fat western carnivore and not much of a vegitarian, they game me more beef than usual!

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Geoungju bread, generally only available in big boxes.

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I finally managed to find a store willing to sell me individual pieces. These are the two main kinds, both of which are filled with a sweet bean paste. It's better than it sounds, but I wasn't a big fan either.

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Cheomseongdae, the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia, from the 7th century.

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You'd think you'd want to be higher than 9.4 meters/31 feet to see the stars! I guess that must have been tall in the 7th century!

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Anopji Pond, with it's lotus plants. And a glowing heart.

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Part of the rebuilt Imhaejeon Palace.

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A large model of one of the original gates of the palace.

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Some artifacts found on the site.

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The palace overlooking the pond.

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The klassy part of town I'm staying in.

You'd never guess that these were "love motels", would you?

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Very klassy!

But not my hotel, actually.

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This was my hotel. The J Motel. It got decent reviews on TripAdvisor. And was actually pretty nice, believe it or not.

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Look at how klassy these rooms are!

They have pictures of them advertised outside, so you can choose the one you want by number.

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I loved the signs on the elevator doors!

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Now THAT'S klass!

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Let's get a close-up of the well-stocked sink area. Have you ever seen a hotel room with so many hair brushes? Not to mention the French ticklers!

(I actually took these to give as gag gifts to Robb and Elissa in China, but forgot to give it to them!)

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The Japanese-style super toilet!

But the seat heater was left on!

And watch out for the bidet spray, set on super high pressure! Talk about a "shocker"!

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More Klass!

Strangely enough, the shower was alone behind these curtains, but around the corner and down some stairs.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Day 9: Gyeongju. Gyeongju World, Seokguram Grotto, Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju National Museum.

 

Today was going to be another crowded, challenging day. Or more specifically, the afternoon was going to be crowded and challenging. My main goal was to get to Gyeongju World amusement park, but I also wanted to hit the major sightseeing sights in Gyeongju before I took the high speed rail (KTX) to Seoul. The problem is that I’d been warned that at least one of the coasters at the park doesn’t open until 1 PM. And the three major sights I wanted to visit all closed at 6 PM, with admission ending at 5:30. And they weren’t all that close to each other, either, especially by slow moving Asian busses.

 

By the way, a quick note for those trying to visit Gyeongju on your own. You can find most of the info out on your own. But there is a tourist desk right across from the two bus stations that usually have English speaking workers. They are very helpful and can give you maps with English, as well as lots of tips and the latest bus info. Also, when searching for info about Gyeongju (and just about anywhere in Korea) online, note that the English spellings of many cities and places was standardized and changed a few years back. So you might see Gyeongju listed as Kyongju or Kyungju or several other spellings – which makes Google searches more difficult.

 

Since time in the morning wasn’t tight, and I was correctly guessing the park wouldn’t be busy on a Tuesday in September, I slept a bit later than I might have. That might have turned out to be a big mistake, since as I was riding the bus to the park, it started raining lightly, despite the forecasts having something like a 20% chance of rain. In fact, when I got to the park, they seemed anxious to find someone who worked there who spoke a little English to tell me that if it rains, the big coaster (Phaethon) wouldn’t be open. They were trying to talk me into coming back the next day, but I was leaving for Seoul that night! I asked if it was open NOW, and they said yes, so I rushed over to it!

 

Gyeongju World is a mid-sized park with basically one claim to fame: Phaethon, a pretty good B&M inverted coaster with excellent theming. In fact, the theming is actually very similar to that of Dueling Dragons at Islands of Adventure, before they rethemed it to Harry Potter. They also have two other crappy coasters, a looper and an indoor coaster. The park has some excellent theming, mainly in the kiddie areas and for Phaethon. They have a decent selection of rides, including a freefall ride, a couple of water rides, a haunted house (which is a small upcharge from the POP, although you get a discount), a fun house, and a Tagada! In the winter, they have a big hill for sledding on. It’s outside the city’s downtown area, in the tourist area of the Bomun Lake resort, which is where ALL of the decent hotels in the city are located. Apparently, most of the tourists stay here. There are busses that run from all around the city, but it’s faster to take a taxi, which are quite cheap in Korea, unlike in Japan. You can get most places in the city, despite it being very spread out for under $10, and the taxi drivers are very happy to wait for you. You can even rent one for the day for around $70-80. If you go in the off-season, as I did, you can do most of the park in a few hours, though you may have to wait to ride for there to be enough people.

 

And that’s exactly what I encountered when I got to Phaethon. The park was very deserted, with a few dozen people walking around. And they don’t like to run their rides for only a few people. I’d seen Phaethon run once, which reassured me. But then when I got there, I had to sit in the station waiting for more people, all the while afraid it would really start raining, and they’d shut it down before I got to ride! Also, the ride ops also didn’t seem to understand why I’d want to sit in the back row, when they were loading from the front, but once they let me sit there, others wanted to sit there as well, which only confused them more! Each time I wanted to ride, I had to wait at least 5-15 minutes for more people, which was frustrating. But I got to ride. And it was a good B&M. Not as weak as some of the more recent ones, but not as powerful as Katun or Pyrenees or Montu. But B&M inverted coasters are my favorite kind of steel coaster, so even an average one is a good ride to me! Of course, but the time I was done riding for a bit, it had mostly stopped raining!

 

After a few rides, I walked around the park, taking pictures and riding what I could. I was REALLY disappointed to see the Tagada closed and to hear it wouldn’t open, because the park was so slow. It had looked like a crazy ride in the videos of the TPR Korea trip. I didn’t know if there were any others of this ride anywhere, but luckily, there’s was one later in the trip at Floraland with TPR. And it was as amazing as I’d hoped!

 

Of course, I headed straight to the other two coasters. Space 2000 wasn’t open yet. There was a sign saying that it would open at 1 PM. Space Tour, which I’d been told opens at 1 PM, was actually completely down. I’m not sure if it was seasonal maintenance or if it was broken down. But it was actually the first denied credit of the trip. Given that it was a week into the trip, I guess that’s not too bad, especially since it was supposedly an unremarkable coaster. Especially since there had just been the distinct chance I’d have missed the one important coaster that was the entire reason I was in Southern South Korea! And Dragon 2 Loop Coaster is actually just a typical powered Dragon “coaster”, which I don’t count, and don’t even always ride, unless I’m with TPR, and everyone is riding it, like I did often in China! The “loops” in the name were apparently just the helices, kind of like in those supposed “looping” water slides. The haunted house walkthrough was decent, with a lot of skeletons. The fun house was ok, but several things were broken.

 

After touring the park, I headed back to Phaethon for a bunch of rides, always in the back, except for one front seat ride. I also found an open gate on a path that led to the Bonham Lake, which was nice for taking pictures, both of the lake and of Phaethon. As 1 PM approached, I headed over to Space 2000, to find a decent sized line. It was probably half the people in the park, but it was still only a train or so worth of people. It was a painful looping Meisho coaster that I really didn’t need to ride again. After a few pictures, I left for sightseeing.

 

Now, it was going to be tricky. I had less than 5 hours to see three major sights, all of which were about 30 minutes away from each other by bus – IF I’d caught them all with perfect timing. I decided to take a taxi, since they’re cheap and it would save a lot of time. The driver even offered to sit and wait for me to visit the Seokguram Grotto and then take me to the Bulguksa Temple, without charging me a waiting fee. Andmission to both major tourist sites was under $4 each. The Seokguram Grotto is a temple that was built in the 8th century into the side of a mountain. It’s considered to be one of the finest examples of Buddhist art in the world, with a big Buddha and other statues and art around it. A wooden entrance that looks more like a traditional temple has recently been added, probably to make it more picturesque for the tourists. To get to the grotto, you have to walk a long, winding path through the woods. As I was walking, I passed several large groups of young students in their uniforms who get bussed in from all over the country and seemed very excited to see a white person (presumably American.) Many, many of them were very excited to show off their English skills by waving and saying “Herro” and “Hi” to me! It was kind of surreal. Korea doesn’t see a whole lot of white tourists outside of Seoul, although touristy Gueongju probably sees more than any other city. But these kids probably came from all over to see these temples that are major historic treasures for the country. And I was possibly the first white person they’d ever seen in person and not on TV. There was also another temple and the obligatory gifts shops, as well as a giant bell by the entrance of the area which you could pay a donation to ring to have your wishes come true. The temple was nice, but I didn’t honestly see what all the hubbub was about.

 

From there, the patiently waiting taxi driver took me to the Bulguksa Temple (also from the 8th century of the Silla dynasty era), which is actually a whole complex of temples and bridges and other structures. There’s actually a lot to see there. In one area, there were a whole ton of piles of rocks piled on top of each other, with what I assume was some religious significance. It was really neat, though it seemed a little creepy to me, for some reason.

 

Since it takes a while to see the temple complex, the driver had gone on his way, which presented a big problem to me. I hadn’t taken the bus there, so I didn’t know where the bus stop was, and there were no taxis anywhere in sight. I tried asking many people where I could find a bus or taxi by asking “bus” and “taxi” and shrugging my shoulders and looking around lost – with absolutely no luck. Tome was running out, since the Gyeongju National Museum was closing soon, and I had no way to get there. Eventually someone pointed in one direction, and I walked what had to have been 10 minutes to the bus stop. With time running out and the bus I needed not coming, I managed to hail a taxi, who got me to the museum 25 minutes before they closed, but 5 minutes after they stopped letting people in! I begged to be let in, and the nice guy did! I did a whirlwind tour of as much of the complex as I could see, before it closed. Inside were a lot of treasures from this area, mostly from the Silla era, including many of the treasures from the burial mounds I’d seen the day before. After the museum closed, I was still able to see the many outdoor displays of pagodas and statues and other art, including a weird display of headless Buddhas, which they weren’t sure if they were headless because the necks of the statues were fragile or if they were defaced my the later Confucians.

 

From there, I took the bus back to the bus station, stopped by the hotel to pick up my bags and took the bus back to the high speed rail station and the train to Seoul, catching up on the latest Doctor Who episode and audio stories on the train.

 

All in all, Gyeongju was a city I really enjoyed visiting. It gave me a chance to see a very different side of Korea, both in the important historical sites, and in seeing a much smaller city. I'm not sure I'd be in a hurry to go back. But I'm really glad I went. And a special thanks to Jeremy for insisting that I allow more than a day in the city. The history and culture of Gyeongju is more significant than anything in Seoul, and having seen this lessened the pressure I'd feel to do more sightseeing in Seoul in the following days.

 

Next installment: Seoul, a city I was mainly visiting for the coasters, but which I ended up enjoying quite a bit, although much of it for its western influences.

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Strangely enough, on the bus to the park, I saw a bunch of different places selling replica statues of the area's sights. Unforunately, none of these would fit in my suitcase.

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I even ran into a replica of the observatory I saw yesterday that was covered with flowers.

More importantly, that unexpected rain was looking ominous for my chances for getting on the coasters!

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Pheathon dominates the whole park. You can even see it from the front, even though it's all the way in the back.

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Some nice fantasy theming.

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In Korea, I think "Americana" means hamburgers. Which, I guess makes me really Americana!

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Phaethon: B&M goodness with IOA-level theming.

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Not TOO IOA here! But hey, if the original isn't going to keep the awesome theming it had, there's always the one in Korea!

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This really is impressive theming for a mid-sized park! Certainly better than anything Six Flags has ever done!

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Even the station is well themed!

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The theming on the rapids ride looked funny, since it was drained.

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More wizard-y theming.

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Could someone who counts powered "coasters" as coasters please explain to me why you wouldn't count one of these too?

Isn't it just more or less a compact powered dragon "coaster"?

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Space Tour. AKA indoor closed credit I'm not getting!

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From the upcharge haunted house. Riding the painful looping coaster kind of felt like this!

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Dinner is served!

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Back to Phaethon. Near the entrance, they tell the story of the demi-god Phaethon, for those who aren't up on their Greek mythology.

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They have cartoonish drawings of many Greek gods in the station.

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Bomun Lake, a big tourist area where all of the nice hotels in town are, plus the amusement park and some other touristy stuff.

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This area allowed for some nice pictures of Phaethon, too!

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The park also had a decent freefall tower with nice views of Pheathon, the park and the lake.

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B&M inverted goodness!

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It's a fairly standard B&M inverted coaster, but that's a good thing!

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I like this angle.

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Like many parks in Asia, there's also a small zoo section.

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A neat way to serve a combo mini-meal. Mini chicken nuggets sitting on top of a cup of soda.

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I was so disappointed that the Tagada was closed, and I'd miss this relaly cool ride experience that I'd never had. Luckily, I'd get to ride one later on the trip with TPR at Floraland in China!

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An old-fashioned funhouse, the kind you rarely find in the US any more. Unfortunately, several of the tricks weren't working and the slides were closed.

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Space 2000. Aka painful looping thing I never need to ride again!

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Seokguram Grotto up above, and another temple below it.

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The facade was actually added somewhat recently, probably to make it more photogenic for the toursists, since pictures aren't allowed inside.

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Did I say pictures weren't allowed inside? Oops! I only discovered this after taking a few pictures! This is supposedly some of the finest Buddhist art in the world.

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The grotto was built into the side of a mountain. After taking a bus or cab or car way up past the Bulguksa temple, you have to walk 10-15 minutes through the woods on the mountain to get to it.

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Inside the other temple, where you are allowed to take pictures! ;-)

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The bell you can ring for a small donation (I think is was a couple of dollars) for good luck.

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With 6 more weeks to go, all outdoors, I could use all the luck I could get with the weather and my health!

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On to the Bulguksa Temple complex. I relaly liked these warriors/gods/whatever. Especially the little guys at their feet.

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The stone gates to the Bulguksa temple.

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The Bulguksa Dabotap, a stone pagoda from 751 AD.

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The bright colors and amazing details of the many Buddhist temples I visited on the trip were really impressive.

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I think this is the ACTUAL Bulguksa Temple, but there were a bunch of temples in the whole large complex, so I might have gotten them confused.

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Making use of my telephoto, since you can't take pictures inside the temple. Ok, so maybe I'm making use of a technicality. Sue me!

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There were hundreds, if not thousands, of these piles of stones all over this small area of the complex. You can even see them on the surrounding wall in the background in the upper right of the photo, and they were all around this area. I'm not sure what they were supposed to signify, but I found them kind of creepy.

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And on to the Gyeongju National Museumm which actually has more historic Korean artifacts than any other museum in Korea. I'm just glad they let me in, since they were closing soon, and stoped letting people in 5 minutes before I got there!

These were some of my favorite statues there.

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A crown from one of the burial mounds, like those i visited yesterday.

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A stone pagoda in the outdoor section of the museum.

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These headless Buddhas were kind of creepy. There were a whole bunch of them on display, too!

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At the Gyeongju high speed rail train station.

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For the train lovers out here. The Korean KTX/high speed rail was fast and efficient, and reasonably priced. Now if we could only get that in the US!

Edited by David H
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Day 10, part 1: Seoul, South Korea. Seoul Land.

 

I’m going to backtrack for a bit to the end of the previous day. It made sense to talk about arriving in Seoul here, with the rest of Seoul. I arrived in Seoul on the high speed (KTX) train from Gyeongju. When I got there, it was lightly raining, which kind of dampened any enthusiasm I might have had for any of the sightseeing I’d hoped I might be able to get done that night. And to be honest, I’d already seen more history and touristy stuff in one day in Gyeongju that I’d be able to see in all of Seoul combined. But when I got out of Seoul’s main train station, I saw a sight for sore western eyes, after over a week in Asia: a Pizza Hut! Little did I know that I’d actually be eating pizza hut more times over the course of this trip than I have eaten in the past decade of my life! (There aren’t any pizza huts in high-rent downtown Boston, where I live, and I rarely venture out of the city.) I opted for a more “Korean” version of pizza hut with a sweet potato cheese stuffed-crust pizza that was half Hawaiian and half Korean barbeque, which oddly came with a béchamel style cream sauce for dipping the outer stuffed crust into. (See the picture below.)

 

Then I made my way by subway to the Itaewon train station, where my hotel was near. It was on this journey that I was amazed that two different Korean women at different times helped me up stairs with my bags without asking, even though they spoke no English and I spoke no Korean. I also want to point out that the Seoul Korean subway system, like its Japanese counterparts I’d already utilized on the trip, is very modern and efficient and very on-time. And what’s even better is that most of the stations have monitors that tell how long it will take for the next train to approach. And all of the trains have monitors that alternate English with the Korean. Not to mention English signs on the train maps and in the stations! And people were always willing to help a confused looking white person find his way, whether I needed help or not! All of these made it very easy to navigate Seoul’s extensive subway system.

 

My hotel for the next 5 nights would be Hotel D’Oro, which is technically a love motel, like my last one. But other than the signs which advertised the hourly rental possibilities, I don’t think most people would realize it. It certainly didn’t share any of the tackiness of its Gyeongju counterparts. I’d already decided I wanted to stay in the Itaewon area for two reasons. First, because of its relative proximity to a US military base, it is the main center for tourists, with a ton of hotels, restaurants and stores that cater to westerners. And secondly, because it’s one of the gay centers of the city, where many of the city’s gay bars and nightclubs are located. And I planned to do some clubbing, particularly on the weekend! I took a gamble with hotel D’Oro, because it was the most reasonably priced hotel that quite a few people online recommended, although it was harder to find information about it, because they have virtually NO online presence and are not listed on any of the hotel booking sites I’ve seen. But the nearby Hamilton Hotel that all of the tourists seem to stay in was nearly twice as expensive. And everything else I saw online in this area seemed to be either more of a hostel or a badly rated love motel. And honestly, having stayed there, I’d guess that 2/3 of the clientele these days are just regular tourists looking for a cheaper hotel. But if you want to book it, you’ll have to call the hotel directly, and don’t do it more than a month or so in advance! But on this night, I didn’t really explore the Itaewon neighborhood, since it was raining and I was tired.

 

The next day, I kind of putzed around, not getting up or out as quickly as I should have. I’d kind of hoped to try to get in three parks this day, but understood that that was a bit ambitious. I still kind of hoped to try for it, but it soon became clear that Seoul Land and Lotte World would be all that I could really visit, unless I wanted to rush through each park and not enjoy any of them. Which was fine, because my schedule was loose for this leg of the trip anyways. Everything I wanted to do was pretty close to downtown Seoul. So, I made my way by subway to Seoul Grand Park (which has a subway station that shares its name and is only around 20-30 minutes from most downtown areas) a giant park, which hosts a large zoo and Seoul Land amusement park. The park is actually a decent 20 minute or so walk from the subway station, but there are trams that run around the park. Unfortunately, they run in the wrong direction, so taking the tram probably wouldn’t have saved any time. And along the walk, I ate a couple of pieces of KFC that I got from the location near the station!

 

Seoul Land is a neat medium sized park, though it’s far from a destination park. But it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re going to Seoul, especially since it’s in the city (although across the river from the main downtown areas) and has 4-5 coaster credits, depending on whether you count powered coasters. But I doubt many traveling enthusiasts would spend more than an hour or two there. It’s actually a pretty big park space-wise, with a decent collection of rides, though nothing that’s an absolute don’t miss. There is also a lot of nice theming and plants, and the park overall looks really nice, especially the large long entranceway.

 

The coaster collection is fairly weak. Columbia Double Looping Coaster and Black Hole 2000 are two somewhat painful looping coasters, the former with two vertical loops, the latter with two corkscrews. Crazy Mouse was a weird hybrid of a mouse, but with the normal tubular track and cars with over the shoulder harnesses, much like any typical looping coaster. Kiddy Coaster was a credit with a winking Speedy Golzalez on the front of the train (which you’d think would be more appropriate for the mouse), which goes through “Maria’s House”, whoever Maria is. And for the credit whores, theres Rudolph 2 Loop Coaster, a powered Zamperla “coaster”, with (again) the two “loops” being just helices. Honestly, the coasters were so uninspiring that I actually forgot to get pictures of Columbia Looping and Crazy Mouse! The park also had a decent collection of small flat rides, but several of them were closed on this very slow day. Probably the most notable attraction in the park was the walkthrough haunted house, which involved going through an underground crypt, led by ghostly figures that tell you a story about the place in Korean, which I obviously didn’t understand. There weren’t that many scares, but the theming was pretty nice. They send groups through every so often, and don’t have anyone there to let you know what’s going on., Luckily, a young Korean couple explained I’d have to wait a few minutes to be let in, since it outwardly appeared that the house was closed, though it wasn’t. The park also has a shooting dark ride with the “Den of Lost Thieves” theme we’ve seen many times in the States.

 

The park was absolutely dead. I could walk through whole areas without seeing more than a couple of people. I basically went clockwise around the park, starting with the haunted house, and then hitting all the coasters, ending with the shooting dark ride. I’m trying to remember now if I even bothered to ride any of the coasters twice, even with no wait. I think I probably rode the two big coasters twice, but they obviously weren’t that memorable! On the way out of the park, I just happened to catch the tram as it was approaching, though I had to rush to get a ticket before it left, which is always a challenge when you don’t speak the language.

 

From there, I took the subway to Jamsil Station to visit Lotte World. But more on that in part 2....

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Seoul's main train station. The KTX high speed rail and the airport train both stop here, and the subway station is right next door.

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Seoul is a huge modern city. This building across from the station had impressive LED lighting, at least at night.

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It was more sophisticated than just spelling out letters. I liked the moviing starfield the best, although I didn't manage to get any good pictures of it.

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Now we're seeing signs of REAL civilization! In Gueongju, I didn't see a single restaurant that I could identify. But right out of the Seoul train station, I ran into Pizza Hut! Little did I know how much Pizza Hut I'd be eating on the trip, mainly in China.

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This was my weird Pizza Hut pizza. The crust is sweet potato bread. The "stuffed crust" is that outer ring of stuffed rings, with a creamy/cheesy dipping sauce for it. Half of the middle is Hawaiian pizza; the other half is Korean barbeque. Does this count as eating exotic local food? ;-)

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From my hotel window, I could see the N Seoul Tower, if I zoomed the picture in enough, where I'd be visiting in a few days.

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It was kind of weird seeing Dunkin' Donuts, which was founded and is based near where I grew up and where I live now in Korea! they have some of the usual flavors, and some unique creations that you won't find in the states, too.

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More signs of civilization! I gabbed a few pieces of chicken for the long walk to the park.

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The entrance to the zoo section of Seoul Grand Park.

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Tha tram can save you a lot of walking! Whic, of course, is why I didn't take it! ;-) Still, it's a scenic route, since Seoul and this area is surrounded by nice mountains.

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I spy with my little eye.... Could that be an amausement park?

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Here we are! I like the smiley face ticket booths!

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The park has a really nice entrance area.

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I want a ride!

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No, it's not Epcot! Read the buoy.

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Pretty flowers!

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Fountains and mountains.

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This about as close as I got to getting a picture of the Columbia Double Loop Coaster. This is the part of the entrance. You can see some teal track in the background.

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A closer look. I somehow completely forgot to get any other pictures of this or the fairly unique mouse. Oops!

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Black Hole 2000. A mediocre somewhat painful looping coaster.

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Both of the big coasters at the park are fairly big and spread out behind other attractions, which makes them hard ot get good pictures of, unless it's from above, on another ride.

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The coaster's signature corkscrews are behind some buildings.

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For the flat ride fans.

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The Hi Roller was closed. You know, I'm not sure if, with all my amusement park travels, I've ever actually managed or gotten around to riding one of these!

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Neat theming! Does this technically count as a carousel?

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Rudolph 2 Loop Coaster. Aka a powered "coaster". The "loops" are just helices. Still, it's kind of funny that there are two coasters at the park that each have two loops in them, but the one named "2 loop coaster" isn't actually one of them!

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Some floats for a parade that I doubt they'd be holding on such a slow day.

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Yum! Butter baked dried cuttle fish! Too bad they were closed! NOT!

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How cute!

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Speedy Gonzalez on the Kiddy Coaster train.

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Kiddy Coaster is brought to you by Pocari Sweat!

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Den of Lost Theive should be familiar to many of us.

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This Adventure Land kiddie play zone with ropes and nets and bridges and the like was the park's new attraction for 2012. I couldnt' tell if it wasn't open on this day, or if there just weren't any small kids there to play on it!

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Theming! Not the first or last time I'd see Italy (one of my favorite countries) on this trip! The real thing doesn't lean quite so much!

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More fountains and mountains on the way out of the park!

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The park's haunted walkthrough attraction. Note that there is no one anywhere in sight. Not customers. Not staff. No one. They just come out when it's time to let people in. Most of the attraction is underground.

(This was supposed to be higher up, but I accidentally used the wrong picture. Does anyone know a way to move this up in the post?)

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While it's nice to know that they're prepared for emergencies, it's kind of creepy to see gasmasks in every subway station! And I guess it's good to know that if there is ever an emergency that requires the use of gasmasks that 23 people in a busy train station will survive it! I'm guessing that more people will die in the fights over those 23 gasmasks than from whatever disaster is requiring those masks!

Edited by David H
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This is the first Buddha I've ever seen with a pencil-thin mustache.

 

So, why did they use the name "Black Hole Coaster" for the looper? Is the loop painted black, or something?

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