24 Hours East of Seoul

All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

Seoul is an extra-ordinary city, busy, crowded, clean, noisy, and big, very big. It stretches in every direction.

Old Seoul lived inside the city walls. As more and more people came to settle, the city expanded, east to west, north to south, redefining its boundaries and claiming more land.

Today’s Seoul keeps growing, side to side and up and up. The old hanoks, the tall towers and parks bordering the Han River on each bank give the city its contradictory character.

Although I love to explore it, trying to get into its “soul”, trying to understand its people and their history, I felt it was time to go on an adventure outside of Seoul.



A hanok or traditional Korean house in Bukchon, Seoul


Lotte  World Tower in Seoul – 123 floors



Hangang Park – by the Han River and a 20 minute walk from home






I headed east to the province of Gangwon-do by bus to a small town called Gangneung-si known as the birthplace of one of Korea’s great teachers, Yulgok Yi Yi. I visited his home, Ojukheon House and then headed to the beach!

Rice fields
Mountains and forests


Children visiting Ojukheon House
Field Trip at Yi Yi’s birthplace


The story of Yi Yi is an important part of Korean history but it also helps to grasp the Korean devotion and passion for education.

As I walked around the beautiful grounds that house a shrine, his house and two museums, I concluded that Yi Yi and his mother, Shin Saimdang are a kind of role model for today’s mother-son relationship as it relates to education.

Yulgok, Lee was born in this “villa” in 1536. His mother was a very smart and talented woman who educated him and his siblings. She also painted and wrote poetry. She symbolized what Koreans call “Good Wife, Wise Mother”.



House where Yi Yi was born
This room is to the far left – it is the room where Yi Yi studied

Yi Yi was incredibly smart too. He learned to read and write when he was only 3 years old and by the time he was 10 he wrote a famous piece of writing called “An Ode to Gyengpodae”. When he was 16, his mother died. However, Yi Yi continued to learn and to grow becoming a famous writer and politician.

One of the things that struck me about Yulgok Yi Yi was not only how intelligent and accomplished he was but also that he was recognized for having passed the civil service exam nine times with the highest score. This exam was instituted so men from aristocratic families could become government officials.


Eojgak – House where Yi Yi’s book, Gyeok Mong Yo Gyeol and ink stone is housed
Children learning about Yi Yi’s life

The tradition of exams is almost 500 years old. They still define Korean culture and thinking. They are a way to improve one’s future as one can be admitted to the top universities and most likely insure one’s professional future.

Exams are an integral part of this country’s culture – they are the measure used to mark a trajectory from high school to a career in civil service or in private companies.





A 400 year old plum tree
Workers preserving and restoring the houses
Working with rice paper to cover the windows

The other thing that I learned during my visit was that Yulgok Yi Yi and his mother Shin Saimdang are valued and celebrated in a daily and “mundane” way – they each appear in the won notes or money. Yi Yi appears in the 5,000 won and his mother appears on the 50,000 won note.

The thing that I love the most about this mother-son relationship acknowledgement is that the mother is the one featured on the highest won note! Some food for thought…


5000 won and 50000 won notes

After my cultural excursion, it was time to head to the beach. I had to see the ocean, the horizon. I was craving for a slower pace and different scenery.


Amnok Beach
Amnok Beach
Gyengpo Beach
Gyengpo Beach during the storm
The lake and mountains one block away from the beach


Korea is a naturally beautiful country – a peninsula with mountains, lakes, forests surrounded by the sea. 24 hours east of Seoul was exactly what I needed!

And by the way, Gangwon-do province will hold the 2018 Winter Olympics in a town called Pyeongchang, not too far from where I visited.



21 thoughts on “24 Hours East of Seoul

  1. I’m so glad to hear that you visited Gangwondo because it is where the whole entire side of my mom’s family is from, and I spend a lot of my time there. I can connect with you so well because the places you visited are very special places to me. Although I didn’t know much about YiYi, I learned so much from you and thank you so much for your wonderful post!


    1. Thank you Woohyun and how amazing is it that I visited the town where your mother comes from! You are lucky to have such a beautiful place to visit in the summer. I can imagine how gorgeous the beach, lake and mountains must be then. Thank you too for sending me the picture of you and your sister there this summer. It is so nice to know that you are enjoying the blog. Who would have thought when you came in Kindergarten from Korea that we would connect this way some years later?


  2. Monica – “Korea is a naturally beautiful country – a peninsula with mountains, lakes, forests surrounded by the sea.”

    Sounds so much like NJ! We are also a peninsula surrounded by the Delaware River, Delaware Bay, & the Atlantic. We have mountains, forests, cities, beaches, etc! NJ & Korea sound so much alike, but are so different at the same time. The evidence is in your amazing pictures and wonderful descriptions of your surroundings. I am glad to hear you are venturing out and seeing all that your adopted country has to offer.

    Autumn is in full swing here. The leaves are changing colors and the boys and I will be apple picking tomorrow. Hugs to you! ❤️


    1. You are right about how we share a similar landscape – that is one thing that we can tell our Korean students when they are homesick! Enjoy apple picking – I do miss those different apples here. They have some delicious ones but they do not have the variety of apples we have – maybe that is worth checking out. I will try to see if there I can go apple picking here! Thanks for pointing out the similarities in the landscape and for reminding me of apple picking – always happy to know that you read the blog!


  3. What gorgeous pictures and such a fascinating story about Yi Yi and his mother. In particular, the picture of the young students caught my eye – not only due to the cuteness factor but because the little boy at the front of the line reminds me so much of Samuel A.! Peace and serenity east of Seoul, for sure. Thank you for bringing us along!


    1. Always so nice to hear from you! Yes, you are correct about our friend Sam! There are so many cute kids here and they all look so happy, specially the little ones! Be well and thanks for reading the blog!


    1. Thank you, Tim. Yes, it is nice to see open skies and fields covered with different vegetables, rice paddies and the ocean. Although I do love how vibrant and busy Seoul is 24/7. Your last blog inspired me to leave the city for a day!


  4. Thanks Monica for always sharing your adventures with us. I enjoyed the daytrip outside of Seoul through the amazing pictures and terrific narration. Many thanks!


  5. I can so understand your need to be near the water. So beautiful! I’m sure your thoughts were of the North Fork! We have had 2 days here that were absolutely summer-like, my favorite season. I will be taking my class to Cherry Blossom Park on Friday, and will surely be thinking of you! Stay well!


  6. Hi Monica!
    I LOVE these pictures and feel like I want to echo everyone’s comments ahead of me.
    I am curious about the weather there. Many of your pictures have show cloudy, dreary days. The people on the beach were in typical Fall clothing. What is the temperature there? Is is unseasonably warm here.
    xoxo from River Edge


    1. The weather has been warm as in the States – something to do with global warming, right? However, the skies are not always blue – there is a lot of smog. It has been extremely pleasant but will turn cold soon. Just like at home.


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