First, to conclude our journey:
In contrast to our quick 21-hour trip from Antalya to Seoul (with one short stop in Moscow), it took 44 hours to return from Miyazaki to Antalya. We had an overnight in Incheon — fun — and a fairly long wait in Istanbul since our original Istanbul-Antalya flight had been canceled and the later one they switched us to was delayed — not so fun.
I must say, the Incheon airport is a very easy one for an overnight layover. Seoul is very far, and Incheon is kind of far, but right near the airport is a place that may (or may not) be called Airport New Town. We took the cheap (1000 won (US$0.86)/person), frequent train less than 10 minutes to Unseo. From the station it was less than a 10-minute walk to a guest house where we found a clean room with heat and hot water in the attached bathroom for 30,000 won (US$26)/night for two people. It doesn’t get much easier than that from a giant international airport.
This is the same area where we had our first meal in Korea two months earlier:
Here we are back in front of the same restaurant but without our bikes this time:
From the clothes Ferda’s wearing in those photos you might notice a big change in temperature. Indeed at the end of September it was really too hot in Seoul. By the end of November, however, it was too cold. What a huge change in two months. They seem to have a pretty short nice weather season.
Ferda and I were definitely excited to have one more Korean meal before flying back to Turkey.
Cycling in South Korea and then Japan, Ferda and I couldn’t help comparing the two. I debated writing a blog about this ’cause I don’t really like comparing places, but Ferda and I talked about it a fair bit. Following are some differences that we experienced during our visit. I’ve arranged the topics from least subjective to most subjective — costs, riding, sightseeing, food, people. Camping is an important topic for bicycle tourers as well. I’ll just say that it’s good and easy in both countries, and we were often able to camp near a toilet and running water.
Costs — easily quantifiable and something most travelers worry about when they hear “Japan”
Both South Korea and Japan are expensive countries, in the ballpark with the US or France. Although it feels like Japan is more expensive than Korea, we spent more money per day in Korea (US$78/day vs. US$64/day for two people). Part of the difference is that we had paid accommodation (usually hotels) 39% (9/23) of our nights in Korea vs. 22% (7/32) in Japan. I also think we went out to eat more often in Korea. In Japan we ate a lot of prepared grocery store meals, something we never did in Korea. Those are tasty and might look like this:
We were at restaurants more in Korea, even if we did sometimes have to do the cooking ourselves:
Both countries have a lot of free places to visit so that the majority of our expenses were definitely food and accommodation. Our flights and extra luggage fees for the bikes are not included in the above numbers.
It’s certainly easy to spend more or less money than we did. If you’re scared by these prices, well, consider touring somewhere else, like, say, Indonesia, where we spent half as much money while almost always staying in hotels and eating at restaurants and taking quite a few ferries to move between islands.
Riding — infrastructure and scenery
South Korea has excellent bicycle infrastructure on the bicycle network that they’re quite proud of. However, once you get off that network especially in rural areas, the conditions are poor — narrow roads with heavy traffic. The drivers suck, rarely yielding for cyclists even when the cyclists have a green light.
Japan, on the other hand, has decent (or better) infrastructure in many areas and has lots of secondary roads with very little traffic. Drivers are very courteous, hyper-aware of cyclists even when you’re riding against traffic (which is often allowed). Japan wins here.
Japan wins with the scenery as well, the reason being that in Korea we didn’t want to leave the bike paths. Since they follow major rivers, well, we were always riding in similar-looking big river valleys.
Our scenery in Japan was varied and thus more interesting.
Again this might come back to the infrastructure problem in Korea. The narrow roads and heavy traffic made us to decide to skip some sites in the southern part of the country that I had wanted to see (Gyeongju, e.g.). We mostly saw restored buildings from the Joseon Dynasty and a couple Buddhist temples. It was repetitive.
In Japan there was more variety. We saw many Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, carved stone Buddhas, mountains, beaches, parks, gardens, village lanes, picturesque storefronts, even kakashi (scarecrow) villages!
I love Japanese food, and I’d been to Japan twice before so I had an idea what to expect. The biggest surprise of this trip for me was, well — we enjoyed the food even more in Korea! The variety is outstanding. Also, as a foreigner it’s easier to find restaurants in Korea and find something different than you’ve eaten before. I want to go back to Korea just for the food.
Of course we met wonderful people in both countries. The Japanese can be super generous like Miyako in Soeda who gave Ferda a kimono. And, thinking about it, Koreans can be as well, like Mac in Busan who invited Ferda to study English at his school in Cebu (Philippines) for free!
In both countries communication was difficult, but it’s easier to meet Koreans than Japanese. The Koreans are quicker to be more fun, energetic, and engaging. For the Japanese I guess it takes a little more time and/or alcohol. 😉
Overall, well, I can see myself going back to Japan before I’d go back to Korea. It’s the variety. In Korea I feel like I know what to expect. Northern Honshu, on the other hand, would be a whole new adventure. But who knows? Ferda keeps talking about a trip to Jeju Island.
Here’s our route, ~1900km in eight weeks:
And what’s this? Maurice Sendak’s sake?