Introducing Verena, Kim & Donna
I am so honored to be sharing a very special vegan travel experience that I just returned from. If you are on our newsletter list or have been catching our Instagram stories, you might be aware already, but I have just returned from South Korea! This might come as a bit of a surprise to you because not only have we never talked to you or our community about Korea as a country that we are especially interested in before whether it is for our own personal travel or for a World Vegan Travel trip but sometimes life sends you down roads you didn’t even know existed!
I don’t want to talk too much about how all this came to pass in this introduction but I do want to tell you that I am not the only one talking about this today because I am joined by three other amazing women:
In this episode, we discuss
- How we all ended up in Korea
- What were our reactions to this invitation
- Our opinions on if Korea is vegan friendly
- What about the tourism industry?
- What we did while we were there – Seoul, Yeosu, Busan, and Gyeongju
- Our vegan (and non-vegan) travel companions
- What surprised us about Korea
- The infrastructure and transportation
- Our favorite meals
- Our future Korean plans professionally and personally
Learn more about what we talk about
- The Shilla Seoul
- Four Seasons Hotel Seoul
- Jinkwansa – Templestay
- Forest Kitchen
- Gamcheon Culture Village
- Sky Bridge Tour
- Bukchon Hanok
- Gyeongju National Museum
- Gyeongbokgung Palace
- Arte Museum Yeosu
- Suncheon Bay Nature Reserve
- Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple
- Woljeonggyo Bridge
- Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
- Plant Cafe Seoul
Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode
- Our France, Japan, Rwanda Botswana, and South Africa trips
- S 3 Ep 2 | Best DC Neighborhoods for Vegan Travelers | Tim Wright and Donna Zeigfinger
- # 6 | Why you should use a travel agent for your vegan trips | Green Earth Travel
- S 2 Ep 8 | Pros and Cons of Group Travel | Kim Giovacco
- Shrines, geisha, and green tea – stories from the cultural capital of Japan, Kyoto | Alina Teodorescu | Ep 78
- Handy Japanese Language Guide for Vegan Travelers to Japan
- S4 Ep17 | International School Teaching to Travel the World | Nina Radcliffe
- Nine Best Tips For Vegan Travel Anywhere
Connect with Donna, Verena, and Kim
Brighde: Hi there, Verena, Donna, and Kim, thank you for joining me on The World Vegan Travel Podcast.
Verena: Thanks for having us.
Brighde: I’m excited that we are recording this podcast because we’ve just come back from an incredible trip to Korea, all four of us. So this is a different podcast than might generally expect if you are a regular listener here. Before we talk about how we came to rather unexpectedly end up in Korea together, why don’t each of you spend a moment just introducing yourselves and what you do in the vegan travel space?
Verena: Sure. Hi, I’m Verena. I’m living in New York Brooklyn to be exact, and I run vegan food tours in New York City. I’m also planning on offering more international trips in the future, which were planned pre covid already, but then we all know what happened. So I’m working on expanding to the international market as well.
Brighde: Thank you,
Donna: My name is Donna Zeigfinger from Green Earth Travel. We have been a vegan-run and owned travel agency since 1997, so we’re in our 25th year. I’ve always wanted to learn about this area.
Kim: Hi, I’m Kim Giovacco, founder of Veg Jaunts and Journeys based outside of Asheville, North Carolina. I run vegan tours in the US and Europe. I just realized that my tour to Iceland, which is starting on November 1st, will be my 25th tour since 2017.
Brighde: wow Congratulations Kim. Yes, all four of us are in the vegan travel space, all working in different niches, and different areas, and I will say it was just so lovely to see you all. I’ve known Donna for many years, but we’d never met in person. Kim I’ve known for and we did meet one time in Paris, we crossed paths, and Verena we’ve chatted a little bit and worked on various little projects together. It was just so lovely to meet and spend a week with you. I think the most thing is why we all ended up in Korea in the first place. So Verena, would you like to talk a little bit about how it was that the four of us ended up in Korea?
Verena: Sure. So, early this summer I received a call, actually a call I did not pick up, so I thought it was some kind of spam, so I let it go to voicemail and the message said that I was invited to come to South Korea and I could bring other people who are also in the travel space along. And in addition to that, there was a food event in New York City for about 300 people.
For this, the Korean nun who was featured on Netflix was flown in. So all this was in one message and I was really worried and confused. I called back. The caller, whose name is Patrice, works at the Korean Tourism office here in New York. I’m like, this message sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch? And she’s like, No, there is no catch. We want to promote vegan tourism in South Korea and we would like to invite you and show you what it has to offer. So she asked me for some recommendations from other people that are in this space. As you mentioned Brighde, we had all known each other online, but I’d never met any one of you in person.
I gave her your contact details, and that was the beginning of our Korean venture, so to say.
Brighde: Well, I’m very pleased that I came to mind. Verena, I am pleased. So Donna, what did you think when you also got this call, cuz I’m guessing Patrice took Verena’s suggestions and she reached out to you. What did you think about all of this? Because you’ve been in the travel industry for a long time, this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often.
Donna: No, I’ve gone to FAM trips, familiarization trips for those who don’t know, and it’s for the people in the travel industry, mostly travel agents that are sent, with tour operators, to go to certain areas, to go check out hotels. Once in a while, I get onto familiarization trips that go to countries.
But you usually have to pay a fee for it, like maybe, the taxes or whatever it is. So I get this phone call like you did Brighde and I thought what is this? Then when she said Verena, I’m like, Okay, all right It’s good
Verena’s fault that we’re all here, I think. But I’m really glad I did.
Still, a little jet lag as, some of you are. I think Kim is the only one who’s not. But, I was excited to do it. It’s an area that I’ve never focused on before. I get people that wanna go to Thailand and Singapore and Bali, but never really South Korea.
Brighde: Yeah. Yeah, I mean I don’t think we can overstate just how rare something like this is to be invited on a, like an all-expenses paid, trip where you are offered the opportunity to not just see a few hotels but actually really, be introduced to a country so well and so nicely. And to have it all vegan as well is something rather special.
Kim, you have a special kind of connection with the Korea office. It’s just like this strange coincidence came to pass. Tell us about that.
Kim: For me, it’s as if my career has come full circle. I was sitting in a vegan restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the very first week of August, the last night of a tour there. Saw that I had a call from New York and when I answered, it was Patrice we had briefly been in touch about two years ago, but she hadn’t remembered that.
I held her position with the Korean Tourism Organization in New York, 34 years ago. At that time, I had only, unfortunately, worked for them for 2 years, and I had not visited Korea. I was stunned, by this invitation. I knew it was real because I knew that tourist offices, extend invitations like this, but I could never have imagined how we would’ve been treated like royalty the whole week that we were there and the things that we got to experience and the accommodations that they booked for us, it was incredible.
Brighde: It was. And don’t worry, listeners, we’re gonna get into all of that because it was rather special. I’m very curious to know if any of you know anything else about this because Patrice is vegan, so is this like her own sort of project or incentive and like, why do you think they wanted to market Korea as a vegan-friendly destination or getting to think about Korea as a vegan destination.
Kim: I’m not sure about that. But when I watched, one of their webinars, two years ago at the beginning of Covid, they were focusing on, Temple stays. So as we know or as our listeners will learn, the food at Temple stays is always vegan. So I guess just along the way someone had the idea too, promote that in conjunction with veganism.
Verena, you were the only person that had been to Korea before. Can you tell me a little bit about your last trip?
Verena: Yeah. it was almost exactly 10 years ago that my husband and I went on a trip to Japan and Korea. Back then, we had a friend who was working as a piano teacher in Seoul. So we went and visited him we really enjoyed our stay there, but thankfully our itinerary was very different from the one we did this time.
So back then we spent a few days in Seoul and then we went down to the island of Jeju and explored that for a little while. 10 years ago I was still a vegetarian only, so I didn’t have as many challenges as vegans might have on a trip, even though in, East Asia use of dairy is usually very minuscule, especially in traditional cooking.
Back then I was still eating eggs obviously, so that made it a little bit easier. But yeah, I was thrilled to go back to Korea and see how it has changed and see a different part of the country as well and be with a group of vegans. So that is even better.
Brighde: Yes, because there were the four of us, but there were also three sorts of social media influencers, including, probably the most well-known one Rose from Cheap Lazy Vegan. And there were also some other non-vegan, I think, travel professionals that work in the non-vegan travel space. But they were on this vegan trip and for all intents and purposes, this was a vegan trip.
The four of us came a couple of days early because we were invited to attend a trade show. Donna, you’re a bit of a veteran of these kinds of trade shows. Can you tell us a little bit about what that was about?
Donna: It was a pretty elaborate but typical trade show. I’ve been to trade shows like this before. But not to the extent that they had singers and dancers of this caliber that they had. I don’t remember how many vendors there were.
There had to be at least a hundred vendors there. I have done round tables before where you sit around and the vendor comes to you. But in this case, we had to make an appointment with each vendor to come to see them. Now, for the past three years when I’ve been to webinars and trade show webinars, I’ve made appointments to go to the vendors, but I’ve never done it in person.
So it’s a combination of both. And it was really interesting to meet all the different vendors to see how they would match up with, the travel needs that we have.
Brighde: What did you find was their reaction to you when you said, I book mainly vegan clients and how could you accommodate them? What was their reaction to that? It’s important to know that the trade show was different from the vegan trip. This was just like a big sort of not a hodgepodge, but a cross-section of the entire tourism industry in Korea.
So what was their reaction when you told them that you were booking vegan clients?
Donna: Well, Some of them were confused. But they would say, We can do this. They would always say, We can do this, and they never said no. But they seemed a little confused. I don’t know if you guys, you ladies had the same reactions, but that’s, what I got. I also was going, because my husband is a potter, I know this is off-topic, and he’s wanting to do a pottery tour to Korea and there was only one company that knew how to do a pottery tour to South Korea, cuz he does it with the gentleman in the States.
I think there’s gonna be a learning curve with these tour operators, but I think they’re willing to learn. There was one tour operator, in particular, that does know about vegan travel and that’s the tour operator that we were on. I unfortunately didn’t meet her at the trade show.
Brighde: Yeah, she came and popped in throughout the trip, didn’t she? She came and checked up on us. Did anyone want to add anything there?
Kim: I’ll just say that I met three or four great potential partners to work with on organizing a tour. I think it will be difficult for me to decide which one to work with.
Brighde: I found that when I talked with people that. At the start of the conversation, they looked really confused, like you said, Donna. But as you talked a little bit more and more like these sort of like pennies started to drop and they’re like, Oh, okay, you could do that, and you could do that, and you could do that.
I could see that they were starting to get a little bit excited about potentially doing something a little bit different. That was nice to see as well.
Donna: One last thing, there was a restaurant there that was vegan and then there was the Buddhist temple. I can’t remember. You guys might be able to refresh my memory that talked about plant-based
food. So there were two vendors there that did know what they were talking about absolutely. I will be in them in the future.
Brighde: After that, we then started the familiarization trip and that was when we met the social media influencers that I referred to earlier, and also those travel professionals. But we also were accompanied by Michelle, who was the tour guide for the group. She was just absolutely lovely and she was like showing us around each place, like organizing all of the logistics.
So that was nice. It wasn’t like they just said, Here you are, off you go. No, we were looked after the whole time and she was just absolutely wonderful. What did you know about Korea before going on the trip?
Donna: I didn’t
know, it was something new to me. I could talk to you about Thailand. I could talk to you a little bit about Japan, but South Korea I knew very little about it because I haven’t sent people there, which is about to change.
Brighde: Hmm. It’s the same for me Like I’ve lived in Asia for a long time, so I’m familiar with the sort of broad strokes that you can make about Asia, and I’ve had lots of Korean students in the past, but I never really knew much about Korea as a destination. This was all new to me.
Verena, of course, you went there before, so you knew a little bit and Kim maybe through your job, did that job that you had a long time ago.
Kim: Yes, I knew the main tourist areas. One thing I didn’t realize was how mountainous it was pretty much throughout the whole country, even in Seoul. I had, vaguely familiar with Kpop and dramas, but I had no idea how significant that all was. They have an overarching term for it called K Wave until we got there and saw all the influences. I think that’s another thing that tourists could very much be interested in.
Brighde: So we’re gonna get into the details, but overall, would you say that Korea is a vegan-friendly destination, Verena?
Verena: I would say so. Yes.
Brighde: Why would you do that?
Verena: There are a lot of vegan restaurants in cities, so if you use an app such as Happy Cow, you will find plenty of options, especially for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is a little bit more difficult. Even finding plant-based milk, for example, has shown to be a little bit of a challenge at times. Even though we wanted to support local coffee shops, of which there are thousands, like there are so many coffee shops in this country, We often ended up going to Starbucks because that was the only place that had a reliable source of plant-based milk. So that I think is something that people have to be a little bit aware of.
It can change very quickly as we’ve seen, in the US and other countries. So if there’s a push toward plant-based milk. I think it will change very quickly, but as of now, it, that is, I think, the biggest thing that people have to keep in mind. Another thing we’ve noticed is that a lot of the restaurants we went to were not on the ground floor, but like on the second or even third floor.
So if you just wander the streets of Seoul for example you might walk past a really good vegan restaurant because it’s just not visible from the street level. So if you do your research, or of course, if you join a tour, then I think it’s pretty easy. Yeah.
Brighde: Kim what would you say about the breakfast? Because we stayed in lots of very nice hotels, as they often do in Asia. Just this huge big massive buffet. What would you say about that? I was a little bit frustrated with the breakfast, I will say, What did you think about it?
What could vegans expect in these places?
Kim: I had never seen breakfast buffets like that anywhere. It was a shame cuz I’m sure those breakfasts were very expensive, and we were probably only able to eat, a maximum of 5% of the items that were on there. We just saw milk in even though there could be 12 types of bread and there’d be only one baguette that didn’t have milk in it or a lot of prepared salads that looked very interesting but they usually had milk in the dressing. So at first, there was no protein in the breakfast. At the very first hotel we stayed at, we were lucky, they had homemade vegan yogurt, which was delicious. But we never saw that again at another hotel. I felt like I was overeating in the morning because I was just like, Oh, there’s no protein. So I’m gonna have two bowls of this yogurt, or have a few of these rolls and then, I think we got used to it.
Once we made our needs a bit known, we were given special tofu dishes that were made just for us some tofu and vegetables. I thought that those were nice. I think in the future with advanced planning it wouldn’t be a problem.
Brighde: I would agree. Our lunches and dinners were spectacular when we were in non-vegan places. But regarding the breakfast, I don’t think the tour company had done much to prep the hotels about that, which is, absolutely fine. That’s why we were there and doing this work if you can call it that.
But that’s something really helpful for us to know if we decide to plan our vegan tours. Donna, what do you think it’s like traveling as a vegan and, going to non-vegan restaurants? What’s your feeling about that? Do you think it’s even possible?
Donna: Oh yeah it’s possible. One thing I wanted to bring up about breakfast is if you are a sugary person, but I’m not a savory breakfast person, let’s put it that way. So if you’re not a savory breakfast person in the mornings, you could do what I did and have cereal with orange juice.
Donna: No soy milk, that’s one of the things I did. Or you can have fruit. I’ve never really had much of an issue in any restaurants. Well, I shouldn’t say that. There have been some restaurants I’ve had issues with, but it seemed like they were always willing to accommodate us in the restaurants wherever we went.
When we had lunches, most of the lunches were vegan anyway. They were either the temple food or we went to a vegan restaurant. The same thing with the dinners, and I don’t think, I’ve ever eaten so much. I think there was one day when we had two ten-course meals, which isn’t gonna be typical, That’s not gonna be typical for the average traveler.
Just so you guys know. I thought I was gonna lose weight on this trip but didn’t so I found that the vegan food was fabulous when they serve it.
Brighde: Yeah, I think, that Michelle did an amazing job like working with the non-vegan restaurants, but I’m just thinking more about like independent travelers. It’s my observation based on my little bit of time there, that if you were an independent traveler and you were just walking down the street and you saw a restaurant, it might be quite hard to accommodate your vegan needs and requests.
Certainly, there probably isn’t a marked vegan option. You would probably have to try to get them to like something, expect a few communication issues and maybe a few little mistakes and, maybe some frustration on both sides. I, personally think that eating vegan in a non-vegan restaurant would be a bit of work for us and the restaurant. Would you all agree with that?
Kim: Yes. If you look at Happy Cow, there are quite a few vegan restaurants in Seoul, but it also is an enormous city. So you have to keep that in perspective. It might not be able to, be easy to reach them all the time.
Verena: Yeah. I might add also that some seemingly vegan dishes by looking at them might not be vegan in the end. Like what we were touching on with breakfast, something looked vegan, but then it wasn’t because it had milk in it. If you go to a traditional Korean restaurant a lot of the dishes might have fish in them.
For example, traditional Korean kimchi almost always has fish in it in some way or another. Either it’s shrimp or anchovies or just fish sauces. The same goes for the little bunch on, which is the little side dish you get served with almost every meal. They might not be vegan, even though they look like just pickles or fermented vegetables.
They might not necessarily be a hundred percent vegan. To what Donna was saying, I think there are options you could find in traditional Korean restaurants that are not vegan restaurants. Like you could get Chop Chae, which is a noodle dish like sweet potato noodle dish that often has meat in it.
But you could hopefully communicate somehow that would like to have that without meat or just a Bibimbap, which often has egg on it, or almost always has egg on it. Again, if you leave off the egg, then it would be a vegan-friendly dish as well.
Brighde: Okay, so going to Korea as a vegan is partly about food, but that’s not the only reason we go to a place just to eat food. There are so many other reasons. We go to a place we went to in four different cities. Yeosu, Busan, Seoul, and Gyeongju I think thought it would be quite nice if, each of us did a little bit of an explanation about each place and where it is, and what it was that we enjoyed there.
We did do a little bit in Seoul, but we’ll do Seoul at, perhaps at the end.
Would you be able to tell us a little bit about the first stop, that we went to in Yeosu?
Verena: Yeah. So Yeosu is a city in the southwest of Korea and it took us about five hours to drive there. I might add that we had an amazing bus and a really good driver. Our bus was like a business class seat on an airplane, really nice. And when we got to the city we had some free time to walk around the port area, which has a lot of food vendors.
This place did not look like it would be vegan-friendly at all, unfortunately. But if you’re a traveler, you still enjoy it, at least if you’re a traveler like me. I still enjoy looking around and getting the vibe of a place. That was a really cute setting by the water. There was a gondola that, connected the two sides of the city, so to say.
We also visited an immersive experience museum, which is, for some of you might have seen these experiences where you have like the Van Gogh or the Klint, um, Hall Lumineers, that kind of experience where you walk in and then the whole room turns into an ocean. So in this case, for example, we had more nature-themed experiences.
So there were oceans, there were forests, there was safari, and at the end, there was also art. So it was a little bit of everything and it was a very cool experience and nicely done. I would recommend doing that for sure. It’s a little bit out of the way and unfortunately, we did not see enough of the city of Yeosu to say whether it is worth going there or not, I would say for the amount of time it takes to get there.
Brighde: Yeah, it reminded me a little bit of Halong City on Halong Bay in Vietnam. So for people who’ve not been there before, Halong City is like the jumping-off point for going to Halong bay, which are these beautiful limestone karsts coming out of the water, and whilst the view from the hotel didn’t have exactly this view with these limestone karsts that the coastline is beautiful and all along there these incredibly jagged coastline filled with like beaches and bays and these hundreds of thousands maybe of islands, throughout that whole place.
So I imagine that they offer boat trips and things like that as well. Just outside of there, we went to a wetland. Didn’t we? Would you be able to talk about that as well Verena?
Verena: Yeah. I honestly forgot the name of that, but it’s a UNESCO-protected wetlands area and we were able to walk up, an observation deck, which was about a like 45 minutes of a very quick walk because we were a little bit short of time. From there you had a nice view of the wetlands area, which then turns into the ocean.
So it’s like an estuary. Some of us saw some bird life there and some turtles and some crabs it seems to be a very popular spot for Koreans to go to. In general, they are very fond of hiking, you see a lot of people in their hiking gear. Even though this particular area was all like a wooden path, for the most part, they were still in their like, expedition gear almost.
We were just, in our everyday clothes. That was also a very nice experience. Yeah.
Brighde: Yeah, we certainly did pack in a huge amount into this week, and I think normally travelers probably even on a tour, wouldn’t see and do as much as we did in a week. I’m sure that the Korean Tourism Organization just wanted to get their money’s worth with us and just showcase much of Korea as they possibly could.
So that’s why we didn’t have a lot of time in all of these places. It was just like a little taster. But yeah, I’ve enjoyed that wetland as well. So Kim, after Yeosu we went into Busan, which I think was a highlight for many of us. Can you talk a little bit about Busan?
Kim: Sure. I just wanted though to add to the last stop, we didn’t get to go there, but very close to the wetlands was also apparently like the National Botanical Garden of Korea. That’s something that would be very worthwhile to see as well. So Busan is Korea’s second-largest city it’s a port city and, very modern like Seoul.
We were so fortunate to ride on a private catamaran, just before sunset. That would’ve been on the East China Sea, and we were able to see all these modern skyscrapers and bridges around us. Then we did something very different the next day, which was to go to a place called Gamcheon Culture Village. I had never seen anything like this. These were houses that were built on the side of a steep hill in the 1920s and 1930s, I think to provide housing for workers not too far away from the port. I guess they fell into disrepair over the years and then in 2009 they did an art-themed renovation.
So the houses are painted in very bright colors and, there are lots of twisting alleyways. They get, I read one and a half million tourists, there a year. Some of the residents weren’t too happy about that. And a couple of hundred families I guess, left. There were some empty houses.
Which have now been turned into cafes and a couple of museums about the neighborhood. I say neighborhood, but it’s quite big. There are hundreds of houses and lots of stairs and the way they were built, is that no house blocks the view of another house. There are also some shops. I had never seen anything like it and I enjoyed visiting there.
Donna: There were a lot of artesian there. We came across a woodworker there, you and I. We also got lost there, which was fun cuz you can get lost there. It’s a maze. It was pretty amazing. I enjoyed that.
Brighde: Me too. I enjoyed the street art. That was everywhere as well, and it was really busy when we went there because the night before BTS had just done a big concert in Busan, in that same city. I did not know about this, but BTS, they are now approaching 30 and they’d had their mandatory military service postponed, from 22, whatever it normally is, until they were 30 because of their global success.
They were doing this concert as like, a thank you and a temporary farewell I think before they start their service. And also, I think, Busan, was doing this as well because it’s trying to get the World Expo at some point in the future. So yeah, it was full of young people.
I think some of the members of BTS are from Busan originally, I believe.
Donna: I found it interesting, the artwork. There was a couple of buildings with different things with lines, but they had the BTS boys on those side of the building, and there was a line that had to be a couple of blocks long. For the first one, I was like, I thought some celebrity was there and it wasn’t. They were just trying to get a photograph of them next to the artwork.
Brighde: I’ve noticed that throughout Korea, like this, creating opportunities to have photos or selfies or to get nice photos taken is just everywhere in Korea.
After we spent one night only in Busan, and then we went to Gyeongju. I did not know anything about this place. I think it was about a one-hour or 90-minute drive north of Busan. We got up quite early because there is so much to see in Gyeongju. I didn’t know about this place before I went there.
I think I touched on it a little bit in this sort of like travel agent’s familiarization course that Donna and I know we did before the trip, just to get a little bit of familiarity. It’s basically like a historic complex. There are lots and lots of sites scattered throughout the whole town of places to go.
This is really, I would say where you get to your big sort of hit of history in Korea. It’s like the one place that can go where you’re gonna see a lot in a very small area. There is so much. I wrote down the names because I don’t think I would remember them all, but there’s the Donggung Palace, which is beautiful to see at nighttime.
Like they light all of this up. They’ve got a lot of ponds that all light up and you’ve got the reflections there. Another place was this astronomical observatory that we were a little bit confused about, but this really old tower, which they used to tell time or to check the position of the stars.
I think I’m certainly still a little bit confused about that, but also lots of beautiful temples from the Shila period, which is between the seventh and the ninth century. Also these Burial mounds.
These important people were buried at the center of these really big mounds. A couple of these had been excavated and you could go inside and see what was going on inside these mounds. Some of them had not yet been excavated. Then we also had the opportunity to go and visit a museum where we got to see many of the relics and the artifacts that have been recovered from these excavations as well. It was quite a surprising day. Does anyone want to add to what I said about Gyeongju?
Donna: Unfortunately that’s where my phone was dying. I brought it with me, but it was down to 8% and it was the one place that we saw that had so much pottery. I had to take all these photos and luckily, one of the people in the group had a battery pack for me so I could start taking all these photos.
You have to be careful though because some of the parts of the museum do not allow you to take photos.
Just be careful with that. But that was like a kid in a candy store for me.
Brighde: If you like pottery Korea is a place to go, and this place specifically. Verena, do you wanna add anything about this place?
Verena: Yeah, just a little thing that you mentioned with that astronomical clock. Right next to it there were beautiful flower fields and then there was a plant called a Pink Muhly, which is like grass, a very thin grass and it was just moving in a very beautiful and appealing way in the wind.
That again was a very popular photo stop for Koreans and us too. Yeah, just a very nice town to walk around in and to get a lot of different experiences, I would say.
Brighde: I will say that I was really surprised as to how many flowers there were considering it was October, and I didn’t realize, that October is one of the peak times to go to Korea because it’s not so hot, and the color of the changing leaves. We didn’t experience it. It’s not like the East coast or the east of Canada or the United States, but it was still beautiful and the weather was just amazing.
Maybe we weren’t lucky. Maybe that’s just how it is, but it felt like we were really lucky. It was just gorgeous, really nice and fresh in the mornings, warm during the day. It was magical. Kim, do you want to add anything to Gyeongju?
Kim: I just wanted to say that the changing of the leaves around the temples was, really beautiful. One thing that you noticed Brighde, was that Korea was very forested compared to other places in Asia. Then our guide confirmed that it’s the third most forested country in the world.
Brighde: Yeah, it was jaw-dropping. I just couldn’t believe when we were driving through the countryside, just how many forests and trees there were. It was really lovely. All right, now let’s get onto Seoul. Maybe we can all talk a little bit about Seoul because this was we focused most of our time, I would say, and we certainly got to see many places.
Donna, do you wanna talk about, maybe a couple of places that you experienced in Seoul?
Donna: The first and the main one for me was seeing the palace. As you guys know, we walked in there and I started crying. So travel makes me cry sometimes because I’m so inspired by it, and it was just so beautiful. To see the changing of the guard was just amazing. The timing on that was just amazing. The main thing for me was the palace.
Brighde: you describe it a little bit like what people can expect there? What it’s like?
Donna: It’s hard to explain without seeing photos of it, but it felt like I was in a movie set. It was just like a cinematic movie set, not just any movie set. It was just so vast and so beautiful and so colorful, and to see all these young women in their outfits.
It just really was amazing and the artifacts were just, breathtaking
Brighde: Yeah. I think that was your first exposure to some spectacular Asian palace, wasn’t it, Donna?
Donna: It was. Yeah, I’ve been to castles many times, but I’ve never been to an Asian palace and again, it just felt like I was in some kind of movie set, to me it was beautiful. It was just absolutely breathtaking and gorgeous. The children were just beautiful in their outfits.
There was a little boy that I followed around and he was so cute in his outfit.
Brighde: It seems like Koreans, don’t walk around in everyday life in their Hanbok, the traditional Korean costume, but they do seem to wear it whenever there’s an opportunity. That was my observation, whether that’s accurate or not.
Kim, can you share a few of the places that we enjoyed in Seoul?
Kim: Going back to that palace, I just couldn’t believe how vast it was. It was just one courtyard after another, that’s just one of four palaces that are in Seoul. I feel like there was a lot we didn’t get to see in Seoul because our guide let us know that there are 72 museums there, we didn’t visit any museums, but it seems like there are, a lot that are very high-tech or design-focused.
I think those would be interesting because there are things that you might not be able to find in other cities. There is a lot of traffic there, some of the worst traffic I’ve ever seen. So I think if someone were going there,
should plan very carefully. The area that they’re going to stay in.
There is a subway system there and I think it’s probably very amazing and efficient, but unfortunately, we didn’t get to ride it at all. I’m a huge public transportation fan. I was a little sad that we didn’t have any free time to experience that but I think that would be a really good way to avoid the traffic.
There seemed to be a really good bus system as well. There were buses everywhere. Lots of wide sidewalks, in parts of the city. It looked like it would be great for walking around. At one point we saw something similar to The Highline in New York, which is an abandoned railroad line elevated that’s been turned into a park.
In Seoul, they did that from a highway that was cutting through the city that they’re not using anymore. We saw the train station was very high-tech. It looked like an airport in the US. I just loved the whole country, the mixture of modern and traditional.
Brighde: I agree. Yeah, Donna and I, went for a walk along that, Highline equivalent, but I don’t know whether you got to see it, Kim, but it’s a stream. A stream runs through it as You got the water, and there are beautiful parklands as well that you can walk along and run along. It’s, really lovely. Verena, would you like to share a couple of Seoul experiences?
Verena: Yeah. I enjoyed the Buchon Traditional Village or Hanok Village in Seoul, which Hanok is like a traditional Korean house with these, really cute roofs and very low houses. I am just a big fan of this architecture, so I thought that was cute. You can walk through this neighborhood, which, people still live in, so you have to be a little bit quiet.
There are WatchGuards around that will tell you to keep your voice low. It’s just going back in time a little bit, like what Kim was saying. There’s always a little bit of modern and then there’s a little bit of traditional architecture in Seoul, and I think that’s a very nice mix.
I would like to add that certain apps, like Google Maps, for example, will not work in South Korea. So Google Maps does work for public transportation but it does not give you any other directions. So it will not work for walking directions. For example, there are some Korean apps you can download called NAVER for example, or Kakao.
You will be stuck, if you’re used to relying on Google Maps, then it’s gonna be a little bit more difficult there.
Brighde: Yeah, that confused me at first. I was there a couple of days earlier and I was able to go and see my students in a different part of the city I was so confused about why I couldn’t get walking directions and then the penny finally dropped. You didn’t share this one because maybe it wasn’t a highlight for you, but I really enjoyed it, and I certainly think we had a lot of laughs, but we went to this little area in Seoul. This woman who is like a designer was invited by the Korean tourism organization to come down and show us, some aspects of Korean culture. For example, like the tea ceremonies, just like Japan, Korea has its sort of tea-making ceremonies with very particular rules and practices on how tea is made.
It is a bit of an art form and we all tried and I don’t think we did a very good job. It was lots of laughs. Also, we learned a little bit about how to gift wrap things made out of scarves and wrappings, as well. That was nice. And we all got to, learn a little bit about the Hanbok, the traditional Korean clothes and how that is worn and try it on as well. That was cute and nice and fun and had some pictures taken. That was a fun morning and I think brought the group together a little bit early on in the trip. Do you wanna add to that?
Donna: Yes, the wig that I wore cuz I took on the queen mom as we call it, must have weighed at least eight pounds on my head and it was very heavy and I am trying to figure out how these women did that back then. They must have had very strong.
Brighde: Yeah, it was cool. Verena, would you like to talk about the temple visit? Because even though that wasn’t like super downtown Seoul, it was like a morning excursion that we did from Seoul. So tell us a little bit about this temple stay and how that all works.
Verena: Sure. So there are, I think, roughly a hundred temples in Korea that you can overnight stay. We got the opportunity to spend a few hours with a nun at Jinkwansa Temple. She gave us a nice experience by showing us what life in the temple is like and what the Buddhist approach to life is for her and their community.
It’s a very beautiful temple. Most of it has unfortunately been rebuilt because it was destroyed in a fire. We first got a little tour of the grounds. We saw one of the accommodations where you would stay if you end up staying at a temple overnight. So you would basically be sleeping on the floor, on the padded bed and it is very simple but still looks very comfortable.
She took us on a guided meditation walk. So we took a walk through the temple ground and through the woods that are close to the temple and, became one with nature and concentrated on the way we walk and let our thoughts drift away a little bit.
After that, we entered a very modern temple and there we continued our meditation in a seated way, then we had my favorite lunch of the trip there at the temple, which was, I think they brought out maybe 30 different dishes. It was just very colorful and very tasty. Some of us were interviewed there, like Brighde and Rose.
They were interviewed by a Korean newspaper cuz we did create some media buzz while we were there. After our lunch, we also still had a small tea ceremony and dessert, also at that temple. I think that the favorite of a lot of our group members was the Temple visit because it was just so different from what we are used to in the western world.
Brighde: I would agree. I’ve visited a lot of temples and done a lot of little retreats and meditation retreats over the years, and this was unlike anything that I’ve been to. It was rather special and unique. Donna, and Kim, would you like to add anything to that?
Kim: Yeah, I wish we could have spent the whole day there. I was so happy with the nun who guided us around. She just radiated positivity but she was very approachable and friendly and funny it, was just a wonderful experience. The highlight of the trip for me.
Donna: I would’ve liked to have stayed overnight there, even though it was on the floor. It was just so calming there and I think we all needed it.
Brighde: Yeah. Our itinerary went through a few different variations before the final one, and a temple stay was put out there as a possibility, but for whatever reason, I’d don’t know. It didn’t come to pass. But yeah, I would like to experience that cuz it’s basic but incredibly clean and very comfortable and nice and very accessible.
I think Jill Biden did stay at this temple, a few years back. I’m sure she wouldn’t stay anywhere that wasn’t pretty nice. So yeah, it’s a great experience to visit one of these places, to stay in one of these places, to eat at one of these places. It was just incredible. Kim, you touched on this a little bit about the metro lines throughout Seoul and the public transportation. So I did use the subway in Seoul, it was extremely comprehensive and incredibly clean. It felt safe. It’s huge. So I was often on the subway for an hour at a time, getting from place to place.
It’s really good. There were buses, but what about outside of, the big cities? I certainly noticed inside the towns that there were incredible bus systems as well, but what about getting from place to place? Donna, would you like to talk about the bullet train perhaps that we took?
Donna: First off, you have to be very quiet there. I was listening to my voice message cuz you can get wifi on there. A woman came by and said nope. . Anyway, it was very clean. It was beautiful. The sites were beautiful along the way. I like that it was so quiet, because you go on these trains and everyone’s talking, so it was nice to just not speak and just have quiet there. As I said, it was a clean train, which is unusual these days.
Verena: And it’s also super fast. So if you’ve been on trains in Japan, it’s a similar experience. Like the Shinkansen, I think it’s 280 kilometers per hour or something that’s its speed. We saw one train pass, they have a middle track that’s not accessible from the platform you’re staying at, for safety reasons, I assume. So we saw a train that passed our station, and as soon as it got in, it was just already gone again. It was like, whew, a really fast train. It’s very comfortable and I check the prices. It’s not super cheap, but it’s affordable. I think that the ride from like Busan to Seoul is about $80 or something like that.
It takes around two hours. It’s a very good option to take the train around Korea.
Kim: Yeah, We were in first class, which was nice, but I did check, the price of the economy tickets and it was about $50. So I thought that was very reasonable. I was so happy that we were given the chance to ride it. It was pretty funny, our bus went back to Seoul empty of passengers, it only had our luggage just so that we were able to be allowed to try the bullet train. I thought that was special.
Brighde: I just absolutely love trains as well. They’re just such a great way to get from A to B and are reasonably priced, extremely clean, and extremely comfortable. Something that we can add perhaps that there is connectivity everywhere. So a few years ago, maybe it still does, but it had the best Wifi and connectivity network and download speeds in the whole world. Maybe some other countries have caught up. I don’t know, but there is wifi and the internet everywhere. I noticed a few places where you would go to cross the road and you would have the pedestrian crossings and there would be the green light and the red light to know when to cross.
But there was like this light actually at the curb as well that was also lit up. At first, I thought that was for people that were visually impaired maybe having something on the ground would help them better than having this light up, where they might not know where to look necessarily.
But apparently, it’s for people looking at their phones all of the time so that they know when to cross. I don’t know much about this not having, any physical impairments like this, but I noticed there was a lot of that bumpy paving for people with sticks so that they can find their way around places. I notice a lot of people in wheelchairs whizzing around the place, which tells me that, it’s possible to do so and often at attractions, airports, and places.
Even at rest stops that we stopped at, there was these little sort of sections with cupboards, where they had a selection of wheelchairs and crutches for people to use as well. Like you just picked it out and then you used it and then you dropped it off when you were done and then you would get back into your car again. It was just really amazing that they were thinking of all of these things.
One other thing that I noticed that was cool was the fire exit signs, as well as being on the wall, they were embedded into the ground and lit up. So in the case of a fire, you could see these on the ground. I thought that was cool as well.
Lots of cool safety features in the case of fire, way more than there are here in Canada
Kim: Like you noticed early on Brighde, in the hotel rooms that there were, torches or flashlights and smoke hoods, and I have never seen that anywhere else.
Brighde: Cool. They even had like on the third floor of my airport hotel, an escape ladder so that you could get out of the hotel window. It was just in this little box. I’m sure it would be terrifying if you ever had to use it. Yeah, they, seemed very safety-conscious, generally speaking.
So transportation infrastructure is incredible. Let’s talk about food. We had so many. So let’s all just share one of our favorite meals. Verena, you talked a little bit about yours already, but maybe you want to talk a little bit more about your favorite meal.
Verena: Yeah, so my favorite meal is the temple food at Jinkwansa Temple generally temple food. Aside from the fact that it is vegan does not use any alliums. So no onions, no garlic, no scallions, which in Western cooking is like the base of every meal that you make, you first saute onions. You would think it might taste bland without those flavors, but it’s just very tasty.
We ate some very unique dishes. For example, perilla leaves are something that is used quite frequently in Korean cooking. It’s, related to shiso if you’ve ever had that. It’s a pretty big leaf. That can then either be stuffed with something and rolled up, or it gets deeply fried, then it has a minty taste.
Very delicious. Then, we ate bracken ferns, which is something you hardly ever see on menus here. They have a very earthy taste to them. A lot of tofu dishes were also served in the temple. Like it was a feast of 30 different dishes.
We were seated on a not-very-traditional Korean table with a lazy Susan in the middle. There were, I think six of us at each table, and every one of us had a different favorite. So there was a little bit of everything and some of it was spicier, some were less spicy, so different variations of foods. And I think everybody left very happy at that meal.
Brighde: My favorite was Forest Kitchen, which was located in a big shopping mall. For those people that don’t know in Asia, a lot of really nice places, restaurants, and cafes are located in shopping malls and that was the case with Forest Kitchen. I would say that was probably, gosh, 10 or 12 courses and it was very much like a high-end, fancy, dining experience. It had an open kitchen so we could see the staff preparing food. It was a completely vegan restaurant and maybe they just wanted to wow us right off the back. But we had the tasting menu and the first thing that we got was this kind of little, platter. It was all divided up into a few different kinds of small bites and it was served with dry ice.
It came onto our table with this dry ice vapor coming off of it. The whole meal was possibly one of the best dining experiences I have ever had in my entire life. In terms of its uniqueness, the quality, the way it was served, the aesthetic of it. It was just absolutely incredible. That was hands down my favorite meal, for sure. Donna, what about your favorite meal?
Donna: I was gonna say all of them.
Brighde: gotta choose one.
Donna: I was waiting for Kim, because just one. I have to say Forest Kitchen was as well. It was just spectacular. The presentation was amazing. It wasn’t, traditional Korean food, but it was very well put together and very tasty. But I was also surprised about the temple food because I was expecting bland food. And it wasn’t at all. It was there, there was some kick in some of the dishes that we had. So yes, all of ’em.
Kim: Yeah, Forest Kitchen was my favorite too. um, just to talk about something different at the end of the trip, we went to a very western-style place called Plant and I was happy to go there because number one we have a high-end place in Asheville that’s called Plant, very different though.
As much as I enjoyed all of the Korean food, it was nice to see, just standards like burgers and Philly cheese Steak and noodle bowls. After a week of not seeing them and real western desserts, which wasn’t, I guess in Korea, mostly they’re eating fruit for dessert or very sweet things that might be made with red beans and sugar.
Here we were able to have real layer cakes as we see at home. Although there was a nice twist, the one that I had was a black sesame cake. It was a gray color with frosting, but it was very delicious. Yeah, they had chocolate chip cookies there and peanut butter cookies.
I liked the atmosphere. It was nice to see other westerners there. It was nice to see young Koreans there. Yeah, I enjoyed it.
Donna: It was really busy there. I was surprised at how busy it was.
Brighde: It was really busy and something that I appreciated about that particular place was that we got to try, I think it was called Unimeat.
So we had the opportunity to try Korea’s equivalent to Beyond Meat, Impossible Meat, and stuff like that.
For those people that don’t know, Asia is doing a lot of food tech at the moment. just like we are here and they’re producing their products. So we got to try Unimeat, which is, the Korean version, and it was really tasty and I had this huge Philly cheese steak sandwich there.
It was epic and delicious and amazing. It was really tasty. The food that we experienced was just generally awesome. All right, so let’s move on to personal highlights. If you were to say your favorite moment or thing about our trip to Korea. Kim? What would you say?
Kim: The temple and I think it would be really interesting to see the different temples throughout the country, but the one that we went to, was very close to Seoul. So it was convenient. They have various programs there that you could do so you could learn how to meditate and they have things that involve ringing the huge bells or you can make beaded bracelets and yeah just all kinds of things.
I guess these programs change daily or weekly. You could honestly focus a whole trip on temple stays and I think they’re pretty reasonable to stay at maybe 30 US dollars a night or $50, including breakfast and dinner.
Brighde: Verena, what about you?
Verena: For me, the highlight was the food. I’m just a huge foodie since I do vegan food walking tours. I just loved the variety of the food that we got. It was amazing.
Donna: It was a little bit of everything because it’s not an area I’ve been to before, but the palace, I have to say, was still my favorite. It was still very emotional for me to see.
Brighde: I like the skywalk. I didn’t talk about that yet, but for me, this was pushing me out of my comfort zone. For those people that don’t know Seoul has these two sort of towers that are linked at the top by a walkway, and I think they are more than 500 meters high. We all had the opportunity, but I think I was the only one outta the four of us that did it. You get changed into all of this kind of safety gear. It’s very safety conscious and you had the opportunity to walk between the two. You’re not looking down to the ground, so it doesn’t feel like you are that high.
But you certainly do get your outside and exposed to the elements, so to speak, and you get to see the most incredible views of this enormous city. That was a bit of a personal highlight pushing me out of my comfort zone a little bit. But yeah, there were lots of amazing things that happened on this trip.
Donna: Can I add that Brighde because it’s the fifth tallest building in the world and I have a fear of heights. I was impressed that Kim went out onto the glass floor cuz I couldn’t even do that. I have a picture of her aisle on there looking down. I’m like, okay. Anyway, it is the fifth tallest building.
Brighde: To me that was a little bit more disorienting than the actual skywalk because I knew on the skywalk I was attached in, whereas on the glass you were just standing there. For me, that felt a little bit scary, surprisingly. All right, what surprised you about Korea, about this trip?
Donna, tell us.
Donna: It was never on my to-do list. This has happened to me before. It was never an area that I had an interest in for whatever reason and I loved it and I want to back.
Brighde: Yeah, Verena
Verena: yeah, I agree with Donna. I was very much looking forward to going back since it’s been 10 years, and I liked it much more than I did the first time, to be honest. So I’m forward to going back and seeing more of the country
Kim: The level of hospitality that we experienced everywhere was just, just fantastic and so many different experiences. And when we look at all the brochures that we got at the travel fair, they are some really interesting and beautiful places to see throughout the country. So I think it’s a very underrated destination.
Brighde: I would agree. The big surprise to me was how much I loved it. Just like many of you said, it wasn’t high on my to-do list and I had such an incredible time. I feel like I understand a little bit more about Korea now and it is such an incredible destination to go visit.
I want listeners who are listening to this to Korea as a destination to go to because it’s so cool. It’s full of history, it’s culture is very interesting. As Kim said, the hospitality that you experience, and wasn’t just because we were being hosted by the Korean tourism organization and they were trying to wow us as well.
Like I went to visit some Korean students that I have taught in the past and I saw them in person. I taught them previously online, and I was just blown away by the hospitality that I received there. So I just think that they’re just very hospitable people and willing to make you feel very comfortable and very welcome.
As travel professionals, I’m sure the Korean Tourism Organization is going to want you to do something with this experience that you’ve had in terms of maybe, sharing your knowledge of Korea with your clients, and with your travelers. So what are you gonna do, Verena? What are your plans?
Verena: I would like to offer a combination of Korea and Taiwan, with maybe an optional add-on to Palau, which is a great destination for scuba diving. I feel like if you’re flying that far, it’s around 15 hours from the East coast, I think it would be a shame to cover only one place.
It would be nice to put together two countries or even three and do building blocks so people can choose, I want to do this one only or wanna add another one so that it gives travelers more flexibility. My main goal would be to Korea and Taiwan together.
Brighde: Fantastic. Kim. What are you gonna do?
Kim: I like to focus on just one country per tour, so I would have a minimum of 10 days there. It would mostly be in Seoul, then to one or two other places. In Seoul, my tour would be focused on, using public transportation, as almost all of my tours do. The hard part is going to be narrowing down all the different, sites and activities.
Donna: One thing I’ve always liked doing and I haven’t done it in years, and I would like to start up is to have a tour combined with voluntourism. One of the things is to bring some dogs back. We won’t go into detail about the dog festival, so I would like to do a cultural tour and then maybe do a couple of days of volunteering and getting some of these dogs out and bringing ’em back to the US
Brighde: Yeah, like, flight volunteer, isn’t it? When you, can sign up to, accompany a dog back to a place where there is a forever home waiting for them because in case listeners don’t know, it’s much cheaper to send a dog as accompanied baggage. I don’t like using that word to describe a dog, but that’s what they call it, rather than unaccompanied baggage. So that makes it a lot cheaper. Yeah, that’s something the visitors to Korea can check out. For me, I think the first natural logical step for World Vegan Travel, is to possibly add on a five or six-day trip to Korea, on top of our Japan trips that we’re planning to do in 2024. You wouldn’t have to do it this way, but people who are going to Japan might like to consider an add-on or they could just do it by themselves on a trip to Korea because they are quite close to each other. You could do seven or eight or however many days it ends up being a trip to Japan, then also do Korea as well because there are great flight connections between the two countries. There are some similarities and tons and tons of differences as well. That is what I’m excited about. We have talked a long time already, but I did want our guests to share one tip, one quick tip, or a recommendation for travel to Korea before we say goodbye.
So Verena, what’s your top tip or recommendation?
Verena: Um, Don’t leave the country without going to a dodgy karaoke bar.
Kim: For a coffee fiend like myself, be prepared to start drinking coffee black, maybe, because there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find, soy milk or oat milk, unfortunately. I am a coffee fiend, but I made it through, the nine days.
Donna: I have a couple. So if you’re a sweet breakfast person, don’t expect it, unless you go to one of these high-end places that will have soy milk and you can have cereal, expect a savory breakfast. Expect the people to be gracious no matter what, because they just want to please you and please the tourists and make sure that you’re having a great time. Most importantly, Kim, you’ll get a kick out of this. Expect fancy toilets. I’ve never been to a place with so many fancy toilets before in my life.
Brighde: Yeah, there are Japanese-style toilets, these bidet-style toilets everywhere. They’re cool. If you’ve never experienced one, it’s awesome. My top tip as somebody who likes to have milk with their coffee. I would say get a couple of little tetra packs of soy milk or almond milk so that you can have your cereal at breakfast or something like that, just in case they don’t have soy milk at the breakfast place. Those would be my tips. All right. I want to thank the three of you so much for joining me today and talking to me so soon after the trip, I wanted to do this while it was still so fresh in our minds and we were still so excited. just quickly before we go, can you tell us your Instagram handles or your websites so that people can go sign up for your mailing list and learn all about the cool things you’re doing?
Verena: Sure I’m at, @VeganToursNY and my website is vegantoursny.com
Donna: My website is greenearthtravel.com. My Instagram is Green Earth Travel. Then, the same thing with Facebook. Twitter, which I don’t go on a lot, but it is Vegan Travel.
Kim: My website is vegjauntsandjourneys.com and my Instagram and Facebook are at Veg Jaunts and Journeys.
Brighde: Fantastic. All right. Thank you so much for joining us and I hope we’ll have a catch-up soon.
Kim: Thanks, Brighde.
Verena: Thank you for having us.