We arrived in Korea after 5 days travelling from Belize via Guatemala and the US on water taxis, tiny 6 seater planes, chicken busses, international flights, high speed trains and more! We were exhausted but so flippen excited to be in Seoul!
We were beyond starving and so hopped up on natural "yay-were-in-a-new-country!" adrenaline, caffeine and whatever kicks in to combat sleep deprivation that after meeting up with Timmy and Faan, the creative and technical brains of the operation, we had TWO dinners that night! Let me use this opportunity to mention that Korean food is phenomenal. It blew our minds. But more on that later.
The next morning the four of us flew to Jeju Island where we met up with Hyejin, from Kia Motors and Sunny, our local guide and driver for the duration of our trip. The first thing we did was get lunch, of course, and again we were blown away by the array of local seafood dishes served.
The whole trip lasted a total of 10 days and we packed every day full of adventurous activities and, of course, a lot of driving around the island's most beautiful spots. We landed just in time to avoid a typhoon which had grounded all domestic flights right up till our arrival. We were to discover the next day that the typhoon had also taken most of the warm turquoise water with it and replaced it with freezing murky liquid ice. Why is this worth mentioning, you ask? Well, Rufus and I were scheduled to do a lot of swimming, snorkelling and waterfall jumping over the next 9 days and when the water feels as if it is of a hypothermia-inducing temperature and you have to keep re-shooting scenes because your chattering teeth and inappropriate nipple stands are ruining the shots it becomes rather important (let me also mention that after so much time living in tropical climates, any water temp below 26'C is "freezing" to us... ). Also, a lot of the aerial shots depended on the clear weather and even clearer water but Timmy did a great job of making everything work despite Mother Nature's curve ball.
Our guide, Sunny, took care of us like a caring mother hen and she fed us till we felt like we were going to burst! I asked her one day, "What are the three things that Korean's like to do most in their spare time?" Her reply was "Eat, drink and then eat some more." An so we did! More eating than drinking though, we were there for work after all...
Sun and Hyejin, from Kia Motors, were incredible hosts. We spent time with them at the start of the trip and at the end, after we finished and returned to Seoul, the day before we flew out. They are both so passionate about their country, their culture, their heritage, their traditions and of course their food! Both were extremely warm and friendly, welcoming and generous with their time, answering all of our questions and going the extra mile to make us feel at home.
Rufus and I have visited countries that are classified as "first world" before but never have we encountered a country like this. It is so clean you can eat off the streets. Everything is efficient and everyone is always genuinely keen to help. Rufus and I were welcomed at 5 star hotels as if we were VIP guests, and not in fake way, in a warm and genuine "we don't judge a book by it's cover" kind of way. Because believe me, after 5 days of travelling, no showers, little sleep, part of which we had our luggage strapped to the roof of a chicken bus across Guatemala and Belize during a tropical downpour, we did not look or smell like 5 star VIP guests...
The very first thing we observed upon arrival was the selfie culture. I am not exaggerating when I say that easily 85% of all the people we saw carried selfie sticks with them. Permanently. I thought I had seen it all when Rufus and I witnessed locals photographing themselves with lettuce and spinach in the veggie section of Zambian supermarkets, but Korea tops that. Every moment, any location is an excuse to take a selfie and no one is shy about it. It is amazing to watch.
It also helps their selfie culture that the Koreans sense of style and design is impressive to say the least. I wish I had had more time to capture the street fashion. Couples coordinating their outfits and managing to execute it in a way that made you wished they would dress you too. Korea is also known for its groundbreaking skincare and cosmetics industry and when you are there you can see why - the Korean woman know what they are doing when it comes to beauty, their skin is so luminescent I kept having the urge to touch their faces to see if it was real. Hashtag "skingoals".
Timmy, Faan, Rufus and I stuck out like sore thumbs everywhere we went. I think I only saw 2 other westerners in the 10 days we were there. Never once did we get ogled or made to feel "out" though, as so often happens when Rufus and I travel in Africa, Central and South America (I'm pasty white & blonde and he has striking eyes which strangers regularly stare at and like comment on).
The other interesting thing I noticed is how happy the Koreans are, especially the families. We saw a lot of young families, in the airports, in the streets, malls and restaurants. We never once saw kids throwing tantrums or disgruntled parents having to dish out discipline. The parents (and grandparents) were always smiling, happily and actively engaging with the children, not grumpy and scowling like we so often see in the US or SA.
And then theres the food. This my friends was our favourite part. There are rarely occasions when we are consistently, day after day, so stuffed full that we are in pain but we still want more! The food in South Korea is irresistible and the team at Kia gave Sunny strict instructions to feed us well, and so she did! The variety and the festivity and the traditions and history and joy that surrounds meal times pulls you in till you almost can't anymore. It is such a fundamental part of their culture that if you don't engage (not that you wouldn't want to) you are in danger of seriously offending your host(s). The Koreans, in our experience, love to share and this is most evident during their meal times.
Overall Korea was a 10 out of 10 for us. Thank you Hyejin, Sun and Kia Motors for hosting us and thank you to Timmy and Faan for including us in your project. South Korea, we will be back!