The first day of our cross-country tour of Korea included a stop in Gwangju. Gwangju is situated within the Jeollanam-do Province but has its own government. Its one of the largest cities in South Korea and home to many of the South Koreans I’ve met. We had a few hours of free time in downtown and we were all excited to stretch our wings for a bit and wander. Everything in the city center is very compact with alleyways at every turn, fortune tellers on the street, major chain stores, small stall vendors, and food carts. The amount of people and places that fit into an area probably no bigger than a square mile is astounding. The packs of teenagers were hard to miss, all sporting the latest trends, girls in heels, boys with popped collars, couples sporting their matching ensembles.

a typical street in downtown Gwangju

One of the things I’d never heard of before this trip, even while traveling last year were dog and cat cafes…and no, not the type where those animals are consumed in case you were wondering. They’re places where you simply go and enjoy a latte and read the latest news while your new four-legged friends play and climb all around you. I only made it into the Coffee & Cats Cafe but it was definitely an odd experience. I’m not much of a cat person so I can’t say that it was my favorite cafe experience but its an experience that probably won’t be possible in the U.S. any time soon.

Coffee & Cats Cafe

My friend Joe from last year and I got a hold of my co-teacher from Wando and she agreed to meet us downtown on her break from school. We’ve kept in contact the past year so we were excited to see each other in person. When we parted ways in Seoul last year, I wasn’t sure if our paths would cross again. I’m so glad they did and she was a great hostess leading us through the busy streets of downtown Gwangju. We had a mini Wando reunion right there in the middle of Korea…such a cool thing!

Me, JaRam, Sean, Joe

After our retail therapy, we headed to a traditional Hanok Village for the night. We literally went over the river and through the woods. I still have no idea where in South Korea I slept that night. We slept in pretty close quarters but the rooms were comfortable. There were 4 of us in each room, each with a blanket and small pillow to lay out on the floor. We all kept our luggage outside over night since we literally had no space in our room. We had just enough room to lay side by side.

We didn’t really have much to do so we went exploring and just hung out for most of the night. The area around the Village was so bizarre. I felt like I was in Lost…picture this: you’re in the middle of the jungle with no idea where on Earth you are and BOOM, a random man-made structure. It was incredibly weird. It seemed like a gathering place of some sort but no one was there. We found a soccer field, a random temple, what looked like a drive-in movie screen, some really weird statues (pictured below), and a dry fountain. We climbed on top of the fountain just to chill and finish the bottle of Hite I’d been carting around. I had one of those moments my friend Clint and I have now coined as “WTF moments.” You’re just sitting there, somewhere totally random, in a completely random country, doing a completely random thing, and you think to yourself…”what the hell am I doing here and how did I even get here??” Its moments like these that throw me for a loop but also remind me of the joys of traveling. Its possible to have them stateside but much more difficult. “WTF moments” are what life is all about. 🙂