I am now in a flight towards Kuala Lumpur from Busan, and I decided to write this piece. Perhaps, it might be useful to some other Muslim travellers bound for Korea.
Traveling in Korea has become slightly easier since my last trip more than a year ago. Today signage in English is more common. However, in general, we still have to depend on mix of words with hand gestures as well as trials and errors.
Traveller’s Saver Card
In this visit, I purchased a train saver pass that entitled me to travel anywhere on any train including the KTX for five days. Reservation for this pass can be made on-line from the KoRail website and the pass can be obtained from any train station by showing the reservation printout and your passport. Then using this card, free train tickets can be obtained from ticket counters. If you are travelling in groups and prefer to sit together on the train, it is advisable to book the ticket ahead of time.
T Money or All Pass Card
These discount cards are used in subway trains, buses, taxis, and some convenient shops. You can purchase and top up the cards at Story Ways, Seven Eleven etc. With this card, each journey provides saving. For example for a journey costing KRW 1500, only 1200 will be charged to the card, or something like that. More importantly, you don’t have to struggle with the ticket machines, especially if English option is not available in the menu.
T-Money (I had it since last trip)
Interestingly, taxi fares in Korea were relatively cheap. So, if you travel with a group of 3 or 4, taxi would be a cheaper option. There were budget taxis and a bigger one, which was slightly expensive. You can ask the hotel to call the one that you like. They’re all metered taxi.
For Muslim travellers, to get a full meal would be a bit challenging, unless you know where to find them. If you go to the supermarkets, you’ll find that ingredients are all written in Koreans. So, apart from depending on breads or your own supplies, options are normally available if you can find the city mosque, if there is one.
If you have the option, perhaps it is better to book service apartments for accommodation. In Seoul there’s Hyundai Residence, for example that provides cooking facilities. At least you can cook a quick nasi goreng or something. I stayed there and it was very nice.
Busan is the second largest metropolitan city in South Korea. I was told that there are some 30,000 Muslims in Busan, majority of which are foreigners. Busan mosque was built in 1980 based on a donation by a Libyan benefactor and later renovated using funding from Turkish government. The mosque has 3 levels. The uppermost was a small prayer area for ladies. On the ground level offices, libraries, and other facilities are sited.
Inside Busan Mosque
As I walked into the mosque, I heard a discussion between two gentlemen. From their appearance, I guessed one was a Korean and the other a Bangladeshi. They were discussing in Arabic, about a hadits that was familiar to me. I share the translation here:
Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Everyone of my ummah will enter Jannah except who refuse”. He was asked: “Who will refuse?” He said, “Whoever obeys me, shall enter Jannah, and whosoever disobeys me, refuses to (enter Jannah)”. (Bukhari)
I recalled that this was one of the many hadist that touched my heart when I was young. Suddenly, a reminiscent of the past quickly dispersing into my feelings as I climbed the stairs towards the main prayer hall in level 2. In the hall, I saw a few Indonesians chatting happily. I greeted them and offered my prayer.
After performing my Zuhr and Asar prayer, I sat down with the imam of the mosque in the discussion room downstairs. He introduced himself as Yassir Lee, a graduate of Madinah University. True enough, he was talking to his friend, a Bangladeshi who was also a graduate from Madinah University. They were in a sort of teaching and learning session.
The imam asked me, “what do you understand about the word fitnah?” I told him, in Malay language, fitnah means false accusation. For that reason, Malaysians tend to misunderstand the word fitnah, which may mean trial and tribulation. The Bangladeshi scholar corrected me, by saying, in the book of tafsir, fitnah refers to shirk or bidaah. Yes, said I, since I also remembered reading the tafsir of the verse 2:191, where part of the verse is referring to a phrase, “Fitnah is worse than killing”. The mufassir explained that fitnah in this context is shirk. Many Malaysian quoted this verse, and put it in a different context, with the word fitnah referring to false accusation.
Subhanallah, what a nice moment was that. A short acquaintance that refreshes knowledge.
Next to the mosque was a house, nicely converted into a restaurant with Turkish murals and decorations. It serves variety of Turkish menu. It was a treat for us as halal food is difficult to be found in Busan.
The easiest way to get to the restaurant and Busan mosque is to take subway train line No 1 to Dusil station. Then after taking exit 8, just walk straight a head until you see a tyre shop on the right with a gas station on the other side of the road. At that intersection, turn right and very shortly you’ll see capacedonia restaurant on your right. You can have your treat there, or go down a short alley next to the restaurant towards the mosque. I have a full meal of Adana Kebab, one of my favorites. It was a treat indeed.
Itaewon Mosque in Seoul
Seoul has a much larger Muslim population including a substantial number of Malaysian students, and increasing numbers of visitors from Malaysia, perhaps a direct influence from the Korean drama casted on Malaysian TV. Somehow, the Muslim communities are concentrated more in Itaewon. In fact Itaewon is an area with totally different aura than other parts of Seoul. It is International.
Taking exit 3 from Itaewon subway station, you’ll emerge on the main road of Itaewon. Then walk straight ahead until an intersection, where you need to make a right turn, going uphill on a small road towards the end where you need to turn left. From there, you can see the mosque at the end of the road.
Along the way, there are many restaurants should you want to make a stop. If you want to try some halal Korean food (cooked by Bangladeshi, I think), there’s a small restaurant on the right side of the road, close to the mosque. You can also opt for other choices – Turkish, Indian, Egyptian-Malay (Siti Sarah), and many others.
Gwangju is the 6th largest city in South Korea. You can get to Gwangju in 1 hour 50 minutes on a KTX from Yongsan station (not Seoul Station) to Gwangju Songjeong Station.From there you can take a metro train to the city.
My destination was not the city. It was the Mudeungsan National Park that I’ve fallen in love with. So, I took a metro train to Hakdong-Jungsimsa Station. From there, there’re bus No 9, 50 etc that can take you to the the bus stop near the park.
In this particular trip, Gwangju has not acknowledged T-money, so, I paid cash. My wife had All-Pass Rail Card, and this discount card was useable in Gwangju. Still – a discount travel card is useful.
Outlets for outdoor apparels were plentiful with all major brands – Lafuma, Millet, Columbia, Northface and many others that I didn’t recognize – Korean’s and international brands.
As you walk towards the entrance of the park, you’ll distracted by rows of stores selling branded outdoor apparels and equipment – international brands such as Columbia, North Face, Millet, Merril, Deuters, Lafuma, Alpine, Eider, Fila, Mountain Hard Ware, etc, along with Korean brands such as westwood, center pole etc. So, if you’re not determined to go on hiking, you may end up shopping.
At Gwangju Songjeong Station
I didn’t get chance to visit Gwangju mosque, but there’s one and Friday prayer was held there. Some information can be obtained from http://quran.or.kr/gwangju/. I have not verified the info on the website, use it at your own risks.
Turkish Kebab Stall (Hasan, Murat etc)
For a quick Kebab meal, there’s a place in the city that I visited during my last trip. In this recent trip, I went straight to the mountain park and back to Seoul on the KTX on the same day. It was a nice outing day which ended with a reward of Turkish meal in Itaewon.