Korea – Camping Done Right

In the previous post i mentioned about the Korean overlanding site and that Hyein posted on there that we are doing some trips in Korea. Well the response was outstanding, people were very nice and welcoming, even more so the big-wigs that run that community decided to organize a weekend camping and invite us.

Btw, do you like how i tie in the previous post? Makes you want to go back and read …right?

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Before committing to this event, i asked Heyin how many people are in the community. Her response well…it used to be 30,000 but now its only 1000.

Shit…are they all going to come out? That’s like a small hippie convention. Hyein assured me that only the a few people will be joining us.

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The name of the forum is “Nangman”, which means romance in Korean. And the head guy who runs the forum is called “Mulgogi” (translated as fish).  In the first post i described it is an overlanding forum, but i now understand that is more of a car camping forum. People come together to learn, dream and actually build their dream camping cars.

In the real world Mulgogi actually runs a camping car design and construction business. On Saturday morning, before we went camping we were invited to come by the shop and have a look-see.

You see all these cute little trucks? Those are Kia Bongo’s, the work horse of Korean small businesses. These are used as delivery vehicles, small construction, road work, refrigerated cargo…there is a million of them on the roads of Korea. And non those look like the thing Mulgogi creates.

Depending on the customer’s needs he can make anything, but what i really like about his work is quality. Everything is thought out, everything matches and aligns, there are no unnecessary bits hanging off the vehicle just for shits and giggles.

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That’s his own Land Rover…got the usual kit – roof-top-tent, awning, fridge… Everything neat and clean. And its a diesel.

Maybe i dont know anything about anything but it seems like diesels are the way to go for overlanding.

We rarely need to go fast, most of the time we are carrying around a bunch of weight, and the mpg’s on these things are better from what i hear. So why can’t i get one in our Land Cruiser?

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Thats HK (left) and Mulgogi (right), two longtime friends and active members of the korean car camping community. Turns out that everyone else who was coming camping with us, decided to meet up at the workshop first and then head over to the camp spot.

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Looks like Hyein finally found someone her age to hang out with during this weekend. Meet the kids, from left to right: Ian, Lina, Nana, Hyein and Taun.

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Before the arduous journey to the North of South Korea, we need to fill up on some delicious Korean food. What if we accidentally stray too far and will never be able to go back to the delicious South Korea.

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Of course, you can’t accidentally just walk into North Korea. The border between the North and the South is one most guarded, weaponized and militarized places in the world. Each country actually has a buffer zone before the actual border, creating a 2.5 mile wide “Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)”. Do you see the irony in the name now?

Although, terrible for the humans this is an amazing sanctuary for the humans. It has been reported…somewhere, dont want to look for a source, that the pure absence of humans lets animals prosper, even when there thousand of land mines around.

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We aren’t going that close to the border, but this is the closest that i have been to the DMZ.

And we are rolling strong in a convoy of 6 cars, most of them heavily modified for camping. We definitely stand out in the average Korean traffic of Hyundai Elantra’s and Kia Sorrento’s.

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So, although it is the first time meeting all these people they have read Hyein’s blog and know some if not all of our stories. So yeah…we are a bit of celebrities 🙂

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Last week when overlanding we looked into camping spot in various parts of Korea and all we found were sites for like $30-40 USD PER NIGHT.

Yeah let that sink in…you’ve seen our budget post…thats almost a third of our daily budget, we cant just spend it on a place to park our car and pass out.

Small size of Korea, high population density and short weekends drive people to known locations with all the amenities. Plus these days camping is IN, but its more like glamping now.

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The Nangman community is definitely against the idea of expensive glamping and always find a free, secluded piece of land to park their cars and enjoy some outdoors.

This time, maybe it was to show us the best possible place, or maybe this is how they roll all the time, they found a private piece of land big enough to have a whole mountain on it.

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Mountain and no one else, just us. Everything you see in this picture was ours for the weekend. This might not see as such a crazy idea if you are in US, where you can hike out somewhere and be by yourself. But in Korea this is a hard feat to accomplish, remember the population density numbers from the previous post.

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Anyway someone new someone who owned this land and let us use for the weekend.

The car after us is a modified Bongo that Mulgogi built in his shop. That thing is a piece of beauty, 4×4, low range gear box, diesel engine…immaculately finish interior and exterior.

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There is something special something when people with these kinds of car get together, the line-up looks super impressive, even if we are just camping for a day.

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This Lina…the cutest thing in this whole campsite.

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After finding a spot large enough for all of us, we furiously started setting up.

Now i have to tel you that there is a difference between the way these guys camp and us. When designing our rig, i wanted everything to be super efficient. I hate wasting time on setting something up only to take it down the next morning.

We have an awning but rarely use it because most time we stop when the sun is no longer a problem. And so far the rain has only been a real problem once.

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Nangman has everything, they got little hand sickles for clearing an area from grass, everyone has an awning and various kinds of tools and gadgets.

We keep it simple, because we have to move on the next day.

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I dont see anything wrong with their way, its just a different solution to a different problem. Camping and overlanding are a bit different. It is okay to do something once or twice, but if are doing it every day and don’t have to, then after a few weeks you will stop.

These guys also like to setup fast and be done. In this photo Mulgogi is proudly showing off a tent that sets up faster than our Airtop.

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Man, one thing i have to say…once these guys are done setting up a camp, it actually looks like a little city.

I’m finally living up to the blog name and feel like a nomad. This is what i imagine people did back in the day, ride all day with the whole family, then unload their horses and set up camp. Let the horses rest, while you eat and drink all night.

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And then you go a plunge a few cities when you run low on iron and gold. Just like everybody’s great-grandfather, Ghengis Khan, used to do. Except, we are all Korean and one Russian.

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We don’t even need bows and arrows, we will capture the castles with only these eyes. We gave Lina our Ukulele to play while everyone was setting up and ended up giving it to her as a present. We couldn’t resist that look.

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Amazingly, during the whole camp set up time, the kids did not complain, cry or seek any attention. They saw that adults were busy with their shit and realized it was their time to do WHATEVER they wanted. While it was light out, they reserved to drawing cute little pictures, just to lure us into believing in their innocence. When it got dark…well, you’ll see.

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By the end of the day another camper joined us, but since he had a trailer his setup was under 10 minutes.

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With the camp setup and everyone present, they decided to check out the car and make sure we will make it at least till the next city. I thought, i was paying attention pretty well to things, but its always a good idea to have a second pair of eyes or five look at your engine.

The verdict…not too bad. The coolant was a bit low and it seems that the hose clamps the guys were using on the radiator pipe were not properly tightened. This resulted in a small leak and loss of coolant. No big deal, fill that up and ready to go. Second, the plastic engine cover was rubbing on the radiator hose and could potentially make a hole in it. So we decided to fix it on the spot.

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I tried to use my trusty swiss knife, but the guy with the trailer apparently had an electric saw. Man, i would have thought that to be excessive, but now that i need it…it’s perfect.

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Two minutes and we are done, Hodori passes the Korean Inspection and gets a list of things to be done in Vladivostok. No Land Cruisers have ever been officially imported to Korea, so getting parts for them is a bit complicated. Just for a joke we asked how long it would take to get some rear brake pads from the dealer. We were told that if we are lucky and they could get them from Japan then only 2 weeks, but if they had to ship them from US, that would take at least 1 month. Yeah, no thanks, we will be in Vladivostok next week ourselves.

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Find the Korean flag we have been lugging around from the start, makes the place feel like home.

At night, as usual you sit around the fire, make food, drink and talk war stories.

The guys asked us what the most difficult problem that we have had on our journey so far. To be honest we have been super lucky with the car. Yeah, we had that one little accident in Chile, but otherwise the car has been solid…thank god.

The only problem we do have is food related, specifically garlic farts. Yeah, you all know what I’m talking about, don’t act all shy now. Maybe it was the cuisine, maybe we just like onions and garlic, but in the Americas we had a lot of it and sometimes with deadly consequences.

 

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One time, I think it was Hyein, let’s just blame it on her since I’m the one writing this, had a bit too much of that atomic garlic. What happened next is hard to describe in words, but I will try. We sleep in a small tent on top of our car, if it’s hot we open the windows, but leave the mesh on for bugs. All of a sudden I feel it…no I don’t smell it, I feel it with my mouth and eyes. There is something in the air that doesn’t feel to be of human origin. We tried fanning it away from the tent, but it was so thick just like a smoke it would come back in and make our eyes water. This was putrid, sharp and a smell that made you wonder if you need to take some antibiotics, because some alien spices are invading your body.

Everyone was laughing at Hyein’s expense, but the engineers in the group started thinking of a solution to this problem. If this happens once in a while then you can just deal with it, but what if you put a carbon filter in your pants? Girls already wear pads during their periods, maybe if you have garlic you could wear a charcoal pad in your underwear and let them rip? Patent pending.

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After one of our dinners, we decided it was time to wash the dishes before we get too tired…I meant too drunk.

Although for us this is an everyday event, everyone really like how we huddled together and washed the dishes together. It’s interesting, I see it as an inefficiency, but some people see it as bonding time. Cool, I’ll look at it this way now.

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Ah…this is what the little innocent souls were up to since sunset. I’ve seen them running around the campsite, gathering any little twig and stashing it away somewhere. Turns out they have been having a bonfire of their own, with the only goal of burning as much stuff as possible in the shortest time period.

Our dirty wooden chopsticks would magically disappear and were consumed by the ever hungry fire.

The whole night we were talking among ourselves and the kids did need us at all. They were fascinated by the fire and burned, burned, burned everything in the area.  You could see the mad look of obsession in their eyes as they scurried past you with another victorious find of yet another stick, bigger than the first.

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The guy who came with the trailer, the same guy who had the electric saw…we called him Chongi-Top-Nim (The Electric Saw Man)…also had this cool fire frying pan. We cooked the pork belly we got from Mom in Seoul and it was the best ever. Seriously, the smell of the actual fire and smoke mixing with the meat, was better than any pork belly I’ve ever had.

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Many dinners, stories and bottles of soju later we all crawled to our tents and passed out.

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Mulgogi got up at the crack of dawn to take a picture of our sleeping camp. If we really were an invading Mongol army, we would have been easily destroyed at this point. Luckily, we are just car camping outside of Seoul.

And just like that, the night is gone.

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Another Bongo creation by Mulgogi and his team. Simple and to the point. All wheel drive with room for 5 and all the shit they want to bring camping. I like how the spare sits just above the rear wheel, making you do a double-take at the photo.

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That’s Mulgogi with his wife and kid, the fearless leader of the Korean overlanding and car camping community.

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The whole gang that came out for the weekend to share this amazing journey with us…and to eat some freshly smoked pork belly.

From left to right: HK, Hyein, Mulgogi with Ian, Mulgogi’s wife, Geehae with Taun and Jaesul (sitting on the bottom), Big Tuner with Lina and Nana, Mr. Electric Saw with his son and Segon.

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If you are trying to figure out which one is our car…it would be the last one.

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Here we are also all the way in the back. But with these beauties and their brand new paint jobs, I feel like we should be in the back of the line with our peeling hood and dented side.

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Okay, we went swimming in a little pool, I apparently gained some weighted. No need to discuss this any further, I am ashamed…I take that back I’m not ashamed, I just stayed too long in Korea with all the delicious food and beer.

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The water was freezing cold after the night and all that fat was beneficial when I jumped in the water.  Hyein, not wanting to be outdone by her husband or just sharing the moment, jumped in a minute later, followed by Segon.

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Swimming officially begins once your whole body is underwater. It was so cold that submerging your head made your whole body squeeze with pain and expel any air left in your lungs. In the next 30 seconds, by dangly bits became so painful that I had to get out. But it was fun to splash around for a bit. A good wake up shower after a night of eating and drinking.

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This is it. We go back home and say good bye to our new friends.

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The one thing I learned during this trip is the sadness of getting to know someone but you know that most likely you will never see this person again. Not through any fault of theirs or your own, that just how life is. You share a moment, create a memory that you will cherish and relive for many years to come.

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But it doesn’t have to be all sad, I can’t leave you reliving your own memories of single day friendships. If you want, you can always keep in touch and meet up for a coffee or a beer. We managed to make friends with a few people in South America and actually met up with them in Seoul.

Yes, these were late night drunken promises of meeting up in Seoul when we are all their…but we followed through on them and had a great time.

Thanks to everyone who spent the time with us in Korea, I’ve said your names in all the posts before and it is too many to list now. Korea would not have been the same without you guys!

1 Comment

  1. Tim Askham says: Reply

    Great blog! Looks like everybody is having fun.
    Very interested in Mulgogi’s Bongo, often thought about creating something similar. Does anybody have a contact email or website where I can contact him?
    Many thanks, and good luck.

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