Seoul, South Korea: exploring the city

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When we arrived in Seoul, I disembarked and found the metro station to take the subway to the station near my hostel. This was the easy part. Outside, it was dark. I had instructions on how to get to the hostel but it wasn’t clear or correct. I looked on my map on my phone but again this wasn’t useful. It took me about an hour to find my hostel when it should have been a 10 minute walk. I got lost, retracing my steps and asking about 3 different people, who were all extremely willing to help and helpful.

Eventually I found my hostel, which was close to where I first went. The hostel was a tiny building with only 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a common room and a bathroom with a shower and toilet. I checked in with the French receptionist and dumped my bag in my room. By this time, I was feeling hungry so I went out in search of food. There were loads of different places around at a decent price. I found a café style restaurant serving only about 5 things. I ordered noodles with a spicy tomato sauce and some greens. It came with soup in a bowl on the side. To my shock, as I was putting the food in my mouth with my chopsticks, the food was cold. Not what I expected but it still tasted yummy and the perfect spiciness.img_20161205_160621

When I went back to the hostel, I put on pyjamas and watched a film before falling asleep.

The next day was going to big day as I wanted to see as much of Seoul as I could. Waking up early, I dragged myself out of bed, made some toast (complimentary brekkie) and headed out the hostel road. I thought what better way to see Seoul than by foot and my hostel was pretty central. In the end I probably walked more than 10km.

I first toddled to Changdeokgung Palace but it was closed. I did get told beforehand that a lot of place are shut on a Monday but no big deal. I tottered around Bukchon Hanok Village which was right next to the palace. It was nice to look around with many gift shops, cafes and little museums. At the beginning of the day, it was extremely quiet with no one in sight but the later it got, the busier it became. The village was on several levels so I had to climb steep cobbled street. The houses were quaint and small but not as pretty as the ones in Jeonju (I think I was spoilt seeing this village first). I looked around some craft gallery where you could make tie-dye clothes and other little gift but it could only be done at certain time. I found a few tea museums looking over the city and palace.img_20161206_120817

Somehow, without realising I lost my navigation so I thought I was gazing east but actually I was looking west over the National Folk Museum. I wandered around the streets in search of coffee, where I bought a rucksack as my one had official broken (and been sewn up several times). It wasn’t hard to find coffee shops as they were everywhere but finding a cheap place was difficult. I guess it was because I was in the capital but I wasn’t willing on paying 6000 won (8AUD/ £4). Eventually I found a counter that served coffee cheaper so I bought a latte and sat on a bench on the side of the road.DCIM119GOPRO

Then I walked to National Folk Museum and had a gander around. The building was beautiful like a temple with a tradition Korean roof. Around the corner was the entrance to Gyeongbokgung palace which is the biggest and most famous palace in Seoul. I purchased a ticket (3000 Won) and roamed around the gardens through the different building and appreciated the beauty of this place. I was here quite a while taking photos and just sitting on the side of the lake with a temple in the middle.

Outside of this structure, I headed down the main road through Gwanghwamun Square, City Hall, Deoksugung Palace and Sungyemun Gate to Namdaemun Market. The whole road was filled with high rise financial and media buildings.img_20161206_112858

With seller shouting and people buzzing passed, I wiggled myself through the crowd trying not to get stop. Music was blaring and clothes, shoes, food and gift stall filled every possible gap. As a traveller I love looking around market but I can’t buy anything as I don’t have any room to carry it. I could, however, sample every type of food, which I loved to do. I ate a delicious hot pancake thing with some kind of scrumptious sauce inside and a wedge of pineapple. (I needed to keep eating my 5 fruits and vegetable a day, which can be hard to do while travelling).

I wanted to find the N Seoul Tower, which isn’t hard to see as it’s on top of a mountain but getting to it was another question. I followed the signs to Namsan park, hiking up mountainous paths. I could see a gondola station but I decided to walk. In the end I didn’t get close to it but got high enough to see some remarkable views. I moseyed back down the other side and got lost through little street where locals lived. By this time it was late afternoon and I had decided to find the nearest subway to visit one of my Korean students,  which I taught in Australia.img_20161205_123028

In due course I found a metro station and took the train to the Express Bus Terminal stop. I knew she worked on the third floor in this build. When I went there, there were loads of little shops selling Christmas decoration. I wandered around thinking there was no way I would be able to find her as all the stores were in Korean. As I turned a corner I saw her and called out her name. Success! We chatted for a while and I met her parents, who didn’t speak a word of English. She gave me a cup of sweet, Korean coffee before departing and returning back to my hostel.

In the evening, I went to a restaurant and ate a tasty bowl of Udon noddles in soup and rice balls. I pretty sure it was a Japanese restaurant but I actually have no idea. I spoke to an English guy staying at the hostel and the French receptionist throughout the evening before heading to bed for some good sleep.

The following day I had a bit of a lie-in before getting up and making some toast. I put my bags in the luggage area then headed out for today.  It was a sunny, clear day but with freezing temperatures of one degree Celsius so I made sure I put my thickest clothes on, which I don’t have many of.img_20161206_143706

I moseyed to the Dongdaemun area pass the Cultural art centre to Heunginjimun Gate, a temple building in the middle of a roundabout with busy traffic. I carried on down the street to Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which has a unique round, silver structure. Inside there is an art gallery and many shops selling uniquely designed products as well as a café. I just had a look around and saw a Gacha shop, which has many coin slot machines to buy different toys and gadgets, mostly pokemon themed. It’s a place my sister would love.

I was going to use one of these machines but then a boy, probably on a school trip, gave me his camera toy. I spoke with the group of three boys for a bit, speaking in English. They were pretty confident but I could see in the background that two receptionist were giving each other funny looks, like thinking ‘Are these boys disturbing this tourist?’ I actually think it’s a brilliant way for them to improve their English as well as making my day too.DCIM119GOPRO

After, I purchased a coffee and sat amongst the high shopping buildings. There were multiple malls around including: Hell apM, Doota, Migliore and Lotte Finn, all popular shopping centre with thousands of shops. I kept wandering through Pyeonghwa Market, which was an inside place full of clothes stalls, mostly with locals browsing.

Next, I walked along the main street to Gwangjang market, one of the most popular markets in Seoul. Here there were areas selling vegetables, meat and fish as well as food stall and a couple of other stall. I could have stayed here for a long time, trying different local foods. There was food ranging from noodles to different types of meat, soups and other local dishes. I decided to get a fish stick, which comes with a stock then went to another stall to get a vegetable omelette things tucked inside fried bread with sugar. It was delicious and a specialised type of cuisine in this market.img_20161205_132228

For here, I strolled back, hiking uphill by the Seoul City wall. At the top, in Dongdaemun park, it overlooked the whole of the city, giving stunning views on this clear day.  It was a quiet walk with only a few people following the same trail. Climbing down the step on the other side, I re-traced my path back to the hostel, where I bumped into the English guy, offering me a hot, fish-shaped cakey-type food.

For the rest of the afternoon, I chilled at the hostel, catching up on my blog and photos. At dinner time, I went to Korean restaurant with the English guy, who invited himself and I ordered Kimchee dumplings and a fish stick. They were really tasty and cheap.img_20161206_113054

Back at the hostel, I spoke to my mum on skype before leaving the hostel for the airport. I caught the subway to Incheon international airport, taking about an hour. I decided to sleep at the airport overnight as my flight was early the next day and there were no trains in the hours of the morning. I wasn’t looking forward to sleeping there as the last time I slept in an airport I got about an hour sleep.

I ordered some fries from the fast food place then found a row of free chairs next to a plug socket unit. There were many flyers sleeping at the airport, lying on chairs. A Korean guy next to me left his stuff by his seats while he went to the bathroom, which shows how honest Koreans are. I cleaned my teeth then I laid on the seats with clothes as a pillow, and my hoodie and towel as a blanket. The airport are obviously used to sleepers as the lights were turned down and everyone was being respectful by being quiet.img_20161205_102238

Surprisingly, I had about 5 hours sleep only waking up a couple of times. I put an alarm on just in case I slept for a long time but actually I woke up before this. I went to the bathroom to wash and clean my teeth before finding where to check in.

Once I had handed my big backpack and been given my boarding pass, I found a French café to use up the rest of my Korean money, where I bought a latte and croissant. With about an hour to board my plane, I went through security and immigration like having deja va, repeating the same mindless procedure over and over. There was nothing memorable about getting through this area.img_20161205_105622

I mooched through the endless gates until I found the one I needed. Then I boarded the plane, found my seat and waited to take off to my next destination: Taiwan.

South Korea was an incredible place that I liked instantly with its unique character, scenery and people. It is a place I could imagine coming back to and even teaching there one day.

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