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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Jeonju, South Korea: going back in time wandering a traditional village

img_20161204_110104By the time I arrived at the bus station in Jeonju, it was dark. I knew I needed to get a bus to the general area of the hostel. Unluckily for me, I took the bus in the wrong direction, which I noticed after about 5 minutes and so I hopped off the bus. I found a bus stop in the opposite direction where I waited for a bit before the bus came around the corner. I thought I was being smart because I knew the name of where I was going, so 1. I took the bus heading in the direction I was going to and 2. I had the name in Korean so compared it with the bus route names. However, it was the wrong direction.

The bus that finally took me in the right direction had been diverted so I wasn’t sure where to get off. I asked the driver, pointing at a map and the address of my hostel. He called out and an older man gave me the route and where to get off. I have found that Koreans are extremely helpful if you ask them; they won’t necessarily approach you if you look lost.img_20161204_105926

I walked about 15 minutes to get to my hostel. Yes! Sorted! I checked in where they gave me a key to the room. In the room, the 6 bed dorm was perfectly laid out with no one else in the room. It was pretty late so I was sure no one else would me joining me. Sweet, a room to myself.

I was just going to chill in the room before going to bed but I decided to venture out. I walked around the area with popular chain shops, restaurants and cafes. Lights were flashing all around and music blaring from different building. I was feeling a little peckish so I bought some tako yaki (Japanese octopus balls).

As I entered the hostel, ‘The holiday’ was playing on the big screen so I decided to curl up in bed and watch this on my laptop whilst falling asleep.

The next day, I had a lie in and the leisurely rose from my bed. I took a shower and ate breakfast before heading out for the day. I walked about 10 minutes to the Hanok Village. As I approached the entrance, the red-brick, high Jeondong Cathedral stood nearby with incredible architecture that looked like it could have been designed by Gaudi as it was kind of similar to some buildings in Barcelona.DCIM119GOPRO

I then wandered the cobbled streets of the village with hundreds of shops selling souvenirs, traditional clothes and food. The area was so pretty with unique style houses with grey slate, pointy roofs. Outside some buidings were gardens which had wooden cogs and wheelbarrows. It was just so picturesque. I’ve never seen anything like this. It was definitely worth a visit. The streets were full of Asian tourist and Koreans dressed in traditional clothing of winter, puffy dresses; reminded in of little bo peep.img_20161204_102954

I stopped for a coffee at a café watching the people as they walked passed. After, I visited Gyeonggijeon Hall and Pungnammum Gate to take some photos. I wandered around Nambu Market, which was mostly closed but had a few stall open selling fish, fruit and vegetable. I’m not sure whaether I was there too early or if it was closed on that day. I did find a little food place, where I ate a creamy soup served in a roll. It was tasty and warmed me up as I was feeling cold.img_20161204_121742

I took a stroll along the river to Seohakdong Art Village which was full of galleries but again, unfortunately they were closed. I walked back through the Hanok village to the centre of town where I did some window shopping before collecting my bag from the hostel.

img_20161204_133850I waited at the bus stop nearly an hour for my bus. Eventually when it came, it took me to the main bus station so I could get a bus to Seoul. The buses have a good system, where on the screen, it tell you how many passengers there are and what seats they should be occupying. Then when I entered the bus I scanned my ticket and the colour of my seat changed on the screen. It means the driver would know when everyone had boarded the bus. The 2 hour journey was uneventful.

Busan, South Korea: beaches, market and traditional villages

img_20161124_180455Soon enough, I was sitting in my seat, ready to take off to the next country: South Korea. The flight was smooth to Seoul. At Seoul, I had to go through immigration and collected my bag. I took a transfer shuttle bus to the domestic airport, where I went through the whole procedure again until landing in Busan, in the south of South Korea.

I had instruction on my phone, telling me the route to take to the hostel. Once I received my bag, I walked to the subway station, where I purchased a ticket then found the platform. I had to change trains twice but this wasn’t a problem as there were clear signs and the trains weren’t busy.

About mid-afternoon, I reached the hostel, where I checked in and chose a bed in my room. Next thing I need to do was to decide my itinerary for the next week in South Korea. I hadn’t planned anything apart from landing in Busan and flying out of Seoul. I asked the receptionist where she would recommend to go and I took her advice.img_20161201_160810

In the afternoon, I wandered around the surrounding area of Seomyeon. The roads were busy with cars driving on the right side of the street. There were bright, colourful signs on both side of the road, protruding from the shops. People dawdled along, popping into shops. Off the main road, were streets of shops and markets selling every sort of thing you could ever want. Christmas lights and decorations filling the street and k-pop music or Christmas tunes filled my ears as it blasted from different shops. I just had a good feeling about this place. I was going to love being here. Later on, I noticed how safe the country is with people being extremely honest.

As I passed some of the street stalls, I was feeling hungry with the smell of food wafting in the air. It’s sometimes hard being a pescartarian especially in a country that doesn’t speak much English. However, I did find an omelette looking pancake with carrots and what looked like fish which I ordered plus surprise dumpling thing (luckily, it just had noodles inside). Standing at the side of the stall with a plate of food, some soy sauce and a drink of some gravy liquid, I munched at my delicious food.DCIM119GOPRO

On the way back, sweet potato chips took my fancy but actually they weren’t as good as I expected.

In the evening, I sat in the common room sorting out photos and writing my blog. I went to bed earlyish as I had been awake a long time.

img_20161202_144043In the morning I got up at a reasonable time, trying not to wake up my fellow roomies, had a shower and set off  for the day. I first took the subway to Beomeosa Station. Then I hiked for about 4 km up the side of a windy road to the top of a mountain. Outside was cold so walking, getting breathless certainly warmed me up. It was difficult to read signs as they were all in Korean but I couldn’t kind of gather the correct direction. I looked around Beomeosa Temple then followed the rocky path in the forest through Geumsaem-ro food town and along a beautiful stream to the bottom. On the way, there were many picturesque views of the mountains and the city. Busan is a bit of a funny layout as there are clumps of high buildings scattered around the city with mountains also sporadically in between. I like it though.

I managed to navigate myself back to the subway station, where I rested my feet in a coffee shop, sipping on a café latte.

img_20161201_163034I caught the subway to Haeundae, where I was in need of food. Close by to the station, there was the food alley with plenty of food stalls. I sat in a little place, where I ordered a vegetable pancake and sweet potato in batter. The Korean markets do love fried things. There were noodles dishes and lots of fish but there weren’t any prices so I stuck with what I could read but also cheap (2000 won – 2.80AUD or £1.50).

I ambled down to Haeundae beach with golden sand spread for kilometres with high rise building and a calm, shimmering ocean. It was bliss looking beyond the water, thinking and meditating. I leisurely plotted on the sand, dipping my feet in the sea. At the end, I did the coastal walk on the rocky paths around Dongbaek Park to the lighthouse and APEC House. The view was mesmerising with people fishing, the waters crashing against the rock and a few status in the distance.

I wandered around the APEC House, which is where government leaders from this side of the ocean and the other side had met to have important meetings.

After, I walked a few kilometres towards Gwangalli area, stopping of to find a souvenir shop but ended up in a huge supermarket, where I purchased some clemetines.DCIM119GOPRO

It was late afternoon and I was feeling tired from all the walking so I headed to the nearest subway to go back to the hostel. I cooked some food and relaxed in the hostel.

There weren’t many people around apart from some older Korean so I couldn’t talk to anyone. I find sometimes especially when you have your own plans and are in the more less travelled countries, it’s harder to find travellers to talk to. There were, however, two English girls in my room, who were studying in Seoul but they had their own agenda.

I went to bed reading my book before falling asleep.

Waking up to my alarm, I jumped out of bed, packed my stuff and had a shower. Once I ate a cereal bar and an orange and drank a cup of tea, I walked to the subway to get a train to Gamcheon Culture Village.img_20161203_115452

Out of the station, I hiked up a steep pavement to the top, where the village entrance was. There were lots of tourists around, taking pictures and eating street food. As I wandered down the cobbled path with little, unique shops and food stands either side, I took in my surrounding, mesmerised by the beauty. A volunteer guy told me where the best view was of the village so I climbed some narrow steps to take a look. All around me were cute, little, colourful house scatter on a hill, looking so picturesque. It reminded me of Porto in Portugal or somewhere in Greece (not that I’ve been there). On the other side of the platform was a view of the whole of Busan.

Down the stairs on a balcony was a coffee shop with outdoor benches so I purchased a latte and just sat, admiring the scenery. After, I walked around the village, taking more photos and popping into different shop.img_20161203_120000

Just after midday, I left and strolled down the hill back to the subway, where I caught a train to the Nampo area. I wandered around the lanes of Gukje Market, filled with shops and stalls selling clothes, gift and food. In the centre of one road were ladies frying food with stalls around them. One of these took my fancy so I sat on a stall, eating some kind of brown, transparent noodles.

I then walked to the fish market, wafting the strong smell of fish with a variety of dead fish ready to be bought. I sat by the harbour overlooking the sea for a while before taking the escalator up to Yongdusan Park. Here, there was a huge, white, elongated tower and temples around it’s foot.img_20161203_131303

I couldn’t stay in the park long as I need to go back to the hostel, collect my bags and head to Nopo, which is what I did. The central bus station is situated in Nopo, where I bought a ticket to Jeonju. I had been recommended by the hostel receptionist to check out this town.

The ticket I got was for the general bus, which meant it was cheaper (16,100 Won: 20AUD) and got told the seat were smaller. This was not the case, I had a single, wide seat with plenty of leg room. The journey wasn’t exciting and just drove straight there.

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