Korea has heart and Seoul 😉 It was a last minute trip that we planned in a day, but it was a place we enjoyed more than we could have imagined. The people were kind and friendly and went out of their way to help us on more than 1 occasion. We crammed in as much as we could in a few days and our feet (our soles) were aching at the end of the day… OK enough puns let me share the adventure.
After a short flight we arrived in Seoul. It was evening as we made our way into the terminal and explored our options to get into the city. It was Korean Thanksgiving, a very big and important holiday, so our options were limited. We ended up hiring a cab who drove us to our hotel. The drive was just over an hour. We drove through the darkness as we skirted along water. In the distance the lights from the city dazzled us in colour. Our hotel was near City Hall and the downtown core in a little back alley. The hotel was small, everything so compact, but it was clean. It was late, so we decided to turn in for the night and get an early start exploring the city the next day.
Monday was still a holiday and finding things that were open proved difficult. We did get to the train station and information helped us find the city bus tour. As the bus pulled up the tour guide told us “if you want to get on this tour hurry up and get on!” At least she said it with a smile. The bus was over crowded and we had to stand. Luckily after 2 stops most people got off and we could get a seat. Each stop was extremely bus, so we stayed on the bus and got an overview of the city and what it had to offer. Seoul is surprisingly big and spread out.
At one of the traditional palaces we got off and looked around. The King’s Queen (or Queens) lived here. The grounds had a few buildings and a large pond and garden. The admission was only 1,000 Won which is about $1.00. With the holiday many children were wearing their traditional dress. Very beautiful, colourful bell shaped dresses that reached the ground. This is where I got Flat Stanley a part of the photo shoot. A small crew was taking pictures on the grounds of a woman wearing a traditional gown.
Flat Stanley Weasling his way into a Photo Shoot!
Next we continued on the tour and got off at the Folk Museum where they had traditional crafts and hands on activities for children. We walked around a bit and watched as children played drums, gathered rice to make a good luck charm and ground wheat. The last bus was on its way so we rushed back to the hotel. For dinner we found a place near the hotel that made Korean barbeque Chicken. With the help of some local diners and the limited English of the owner we were able to order our meal. The messy, but delicious food came steaming hot, fresh and made to order. A spicy sweet sauce for dipping made our lips burn, but our mouths water. They like their spicy hot and it accompanies most dishes.
The next day we went out to the DMZ, Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. A bus tour picked us up and drove us 45 minutes North of Seoul. Again due to the holiday it was extremely busy, so our tour was delayed. We were able to explore the waiting area. The waiting area was set up like a mix of historical sites and an amusement park with cotton candy and rides. A nearby hill had kite fliers catching the breeze to fly their long-tailed kites. As we waited we first went to the large Peace Bell and then look out platform, which gave a great over view of the surrounding hills. There was also a rusted out train that looked riddled with bullet holes, a reminder of war. A bridge to nowhere was covered in Korean Flags and colourful ribbons. Close to this area was a monument to honour relatives that were separated by the boarders and no longer could they be together. Lots of
Thousands and Thousands of Ribbons
somber faces as people read the writing on the ribbons and posed for photos. All along the drive in there were small look outs along this ‘dead zone’. Our guide later told us during the day not all are manned, but at night each one has someone on watch. I don’t know why someone would attempt to cross the border as they would need to manoeuvre through a large mine field, and climb barbed wire fences as well as avoid armed soldiers!
Leaving this area we boarded a bus and crossed a border where photos were not allowed. Our first stop was the lookout point where you could see North Korea. Photos were only allowed from behind a painted yellow line, which made it near impossible when you are short and the crowd was 3-4 people deep. A short stop here and then we were ushered back on the bus to the tunnels. A tunnel, that was discovered, and thought to be used as a point for the military to invade. The tunnel was maybe 2 meters wide and less than 2 meters tall. I was not allowed to go in because of my camera and purse. I was instructed to place it inside a locker, but didn’t feel my passports, camera and money should be left like that. Instead I had a view from a TV camera and watched as the sweating, exhausted, out of breath tourists panted their way back to the surface. Once everyone made it back to the bus we went to our last stop, a train station where North and South Korea are once again linked. The train station is very modern. Only thing it is not used at this time.
Trying to Get a Glimpse of North Korea Through the Crowds and 10m Back
Our next and last full day in Korea we toured around Seoul. Our first stop was a large market area that sold clothes, jewellery, food, bags and luggage. Prices were a bit higher than our markets here in Shanghai, and they didn’t seem as keen on bargaining. From there we went in search of the underground river. The river used to be a life line of the city where people would wash their clothes and collect water. It turned into a shanty town, so slowly the river was covered over by buildings and the river was lost as a beautiful landmark of the city. In recent years the city decided to open it up. A small waterfall, out croppings and crossings now line its banks. It was a busy gathering place where families met, children splashed in the water and a musician entertained the crowd. It was a nice way to end a busy day. I was spotted as a celebrity as 2 young girls asked me to pose for a photo for their ‘homework’. Not sure what kind of homework they had, but it was fun.
For dinner we decided to try a new neighbourhood and went to the expat area Itewon for a yummy Mexican meal. The food was fantastic and reasonable in a teeny little restaurant that was crowded and busy. Always a good sign. The streets were lined with small shops and vendors that called to you to buy their necklaces, scarves, hats and socks. Lots of Westerners were in this area either expats or tourists like us. It was getting late, so we returned to the subway and back to the hotel. Tomorrow we return to Shanghai. Seoul was more than I expected and would enjoy going back and seeing and doing more. It is always good to leave something undone, so there is more chance to return.
Where have you been that you would like to revisit?