So what brings me to South Korea you ask? Well my friend Anna from England is teaching over hear and I always said I would come and visit. I was meant to come in Mach but had no money to book flights as I didn't have a job, but once I got my job in Market Research I could put the plans in Motion. And as I have always been taught from my Dad if you say you are going to do something you should do it. I also met a couple of good guys who I had met on the Banana Farm who were now back home in Korea. Firstly there was Daniel Woo (what a great surname) the first time I met Daniel was in Innsifail when we went camping on the beach we were sat around and he did some awesome beat boxing randomly, he tried to teach me but I think I was born without any musical genes. Then there is Raymond, a short guy who is probably the friendliest guy you will ever meet. His Korean name Eui Jin Kil, but he got his English/International name when he was on a flight somewhere and the attendant was friendly and his name was Raymond. He also changed his surname from Kil to Gil as it sounded more friendly.
So after a long 12 hour flight via Taipei where I got little sleep thanks to a German guy taking most of my room as well I landed in Korea to be greeted by Daniel and Raymond at the airport. Raymond was a legend he had organised to pick me up and let me stay at his house. Raymond lived in Gimpo which is a small town just outside of the capital Seoul. I don't think they have had many foreigners there before as there was no English at all anywhere and It is also pretty close to North Korea. We drove to his house dropped my things off and then we went to grab some food. We had Korean Chicken and it was awesome. I was really tired so had a nap after this and then I met Raymond's mother who couldn't speak any English she was very nice and put on a massive dinner for us. It was very nice even though I had no idea what is was, some was fish, a soup with meet in, maybe pork. Lettuce, sausage, something that smelt like vegemite. We also had a few beers and some traditional Korean Vodka - Soju. We sat around on the floor eating and it was nice to be doing things the Korean way I would have asked for a photo but unfortunately my camera was broke and off for repair in Australia. They also got their best China for me which I was very humbled about an they also tried to teach me how to use chop sticks something Raymond and his Mum found very funny. Unfortunately Raymond lost his father when he was just 10 years old but his bond between him and his mother is fantastic. His Mother was a driving instructor and qualified chef, something she was very proud of and showed me certificates in both even though I couldn't understand a word of them. It was a nice evening and then me and Raymond met with Daniel and to a club called Cocoon in Hongik. It was mental. Just Koreans dancing wildly. I was the only foreigner in there for ages until a group of backpackers came in but it was all nice fun an friendly, not many people drank they just came to dance.
The next day we woke up and Raymond took me sight-seeing, first we went to Gyeongbokgung Palace. This was built in 1395 and was the main royal palace for the Joseon Dynasty. Official ceremonies were held, living quarters for the King and Queen. It was very interesting and beautiful despite the rainy weather. We then walked through Cheonggye Plaza which is where the Cheonggyecheon stream starts. The plaza is widely known as the site where large groups of people gather to cheer for Korean teams during sporting events such as the World Cup. From here we also saw the statues of two of the most respected figures in Korean History King Sejong the Great who is on the 10,000 won note and Admiral Yi Sun-Shin who never lost a battle and is on the 100 won coin. From here we walked along the Cheonggyecheon stream and made our way into Insa-Dong for some traditional Korean food. Everything on the street is in Korean. There is a Starbucks Coffee on the street and it is the only Starbucks in Korea have its name written in Korean. We got some food, some Black Noodles and very tasty Pork in a very sweet delicious sauce. Then we headed to Itaewon via Insa-dong Street which is famous for its culture and art and a Bonsigak (Belfry) which they now use to celebrate the New Year, but back in the day was used more as a clock. Itaewon is a very western place, apparently it is close to the American Military base so there are a lot of American's there. And as there is everywhere there was even an Irish pub. We had a walk around grabbed a beer and then found a plug adaptor for myself. We hen made our way to the N Seoul Tower, which is a 236.7m tower which offers great views of Seoul. Unfortunately it didn't today as the fog was really bad and you could only just make out the town in front of you. We made our way back where I impressed Raymond's mum with a few phrases I had learnt and then got some rest.
The next day Raymond had to go to university, which left me alone to explore Seoul. I think he was worried I would get lost so he left me his phone. The truth was I probably would, there is not too much English about but I was sure I would be ok. Raymond had acquired me some maps and guide books and also left me his phone a list of contact numbers and addresses in Korean and English for if I got lost, so I was sure things would be ok. So I headed out. My first job was to navigate myself from Raymond's to the train station, this would be the most difficult as in this leg there was no English, but Raymond told me which bus to catch and where from and I had been the train station before so I knew where to get off. Everything went smoothly and then from the station I navigated my to the centre of Seoul, where I got to taste real Korean culture with a McDonalds. Sarcasm there at it's best. Then I headed to Namdaemun Market which is the largest market in Korea, it sells everything from household items, clothes and food. From here I visited Sungnyemun Gate. This structure was built in 1398 and was one of eight gates that was part of the Hanyang Doseong Fortress Wall which surrounded Seoul back in the Joseon era. My next stop for the day involved my changing at Dongdaemun Station. There was also a gate here so I quickly popped out and took a look at the Heunginjimun Gate which was the most Eastern Gate among the eight gates. I then tried to make my way to Samseong, I had a brief problem with the train first ending up back where I started and then going in the wrong direction, but eventually I got there and made my way to Bongeunsa Temple which was built in 794 CE and it is the largest temple in Seoul. I took a few snaps and had a look around and then headed to Coex. This is the largest exhibition venue with numerous halls, a convention centre and meeting rooms. There are various additional facilities including a five-star hotel, a casino, the largest underground shopping mall in Asia, museums and an Aquarium. I had a walk around and made my way to the aquarium, I was just intrigued about cost. I didn't plan to go in unless it was a bargain. I figured I was all aquariumed out after the Manly and Sydney one's just a week or two before. I then made my way back to Raymond's flat which I did successfully and I felt very proud of myself being able to navigate myself around. I got to Raymond's and he wasn't home yet. This lead to an awkward conversation with his Mum who didn't speak any English at all. I think I communicated with her pretty well thought through charades and pointing at things in my guide book. Raymond was soon back though and his Mum then cooked some steak, which she apparently got especially because I was there. I was being treated like royalty here. We sat around chatted and had a fun evening before retiring for the night.
So the next day Raymond was at university again. So I ventured out into the city again. My journey today would take me to Gangnam, the are made famous by Psy's cheesy pop tune Gangnam Style. On my way though was Samgakji, where there was a War Memorial for Korea. So I decided as it was en route to stop off there and look at the various memorial statues, tributes, various sculptures and a range of fighter jets, boats, missiles and tanks that the military service had used throughout the country's history. It was a very nice place to visit and if you wanted to go into the museum it only cost 3,000 won which is roughly three Aussie dollars or just under two English pounds. However, I decided to carry on my trip to Gangnam. I arrived in Gangnam and immediately made my way to Yeoksam Park, which is located on a hill and provides an amazing view of the area's sky scrapers. It is also home to Kukkiwon, which is the spiritual home of the countries famous martial art Taekwondo. It is the centre of global Taekwondo culture where new belts are awarded and new leaders are nurtured. Naturally I thought this sounded impressive, so I went to explore and see what I could find, unfortunately all it was just a big sports hall. So after that small disappointment I decided to head into Gangnam and grab a beer to lift my spirits. Gangnam is very pricey though and after an hour of looking I had found nowhere cheap enough to part ways with my won. But eventually I found somewhere, but just as I found this place Raymond called asking me to meet him at Seoul Station, so I bordered the subway and met Raymond who informed me were to go to Jongno for some traditional Korean food and drink. We met Daniel and then headed to a restaurant inside the market area of Jongno. Raymond told me that the restaurant was really famous and that even movie director Tim Burton had ate there. The queue was massive to get in, further enhancing Raymond's claims that this was a great place to eat. We finally got seated and Raymond ordered some Bindealtak. He described this to me as a Korean Pizza, but I think it was more like a pancake, either way it was very nice. And I gave everyone a good laugh with my lack of ability with chopsticks. Raymond also ordered us a drink called Makgeolli, which is traditional Korean liquor mad by fermenting rice. It is fair to say I was not its biggest fan, it tasted like fizzy milk, so after one cup, I got a beer instead. Then the group on the table next to us left, but as they left they gave us some of their left overs. What they gave us looked like grey bathroom carpet. It did not look appealing at all. Raymond informed me it was called Cheon Yun or Omasum which in English is the inner lining of a cow's stomach and also it is apparently good for the male genitals. I thought I would give it a go but it wasn't the best food I had tried, it was very chewy and for me just the thought of eating cow's stomach was wrong. After we finished dinner we made our way to Hongik and went to a Korean pub where we drank 3000ml jugs of beer, played drinking games and got very tipsy. One of the drinking games was called Titanic. It is a very simple game, in which you place the shot glass in half a glass of an alcoholic beverage and it take it in turns to but some of your drink in the shot glass and whoever sinks the shot glass then has to skull the drink. We also played 21 and 31 which were good fun. While we were there a Korean guy was also celebrating his birthday so Raymond and myself went over and gave him a drink which we made him skull or as Korean's call it doing it in one shot. He responded by making me skull a beer and then later in the evening bringing us over some of his delicious birthday cake. The chap whose birthday it was, turned 31 that day, but he looked more 24-25. Korean's and Asian's in general just look ridiculously young. Anyway we thought we would make our way to another bar and Raymond and Daniel took it upon themselves to try and find me and English or Irish pub for us to drink, despite my claims I wasn't bothered where we went as long as it was cheap and sold beer. Eventually we headed to another Korean place where we played Titanic again this time with Soju and Raymond and myself also had a dual as to who could get the most hello's, him speaking English and me Korean. Surprisingly I won. We had a few more drinks and then caught a cab home rounding off a really fun evening.
The next day I woke up and it was time to go and meet Anna in the south of South Korea in a place called Jeonju.
So until next time stay safe and take care