I woke up to a nice message from the girls wishing me well with my travels and I headed to the main bus station to grab my bus up to Seoul for my final stop in South Korea. Once I arrived in Seoul, trying to suss out the metro system and even the ticketing for it is a nightmare and following the signs down to the line I wanted seemed to take me on a wild goose chase. Anyway I worked it out and made it to Hongik University stop to find my ticket wouldn’t let me through the barrier, luckily the guy must have realised I had literally just arrived in the country and waved me through. Even better my hostel, Kimchee Sinchon Guesthouse was only a 5 minute walk away from the metro and was pretty easy to find down a backstreet. I checked in and the guy was pretty useless and seemed more interested in his phone, he didn’t even tell me where the room was until I asked him, ‘I take it I go upstairs?’ or anything about the hostel like that there was a common room downstairs. The hostel, despite this, was pretty good and clean and downstairs there is a large common area.
Just down the road from the hostel is the lively area of Sinchon, so I took myself off to explore the range of shops, eateries and bars that existed down there and stumbled on a tiny little local’s restaurant where I ordered a feast of Korean food for a few quid. Adequately full, I jumped on the metro and headed to look around Dongaemun district. In this area there is the Dongdae Design Plaza which can only be described as a very space agey building and with the various spot lights on it, it gives it a space craft aura. Across the road and you can find Heunginjimun Gate, which is one of eight throughout Seoul; sadly it wasn’t well lit up since I was visiting at night. Also within this district there is a long indoor market (Pyeonghwa) which was half open but after the first several stalls then starts to feel a bit repetitive but still kills a bit of time to walk the length of it. At the far end it brings you out near the brightly lit, vibrant and busy Gwangjang market which is full of loads of food stalls; all of which are heaving with locals and the odd splattering of tourists. This was fascinating to wander around and see the array of food on offer. The evening was topped off with a few drinks with a random from my dorm in the Sinchon district.
I was looking forward to my first full day in Seoul as I had joined a DMZ tour through Koridor, which takes you up to the border with North Korea (a country very much on my list to visit). I ‘checked in’ at Camp Kim, a military building in Seoul and off we went to our first stop – Dorasan Train Station. This station has a line that connects the south to the north but is no longer used, the interesting thing here is that they have built a fully functional immigration department on the off chance that the North will open up and allow for movement (I suspect this is wishful thinking) so that the South can be connected to Asia and even Europe by train link. From there they showed us the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, one of many tunnels built by the North into the South with a view to attack Seoul. Crazy walking through the tunnel and funny to see that the North Koreans had tried to line the walls of the tunnel with coal soot to make it look like the tunnel was being used for mining. However, in the walls you can see holes where they had inserted the explosives to assist them in making the tunnels. Makes you wonder how many other tunnels exist that they have not yet found (this is the 3rd one, as the name suggests). Next stop was the Dora Observatory. From up here you can look in to North Korea and see its mountain range as well as its fake freedom village where they have erected a completely fake village along with the world’s largest flag. Sadly, it was a pretty hazy day so the views weren’t as clear as I would I have liked but in saying that it was cool to see that beyond the fake village, in the distance, there was another small village which through the telescopes you could see people milling about. I would love to know what really goes on in this country. From here we went to the official border line between the two countries, where here you find Panmunjom - the Freedom House that you can go into, at the far side of the building you officially are on North Korean soil. Standing here, you face on the opposite side of the border ‘Bob’ (as nicknamed by the American soldiers) a North Korean soldier who, I thought, looked bored as hell being gawped at by us. It was a really good tour and they topped it off by showing us a few spots of conflict on the border, where North killed a few Southern soldiers, apparently for chopping down a tree and another brief stop to look across the North Korean landscape before heading for a Korean dinner en route back to the city.
That evening had to be a boozey one checking out the student drinking area of Hongdae with two Aussies, one from the DMZ tour and one from the apartment I stayed in in Daegu (George and Esther). I met Esther first and we found a great underground bar, instantly we clocked ‘candy floss beers,’ we tried to order this and instead got two ordinary beers and a battered squid…yuck! So we put away the first beers and ordered our beers with a massive candy floss blob dumped on top…it’s a winner! This was followed by an ice cream beer (not such a hit) it was weird and had a strange tasting beer flavoured syrup drizzled on it but hey, you gotta try these things. George joined us here for a further drink before heading off to explore a few more bars in Hongdae followed by a crazy Korean club, man these guys can drink! The club was mental with guys on stage spraying tequila which Esther and I went and got (free tequila and all that). Needless to say it was a messy night but it was Esther’s last night in Korea so any excuse for a celebration.
Feeling tender the next day it was a chilled one meeting up with George to explore the posh Sinsa district and sample their coffee shop delights. The bizarre trend of the coffee shops here is to get a drink with a group of friends and sit around a table not talking but taking selfies. I seriously thought they might throw us out for having a conversation! The rest of the day was chilled before getting a dirty burger and heading to the Itaewon district (the multicultural area of Seoul) where I met up with Verena and her friends for a couple of beers. I have to admit in comparison to the rest of South Korea, Seoul is winning me over.
The final three days left in Seoul were doing the obligatory sightseeing, which included visiting Gwanghwamun Square which leads up to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Here, I was luckily enough to time arriving there in time for changing of the guards, a very colourful and musical event. Beats the one at Buckingham Palace. A short walk away is the Bukchon Hanok Traditional Village, whilst it was pleasant and gave you a feel for the traditional housing it was rather small and not a lot to see or do. So, with the sun shining it was nicer to stroll down the Cheonggyecheon stream before heading back over to Itaewon for a heavy night and my first(!) Korean BBQ.
Also during my time in Seoul, I crammed in visiting Namdaemun market, and I had to visit (briefly) Gangnam where they do have a big Gangnam sign up that plays the infamous song by PSY. And my final two sights of Seoul consisted of Myeong-dong shopping district, where I felt a tiny bit of shopping was allowed within the budget and catching up with Soli, who was up visiting Seoul, so we walked up the hill (knackering windy path followed by never ending steps) to the N Seoul Tower which provided some fab night time panoramic views of Seoul, this is when you realise how many lights are used to light up a city and a dense city like this, pretty cool.
Then it was time to say goodbye to Soli and thank her for showing me a bit of Korean culture and now to get some kip before I fly away to Taiwan.