Angelka's winter coat 1, Tim's summer layers, -3.... C! Quite shocking to go from 3 weeks of 30C+ to 3 below.
We are instructed by student volunteers at the airport to take a bus which stops 25m from our hotel, situated in Gangnam, which is 50m from a metro stop, perfect.
As you drive the 65 kms from the airport to down town alongside the river Han you are aware of two things, bridges and apartment blocks. It turns out that there are 29 bridges that span the river in the city and that everyone lives in an apartment as there was a great migration to the city after the last war in the 1950's. There are 52 million South Koreans while in North Korea 30 m ish! After the 1953 war the Korean peninsular was separated by US and USSR.
The capital now has a population of 10 million and sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains. Having had the World Cup in 2002, the Olympics in the 90's it now has the 2018 Winter Olympics.
We all know LG, Hyundai, KIA and Samsung as international brands from Korea. The two car manufacturers ape successful worldwide designs for the home market, for instance one car looks like a BMW 7 series with a Mercedes radiator grill!
We took the Metro to the city centre, unlike SE Asia no one is interested in us as it shows disrespect to talk, and you must respect a person's space. We checked out some markets, stopped for a coffee where all coffee shops give you your choice of cake free! We are using The Independent's 48 hours in ... as a guide, it sends us to a Buddhist temple for a service which is fantastic then, via a taxi that took us from one side of the street to the other, doh, to a traditional Buddhist vegan restaurant, called Sanchon, where we must have had 25-30 dishes of vegetables, roots, pickles etc, most of which we were clueless about, sitting on a heated floor. It was sensational and situated in the very funky Insa-dong district. It was up side streets and impossible to find, but, another restauranteur, wearing only shirt sleeves kindly showed us to his competition!
Our second day started with a tour of the Royal Palace which was deserted, except for a young married couple having photos taken. It was very cold as there was no sun but marvellous to see. From there, we took a tour to DMZ, the demilitarised zone, along the 38th parallel, which separates the two countries, a 4km band populated by 1 million soldiers! The guide asked us of our opinion, the fact that the English, Americans and Aussies in our group all thought differently makes you realise the media spin we are subjected to. The South Koreans are educated to dislike North Koreans and, despite this, 60% want unification. There is a draft for young men who usually serve their two years as a break from education before finishing their studies. In North Korea the average salary is $128pm vs $2500 in the south and the NK's pay 45% tax! There are two villages within the DMZ, one from each country. They try to out do one another by the size of their flagpoles and the weight of their national flag, NK are currently the winners of the flagpole war! We visit observation towers and tunnel sites where the NK's have tried to set up armed initiatives coming through the mountains, the last one less than 20 years ago
South Korea is quite a demure nation, the fact that it was illegal for a girl to wear a bikini until 3 years ago sets the tone. Being slaves to the 24 hours article sees us have dinner in Itaewon, a kind of world food street. By this time the snow was falling heavily and with the Chinese New Year next weekend it's still Christmas decorations, neon and very charming! We then tried to find a bar on the end of a bridge which involved walking under railways lines and roads on deserted paths while it snowed, we expected to meet Tony Soprano and his mates.. and if was shut!
On our final morning we are greeted by 6" of snow, not that you'd notice it by the way the city was going about its business. The changing of the guard at the President's Palace was cancelled but the buildings looked wonderful shrouded in the snow. We had a great walk through an arty area north of Insa-dong, a sort of Covent Garden, full of artisans and designers.
In all of our travels around Seoul we've used the metro. What a system, 10 lines, colour coded and numbered with all of the stations starting with the line number, Gangnam is 222 on line 2 etc. the cost is around 60p per journey and the ticket is like a credit card on which you can get a refund of about 30p, if you return it! With heated seats and onboard entertainment, whats not to like, well....the only other point about the tube is the slavish use of the tablet, Samsung, of course. Everybody has their head bent to the screen, earphones in, or aerials extended to communicate, listen, or watch. It's incredible to observe.
... and that was Korea and Seoul, hardly SE Asia, as its not, neither was Australia! What a great city, easy to consume, be a part of, enjoy and be stimulated by. We've really enjoyed it and are now looking forward to the contrast between hyper modern Korea and the new, yet to be kick started destination of Myanmar. We have an evening flight back to KL, where we stay at Air Asia's Tune Hotel, basically pods for rooms, before flying with them to Yangon, the capital.
The sun has kept the temperature just over zero and the snow is melting quickly