30 June 2015 – 9 July 2015
I can say with 100% certainty that to date our trip to Seoul, South Korea has been our biggest wild card destination. What a great city and a total surprise! I mean, I don’t know what I was expecting – but this place is awesome. When we left New Zealand in February 2015 did I think we’d visit South Korea? Not at all. Am I pleased we did. Hell-to-the-yes.
Navigating the city is easy – Seoul has the best tourism guide out there by far that we’ve seen. It’s so user friendly, breaking the city up into blocks so you can pick and choose what to see and do and detailing what metro or bus you should take to get there.
Tu meke Seoul. You’re the shizz-nizz.
From day one in Seoul it was obvious that everything was a little bit cute with little characters dotted around the city.
We stayed in Hongdae which is essentially the university area – full of cafes, restaurants, shops, art, malls and nightclubs. Those crazy Koreans sure know how to party.
Always busy, except for between 7-10am in the morning, it seemed like the place to be in Seoul.
Smack bang in the middle of it all there it the Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery.
Bit of a weird thing to visit a cemetery I guess, but with a lot of history and interesting headstone inscriptions like “I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey” – it made for a different sort of afternoon stroll – plus it was in the tourist guide of things to do!
Our first day venturing out of Hongdae was to City Hall & Seoul Plaza.
Here we sat and watched a protest (there always seemed to be some sort of protest going on here we discovered after a few days) and later in the afternoon when we returned, there was a full on brass band which we sat and listed too. How cool is that.
City Hall had a pretty sweet indoor garden going on and a glass elevator which was awful to ride in.
After that we shimmied our way over to Deoksugung Palace to watch the changing of the guards which was quite the colourful performance.
Then we struck it lucky and got free entrance to the palace. Yus. Free is good when you’re us.
Here we are having individual portraits in the palace grounds.
The Seoul Museum of History is huge. So big. Just SO big.
On the way in, the telly screen measured our temperature as MERS was the hot topic of the month. We’re clear despite all that green.
There was a standout exhibition on factory workers rights and living conditions in Seoul, as well as a full scale miniature version of Seoul that was covered with glass so you could walk over it and look at different areas of the city. There was also a little lady in the room with a laser pointer who gave me a wee rundown of the what’s what in Seoul – she was more interested in hearing about New Zealand though.
On another day we took the train to Olympic Park in Jamsil. It was about a 40 minute train ride and the city just didn’t stop – I almost fell asleep – it was about then that I decided that maybe living the big city life wasn’t for me.
Anyhoo, the 1988 Seoul Olympics. How ’bout it?
What a good use of huge grounds and facilities – it was bustling with locals riding bikes, walking dogs and having picnics. Love it.
On our way home we had to do an obligatory stop in Gangnam just incase we saw Psy.
We didn’t see him. And while Gangnam seemed nice and a bit fancy, it probably wasn’t for folk like us who don’t buy anything we’re not willing to carry for the next six -eight months.
That night it was the final between the Highlanders and the Hurricanes – so we made a beeline for the Cheeky Kiwi Bar, had our fair share of Export Gold (?!) and a meat pie. Oooh yeah.
After a Highlanders victory we carried on to Itaewon (another part of Seoul with a huge American military base) with some fellow Kiwis and partied like it was 1999. Actually we drank soju, rice wine, out of plastic cups on the street and slipped our way into a house party, managed to upset the neighbours, had the police show up, Michael did some talking on the phone through a translator, took a selfie with the police who then gave the girls a ride down the hill with the lights on, at which point they dropped us back on the main strip and gave us hugs!
I also made friends with Kevin the chihuahua.
And then we made our way onto a roof top party where we got this view.
Then next day we ate KFC which made us feel better for about 20 minutes and then much worse for the rest of the day. Instant regret.
Of course, we made the journey up to the Seoul Tower during the day. To be fair, Seoul is a pretty foggy, smoggy city and the view wasn’t what you’d call amazing. It was worth it though to get another perspective of how huge the place really is.
At the bottom of the tower there are locks all over the fences. Some popular teen Korean TV show had an episode where two characters locked on a padlock with their names on it and now EVERYONE comes to do it.
Just down the hill from Seoul Tower is the Namsangol Hanok Village. A while back they moved around eight or so traditional Hanok houses from different parts of Seoul to this one area so that tourist like us could walk around with our cameras and take pretty photos.
We also saw a taekwondo performance which was mighty unexpected and altogether impressive.
The final trick included full on backflips and a girl kicking a board in midair that exploded with confetti. It was so cool.
Towards the end of our ten day stay in Seoul we hopped on a tour of the DMZ. Quick rundown – DMZ stands for ‘demilitarized zone’ and is the strip of land that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. It’s abut 250km long (coast to coast) and about 4km wide – so if you can imagine the actual boarder is 2km in from each sides buffer zone. Even though it’s called the demilitarized zone, there are actually military all over the show.
Here we are:
Look, there are even military characters in Korea!
As part of the tour we were able to go underground into the third tunnel. North Korea dug tunnels from their side underneath the DMZ in an attempt to one day invade South Korea – however South Korea discovered the tunnels before they were able to do so. The tunnels have since been blocked off so no one can get through.
We also had the chance to check out North Korea through a pair of binoculars.
ALL VERY INTERESTING. What the hell. Whaaaaat the hell. My brain aches. Why can’t we all get along? Seriously, this is madness.
The tour ended in Itaewon, I mentioned this area before, it’s where the huuuuge American army is based as well as the War Memorial Museum. Why not finish our day with a war museum?
So many wars. War after war after war.
Planes and bombs, and shit.
I was feeling how these guys look by the end of it all.
We didn’t do the War Memorial Museum justice – it’s too big for one afternoon. You’d need days and days. I left feeling a bit numb. What these people in Korea have seen that so many in New Zealand haven’t, and hopefully never will.
On our last day in Seoul we felt we hadn’t had enough museum action so we took a 5km stroll to the Korean Museum of Contemporary History.
We were not disappointed – this was my favourite of the three museums we visited in Seoul.
In addition to a run down on Korean history, there was a robot, angry dolls, the 1988 Olympic mascot and a peppy puppy!
We also each took a turn at being in charge of the country.
We finished up our day with a wander through an area of traditional hanok houses which people still live in.
Again, we’d discovered another trendy suburb in Seoul with nice shops, nice food and street art.
Seoul – what a charmer.
The last word from South Korea goes to our good friends dumplings and kimchee.
So many dumplings. So much pickled cabbage.
You win kimchee, you win.
Rate 1 NZD = 740 KRW | All prices in NZD unless stated