A Travellerspoint blog

South Korea

On spring break

Seoul

sunny 22 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

An arrival time of 5:55 in the morning is never really pleasant. That is even more true when you have not really slept on the plane and when flying east. In other words: it felt rather like 3am in the morning when we headed towards Korean immigration. It was no problem to get our passports stamped and before too long we were in possession of all our belongings again.
We quickly found the airport train and headed towards ‘Digital Media City’ where we were picked up by the manager of our guest house in his Jaguar. Wow – that is a first!
The best news of the day was the fact that our room was already available for us. We were delighted to finally get some sleep and around noon time felt recovered enough to have a look around.
It was excellent weather. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and clear (no comparison to the humid and dusty air we had in Kathmandu) and the temperatures were very pleasant. It felt like a really nice day in European spring – with the obvious difference that people around us did not look European at all and that everything written was illegible to us. Even though we had gotten used to that already in Cambodia, Thailand and Nepal, it continued to intimidate us a bit not being able to figure out where e.g. a bus was going.

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But we were fortunate to get help in our first steps to use public transport: someone from the guesthouse took us to the convenience store to get bus tickets and showed us where to catch the bus to Hongik University.

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In this lively and young neighborhood we explored the pedestrian zones around there until we got hungry and headed for Korean BBQ. It was fun to observe how the food was prepared right in front of our eyes at the table. Eating itself turned out to be a bit of a challenge, as the food was significantly hotter than what we had realized. Still, it was a great experience and once we had gotten over the initial shock in regards to the pungency of flavor, we really liked it.

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After a bit of strolling, we headed home – but not before stopping at a confectionery to get some strawberry cake to take home.
What followed was a perfect evening: We used the Wii with big screen at the guesthouse and while watching Kung Fu Panda on a big TV once Max was in bed, we helped ourselves to the German Benediktiner beer that the guesthouse offered for free (just like soft drinks, round the clock breakfast, instant noodles, etc).

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Our visit of Seoul had been intended as a break from more serious sightseeing in Nepal and in Mongolia. It was the cheapest flight connection between the two countries and we felt like a stopover would do all of us good.
Even though we had no intention to systematically check out all of Seoul’s many sights, we figured that we might as well go to explore a bit. So after a very relaxed and late breakfast, we headed off by bus to Bukchon Village. This area of Seoul is nicely built on sloping hills and features many old traditional Korean houses, called ‘hanoks’. At a tiny eatery, we had soup. This time we were not quite so surprised as the day before to find out that it was almost too hot for our taste buds.

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Exploring the older parts of the village proved to be interesting. In the narrow streets, there were lots of tourists – like us – trying to get the perfect shot of the old houses with the Seoul skyline in the backdrop.

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But there were also lots of local Koreans there. Many of them were dressed in the traditional Korean attire, the ‘hanbok’. We had passed already lots of places that rented hanboks out by the hour and suddenly realized that this must be a very viable business.

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By the end of our tour, Max was so hungry and we were so helpless to come up with local non-spicy food options, that he simply got a portion of French fries at the local McDonalds. Sam and I got ourselves some dumplings called ‘bibigo’ that we prepared ourselves in the kitchen of our guesthouse.
Some Taiwanese guests of the guest house treated us to some excellent fruit: they let us share their crates of strawberries and oranges. Well, the ‘oranges’ were very special: the ‘hallabongs’ are a specialty of Jeju Island. And indeed: they were excellent!
After all of us had survived Nepal without getting a ‘Delhi belly’, Sam’s luck was fading and he spent a sleepless night. Luckily Max and I were not affected. While Sam finally managed to catch up some of his lost sleep on the next day, both of us had a nice day in the guest house. We played, read and did what we enjoyed most. And not very surprisingly: I had no chance to beat Max when playing various Wii games.
That day, the first floor of the guest house was filled with a group of 15-year-old boys who were celebrating a birthday. They had their moms with them who prepared food and did what 15-year-old's do: they played on their mobile phones, they used the computers in the guest house to play and the fought their fights. But no matter what they did: they were extremely loud. Not just as loud as what I would have expected of 15-year-old boys, but significantly louder than that. While this might not be surprising, I did wonder a bit that their moms did not intervene in any way. After all, there were a couple of other guests around as well.
Eventually our Taiwanese neighbor took the initiative to yell at them around 2am at the morning that it’s time to shut up and that others are trying to get some sleep. Talking with her in the morning, she said that such behavior seems to be acceptable in Korea – and she should know being married with a Korean husband for more than 10 years.
We slept very long the next morning – still living on Nepali time 3 ¼ hours behind Korea – but after our quiet day yesterday, headed out again today. Taking the train to Seoul Station was super easy. Contrary to the buses, the trains and subways are signposted and announced in English such that we understood where we have to go. Once more we agreed that Seoul features an excellent and affordable public transport system.
From the station, we walked to Namdaemun Gate, one of the old entry points of the enormous city wall dating back to the 14th century. We had a quick photo stop.

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From there we headed on to Namdaemun Market. We had street food – excellent steamed and fried dumplings. Standing there, we met some very friendly locals who even let us have a try of what they were eating.

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Along the previous city wall, we headed to Namsan Park. There were lots of locals enjoying that warm spring weekend hiking up the hill.

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At the photo view point, they admired the cherry blossoms and took lots of pictures of themselves and the beautiful view of the city. To note: Koreans do not say ‘cheese’ when trying to get a shot of smiling people, they say ‘kimchi’ (which is their version of hot marinated cabbage).

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Once we passed the upper station of the cable car, it got really crowded for the remaining couple of hundred meters to Seoul Tower. Many people seemed to be there to fix their love locks on the many fences foreseen for that purpose.

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We had walked enough for today and decided to take the cable car down the hill. From there it was just a short distance to the next subway station.

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In the bus from Hongik Station to our guest house, we met our Taiwanese neighbor again. She had spent another day shopping and we finally found out why she is spending most of her week in Korea shopping: seemingly Korean cosmetics are renown in Asia for their excellent quality and great value. We were not interested in any shopping efforts and rather concentrated our efforts on the good Korean food and treated ourselves to kimbap (a kind of sushi rolls), Soup and dumplings.
The next day, Sam took a tour to the demilitarized zone (DMZ), i.e. the area around the border line towards North Korea.

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He was reminded very much of the inner German border which over years had been setup in a very similar way. In today's Germany, not much of that remains, except some remaining watchtowers and a green band in which wildlife and rare plants thrive. Let’s see if this will happen to the Korean DMZ as well at some stage. For sure, the South Koreans are dreaming of a re-unification. The future will show how realistic that is - considering that China probably prefers having North Korea as a buffer towards the South.

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Just like the former German border line, the DMZ also serves as a refuge to rare wildlife and plants, but is fully active. There are mines, the watchtowers are manned and there is a very tense atmosphere – specifically nowadays that Mr. Trump is rattling against the North Korea's Kim Jong-un. Being in the border zone you can listen to loud propaganda played from both sides - trying to convince the respective other side of the benefits of the own system.

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There are even a couple of North Korean infiltration tunnels. One of them is open to the public and can be visited as part of the DMZ tour. Since the tunnels have been discovered, they have been blocked off. And supposedly there are now sensor systems in place to detect any further underground blasts. And there are some remains of the Korea War on display - such one of the last locomotives that moved freely between the two countries.

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In the tour bus, the same thing happened to Sam that happened since he had arrived in Korea: everyone deducted that being ‘Austrian’ means coming from ‘Australia’. But there were also lots of other misconceptions present: his neighbor in the bus suspected that Korea's main export products are rice and ginseng. Seemingly he had forgotten about Korean companies such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai Motors, Kia cars or the fact that Korean cargo ships dominate the world market.

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That’s probably one of the big frustrations for Koreans: living in the shadow of their better known neighbors China and Japan and despite being the 5th largest export economy of the world being virtually unnoticed internationally. Let’s see if Korea will be able to make use of the upcoming winter Olympics 2018 in PyeongChang to share some facts about it with the world.
When Sam was back in the afternoon, we took a hike up the hill behind our guest house. Surprisingly enough, we even managed to discover a small playground – the first one since we had arrived in Korea. The lack of playgrounds in Nepal had not surprised us at all, but considering what a well-developed country South Korea is, this came as an unexpected shock.
The trail around the top of the hill was very beautiful. There were nice flowers blooming all over the place and there were hardly any people around. It was an excellent escape from the bustling city around us which we truly enjoyed.

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Our last day of the break we had taken in South Korea, was not very exciting. We had to pack our stuff, had a late breakfast at the guest house, went shopping (thanks, to the staff of the guest house and to Google Translate for the excellent help – otherwise it would be much more difficult to get around without speaking and reading any Korean!) and ended up at Burger King.
In the late afternoon, the manager of the guest house drove us to the airport train in his personal BMW 7 series (which probably cost him more than our year of traveling as a family of three).
As we headed to the check in, we could not resist comparing Incheon airport with its counterpart in Munich. It was very clean, well laid out and perfectly organized. And indeed, in the most recent airport rankings it had ranked #3 just before Munich which landed on place 4.
Korean check in super correct: wants to see tickets out of Mongolia, does not want our sleeping pads next to the backpacks. Good flight.
We recapped that it had been five very pleasant days in Korea – a country that we’d be happy to return to one day (well, if it wasn’t for so many other places we’d still love to explore as well!).

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 10:54 Archived in South Korea Tagged park airport spring bbq orange dmz wii Comments (0)

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