Travel to Seoul
Taiwan to Seoul via Korean Air was a pleasant experience, our second scheduled airline flight within the space of a few days, we will be calling ourselves glampackers next. Getting through check in and customs proved a little complicated as we were unaware of a Korean airline ban on cigarette lighters and aerosols in checked baggage. You have to wait for your luggage to be scanned and approved. In our case, we had to fish the contraband out and then sign forms saying we were happy for it to be removed.
We were arriving at Seoul Incheon Airport after 11pm so we made the decision to stay in a relatively good priced aparthotel close to the airport. The place gave us free pick up and drop off next morning so it allowed us to get to Seoul fresh and bright the next day.
Transport Around Seoul
Seoul transport system is really efficient with subway trains going all over the city and further afield. The lines are easy to remember, they are numbered and colour coded within the stations. There are clear locality maps showing which exit you need for your nearby attractions. If you are going to be in Seoul or South Korea for more than a few days it is worth picking up one of the T Money cards. You pay a deposit for it (which you can reclaim at the end of your stay) and top it up at subway stations or in the C2U or 711 convenience stores around South Korea.
What we also discovered is that it can also be used to pay for bus fares all over South Korea so it saves the hassle of keeping small bills or coins on you when you want to use the local transport.
We ended up picking a budget guest house for our first few days in Seoul. It was a basic place and had the bare minimum of things we need, such as wifi and private bathroom. There wasn’t much room to spread out in, or even place or empty your backpack. We were in Dongdaemun which is one of the many peripheral areas circulating around Seoul city centre.
It was in Seoul that we were introduced to our first few morsels of Korean food. We shared in their enjoyment of fried chicken with a few beers and a bottle or two of Makgeolli rice wine.
For 12,000 Won you get a heaped plate of deep fried chicken in front of you along with a selection of Gimchi (or Kimchi – you will find K’s and G’s often interchanged in Romanisation of Korean words) vegetable side dishes. You then eat like the Koreans and spend a couple of hours chewing over the days events, working through the heap of chicken in front of you sipping your beer or soju. Don’t worry if you can’t eat it all in one sitting, we just got a doggy bag and took it home as it was so tasty.
Down By The River
One of your must do spots in Seoul is a wander down the Cheonggyecheon stream that runs through the centre of town. It is a real inspired piece of urban regeneration. The stream originated in the Jeseon period as a drainage stream. As Seoul expanded at the turn of the century the banks of the stream became a shanty town of immigrants and the solution was to concrete it over with a road. It was not until 2005 that the concrete was removed and in its place you now have a green watery oasis in the middle of this busy city of skyscrapers and cars.
This river is a magnet for both tourists and locals alike. In the sunken river space the Koreans have created a little haven of water, walks and, at night, a fantastic light show where you can wander for hours picking up the various snacks from the street food vendors that ply their trade along its path. It also attracts a variety of street performers which will entertain you along the way.
We had our first taste of Korean cabaret (I think they are known as gakseori, ) which seems a cross between slapstick and drag show innuendo singing affair from what we could discern from the performers and people’s reactions to the show. They perform in make up and funny clothing to a variety of popular Korean songs.
On our first night there we happened upon some festival tents around the Cheonggyecheon stream and joined in with the locals getting some Asian smoke treatment (Moxibustion) for our bad backs and some of the delicious street food. Which included
- Sausages in all shapes and forms (소세지)
- Steamed Dumplings (Mandoo or Mandu –찐만두)
- Vegetable flour pancakes topped with octopus, fish meat and vegetables – (Jeonya (저냐)
- Rice cakes boiled in chilli and fish paste (Ddeokbokki – 떡볶이)
- A kind of Honeycomb, slightly sweet snack sometimes coated in peanuts (can’t find out what this is called if you know let me know)
- Sweet buns with little fried eggs on top, (again I can’t find out what these are called)
This was all washed down with some more Makgeolli rice wine, which is a cloudy coloured 20% proof liquor sold everywhere. We thought it was a local soft drink when we first saw the bottles strewn across the outdoor tables around the festival area. We discovered the hard way with some very hard heads the next morning that it is quite strong.
Our first night in South Korea was a lot of fun indeed and we quickly learned that Korean’s really do like to have a good time, and of course a drink or two. We were shocked at how friendly everybody seemed to be, people just randomly striking up conversations or offering help and assistance. It was a perfect introduction to this new Asian destination on our list of countries visited. We are quickly learning that it has an ambience and character which is quite unique in Asia, and Korea is somewhere we think we are really going to enjoy travelling around. An excellent first impression.
The good news is that it is actually what we expected after staying with the two Korean chaps we met during our stay in Sapa in Vietnam. In fact it is partly down to their charm and passion for Korea, that we ended up here. So thank you for that chance encounter, we have loved your country.