Flew in on Japan Airlines, I like JAL. Like Tokyo we got a limousine bus from the airport to the Holiday Inn in Seoungbuk, a rather nice part of Seoul, with plenty of neon, a PC bang, Korean BBQ, bakery in the hotel, little supermarket, Karaoke bang, eateries and one or two mobile phone shops, with huge soaring apartment blocks on all sides. Seould has a population of about 25 million people, and yet a smaller ground area than Beijing and loads of green areas, it's a very dense place, and yet not too oppressive.
We started off with a Korean BBQ. At each table is a hole in the centre of the wooden table and a brass extractor pipe overhead. A bowl of hot coals is placed into the centre of the hole with a grill over it, and you grill your own choice of meat. It's a great idea, and apart from the fact that everything else around the table was weird or known to be ultra spicy, it was good fun. Noticeably I ordered some rice and got a small bowl, Ann ordered noodles and got a bowl of cold soup with cold noodles in, so we shared the rice. As time went on I realised we were in Northern Asia and rice isn't that common or plentiful but noodles, being wheat based, are more common.
The next day we took a shuttle bus to catch a round the city hop on and hop off bus tour. It was air cinditioned, thank goodness, and we saw quite a good bit of town before stopping off at Itaewon which is a rather tourist area, clearly focused at the large number of US forces personnel in town. Some people are a bit iffy about it, but frankly I rather liked it, and we went to a tailors and started the process of having a bespoke suit made for me! Hoorah! [Ate at Outback, a rathe good Aussie steakhouse chain we've seen all along our travels.]
That evening we went to N.Seoul Tower, which is a ruddy great tower on the top of a ruddy great hill in the centre of Seoul. The city is very much a sea of neon and so we (along with about 300 people and many millions of screaming kids) watched the city change from grey to neon through dusk.It certainly is a great city to view from up there, late at night, and some of the buildings have great displays, not to mention the tall red crucifixes that rise up from the very many Christian churches (usually architectural monstrosities). At the end we took the cable car back down, which I rather enjoyed despite my dislike for heights.
Picture by Andrew Bell, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
The next day we went to the DMZ. The Korean Demilitarized Zone is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea which runs along the 38th parallel north. The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half, crossing the 38th parallel on an angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and the east end lying north of it. It is 250 kilometres (160 miles) long, approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) wide and is the most heavily militarized border in the world. The Northern Limit Line, or NLL, is the de facto maritime boundary between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea and the coastline and islands on both sides of the NLL are also heavily militarized. [Previous paragraph, source Wikipedia, see page for licence details, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_Demilitarized_Zone]
Frankly we did not have a great time. The guide was good, but the day consisted primarily of a very long coach trip, a very long wait in a very hot car park, then a near lethal walk down a very steep tunnel to a very low wet tunnel to look through a tiny hole at a another tiny tunnel, then a closed railway station, followed by a viewing platform where we look across opend land to North Korea. Ah well, bucket list and all that. On return we explored a rather nice small area of town called Insadong where we had a nice cup of coffee (good coffee is an expensive treat in Asia) and browsed some typical arts and crafts, tried a Korean doughnut (yummy), ate at Burger King (yummy) and staggered home in a taxi.
The next day the skies opened and it rained. No, that really doesn't cover it. Someone threw a bucket of water thru a sieve over Seoul. I've been in a few tropical rainstorms in my time, but this was unbelievable. I was in a cagoule and I was drenched in about 15 minutes. Anyway, all part of the fun. We went and had a fitting for my suit and then zoomed off to Gyeongbokgung Palace
, where we drowned as we squeezed from palace to palace. I kinda liked it, Ann was quite dispirited, and Steve Culy would NOT have been able to call it a 'clearing up shower', although truth be told, when it did clear up, the city was ruddy clean!
We then visited the Hongdae area
is a region in Seoul
, South Korea
near the Hongik University
, after which it is named. It is known for its urban arts
and indie music
culture, clubs and entertainments.
We used a mixture of taxi and the metro in Seoul, and whilst taxis are simple and inexpensive, the congestion is unbearable and the driving quite aggressive and bad. The metro, on the other hand, is clean, fast, simple to understand, and uses a smart card payment system called T Money that makes life uncomplicated. I particularly liked the fact that you can get little mobile phone charms that act as smart cards for payment, rather than using a card, obviously there was a Hello Kitty one! We also found the fact that you can pay for your taxi ride with a T Money device as a great recognition of the true potential for integrated ticketing. We’d like to send out a big thank you to Canadian Andy, who we met in a B&B in California, who gave us some great advice on where to go in Seoul (not all of which we followed) and also her T Money card.