Due to reasons beyond my control, every 60 days I must leave China and come back, just to get some extra ink on my passport. It is incredibly inconvenient when considering I maintain a full-time teaching schedule, the preparation for which most certainly digs into my weekends. However on the bright side, it gives me a fantastic excuse to get some traveling in! My destination for this brief outing was Seoul, South Korea, only a 55-minute jaunt by plane to get there!
Unbeknownst to me, despite all evidence to the contrary, I actually DID NOT fly into Seoul, but a different airport in the metropolitan area. Even though my China Southern Airlines itinerary stated explicitly “Seoul,” apparently that actually means Incheon International. Being completely oblivious though, upon arrival I went and found a taxi and told the driver to “take me here,” as I pointed to my hotel’s address. Immediately, a big goofy grin spread across his face, and he kindly took my bad to put it in the trunk for me. Fifty minutes, and 45,000 won (~$45) later I had arrived at my hotel, conveniently located next to the airport that I failed to land at.
Despite all of that, actually thoroughly enjoyed my taxi ride. Unlike the rundown old VW taxis in China (of which I am going to begin taking note of each Check Engine light I see when riding in them to get a feel for just how many taxis run with them on, because I have this feeling that the percentage is somewhere above 80), these Korean taxis are higher-end Hyundais with plush leather seats, window tint, and AC. Furthermore, the drivers don’t tend to drive like they’re racing in NASCAR. During the drive, I was able to chill for a bit, look out the window, and even snapped the above picture.
Even though my hotel was close to the other airport that is closer to Seoul, it is still about a 40 minute subway ride into downtown, so the first night I opted to wander around the area nearby my hotel. I found a dark little corner bar to sit down at, eat some food, have a couple beers, and chat with the bartenders. Not a very exciting night, but totally satisfying!
The next day was meant for nothing but exploring, sightseeing, and eating! I started off my day slowly, enjoyed a luxurious shower under a supremely large and powerful shower head, had breakfast, then took the subway into town. My first stop – Gyeongbokgung Palace (good luck saying that one)!
The palace is massive and beautiful. So many different paths to wander around, discover, and explore the various structures within its walls. Each time I thought I had finally reached the other end, I’d notice another small doorway leading onward. I was able to kill nearly two hours here easily.
The picture below shows a nifty little setup they had for letting people discover which Zodiac animal represents the year they were born. Mine is the Year of the Horse – 1990!
After wandering around, I grabbed a cab to go to a place I’d scoped out on TripAdvisor for lunch. This situation provided a great illustration of my struggles while in South Korea. In case you don’t know, I can only speak two words of Korean, and they are “Hello” (for use on a phone), and “gimme ______.” I had all the addresses of the places I wanted to go printed out, but they were written in roman letters, not Korean characters, so some taxi drivers, not understanding, just drove off without even trying. Others, however, would put in some effort for me and call the location to which I was trying to get. Those were the cab drivers that I felt very fortunate for running into! I don’t usually go into a country to ill-prepared as this, but when I’m already bogged down living in another foreign country, sometimes it simply cannot be helped…
In the end, I got there okay, but the place was closed! So I opted for the Mexican joint next door. Before you judge me on that, just know that it is very easy to find good Asian cuisine in China, however finding good Mexican cuisine is very near impossible!
Next stage of my journey, after eating, consisted of many many miles of wandering! I strolled through alleyways, shopping districts, industrial, commercial, and automotive supply shop districts, business districts, and finally the place known as the Hypershopping District. All in all, it was a pretty uneventful yet fulfilling journey taking about 5 hours (including a beer stop to rest and read about halfway through).
I continued walking until night fell. I timed it well enough so that I arrived at my destination right on time – the N Seoul Tower! I took a cable car up to the top of what would have been a dreadfully long climb up some stairs. Feeling justified in the amount of walking I had done that day, I felt no regrets in riding up.
On the short walk up from the cable car to the entrance to the tower, I came across some truly amazing views of the city…
…and some other sights as well…
…and back down again…
I found a taxi that was able to take me the rest of the way to my final destination of the evening a bit further south, to the district of Itaewon. I found a place called All That Jazz via TripAdvisor that boasted “Great live music” so I checked it out. The band was composed of a surprisingly young yet talented group of musicians! I particularly loved listening to the pianist as I love jazz piano. I killed an hour or so here and left to go find food.
After eating and wandering around some more in the packed streets of Itaewon at night, I found the subway terminal and went on back to my hotel. 13 hours in downtown Seoul was good enough for my first (1 day, 2 night) trip to there. Next time I’ll be able to dig a little deeper, with a bit more confidence as well.