Monday, October 2, 2017

Seoul, solo

With Andrew still away in NZ I needed a breakout from Vientiane.  12 hours after I booked flights to Seoul there was an escalation in the rhetoric surrounding North Korea and US/Japan.  However nothing significant happened and I got on a 22:45 flight from Vientiane to Seoul.  It was a 5 hour flight and I arrived into Incheon airport at 5:30am local time.

It was a breeze to get through an empty immigration hall and I headed off to find my wifi device.  $3 a day for unlimited internet made my 4 days in Korea so much easier!

The airport is about an hour from the city itself and a bit bleary eyed I got on the train and watched everything around me.  The metro system is comprehensive, but the signage is not the best in the world so internet apps make it easy to cope. 


The hotelwas very kind and let me check-in early and I had 2 hours sleep.  Somewhat refreshed I wandered off to check things out.  I chose the Insadong area because was close to the metro and I could walk to 3 sites I wanted to see nearby.  It was a good area with lots of little laneways and access to food options

I visited the Changdeokung Palace and it’s secret garden''.  The secret garden  (another name for a royal garden) can only be visited if you join a tour so I pre-booked on-line and chose 11:30am using the theory I would be tired and maybe wake late. Nope, awake early as normal.  As a result I went to the palace early and walked around. I accidentally walked past the meeting place for the 10:30 tour and joined the earlier tour.  Yes, perfect timing for once!  The palace and gardens were nice and a very good way to ease into Seoul for me.  One interesting comment from the guide in the garden was when we looked a pond deliberately shaped like the outline of Korea.  She said, Yes, the shape includes North Korea….I could not imagine Korea without the North. 


There was a trip to the National Museum of Korea.  Three floors of interesting collections but the ground floor was the most interesting.  I visited on a Saturday and there were endless groups of school children doing small group (6 or 7 per group) study.


I did notice there was a high level of safety equipment everywhere.  In the hotel room there were descending ropes if you needed to leave in an emergency.  In every metro station there were emergency supply cabinets with breathing masks and other protective equipment.  This seemed like community preparedness as opposed to any particular concerns.  But I am basing that on 4 days, as opposed to any real knowledge.


I went to check out a market in the university area and while I didn’t see anything I wanted to buy, it was certainly interesting seeing an area with a completely different vibe and really busy on a Saturday afternoon.  I also found a highly recommended cafĂ© and had a mega-lunch including homemade ginger beer. 

Food-wise I didn't starve Smile  I am NOT a fan of Kimchi (or most other fermented or highly acidic foods)  But I certainly didn't say no to massive plates of fried chicken (non-greasy and a little spicy, mmmm)  so much, but so good.  There was so much I had a doggy bag and took it ‘home’ for my evening meal.  There were Mandu (meat dumplings) from a shop that sold 2 dishes only – dumplings or soup…simply lots of good food.  I went to an evening market and was not tempted to eat the spicy meals or the offal – but everyone was enjoying.  I later even found the Turkish ice-cream sellers, tormenting small children with ice-creams on poles – just like they taunted Andrew when we were in Taipei.


I managed to get to the night market at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) designed by Zaha Hadid.  I went “early” at about 19:00 and enjoyed seeing the building illuminated, the people, entertainment and food.  Apparently that district doesn't really get going until 22:00 when the wholesale clothing stores open and trade through to early morning. The design market itself is open 24 hours a day.

Wat Phou and Hue

In early September I finally got to visit Wat Phou in southern Laos.  Wat Phou is the 2nd of 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Laos (Luang Prabang town is the other).  Wat Phou is part of the Khmer trail of which Angkor Wat in Cambodia is the most famous.  

We had a company meeting for all staff in the southern city of Pakse, and included an outing for all to the temple about an hour out of Pakse.  The complex has waterways and ruined buildings.  The climb to the temple itself is a killer.  I raced up wanting to get there before the other 120 people in our party (they took the longer official approach route to get the steep steps while I went the shorter way after organising everyone’s tickets Smile
wat phou2
wat phou1

Getting to the top I sat for a few minutes to get my breath back  Smile  But it was worth it to see the site in relative quiet.  And I managed to get on the 1st bus back to town - one NOT playing karaoke.  Lao love it.

The next day a small group of us got on another bus and went on a study tour to Vietnam.  

It is only 370km from Pakse to Hue, but we left at 7:30am and arrived in Hue about 5pm.  The border in the middle adds 30 minutes at each end and there are mountain roads.  But main contributor to the length of journey was due to the bus driver not driving over 80km at any time.  When we returned to Laos, we noticed he immediately put his foot down and drove at the speed limit.  But fair enough he was being careful, particularly when the police target foreign drivers.

We saw a lot of trees as we drove, but we also visited a MDF factory, a wood-chip factory, and a port.

Hue itself was a nice Vietnamese town.  And the food, as always, was great.  The Bun Bo Hue (Pho with a lemongrass and shrimp paste influences) was fantastic. 

After visiting the port we had a seafood lunch at the beach.  Most of the local staff had never been to the sea-side before – one of the downsides of living in a poor, land-locked country.  They loved swimming in the sea.  One was heard to ask ‘so how far out does the water go?…

At the end of day 2 we had an hour at the main tourist site in Hue, the Citadel (old palace).  it was enormous and a great walk to end the day.

vn citadel