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.

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