Our Asia Trip Diary – Part Eight

Check out part seven here!

It’s Sunday, 2 am when we finally arrive at our guesthouse in Seoul. Maybe it wasn’t our best idea to arrive in South Korea at night. The airport is in Incheon, one hour train ride away from the centre. We took the final train at 22:48 and arrived at Seoul Station around midnight. There was absolutely no one in the stations or on the streets that could help us figure out how to get to our guesthouse. We couldn’t buy T-money cards (the cards you need for public transportation) at the station with credit card and the ATMs in the station were (obviously) “updating”. So, walking for about 45 minutes was our only option (or taking an expensive taxi).

After not too much sleep we wake up in a new city! We’re super excited but also very tired, so we decide to stay close to our guesthouse and explore the neighbourhood. We go to Gwangjang Market for brunch. We see tons of food we don’t know. It seems like a lot of stands are selling the same dishes. We take a seat at one of those thin benches, right between the locals and order something safe, noodles and dumplings.

In the afternoon we walk around Insa-dong. It’s a lively neighbourhood filled with cute shops, restaurants and street food. We found the best snack we ever had! It’s called hodduk (hotteok) and the dough tastes like oliebollen, for our familiar fellow Dutchies and Belgians, but more crunchy as it is flattened and the inside is filled with caramelised roasted nuts. No wonder we had to queue for 30 minutes to buy this delicious snack.

In the evening we’re having hotpot for our very first time! We entered a restaurant but as everything is in Korean, we point to a picture we see on the wall with some good-looking food and wait anxiously. We get a little gas stove on our table and some side dishes before they bring us a big pot they put on the stove. When we point out that we didn’t get any cutlery or chopsticks, they point to the table. And voila, inside its drawer, all the cutlery was hidden. Good to know, later we found out more restaurants in Korea put cutlery inside their table drawers. The hotpot was filled with pork meat, bean sprouts and a bouillon. Very tasty!

Monday morning we go to N-Tower which is located on Namsan Mountain. From this park, you have an incredible 360° view over the city. You can also climb the tower to have a view from an even higher point, but we feel like we can see already a lot from the top of the hill and we’re on a budget so therefore thought it was unnecessary. We walk down the hill and enjoy the autumn vibes. The Namsan Park is gorgeous and it’s actually not a park at all. It’s a natural forest on a hill that is very well-maintained. We opted to come here at the start of our trip, it’s autumn in Korea and we are afraid all the beautifully coloured leaves will fall by the end of the week.

In the afternoon we meet with a friend we know from our exchange programme in Germany. She lives in Seoul and takes us to a famous local restaurant for lunch. She orders some plates for us to share and we can finally try the foods we wanted to try before but didn’t dare to order. We are so grateful we are able to experience this city with a local. Afterwards, she brings us to her university which is founded in 1398 in the Joseon dynasty. The authentic buildings are open to visitors and did we mention we’re so glad to have an insider touring us around?

We walk further to Bukchon Hanok Village and to Gyeongbokgung Palace. We get ourselves some hot drinks for walking because it’s getting colder and colder in the late afternoon. We walk down the impressive Gwanghwamun Square to Cheonggyecheon. The last one is a stream promenade, where you can walk next to the Cheonggyecheon stream for almost 11 km crossing the centre of Seoul.

Tuesday we visit Changdeok Palace and its Secret Garden. We start off with the garden which we think is the best, but maybe that’s because of the autumn-coloured trees surrounding us. In the gardens, there are trees more than 300 years old. The whole palace complex is huge and we could walk around for hours. Next to Changdeok Palace and the Secret Garden, you find Changgyeonggung Palace which houses a beautiful greenhouse and botanical gardens. If we wouldn’t be so hungry, we could go on for many more hours in all these complexes and gardens.

After another good lunch, we get a bit lost. We can’t find any WiFi network and we walk way too far to a shopping mall that ended up being a textile wholesale mall. I’m so tired I start crying but luckily Marnick is more patient than I am and he calms and comforts me.

We buy ourselves some sugar and get the courage again for our next adventure. Our friend told us we should climb Inwangsan Mountain for sunset, so here we go. It’s hard to find the entrance to the park, but once we found it, we follow a beautiful path up the hill. We’re quickly sweating our asses off, but the views on the way up do not disappoint at all! As we quickly make our way to the top, we can see the low sun colouring the autumn leaves. This is beautiful. Once at the top we have another beautiful view of the city which we have never seen before. We see the city as far as our eyes reach, wow! This was for sure one of the coolest things we did in Seoul and we can definitely recommend doing this.

Wednesday morning we’re visiting another palace. This time it’s Deoksugung Palace, next to Seoul City Hall. This palace complex is not so big but has a weird variety of architecture. It’s fascinating to see all these types of buildings together.

Afterwards, we take the metro to explore some sights outside the centrum. The first stop is Seoul Forest. We saw arrows leading this way at different locations so we thought we should go. We expected a forest just like the mountains we walked in before, but this time it is a manmade park. We are a bit disappointed as we expected something else. But for a park, it is a nice place.

We accidentally walked through Understand Avenue which is a very hip street. The cute shops and restaurants are inside shipping containers. Walking down another cool street (Yeonmujang-gil, Seongdong-gu) full of restaurants to the second stop, Common Ground. This is a small shopping mall made out of shipping containers (again). This was not so special and we think Understand Avenue was nicer.

Later on, we take a bus and cross the river. Our last stop outside the city centre is Starfield COEX Mall. Okay, this time the shopping mall is huge. There are lots of (international) shops, restaurants, a cinema, an aquarium and we even see one of the most beautiful libraries we’ve ever seen.

For dinner, we go to Hongdae. This student neighbourhood is full of life and we are entertained by just walking down the main street. Afterwards, we go to one more spot, as we’re not tired enough. Walking through Myeongdong is another entertaining neighbourhood. This time with lots of street food.

For our last day, we’re taking it slower. The next morning at 6 am we’re flying back to Vietnam, so we don’t want to make it too heavy for ourselves. We start by going to Bukchon Hanok Village as we felt we missed some streets last time. Hanok are traditional Korean houses. It’s very special to walk through these streets. Also, the village is located on a hill, so you overlook the metropolis when walking through the authentic village.

Before we’re heading further, we stop to have some street food. We’re having a great lunch with the loveliest lady serving us. She was a bit confused we didn’t want to sit at her tables until she noticed we rather want to sit in the sun. So she puts a table between some parked cars for us, so we could enjoy the sun. We’ve met lots of helpful and friendly people in Seoul, although it is sometimes hard to communicate. The food was absolutely delicious! We had rice cakes in a spicy tomato sauce, fish cakes on a stick, mozzarella sticks and well-filled dumplings.

In the afternoon we visit Gyeongbokgung Palace. It’s the biggest and most important palace dating from the Joseon dynasty (1395). It was the palace of the king who invented the Korean language. The palace itself was totally destroyed during the Japanese invasion. They have completely restored the whole complex in the 19th century. We’re just in time to see the changing of the guards, this is a play in traditional uniforms, as South Korea is no longer a kingdom. Not so special if you ask us, but fun to witness.

It’s the last palace we’re visiting on this trip and we think all palaces look alike. The buildings are all similar. The nice thing about the Gyeongbokgung Palace is that there are a lot of people walking around in Hanbok, the traditional clothing of Korea. If you’re wearing traditional clothing, you can enter all the palaces in Seoul for free, but renting one is often more expensive than the entrance fee.

For one last time, we walk through Insa-Dong to queue for our favourite snack again. Then we take a bus to Namdaemum Market for some more street food.

We’re heading back to our guesthouse to have a hot shower and pack our bags. This night/morning we fly back to Vietnam. Luckily we’re travelling with carry-on only. We wait two times 30 minutes for a bus to bring us to the airport at midnight. Apparently, they don’t drive anymore at midnight, so we ended up taking a taxi.

We’re so tired and are skipping the night again. Luckily, this time we have no issues entering Vietnam. On Saturday we’re lucky and we can enter our room in our guesthouse in Hoi An (Vietnam) right away. We’re taking some days off from travelling until we’re totally recharged again. Also, we need to plan our coming days and weeks as we have no more plans after today.

What an intense trip we had! It was a wonderful experience and we’re so glad we booked this trip. Not only the city but also the people are lovely! We had the best food since travelling. We could come back here yearly for sure. Also, it was so nice to spend some time in autumn after all these weeks of summer heat. Maybe next time Marnick should bring some long pants because 12°C feels like freezing after all the heat we had. We must say we were a bit afraid that it would be a big bite out of our budget, but we can already tell you we’ve been careful with our budget. We will share our expenses with you soon.

For now, it’s time to reset and take a look at our future travel plans.

See you on our next blog!