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mistybleu Seoul - A travel report by Amanda
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Seoul,  Korea, South - flag Korea, South -  S÷ul
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mistybleu's travel reports

DMZ between two countries

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Seoul is an amazing place to visit. Initially it felt a little scary as I arrived in late and by the time I got into the city it was after midnight and I couldn’t find my hotel. The trouble with being on a budget is you have to plan carefully.

Changing of the guards
Changing of the guards
I arrived into Incheon International Airport late evening and had to await my friends arriving from Beijing. The airport is very modern and I quickly logged onto the Wi-Fi to get updates from them and to connect to my family back in London after a plus 11 hours flight having to go via Doha. I didn’t have use Qatar Airways but I choose to have a stopover on my return journey. I was impressed with the speed of the connection plus the charging stations in the airport - it felt like WiFi heaven.

After waiting a couple of hours it turned out there was bad weather in Beijing and the flight wasn’t going to come in that night, so around 10pm I headed into the city on my own. Incheon has a great transportation network as to get into the city you can use taxi, trains or buses. I should have taken the train but decided to jump on the bus as it was going to take me closer to my hotel, the only trouble was I realized that I had left all the hotel directions in London and had a nightmare locating the hotel.

The hotel was a small 3 star establishment which was more like hostel. The amenities were good, a pc in all rooms with free internet plus breakfast. I assumed that in Korea they don’t like shoes worn inside, as there were slippers in the doorway. I would have indulged but they didn’t seem new, so I just used my own.

As the hotel was located off the main road and not all streets have names, it was really hard to find and even the locals didn’t know where it was. I met a really friendly local whose daughter was living in America and he showed me to where he thought it was, but still couldn’t find it. But then, on the off chance I spoke to a foreigner who had just come out of the 7 eleven and luckily she was staying at the same hotel, so finally by 1am I was checked in and tucked up in bed.

Now I remember what TripAdvisor said ‘the taxi driver was driving around in circles as he couldn’t find the place’. They were so right!

Favourite spots:
Cheonggye Stream
Cheonggye Stream
I wasn’t sure what time my travel companions would arrive so I spent my time exploring sights close to the hotel and came across the Cheonggye River which runs through the heart of the city. I remember seeing a documentary that Cheonggyecheonwas an urban renewal project which restored a 10.9km stream which used to run downtown Seoul until the late 1950s and was opened back in 2005. It brought a calm and serene place to what is a hustling and bustling metropolis as it is sunken at the bottom of a maybe 20ft wall.

I was also able to see the changing of the guards at Gyeongbok Palace. It was first built in 1395 and was the centre of the Joseon Dynasty. Over the years it had been destroyed by fire or by the Empire of Japan; for 40 years, Korea has been restoring this and many others buildings to their former glory.

This was my favorite Palace in Seoul and it takes a minimum of 1/2 a day to explore.

What's really great:
I don’t think this is the best thing about the city, however it was really interesting and confusing at the same time. To enter the DMZ - Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and North Korea must be done via an authorised tour operator and should be booked well in advance as the demand is extremely high as there aren’t many companies who are allow to provide this service.

The best tour will encompass the Unification Village that allows you to, ever so slightly, make it into North Korea.

The other places of interest include, Dorasan Station, built with unification in mind and could technically take you into North Korea. Dora Observatory and the Infiltration Tunnels.

Most areas you are restricted for taking pictures and there are live mines in the surrounding woods once entering the DMZ. It just brings home that the conflict is real.

It is really sad how these two countries have been split since the World War II and now how different the people have become.

The Palace Gates
The Palace Gates
There are many places of interest dotted around the city and a lot of them you can enjoy from the road, but for others you need to spend some money and go inside. I have to say, that generally I found the entrance fees quiet reasonable although once or twice after paying the entrance fee I had to pay another fee inside to see additional area. Some of the things I did in Seoul which were brilliant:

Wander around Gyeongbok Palace;Explore Changgyeonggunggung Palace;Go back in time to see a traditional Korean village - Bukchon Hanok Village; Check out the view from Seoul Tower; Stroll along the Cheonggyecheon Stream; Visit modern culture and see the blue house – the home of the president is open to the public; Olympic Park – sight of the 1988 Olympics; And definitely enjoy Korean Bulgogi – aka Korean Barbecue.

Summer Palace
Summer Palace
After the first night in my ‘luxury’ hotel, I wanted to try a traditional hanok, an old Korean house that allows guest to understand a little more about the lifestyles and cultures of Korea. They are usually kitted out with old furniture, paper-pasted windows, and props that are throwbacks to the past like soy jars which add to the traditional ambiance but with modern amenities. However I couldn’t find anything available on short notice. I then came across the Seoul Station Guesthouse.

Seoul Station Guesthouse is a newly built guesthouse and was opened nearly a year now (2014), but then I stayed there only a month and offer basic rooms, or 4-6 sleeper dorm rooms. They have a washer/dryers available if you intend to stay long as well as free Wi-Fi and parking. They are located only 2 minutes from Chungjeongno Subway Station (Lines 2 (exit 3) and 5) and an 800-metre walk from Seoul Train.

They were very friendly, but I suspect they cater for the younger traveller.

Sorrow felt for the lives lost in the Jeju ferry disaster
Sorrow felt for the lives lost in the Jeju ferry disaster
Not a night spot, but Gyeongju is worth seeing. Take the 2hr high speed trains from Seoul Station; be sure to get the rail pass which will keep costs down.

Once into Gyeongyu, I got a map and guidance from the tourist office and then took the public bus to my desired sites.

Gyeongju is known as the museum without walls as its close to a few Unesco World Heritage Sites. There many temples, pagodas, tombs dotted around but some are spread out.

Places of interest include which are outside of the city: Gyeongju and the Gyeongju National Park, Bulguksa Temple (look out for the two pagoda - Dabotap and Seokgatap) and Seokguram Grotto. these are reached via a hike up a hill.

I wanted to continue to Jeju island, however they had an awful ferry disaster where many people and children died, so headed back to Seoul.

I visited Korea for Easter and noticed that there are many churches dotted around the city. I was able to find a local church which offered an English service, as well as providing a lunch.

Some of these services are run by American military personnel, as there are 28 thousand soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in South Korea, and they support the UN command/combined forces.

When visiting Korea, one must try Bulgogi which literally translates to ‘fire and meat’, or Korean barbecue. Bulgogi is the method of cooking mostly marinated meats (however not all the time) like beef, pork and sometimes chicken on a grill which is raised in the centre. The great thing about having a Korean bbq is that the dishes are prepared at your table – nowadays on a gas griddle but traditionally charcoal one. The bbq has become very popular in England, however it was nice to try it with a local setting and sitting on the floor.

Once the meat is cooked, it is wrapped in lettuce with added condiments, like pajori and ssamjang (a spicy/salty paste made from soy beans).

Other recommendations:
Souk Waqif
Souk Waqif
Doha – the capital of Qatar, is a relatively new destination for tourism, with the emergence of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and somewhat Bahrain; Doha in now on the forefront of the Middle East.

Located on the coast of the Persian Gulf, Doha is currently accessed via the old airport is located close to downtown, near the gold souk, however new airport should be in use shortly (in face I used it to depart) however this means transfer times will increase.

Some of the exciting things to do include: a stroll along the beautiful promenade in the Corniche, whereby you will come across the Museum of Islamic Art; also located fairly close is the the Souk Waqif. The Souk Waqif is definitely a tourist attractions, but it really is great and all sorts of things can be purchased here, as well as a great place to find a restaurant or coffee bar.

Published on Sunday January 18th, 2015

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Tue, Jun 09 2015 - 03:19 AM rating by louis

Very interesting report about the country that I know little about. I had a great time trying to spell Changgyeonggunggung :)

Mon, Jun 01 2015 - 01:37 PM rating by bootlegga

Again, this reminded me of my visit to Seoul - lots of interesting things I saw myself and a few others I apparently missed. Keep up the great work!

Mon, Apr 27 2015 - 01:13 PM rating by horourke

Fascinating report with a very personal resonance. Thank you.

Sun, Feb 08 2015 - 07:42 PM rating by siffer

and so nice to read about seoul. in 1970 i spent a year in chunchon 60km and 2.5 hours driving northeast of seoul and further north than the dmz site, and our trips into seoul were our salvation. the city has come a long way for sure, no subway or inchon airport in those days. amazing how much the city has changed in just a few years. the palaces were amazing to me back then.

Sat, Jan 31 2015 - 11:51 AM rating by krisek

Lovely report, Amanda. I recently have also been to Doha, and I loved it. In Korea, I have not been for a while. It was good to read about your impressions. I love the pictures, too.

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