South Korea – Not Enough Hours in the Day

South Korea, April, 2017: Well, there just isn’t enough hours in the day! By the time I’ve finished stomping the awesome streets of South Korea, I’m just too knackered to write the blog posts. Don’t worry though, by the time I get to Phuket next weekend I should have more time on my hands.

In the mean time a quick photo summary of where I’ve been stomping the last couple of weeks….

Andong, the cultural centre of South Korea.

 

Busan, the second city and a major port, oh and a beach.

So, some awesome blogs with equally awesome photo’s are on the way, just be a little patient, thanks.

South Korea – Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: Way back in history it was indeed a palace, but nowadays visitors wont find Korean royalty hanging out here. No, instead the place is now home to a replication of Korean times past. Its the national folk museum and I’m afraid museums like this often just pass me by. Today however, the sky is blue, its warm, the blossom is out and its free  – all the ingredients for a few snaps of the palace building which actually looks quite intriguing and picturesque in the afternoon sunshine. Its situated next to the Bukchon quaint village and is of course in the top 10 list of Seoul’s attractions hence thousands of tourists, tour coaches and tour guides creating quite busy scene and this Wednesday afternoon.

So here’s a quick look at the Palace and a few of the replicated exhibits in the grounds.

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So, if your not heavily into museums displaying replicated artifacts, I’d say this place is still worth a visit, just to get that souvenir snap of an old Korean Palace! As you can see I didn’t dwell on the inside for too long, but I spotted four interesting dummies on the way to the toilet!. Next door is another Palace, somewhat bigger and comes with an entrance fee, not that expensive, about 3000 Won, for probably more of the same – in a architectural sense. If not, tell me what I missed and I might go back! 🙂

Getting there: Gyeongbokgung Station on the orange line, Exit 4.

Cost: Free

Eat and Drink: Expensive coffee shop on the inside, hundreds of funky coffee shops and touristy joints on the outside

South Korea – Oh The Little Streets of Seoul

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017:  Seoul, a massive urban jungle, but its not all skyscrapers and housing blocks that one might find in Singapore or Taipei for example. Here in Seoul one can easily loose themselves for a few hours, days or even months (if google maps stops working) somewhere in the maze of little streets and alleys that covers the bulk of this city.  While shopping malls and skyscrapers might hold my attention for 5 or so minutes, its the little streets where the real character and charm of the city is to be found.

Here is once such little street in the district of Mapo (Google Map). Just North of the Han river, behind the plethora of high rise is a community of low-rise. Little shops of mosaic tiled exterior walls overflowing with goods out into the street. Its the low rise communities like this that so nicely dilutes the Americanisation that so often accompanies the modernisation of a city, Seoul being no exception. No Starbucks around here, just family owned independent business’s which ever way one looks.

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Good, Honest food – this bowl of Spicy noodles from a small street cafe in Mapo.

There is are eateries just about every few yards here in Mapo, and everywhere else I’ve been so far. While the high end fancy creations can be eaten on main streets between the skyscrapers or in the tourist neighbourhoods, here on the little streets, food is a bit more down to earth. While the menus might not overwhelm ones taste-buds, I’d say food around here is more for the everyday Korean.

Despite the rise and rise of hyper markets (E-Mart, Home Plus) across the city there’s still a place for traditional markets where one can see everything from escaping octopus to various part of a pigs anatomy! Whilst strolling around the Mokdong neighbourhood I came across the Nambu Market – a little street, covered for about 1/2 a mile lined either side with produce, fish, meats and all manner of strange stuff that would make  the average British visitor look away!

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Ha, here I timed this just right to see an Octopus escaping from the blade of a knife!

Eels are quite popular around here, as are various kinds of root vegetables.

So, to find the character and charm of Korean life go and explore local neighbourhoods where that Starbucks, or Mcdonalds will fade from your memory, for a few hours at least!

South Korea – Weddings, Making Babies and Blossom

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017:  An interesting facet to Korean culture is the widespread promotion of love, marriage and all that comes afterwards – and I don’t mean the divorce! The heralding of spring with arrays of blossoms all over the place is undoubtedly the time when couples work up the courage to proceed forward with their lives. All I can say is the hospitals are going to be busy in 9 months time! And with a degree of cynicism its actually little more than a huge sales event! But what better excuse do the young folk need to embark upon the creation of another life.

Termed the official ‘Blossom Festival weekend’ its a 2 mile long line of trees between a busy road and another of Seoul’s city parks – a park filled with tents against a backdrop of skyscrapers looming in the mist across the Han river. And tens just big enough for two and quite cozy on this cool spring day. Perhaps some baby making activity is planned for later! So, amongst the spring time festivities one can find a plethora of street food, vendors selling blossom rosaries and thousands of couples taking selfies under the cherry blossom trees.

Street food, mostly frozen and then deep-fried consisting in the main of processed and compressed meats. Also on offer, octopus and squid pieces sizzling slowly on charcoals. Oh, and those lovely crab sticks with all the tasty preservatives and colourings one could wish for!

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So, here’s a look at how Koreans are spending a cool Saturday morning under the spring blossoms…

And its all happening here at Hangang Park beside the river Han. Even the Korean TV are keeping a watchful eye from above… The wedding show part of it, for those interested, is at the far end. about 2 miles away.

Getting There: Yeouinaru station on Seoul Subway Purple Line 5, Exit 2 or 3

Cost: Free

Eat and drink: Greasy processed foods, 1 coffee stand. Average pricing, about £1 – 1.50 per Item. Coffee expensive.

South Korea – The Blossom Business, Jamsil, Seoul.

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: Visitors to Seoul at this time of the year, April, will undoubtedly notice the spring cherry blossoms. They’re pretty much everywhere lining the shopping streets, motorways and railway lines. Parks and open spaces too are adorned with blossoms along their cycle tracks. One of the shopping streets here in Mokdong is lined with what seems an infinity of white blossoms – yes, its impossible to see where it ends!. According to Google, there are a few spots around the city worth making the effort to go and see the blossom displays. where Koreans mingle, celebrate the arrival of Spring and smooch to their hearts content! Jamsil is one such location where cherry blossoms beside a lake make for a nice photo location.

Jamsil is the farthest I’ve travelled on the Seoul subway – 50 minutes and still only £1.35. So now lets climb up to the street and see why this place is worth the visit.  Exit 1 opens out onto a wide 8 lane boulevard and a plethora of skyscrapers, giant office blocks and of course shopping malls – gold plated!

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A quick look in the mall, just for curiosity you understand. About 8 floors of gold plated opulence. Its obviously the place to hang out if one is rich with expensive tastes as its the high end luxury part of Korean life one finds in here. Personally, i don’t need to dwell on this any longer, slightly nauseating if anything. Time to get out of here and join the blossom trail.

So, what do Koreans do on a warm, sunny Monday morning in spring – come here to Jamsil judging by the crowds. Yes, the place is packed with young Koreans enjoying a walk hand in hand under the cherry trees while a thousand or so pensioners get in the way!

And when the girl gets board with all the smooching, the boy can treat her to a ride on the fairground – yes, this city park even has a roller-coaster and various other insane looking rides. A mini Disneyland one could say.

About an hour to circumnavigate this huge man-made lake in a rather picturesque city park in the shadow of a giant tower. Another tower where a ride to the top isn’t cheap – about £10 for that birds eye city view, accessed through one of these giant shopping malls. Perhaps this mall is worth another look, get as high as legally possible and look for a window. Well, there’s a window all right, and an outside deck also. Head up to the 8th floor where one will come across a concert hall, its coffee shop and some soothing classical music being piped around the place. So, to the outside deck and the alternative birds eye view to the tower next door.

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And to finish off today’s excursion, a stroll along the Olympic Boulevard amidst more skyscrapers, to the next station along the line – well, truth be told I had hoped to walk to neighbouring Gangnam, but it’s just too far!

Getting there: Jamsil Station Exit 1,2,3 or 4. (Google Map)

Cost: Free to wander around the park. About £8-10 for the Lotte Tower Viewing Deck. About £26 for a fairground ticket.

Eat and Drink: Expensive.

Alternatives: Concert hall next door to the Lotte Tower has free  birds eye views across some of the city.

South Korea – N. Seoul Tower to Seoul Station by Walking

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017:  Having spent a few hours taking in the vistas of Seoul city atop the mountain that is Namsan Park, its time now to head on down with a plan to walk and end up at the nearest subway station. Looking at Google maps, it’s actually not that far and a couple of stations could be within a reasonable walking distance  – Seoul Station probably being the most convenient for connections back to Mokdong. So, with a little bit of guess work AKA follow the crowd, its a walk down towards the city. A gentle slop as crowds make their way down under a tunnel of blossom trees. Yes, a couple of warm days has enabled full bloom creating quite a unique floral display above. The lazy option of course is to take the bus down again, but then one would miss this natural wonder.

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Walk down under the blossoms or…

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Take the bus down

Under the spring blossoms, Namsan Park, Seoul.

Well, that was an easy 15 minute stomp from the top of a mountain, on the same road used by the down buses arriving at the parks vehicle exit. Now though I need to use google maps to get me to Seoul station – easy! First its an elevator down into a neighbourhood and then a series of small roads and streets headed in the general direction of Seoul station. A quaint little neighbourhood – lanes with plenty of character, streets oozing colour. A neighbourhood market area with some street food, and not a single tourist to be seen – I guess they all took the bus!

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So, total walking time from the Namsan tower to Seoul station was around 35 minutes at at slowish pace once in the neighbourhood. A nice doable trip, even for grandma and grandpa.

South Korea – Namsan Park, Awesome Views of Seoul

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: Its a mountain, its in the middle of town and its where visitors go to get a birds eye view of Seoul. According to Google there are 3 ways to get up to the peak – cable car for £7, bus for £1 or walk for free. I’m not a fan of cable car rides, specially the expensive gimmicky type and since there’s no information on where the walking trails start, I’m inclined to take the bus. Shuttle bus number 3 to be precise, from Itaewon (Google Map). So, armed with what I hope is reliable information (if you can’t trust Google, who can you trust?), its off to the for another adventure in South Korea’s capital city, Seoul.

Well, you’ll be pleased to know I’ve made it to Itaewon station in one piece. Heading up to street level and looking out for the landmark Hamilton hotel and opposite that should be a bus stop.. Its easy to spot, a giant square block dominating the place. 20 minutes for the next bus says the electronic flashing sign – well, part assumption here since the only characters in English are 20! And while waiting for the bus a quick look around and my first impression is – well, this could be a high street in England! MacDonalds, KFC, Body Shop, it’s all here and filled with white folk. Additionally there are quite a few US soldiers running around, must be an Army camp nearby.

As soon as passengers leave the bus the views across Seoul are just amazing. There’s an immediate sense of exhilaration as the vista beyond unfolds in every direction…

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And here’s the view looking towards Gangnam…

The N. Seoul Tower, a communications tower situated right on the peak. Those with head for heights can take a ride to the viewing deck for an even greater birds eye view of Seoul. Personally, the only thing to be gained here is a better view of the Gangnam area and Han river, partly obscured by the neighbouring hill.

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Its a nice place to relax, even though at times one is jostling for space on the photo platforms/ Yes, hundreds of pensioners and school children make the short trip up for a lunch picnic and to watch a little bit of Korean culture…

Getting There: Shuttle bus 2, 3 or 5 from various points in the local area – info here. From Itaewon, Yellow Shuttle Bus 3 from opposite Hamilton Hotel, Itaewon station exit 4. (Google Map)

Cost: £1 all the way to the tower. £8 entrance to the N. Seoul Tower elevated viewing deck. The park itself is free.

Eat and Drink: Very expensive burgers and BBQ chicken. Even more expensive restaurant food. Coffee same as in downtown at around £3.30. 

 

South Korea – Oriental Charm in Seoul

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: Dull, overcast with drizzle in the breeze this past few days. Today however a warm sunny morning inspires some serious street pounding. Bukchon is a village situated North of the city centre and has escaped the wrath of developers bulldozers and modernity. As such. here is preserved a small area of oriental charm within a metropolis of high rise and skyscrapers. Quiet, quaint and charming its a neighbourhood of tradition. Traditional Korean houses, many of which are doubling up as business’s. Restaurants, cafes, galleries and wine, not to mention a coffee shop every few yards. Nonetheless, despite its upmarket efforts there’s still a feel of old world charm here. So, far a calming hour or so, take a wander around Bukchon Hanbok Village and try to immerse in times past. According to Google, wandering the streets of Bukchon is at the top of the @to do in Seoul’ list, and fair to say there are quite a few tourists around the place.

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Main Street of Bukchon

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Come to Bukchon for quaint and qurky coffee houses

Getting to Bukchon: Seoul Subway is the easiest method for tourists. Head for Anguk Station on line 3, the Red Line. (Google Map)

Cost: Subway $1.40 – $1.65. Free to Wander around the neighbourhood.

Eat: A lunch counter on the main street has steamed veg dumplings – 3000 KRW for 10. (Google Map)

Drink: Gigantic Coffee has a huge Americano for 2000 KRW, on the left before Starbucks. (Google Map)

South Korea – North Korean Threat, No DMZ Tour

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: Tensions are running high with North Korea at the moment so I think a tour to the ‘Demilitarised Zone (DMZ)’ is out of the question. Add in the fact that my Mom is freaking out plus the US Vice President is in town, I’d better just stay out of the way. Here’s a nice post about the DMZ tour, worth a quick read.

Thankfully, at the moment the situation seems to be easing and Koreans are going about their daily lives, but for foreign visitors who perhaps don’t have the same understanding or can comprehend the frequent threats directed at South Korea, then it was an anxious few days over the weekend – and Saturday was quite extraordinary.

Saturday afternoon outside City Hall, Seoul….Passions running high and Patriotism like I’ve never seen anywhere before, take a look….

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And so one doesn’t really need to fully understand the politics to get caught up in the movement of emotion here in downtown Seoul – this is one day I won’t forget!