On my way to Jakarta, Indonesia, in late October 2006, I have a 23 hour lay over in Seoul, South Korea. After 18 hours flight from Chicago, the plane landed smoothly at the Incheon International Airport, which is about an hour drive away from downtown Seoul. I was hoping that I could take the subway from the airport to downtown Seoul, then take a taxi to my hotel. Alas, there’s no indication how to get to the subway. With a 50+ lb luggage, I gave up walking around trying to find the subway. Instead, I took the airport bus that cost around 7000 won. All I had to do was just purchase the ticket ahead of time, step outside and wait for the bus that will take me to the Itaewon area. Seoul’s weather is pretty similar to Iowa, it was also the fall season.
The trip with the bus took about 90 minutes, 30 or 45 minutes to get out from Incheon. Once the bus was on the bridge to get to Seoul City, the view was amazing. From afar you could see how metropolitan Seoul is; tall buildings, more traffic, etc. As soon as we enter Seoul, I was amazed on how old and new architectures blend together in harmony. The bus dropped me off in Yongsan neighborhood not too far from the hotel I’m staying in: Hotel Rainbow. I got the hotel’s name from the web because the location is good (restaurants nearby, walking distance to a subway station, even close to an internet cafe), price was affordable (US$ 66/night) and got a lot of good reviews. It’s located kind of in an alley, just off of a main street. For me personally, the hotel wasn’t that good. After you enter the main door, you’ll arrive in a small reception area. The room key was given, then off I go to the 3rd floor using the very claustrophobic-y elevator. The only thing I like about my room was the artsy door. Other than that, I don’t think I want to spend 66 bucks a night here. The standard room was small, but it has a compact fireplace in there. One interesting feature: a condom dispenser machine on the wall right after you open the door! Spacious bathroom with an interesting system to take a shower/bath.
After I got settled in my hotel room, I took a quick shower/bath and decided to take a walk. The long haul flight wore me out, but hey… I’m in a new place in a short time, might as well getting to know it a bit. At first I was going to play it safe and take a taxi ride to the nearest place of interest. But from the map, I noticed that there are several interesting places around the hotel and it’s probably just a short subway ride. I ended up in area in Namdaemun market. Stopped at a local restaurant for supper where I use my master skill of sign language (I don’t speak Korean and they don’t speak English). Thankfully, they have photos of the dishes so all I had to do was point and nod with a smile. Don’t recall the name of the dish, but it was delicious (bulgogi-like beef with sticky rice, soup, and kimchi).
With full tummy, I continued my exploration. From my experience, Seoul was safe enough for a solo woman traveler to walk around. I ended up at the Namdaemun’s gate (also known as Deoksungung gate) or Seoul’s south city wall. Not too far from it, is the famous Namdaemun market. Shopper’s heaven, especially for clothing. Wholesalers operate from midnight to 6 am, and retailers are open from 7 am to 5 pm. Done exploring for the night, back to the hotel and sleep hard.
The next morning, I did more exploring of Seoul before my flight to Jakarta in the afternoon. Stopped at an internet cafe not too far from the hotel to email home. Grabbed breakfast at 7Eleven, then off I go to the subway station again. This one, to see the majestic Gyeongbokgung Palace. On my way there, I had to stop at the Seoul Station to transfer subway line. I was amazed by the size of this subway station. It is the biggest in the country. It’s modern looking, clean, and did I mention big? Reminds me of Paris’ Gare du Nord a little bit.
I’m a retard when it comes to direction. Can’t really tell where my North, South, West, or East very good. I got off one stop too early, ended up at the wrong side of the exit, so I had a pretty long walk before reaching the Palace. But it’s all good because I could see more and shot more pictures. Here, temples are abundant. I saw a beautiful one during my walk. Very intricate in details, with green and red color dominating. Along the street, little shops that sell stuff for monks were scattered. I peeked through the glass window to see the necessities they’re selling. It’s like an enchanting antique shops. This is what I like when visiting a different country than mine. To see and feel different culture, to understand differences, not to be narrow minded.
Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace) is really something. It was the main and largest palace of the Joseon Dynasty and one of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The major buildings on the site include Geunjeongjeon, the Imperial throne room, and Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, which stands in an artificial lotus lake and rests on 48 granite pillars. The pavilion is depicted on the Korean banknotes of 10,000 won. The palace is open for public, but you’ll have to pay for a tour guide to be able to enter. I was debating of whether or not to do it, since I also want to see the National Folk Museum of Korea which located inside. Tight schedule… yet so much to see, so nay for tour guide.
From here, I walk around aimlessly (again) and ended up in an area close to the palace with lots of government institutions. Guards were everywhere, so were tanks -related to demonstrations against North Korea’s nuclear issue.
I got to Itaewon by taxi (feet were killing me). It was a very short ride, kind of know it from the map. According to some, Itaewon is the most exotic place in Seoul representing fusion culture with a distinctive atmosphere. Well, I don’t know about ‘the most exotic part’, but it was definitely distinctive. Many little alleys with little shops, tea bar, restaurants, etc. Definitely more chic compare to Namdaemun market. Perfect choice to find souvenirs to take home. Time’s almost up, gotta catch my ride to Jakarta. Annyeonghi kyeseyo… goodbye, Seoul!