Day 3: Seoul

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Continues from Day 2: Jimbocho (Tokyo) and Seoul

Rather than a "Trip to Japan", today is a different country all together and instead is our first full day in Seoul and South Korea!

We'd just traveled over from Japan last night and had two full days allocated to first explore Seoul and then spend another day traveling out to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

So, up first, a brief visit of Seoul city!

Interestingly South Korea is in the same time zone as Japan, despite being over 1000km further west which basically meant that the sun rose and set about one hour later than Tokyo.

We woke at around 08:00am at the Skypark Myeongdong 3 and went down to ground floor to investigate breakfast.

Attached to the hotel was a restaurant called "Paris Baguette" where we paid around $10 for a bowl of soup, a cup of orange juice, a salad, a mandarin and a bunch of sandwiches.

The soup was really nice, I wasn't too keen on the mandarin, but it turned out to be delicious.

After that we left the hotel and then promptly came back in as it was absolutely freezing outside!!

I think we might have went back to get more jumpers, but unfortunately whatever I ended up with wasn't enough and I was still freezing!

Our first order of business was to confirm our tour of the DMZ tomorrow, as instructed. We'd booked with KTB which stands for the Korean Travel Bureau.

I have no idea if they've got any connection with JTB which are a big Japanese Travel Bureau.

Good use of space
Anyway, usually you'd ring up to confirm, but we just decided to walk over as it was nearby. The reception area was in the Lotte Hotel building, which was very fancy on the ground floor!

We felt a bit out of place!

Before coming to Korea I only knew Lotte as the company that makes Pepero, which is kind of like a rip-off Korean version of Glico’s Pocky. A lot cheaper but not as nice.

Apparently Lotte was actually founded in Japan but is mainly based in South Korea, employs over 180,000 people and make food, petro-chemicals, electronics and performs financial services, among other things.

Seoul Tower

They were actually successfully sued by Glico recently over the Pocky/Pepero issue!

Back to KTB, well, showing up seemed to confuse them a little, but they marked something down.

I'm not entirely convinced we needed to confirm in the first place, despite the strong insistence on our booking confirmation.

As Kate has a caffeine addiction, and it was a still quite early, we next went to a Starbucks we'd seen in the narrow shop lined streets we'd passed through earlier.

It was not very busy inside, but was quite large, extending over two floors. One dubious display we noticed marked South East Queensland as being one of the world’s major coffee producing areas.

In reality the entirety of Australia produces a mere 0.012% of the world's coffee and is ranked the 47th biggest producer.

Anyway we next had a look in some nearby shops that resembled a Japanese department store basement food area. They had extremely cute cakes on display!

And macaroons!

I think I bought one of the macaroons and Kate got a huge bag containing a variety of delicious nut bran bar things that were stuck together, kinda like a nut bar I guess.

After that we wandered around some markets where a lot of old ladies seemed to be roasting some sort of nut.

Next we made our way to Sungnyemun, where I bought a heat pack for my hands from a nearby convenience store, as well as some mobile internet using olleh.

I think most of the city was covered by olleh wifi and I was able to access that for 24 hours using the details I had been provided.

Sungnyemun is one of the Four Great Gates which are part of the Eight Gates of Seoul (there are another four small gates), and was the oldest wooden structure in Korea before it was unfortunately deliberately burnt down in 2008.

After this tragedy the original structure was restored from the remains, which took five years.

The gate used to be one of the three main entries into Seoul back when the city was actually completely surrounded by a defensive wall in 1396 to defend against invaders.

Much of the wall actually still remains, and I'd really like to visit the preserved section some time- sadly we didn't fit it in today!

After the gate we returned to the markets where Kate ordered some dumplings!

It cost very little for a huge amount!

Which was unfortunately the only option!

Around 10 steamed little medium sized dumplings, and two massive fried things- she couldn't finish it all and didn't really try!

After that we then walked up to the nearby Seoul tower which stands at the top of a large hill that is 236m above sea level. The tower is about as much taller than that which makes it the highest point in the city.  Most people get the cable car up, but we were about 90 degrees away from that so we just decided to slog it up.

Good exercise and there were some buildings, parks and statues to look at on the way.

Speaking of exercise, we also found one of those free outdoor gym equipment setups that have been popular lately, though this one actually had large weights which was interesting.

From near the top we had a great view out over Seoul, and could see our hotel!

At the top we found the tower, and a few touristy shops and spaces.

Unfortunately it looked like we had just missed out on some sort of dance performance!

It wasn't too expensive to go up, I think around 9,000won, or $10.

Along with our ticket to the observation level we paid an additional, similar amount, to visit the Alive Museum.

The top of the tower gave us great views out over Seoul and I was able to find the city wall following the ridge of one of the mountains protruding out of the city.

The Alive Museum was a bit of a tourist trap but we still had fun.

Basically it was full of huge pictures that used perspective tricks and sculptures such that you could insert yourself into various scenes.

There were also trick mirrors and other things like that.

It was a bit silly, but fun!

After that I had some fish and chips at an attached restaurant overlooking the city and we walked back to hotel.

We arrived exhausted after walking around all day, we didn't go out again but got quite drunk on some cheap Korean alcohol we bought at a nearby convenience store!

Tomorrow we'll be visiting the DMZ and North Korea!

Continue reading: Day 4: DMZ and North Korea

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