Korea: Seoul Part 1
It was another transit day and we checked out and walked a couple of blocks to the bus stop to grab the 41 to Busan station. The connection and KTX (bullet train) ride to Seoul took around three hours and went without a hitch. The train maxed out at just under 300kph and you didn’t even feel that you were on one as the countryside whizzed past outside. One observation is that, unlike in Japan, tower blocks are everywhere in Korea, even in smaller rural towns and cities there are forests of tower blocks.
Upon arrival in a very cold South Korean capital, there was a huge anti-government protest with 300,000 people marching through the streets of Seoul. Public transport on buses was not an option we found out after waiting for half an hour without ours turning up so we headed down to the subway to take a train to our Airbnb apartment in the Namsan district.
Hotels in Seoul are very expensive, more so than in Tokyo it seemed, so for the same price we could get a fully loaded apartment on Airbnb. We arrived late in the afternoon, dumped the bags, and headed out to find something to eat.
We noticed that Korean hotels and accommodations only provided hand towels and not full bath towels that we were accustomed to. I did a little research before complaining to find that this was part of the culture as smaller towels are quicker to use, dry quicker, easier to clean, don’t dip into water on the floor, and cost less – after a couple of days we got used to them.
Today we were heading a stop or two along the subway to the Bukchon Hanok Village, a cultural area dating back to the 14th century with narrow streets lined with restored traditional homes. Being a Sunday, the place was packed so it was a challenge getting photos without the Insta-selfie-crowd getting in them.
The area was fascinating but not as good as Gamcheon so we walked over to the sprawling Gyeongbokgung Palace. This place was impressive with huge courtyards, royal residences, and pristine gardens. However, it was even busier as the locals and tourists were out in droves donning rented Hanoks for more selfies.
We were lucky to see the changing of the guards which was quite a spectacle but by then the cold was biting and it was time to seek the shelter of a subway and head back to the apartment for a couple of hours. The temperature in Seoul seldom got over 6 degrees during the day and it was the coldest place we experienced on the trip (aside from that first night at Fuji!)
In the evening we headed over to the Myeongdong Walking Street, a sprawling maze of market stalls selling clothes, trinkets, and tourist tat. We were here for the Korean street food and there was so much to choose from. Korean food is more bread and dough-based than Thai which is rice-dominated, probably due to the colder weather and needing something stodgy in your belly.
There were hundreds of stalls selling pancakes, eggy bread, lamb and beef skewers, dumplings, octopus (they eat a lot of octopus in Korea), tteokbokki, crepes, pork rolls, and all manner of sweets.