Seoul-less ?

Seoul Travel Blog

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Namdaemun, a trully great market

Before coming here Korea was a bit of a mystery to me. I had never met a Korean in my life and, apart from Samsung and the Korean war I am embarrased to admit that I knew very little about this country. My closest encounter with Korea was a delicious (and incredibly epxensive) meal I'd had at a Korean restaurant in London about a year ago...

Seoul's motto is "Soul of Asia". Arriving here, I find it hard to believe this is something more than a wordplay (which I 've also unimaginatively attempted here). After visiting Cambodia, Korea will really have to prove itself!

I arrive at Incheon International airport - the largest and busiest airport in Asia and ranked as the best airport in the world - after doing a red eye from Bangkok and get my first taste of Seoul's impressive public transport.

Chinese carvings in Changdeokgung palace
I hop onto the bus which is clean, fast and not expensive: around $9 from Inceon to Seoul, a distance of 50kms. On the way we are required to wear our seatbelts, which instantly reminds me that I am not in the world of cramped tuk tuks, motos and 10km bicycle rides under pouring rain anymore...

Not having the luxury of $10 rooms with AC and swimming pool anymore, I have booked a bed in a dorm of 6 at Banana Backpackers (http://www.bananabackpackers.com/). A great hostel located only 5 minutes from the popular attractions of Insadong and Changdeokgung palace. It is clean, modern, has free internet, a kitchen and the staff are friendly and speak english. It's a really popular place so booking in advance is highly recommended.

secret garden

After a few hours of sleep, I set off to see the city. I arrive at a food stall which is surrounded by dozens of teenagers in their school uniforms dying to get their hands on what looks like a korean snack. This must be good I think, so I approach and wait in line for my turn. The girls giggle at the site of a tourist and one of them orders a cup of spicy tteokbokki for me. It tastes good and makes me happy that I'm already sharing food with the locals. My first encounter with Koreans is trully representative of their behaviour towards foreigners. As a country which is skipped from most Asian itineraries, the sight of a tourist still causes fascination among the locals, even in Seoul. However, Koreans are very unique in their behaviour: they are very shy when it comes to speaking English, even if their writing skills and reading comprehension are at a high level.

Sunset over Seoul
Once you make the first step though they will great you with a big smile and try their best to help you, even if that means not uttering a single word in English. There were times when I felt I was causing stress to them so I resorted to gestures instead. This came naturally to me being Greek and all and was also pretty useful in a lot of cases.

My favourite place in Seoul was Namdaemun market. It has loads of stuff to buy, from travelling equipment to urban clothing and food. I walked around until my feet were aching and managed to bargain for a couple of tshirts. Having spent a few months in SE Asia really came handy in this case...

The feelings after a couple of days in Seoul are mixed. Landing at one of the world's biggest cities after spending a month in Cambodia is difficult to cope with and it takes me time to adjust to the "modern" world.

before dusk in the city
Seoul is not a pretty place, there are nice spots such as the markets and the secret garden in Changdeokgung palace is trully beautiful, but it is a city full of ugly blocks which were definitely not built to please the eye. After being in a place where you greet people on the street while zooming past on your bike, I now have to deal with blank stares on the subway. Time to head to the smaller towns again, so I ask the girl at the hostel where to go.


She recommends Gyeongju.

semiperipatetic says:
yep, it's pretty expensive, especially seoul. But you can find cheap stuff at the markets and good hostel accomodation at reasonable prices.
Posted on: Aug 24, 2009
mathieucalvet says:
Nice Blog man. would you say that Korea is has expensive as USA Europe and Japan ?
Posted on: Aug 18, 2009
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Namdaemun, a trully great market
Namdaemun, a trully great market
Chinese carvings in Changdeokgung …
Chinese carvings in Changdeokgung…
secret garden
secret garden
Sunset over Seoul
Sunset over Seoul
before dusk in the city
before dusk in the city
the dog at banana backpackers neve…
the dog at banana backpackers nev…
the entrance to Namdaemun market
the entrance to Namdaemun market
the entrance to Changdeokgung
the entrance to Changdeokgung
in the cablecar, heading to the N…
in the cablecar, heading to the N…
looking up at NSeoul tower
looking up at N'Seoul tower
I reckon I can see it
I reckon I can see it
dusk over Seoul
dusk over Seoul
change of the guards, close to cit…
change of the guards, close to ci…
ceremony at Gyeongbokgung palace
ceremony at Gyeongbokgung palace
traditional korean snack: Beondegi…
traditional korean snack: Beondeg…
Seoul
photo by: chiyeh