Just a couple days after the election I flew to Seoul. I was so confident in Hillary’s win,& that we’d have the first female president, that I, like so many others, was absolutely crushed by the result. Add that to being abroad / at work where there are almost no Americans – I was a complete mess for a couple days. I had (and still have) a lot to say about it but very few outlets to do so abroad. I was still feeling terrible after the election and looking forward to forgetting about my daily life through my 2 week trip to Korea and Japan.
Upon landing in Seoul, I realized I had a bit of culture shock. Everything was bright and pristine, public transit was fast, and everyone was in a hurry – all of which I was not used to in my cushy, slow KL life :p Plus, the weather in Seoul was crisp and made me realize how much I missed autumn.
I went to my hostel in Hongdae, a university neighborhood with tons of pubs and food. My hostel was amazing – it’s basically a home stay, ran by a friendly couple with two small kids (if any travelers are reading – stay at Zzzip guesthouse!). When I arrived I didn’t really see other travelers, so I got bibimbap on my own, sort of accepting this might be a solo Friday night. But when I returned to the hostel, I found a huge group of welcoming Americans who sort of absorbed me into their group for the weekend. I wish I could always pregame with soju (which is basically signature Korean alcohol) as we did – it’s delicious, cheap ($1!!!) and efficient 😀 We went to a bar called Thursday party where I accidentally befriended a local in the bathroom. Then we went to a dingy club – but it was still fun 🙂
In Korea (and a lot of other places really) bars are open most of the night. There’s even a park/playground where people go to drink in Hongdae. Any day of the week, Hongdae is vibrant – but especially Friday and Saturday. So both Friday and Saturday night I didn’t sleep until 5 am, haha.
Saturday I explored a bit on my own and went to the shopping district called Myeongdeong and to Namdaemun market. I got some cute socks (Luigi!) and saw all the awesome street food. I then walked to the capitol building where I observed a peaceful protest against the president starting to form. This was one of many protests and was very cool to see the peaceful assembly, aka democracy in action 😀 Next, I went to the art museum – free and interesting, and super contemporary. That night I went out again with my new group of friends – bittersweet in a way, really, since I seemed to fit into the group quite well, but had to part ways with them the next day. That is honestly both the worst and best part of traveling – luckily forming relationships but then parting ways.
Itaewon Area / other stuff
The next day (Sunday) I went to the War Memorial Museum to learn a bit of history. This was free again, very extensive, and with very beautiful grounds. I had a perfect fall walk afterwards to another ‘expat’ neighborhood, Itaewon, where I had bulgogi and shopped and ate. I then checked out Dongdaemun design plaza building. This is a big building that looks like a spaceship with galleries looping around inside it. Really cool architecture there! After that, I went to the lantern festival at Cheonggyecheon river. Annually along the river they set up tons of lanterns with scenes from history and other stuff. It was quite busy and really pretty. And of course, I did in fact have more soju with new travelers I met this night and the following nights, including a Dutch guy and some Australians – we shared bulgogi dinner and some delicious Korean BBQ near to the hostel too.
The next day was quite a long one with tons of walking. I started out at Gyeongbokgung palace to see some historical buildings and attempt to learn a bit. The grounds were nice and despite the rainy weather it was fun to explore. I then walked to Bukchon traditional village. The view climbing up some stairs to enter was beautiful! The streets were winding and it had some shops, but it is mainly a residential area with preserved historical buildings. Next I walked to Insadong, a district with traditional tea places and shopping. I got some tea and poked around, ambled around some shops, then headed to Gwangjang traditional street market, where I had some delicious kimchi dumpling soup and gimbap (sort of like Korean sushi).
My last full day in Seoul, I did a DMZ/JSA (demilitarized zone / joint security area) Tour. I learned that technically – the Korean War is still going on (it’s just an armistice agreement). Driving there, we could see a little bit of North Korea on the left and could compare to South on our right – North Korea was super barren because they have used all of the trees for resources! We went to the JSA and saw the famous area with the soldiers, and we entered one of the blue buildings. Technically, we were in North Korea for a hot minute – in the picture of the table below, technically to the right of it is North Korea. In general I was a bit underwhelmed by this tour – we were rushed and we didn’t see all that much for the price. Oh well, it’s a check off the old bucket list.
Overall, I loved the hostel owners and the area I stayed in (Hongdae). I got lucky and had an empty dorm every night except the weekend, so I even was able to sleep like a rock! I feel as though none of my pictures are all that spectacular, but the people I met and the overall feel of the city (and food/drink!) are what I loved so much – plus the autumn leaves and weather. Seoul has my soul and I will definitely return 🙂