Monday, September 8, 2008

Seoul Layover

As I faced an 8 hour layover in Seoul (sandwiched between a 5 hour and 13 hour flight), I debated whether I should visit Seoul. Luckily, I was able to find a lot of information online, mainly from a Vancouver Sun article and from the blog adventures in the people’s republic of china and beyond. I decided that even if I ended up spending a couple of hours in Seoul, it would still be better than pacing around the airport for 8 hours.

My trip started less than ideally when I could only get a boarding pass from HCMC to Seoul because I was first traveling with Korean Airlines and then Air Canada. This meant that I would need to check in again in Seoul. I was hoping to save myself this task so I could save on time. When I arrived at 7 am I rushed to the Air Canada counter to get my boarding pass, but it was only opening at noon. So I decided the heck with it, I was going to explore Seoul!

I exchanged 60 USD for Korean won's. I went outside and found the bus stop that went to Insadong, my first stop in Seoul. Buses come at 20 minute intervals and their routes are very clearly illustrated. I went to buy a ticket for 9000 won (about 9 USD). It took about an hour to get to Insadong. Bus stops were announced by an automated voice in Korean and English. I arrived in Insadong at close to 9 am. Unfortunately, nothing was opened until 10:30 am except for a few souvenir shops. I could not even find a restaurant serving breakfast. So I walked around and took a few pictures.

On the way out of Incheon - looks like my previous employer, the big D.

Am I back in HCMC? Tous Les Jours Bakery just opened an outlet near my old place in District 1.

As you can see, Insadong was very quaint but still sleeping.

Only souvenir shops were open. They were rather pricey too.

It was a very artsy looking area.

The menus looked appetizing but I could not find an open restaurant!

I saw many cute stone statues.

I decided to move on and go check out Jogyesa Temple nearby. I have to admit that by now I was getting tired. I was dragging a carry-on and a laptop; it was getting quite heavy. So I just took some pictures.

Jogyesa Temple.

Then I jumped (rather dragged my carry-on down some stairs… ka-tunk, ka-tunk, ka-tunk) on the subway and went to the next station to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in the 1300’s. I decided to pay the 3000 won to go inside, but I was there for maybe 20 minutes. The visit was worthwhile though; the property is very vast and there is a mountain behind the palace. Very scenic! Unfortunately, I only saw a fraction of what was there.

Gargoyle in the subway.

As I was exiting the subway station, I could hear drums beating. There was some type of procession going on.

The Palace with the mountain backdrop.

I love the gargoyles here. Who would have thunk there would be gargoyles in Korea?

I love taking pictures of old doors.

Finally, I decided to have an early lunch at the cafe in the National Palace Museum of Korea by the subway. It was a chance for me to sit and relax. I ordered the bibimbap for 12,000 won and a Korean lemon tea for 4000 won. That was close to a $16 lunch; I haven’t paid that much for a meal in a while! I’ve been wanting to try this colourful dish since I saw it on Food Safari. I was imagining it with a raw egg like I saw on the show but this one didn’t have one. It was still very good; I especially liked the spicy pepper paste. The bowl was too much for me though and I couldn't finish it.

National Palace Museum of Korea.

My bibimbap.

Accompanying dishes: kimchi, red pepper paste and vinegar-y seaweed?

Korean lemon tea. I really like the rosemary that infused the tea.

From Gyeongbokgung Station, I found the airport bus stop. I wasn't sure if I had to buy a ticket so I tried to ask a shop owner nearby. He kept trying to communicate with me in Korean. Finally, I gave up and just waited for the bus. As it turns out, you just pay the bus driver when you get on the bus.

Airport bus stop.

It was a whirlwind visit. I was in the city for only three hours, but I still think it was worth it. I got back in time to check in and go through security and customs. The only thing I would suggest is not to visit Insadong if you're there early in the morning.


Pravit said...

I am so glad that your visit to Seoul worked out! :D And I am also impressed with how quickly you made it in and out of Seoul. Take care and happy travels.

Miss.Adventure said...

Thanks for your help Pravit!

Anonymous said...

Wow, we lived in Seoul for almost 7 years, and we're impressed! Your ticket to the national folk museum would have allowed you access to the palace grounds where the Choeson dynasty dining hall was, along with the small pagoda on the artificial lake, both great places for photos, but with three hours on the ground, you did superbly. Next time through, find the street that runs out of Insadong to "Min's Club", and at the last alley on the right before Mins (located in a Korean style house on the left, with ample parking in front), take a right. The restaurants there serve green tea steamed rice in their meals, along with a Korean liquor aged in a bamboo section. Tasty stuff, and reasonably priced for Seoul. Bravo! If you get more than a day, try the Three Alley Pub in Itaewon for a taste of Seoul Commonwealth expat nightlife.

Miss.Adventure said...

It was a pretty intense 3 hours! Thanks Larry for the pointers. I'll keep it in mind if I ever come back!