Just so you know, this post is bit picture heavy – enjoy!
Last summer I decided to spend my Obon vacation in Seoul, South Korea. Seoul is close and I figured it might be cooler since it is further north. Nope, just like with Beijing it was not cooler and I spent a lot of time sweating. Sweating and drinking cool beverages. Once again I found myself in a country where tap water is not regularly consumed. This meant constantly purchasing things to drink. Seriously, I think the bulk of my spending was on water and tea!
For this trip I decided to use my ANA miles instead of paying full price for a ticket. The dates I was traveling were during one of the peak periods (practically all of Japan was on vacation that week) which meant everything was waitlisted. I really wanted to go so I used almost all of my miles and flew business class (which was not waitlisted) into Gimpo International Airport. The roundtrip flight cost around $50 (this was for taxes/fees and was the same whether flying economy or business) and I had access to the lounge (except for the last leg Tokyo-Komatsu since there was not business class on that flight).
Lounge access is amazing. The food! The beverages! Seats! Tables! Outlets to plug and charge your devices! Seriously, having access to the lounge for the Tokyo-Gimpo and Gimpo-Tokyo legs of the trip was great. It meant that I had a place to kill time comfortably during the layover from Komatsu. It also meant that after traveling to Gimpo early in the morning (like before the sun rose early) I had a place to freshen up, relax, and grab a bite to eat before my flight. On the plane was great too. The seats were large and comfortable. There was more legroom than I knew what to do with. Yes, I used basically all of my points for a relatively short flight, but it was worth it!
Getting from Gimpo into Seoul via subway was pretty easy. Finding the hostel was more of a challenge, especially since I arrived at night. It was difficult to make out signs and which direction I was walking in. Had it been daytime or even early evening I could have figured it out by finding the sun. In the dark it proved much more difficult. In the end I did find the hostel and checked in (just before the desk closed – lucky!).
I stayed at the HI Seoul Youth Hostel and liked it. There was a bakery/cafe attached to it that opened early and closed late. This made getting breakfast or a snack easy. The bakery was similar to the ones in Japan, but the drink options were different. Both the bakery/cafe and the hostel had WiFi. This made checking emails and looking things up easy. The hostel also had washing machines. I ended up using the washing machines more than I thought because of the heat. The laundry soap I bought in Mongolia worked quite well. The room I stayed in was large and had a bathroom with a a shower, a television, and a mini fridge. It also is not that far from the subway. I highly recommend staying here if you need an inexpensive yet nice place to stay.
What did I do in Seoul? Other than sweating in the heat? I ate delicious apple mango bingsu at the Shilla Seoul Hotel, went to the Noryangjin Fish Market and bought too much seafood which I then tried to finish at a nearby restaurant. I also went shopping in Myeongdong for skincare and visited Seoul Tower at night.
The Noryangjin Fish Market was the highlight of my trip. It is a large fish market where after choosing and buying some seafood you are ferried over to a restaurant which prepares the food for you to eat. I’m sure there are ways around this but it was an experience I wouldn’t mind repeating. I entered the fish market from above. Coming down the stairs you get a great view looking down into the market. Of course I stopped to take photos. Before leaving Japan I had picked up a new lens which was perfect for this situation.
After entering the fish market I took my time walking around and looking at everything on offer. Some of the seafood available I had never seen before. Some I had never seen available alive. While the fish market is awesome, if you don’t like seeing your food alive before you eat it, this is not the place for you. After selecting what you’d like, it’s killed. Some can be eaten right there in the market (I had bough squid which was made into sashimi – I ate it at the restaurant but could have eaten it at the market). In Kanazawa there is a large fish market (Omicho Market), but most of the fish are already dead (there are some live fish and most of the crabs/shellfish are alive).
Myeongdong is a well know shopping district. It is famous for skincare so of course, I had to take a look. The streets were crowded and many of the shops repeat. I ended up visiting a few different shops but my favorite was Innisfree. Out of all the products I bought (mainly sheet masks), I liked Innisfree’s the best. A notable second would be Skin79 Pore Bubble Cleansing Mask. I was able to buy them in a multi pack and wish I had picked up more than I did! But back to Innisfree. The service in the store was great. In other stores I was often followed around or ignored. Now, I’m not for shoplifting and know it needs to be prevented, but having someone breathing down my neck makes me uncomfortable. This made shopping in the other stores difficult. I also prefer the layout of the Innisfree shop. It seemed brighter and a bit more spacious than some of the other stores. Looking and selecting items was much more enjoyable in comparison to the other stores.
Besides the fish market, I had also put Andongjang on my “to do in Seoul” list. Andongjang is a Chinese restaurant. I read about it on Chin Chai Jiak’s blog. After reading about the sweet and sour pork I knew I had to give it a try. The first time I went to the restaurant it was closing for the evening. Armed with more information (like closing time, which subway station exit was the closest) I revisited the restaurant during their dinner hours. I’m glad I did. The sweet and sour pork was delicious. It was flavorful and juicy, not too heavy or greasy. As a bonus, the owner makes daikon kimchi. I also make daikon kimchi and prefer it to the commonly found cabbage based kimchi. I enjoyed a second helping of kimchi much to the owner’s surprise.
Perhaps the worst experience of the trip was my visit to Seoul Tower. Most people who know me know I don’t do well in heat or humidity. Seoul has both during the summer. After a long day I walked uphill (with my cameras and lenses) to wait on line to take a cablecar up the mountain. The wait was long. Very long. And there were mosquitos. I am very delicious to mosquitos. Seriously, everywhere I go they flock to me.
Anyway, the line was very long but eventually I made it up the mountain. I figured it would be a simple task of waiting on a short line to get to the top of the tower. Ha! Not simple at all. The line was over an hour long. Looking at the time, I decided just to walk around (many other people were doing the same), take some pictures, and hop in a cablecar down the mountain in time to catch the last subway train. After taking some photos and acquiring a collection of mosquito bites I headed to the cablecar. Where there was a line. A line that was over an hour long.
Reaching the bottom of the mountain I rushed to the subway only to find it was closed! It turns out that it was a national holiday in South Korea. This meant larger crowds than usual and early closing times for public transport. This, in turn, meant that everyone else who had missed the last train was also stuck. I did eventually get a taxi (a couple of hours later) and made it back to the hostel were I collapsed into bed. Standing on the side of the road in the middle of the night in Seoul isn’t exactly the most fun.
I was also looking forward to visiting the DMZ but since I did not plan this trip far enough in advance there were not any open spots for the dates I was in Seoul. Maybe next time? Maybe I can make it to the top of Seoul Tower too.
Getting out of Seoul was a little challenging as well. Remember, getting from Gimpo to Seoul was pretty easy by subway. Also remember, the subway shuts down at night. If I caught the first train I probably would have made my flight. Well, maybe. Instead I took the airport bus. The airport bus started out okay. I wasn’t getting on at the first stop so I figured that the bus wasn’t going to fill up completely before we got to the airport. I also did not think the driver would cram as many people as possible into the aisle when seats ran out. This meant that my seat mid-bus was blocked in. When I tried to get off at the international terminal I couldn’t. The driver let some people off and then continued on to the domestic terminal. I was still on the bus and ended up at the domestic terminal.
I did make it to the international terminal with time to spare. I had to go through customs to export all the sheet masks duty free. After checking in I made my way to the lounge. I was serious when I said using almost all my miles for business class was worth it. Despite being exhausted and having a stressful trip to the airport I was relaxed when I boarded my flight (well, as relaxed as someone who is afraid of flying can be).