Tag Archives: Seoul

Extreme Sightseeing in Seoul

11 May

Padlocks smothering the fence along the observation deck at Namsan Tower, Seoul

At the end of March I took another trip up to Seoul to meet my second and third visitors to Korea. My cousin Nic came over from Oz and my friend Arlene from home came on her way back from New Zealand…  I was so excited to see these guys!  And lucky for me, they arrived within a day of each other so I didn’t have to do all the tourist stuff twice.

On the Saturday we went to North Korea (yep really, see last post), so Sunday was dedicated to Seoul, but after too many soju’s and makgeolli’s the night before, Sunday did not get off to the best start. Not one to be defeated by a hangover, I downed my Paris Baguette ice-drink , gulped down the painkillers and appointed myself chief tourism coordinator for the day… with the help of  my friend Ellen – a gal who knows her way around Seoul.

Namsan Tower

Namsan Tower
First on the list was Namsan Tower (or N Tower/ Seoul Tower).  At 237 metres tall, it is a communication and observation tower located on Namsan Mountain, where you can see the city stretch out for miles and miles. You can take the scenic cable car up or the steps, but being hungover as we were, we took a taxi. There’s a rotating observation deck and restaurant at the top of the tower, which you can go up for a small fee. But the non-moving observation deck at the foot of the tower was quite enough for us hungover lot.

The view over Seoul from Namsan Tower

My pilgrimage to H&M
Next stop was Meong-dong. It’s one of the main shopping districts in Seoul, and more importantly, where the only two H&M’s in Korea can be found! After a power shop around the 4 floors of H&M I came out 70,000 won lighter and a bag full of new clothes!

Hanging with the guards at Gyeongbokgung Palace


The Royal Palace (Gyeongbokgung)

After a quick dukboki refuel we headed to the Gyeongbokgung Palace. This is the royal palace, which is really just a big temple, and it’s in the middle of modern Seoul surrounded by skyscrapers and the likes. First constructed in 1394, it was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty (Wikipedia). Gyeongbokgung translates as ‘Palace of Shining Happiness’, but as far as temples go, it’s not the prettiest/ most interesting I’ve been to (the Doi Saket in Chang Mai in Thailand is still top of my list), but it is still worth the 3,000 won (£1.80) admission fee even if just to appreciate the sheer size of the place. And the guards are good for a photo too!

Inside Gyeongbokgung Palace

Playing dress up


Insadong

Wilting and getting hungry, we headed over to Insadong for lunch. Insadong is a popular area for us tourists as it claims to have 40 percent of the nation’s antique shops and art galleries as well as 90 percent of the traditional stationery shops (Wikipedia again). Not to mention the oldest bookstore in Seoul and the oldest tea house! (Haud me back!) Even without all the mind-blowing stats, it’s a quirky wee area where you can buy traditional Korean souvenirs and see some street performers do their thing. I bought my wee Aunt Anne’s birthday card here.

Lunch time in Insadong


Two for a pound!

The final stop of the day was DongDaemun market – the biggest market in Seoul. It’s MASSIVE. But by this point we were done in, and the endless streets of markets and underground shopping centres where just far to big to even make a dent on that late in the day. You’d need a whole day there just to look around it! After half an hour we gave in, defeated.

Absolutely shattered, I said goodbye to the girls and headed to Seoul Station to catch the KTX back to Daegu, scared to check my bank balance, but chuffed with what we managed to accomplish. See you again soon Seoul!

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The day I went to North Korea

18 Apr

For the past few years, I’ve been fascinated with North Korea and how little the rest of the world know about it. I’m both fascinated and saddened by what I read, and since coming to South Korea my curiosity has only increased.

A South Korean soldier keeps watch over North Korea

Having done some research before I left Scotland, I knew that you could only visit the North as part of an expensive organised tour where you had to be accompanied by a government official the whole time (except when in your hotel room) and the tour guide only told you what they wanted to tell you. This option didn’t appeal to me. The only other way you can visit North Korea is by going to the Joint Security Area (JSA), or Panmunjon as it’s also known.

Hanging out at the DMZ


The DMZ

The JSA is the jointly controlled truce village in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas. The DMZ is a strip of land that runs across the whole 160 mile (25okm) breadth of the Koreas. At 2.5 miles (4km) wide, it  acts as a buffer zone between North and South Korea and it has been in place since the cease-fire in 1953. Technically the countries are still at war since no peace treaty was ever signed, which is why it is the most heavily militarized border in the world. Exciting stuff.

The Tour

After much deliberation in deciding which tour to do, I booked the combined tour run by TourDMZ for myself, my cousin, and two friends, and at 120,000 won (about £70) for a full day tour – it was well worth the money! The  tour  included the 3rd infiltration tunnel, the Dora Observatory, Dorasan Train Station, Imjingak (Freedom bridge), the JSA and the Bridge of No Return’…. and not forgetting the lovely Laura – our English speaking tour guide. She was a cracker!

Point to note: you need to book 4 days advance incase your nationality is on the restricted list and additional background checks are needed.
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I’ve got Seoul but i’m not a soldier…

8 Dec

A few weekends ago I took my first trip to Seoul to meet my friend Ellen – a friend I met when I was at Uni in Dundee. Myself and my flatmate Rob, also a teacher at my school, took the KTX up to Seoul (stupidly we didn’t book in advance, so there were no seats were left when we went to buy our tickets at Dongdaegu station which meant we had to sit on the floor of the train for the 2 hours 40 minutes it took us to get to Seoul). Nonetheless, it was cheaper at 27,000 won (about £15) bargain!

Having tried my hardest, and succeeded, at trying and liking most Korean foods so far, when I arrived in Seoul, number one on my list was to get some ‘western’ food, i.e. burgers, steak pie, lasagne, nachos etc. You can get these types of food fairly easily in Daegu, but I try my hardest to resist them! So we went to an American style restaurant/ bar called Geckos in Itaewon (it could have been any Wetherspoons in the UK) and I had a cheeseburger and chips with ranch sauce – deeeelicious!

After that, Ellen suggested that we head over to the War Memorial Museum to see an exhibition called Bodyworlds by Gunther Von Hagen (that man who does autopsies live on the telly). The exhibition documented how the human body is created, grows and then deteriorates through the life-cycle – always fascinating to me, and I was happy to check off the ‘cultural bit’ on my list.

Outside the Korean War Memorial Museum

We then went to get a quick change at our hostel in Hongdae called Kimchi (Hongdae along with Itaewon are the two main party, shopping and foreigner areas in Seoul). It was a no thrills, cheap, clean and centrally located hostel that I would recommend to anyone – although the 4 storey climb to our room was a bit of an effort!

After a quick change, and buying some soju to keep us warm, we headed over to the Lantern Festival along the Cheonggyecheon stream. The festival attracts over 2 million people, and since it started in 2009, there is a different theme each year. This year the theme was ”Stories of Seoul’s Past through Lanterns” in which lanterns depicted the history of Seoul, and for the ‘children’ there was lanterns of famous superheroes. There was estimated to be over 20,000 lanterns! The photos below are Ellen’s because i’m still waiting on my camera to be posted down from Seoul…

Me and Ellen with lanterns on our heads

Some lanterns from the festival

After the lantern festival we headed over to Itaewon to meet some of Ellen’s mates in an American bar – lots more vodka, tequila, soju and beer followed – resulting in a rough morning after! So the next day was a bit of a write-off since I was super rough! I had my first taste of Vietnamese food in the shape of ‘pho’ – basically noodle soup. The plan on Sunday was to visit a pie shop to buy some good ol’ British pies, then do some shopping and maybe head over to the foreigners market to buy some Cadbury’s and bisto… but all I managed was a coffee and I bought some socks, scarfs and reindeer leg warmers – essential winter wear.

It was time to head home, we headed for the train station around 3pm only to find out the next available KTX was at 11pm! So we had no choice but to go back to Daegu on the slow train (4 hours) even better than that, there were no seats left, so we had to sit on the floor, next to the toilets along with around 15 other people – not one of my best travel experiences…

The moral of the story: book transport well in advance when going to Seoul!

Last stop Daegu!

16 Sep

I’m sitting on the bus from Seoul about an hour and a half away from my final destination of Daegu. My new flatmate should helpfully be meeting me off the bus and then we need to try and lug 45kg of luggage across the city to my new apartment. This will be doubly fun since I ripped the handle clean off my bag when lifting it off the carousel at the airport!

All in all I’ve had a fairly stress-free and uneventful journey. Both flights at Glasgow and Dubai were late in departing by around an hour but that’s about it. I managed to sneak an extra 8kg onto the flight free of charge (thankfully they didn’t weigh my hand luggage!) result! Lauren 1 – Emirates 0.

I almost missed my connecting flight at Dubai as I was too busy lapping up the free wi-fi and playing on my new MacBook – I’m in love! But despite being nearly last on the plane, the flight was near empty and I had a whole row to myself which helped me to sleep most of the way (I’ll kick jet-lags ass!) I did watch one film called ‘All Good Things’ – it was average. On the Glasgow Dubai flight I watched Invictus (which I probably rated higher than I should because I love Nelson Mandela and Morgan Freeman) and I also laughed my head off to Michael McIntyre. In-between the tears folk must’ve thought I was a right crazy!

Nevertheless, I met a Chinese girl on that flight called Tracy (English name). She has just graduated from Glasgow Uni in Accountancy and is now flying home to Beijing to find a job. So we swapped email addresses in case I ever happen to find myself in Beijing.

Incheon airport in Seoul is a BIG airport! It took me nearly an hour to get from the plane, transported to another terminal, through customs and to baggage claim – where you have that inevitable wait to see if your bag does actually turn up. That being said, the airport is easy to navigate and well signposted in English. I had absolutely no problem, Skyping my mum, buying a bus ticket, getting change to call the school and buying some food- and did all of that in about half an hour.

My first food on Korean soil was at Kraze Burgers (it was either that or McDonalds) so being the ‘when in Rome’ kinda girl that I am I dived right in…. and who knows, I could have had my first taste of dog and I don’t even know it!

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