I spent the last six months going to the other side of the world....well at least on the other side of the world in relation to Canada. By the request from Boustrophedon, I figure why not spend some time to contribute back to the TWC community. I initially started my trip from Korea, though my plans were poorly organized and very loose in terms of time. My sister at the time was teaching English in Korea (south of course), and I promised to visit her during her last month of her last term. We talked about a trip through Asia briefly and only made plans to save up money. I will try my best to contribute as fast as possible, but as you would expect, it’s been quite a long trip and getting down all the important and valuable parts will take some time. I will contribute in parts, hopefully a country at a time.
I have attached a picture to give a rough idea of what my journey looked like (not its rough and poorly composed!) Note: I have more pictures later on throughout the trip, so hold tight!
KOREA Part I - Seoul
Now before I start getting into Korea, I must say that it is not a major hotspot to travel in. As you may know, the history has been plagued by constant war on this little peninsula. History of Chinese and Japanese invasion, Korean War and finally the rapid rebuilding has left much to the imagination of history seekers. The modern Korea is just that, modern with little left from the past. Towering residential building sprawl across the mountainous landscape, circled by modern highways and concrete structures. Little is left of wildlife and little more of untapped landscape, especially considering the still growing Korean population. Though don't let these points put you off. There is still many fun things to do in Korea, just remember its as modern as Japan, just not executed as well. Which does give it its own unique lifestyle and culture. Now I was lucky to have my sister in Korea (she has been there two year), which allowed me to do some very Korean things. Out of the lot of foreigners inside the country, most are on working visa's. Finding other travellers was a bit more challenging, and it appears that the country is just a quick stop to people going from China and Japan and vice versa.
I spend most of my time in Seoul area and spent my last week travelling down to Busan, with a few stops in between, where I had a flight to Tokyo. I stayed just a bit outside the city, an area called Anyang, about a 40 min subway ride. The subway system is amazing and cheap, with English everywhere. One thing you will notice about Korea is that everyone seems to know English, yet are hesitant to use it, fearing others will judge them if its poorly executed. I think it has to do with such a demanding society, where everyone works super long hours and are always preoccupied with extra curricular activities. There seems to be always a competition amongst the population, where no one wants to be left in the dust. With such a long stay there I managed to pick up minor observations such as the ones above, where as a short stay would have left me a bit out of the loop. Note, I didn’t take many pictures during my stay there so I will just clip some from the internet, if need be.
Anyways, getting on with the city of Seoul, with its soaring skyscrapers and unique districts. (I will try to remember as much as I can). Also you will notice that Seoul is very much about lifestyle than about attractions. I spent most of my time just out and about with activities, rather than sight-seeing. Some of the unique district I visited, and recommend to anyone interested in visiting or living in Seoul.
Myeongdong, is a series of shops nestled inside the city center, curving in between big financial buildings, a full on shopping center. Here you will find tourist shopping and making their way through tight alleys and crowded streets. There will be shop promoters in bunny costumes and people yelling through speakers. Definitely a site, though not for the clusterphobic. Shopping goes super late into the night and has hotspots for drinks and such. During the day the area is also around skyrises, for you architecture enthusiasts.
Spoiler Alert, click show to read:
Itaewon is an extremely unique place for Korea and Seoul. It a district beside an old U.S military base (I believe it’s still there, but they are trying to relocate it dues to constant problems with the marines), which encouraged the area to develop international shops, pubs and restaurants. It is the most multicultural place in the country, and great for drinking, eating out and seeing live bands. Here I has some good nights, where the laws are a lot more relaxed than in western countries…You can smoke inside, drink on the streets…etc. It also has two notorious streets just off the main stretch known to everyone as “hooker hill” and “homo hill.”
Hongdae is the trendy university area (no surprise), which is great for finding unique fashions and shows. Artists and trendy Koreans come out here to dance, eat and have drinks. Less grimy than Itaewon, you will see a lot of street performers, techno clubs and coffee shops.
Gangnam is the place to find your expensive stores. The area is known as a wealthier part of the city, but will still have bars shooting off from the main road. Can get confusing, as I’ve definitely been lost here on more than one occasion, but really ever place in Seoul is chaos.
These are great places to visiting to get a feel for the city, and you will be surprised to see what goes on in the night life. Koreans are notorious binge drinkers and stumbling upon a 40 year old business men sleeping on the street with briefcase in hand is not uncommon. The country is very safe, so things like that happen without issues. Hell its happened to me, and I made it home with wallet in hand .
Eating is very important in Korea. They always eat socially, and everything on the table is fair game (get your chopsticks ready). As well if you happen to go out, the night always begins with a feast…Korean BBQ. It so damn good, full of variety, and super spicy, but I enjoy it that ways. The food is probably one of the best in Asia due to its variety and unlimited side dishes.
So when you are out, expect to constantly eat, and then constantly drinks, for hours on end. It’s great, and the food keeps you going, despite drinking heavy amount of Soju (popular Korean drink). Nights tend to start with food, then you head to a bar or club for dancing…where after you hit up the Norebang (hope that’s spelled right)…in other words Kareoke. Can’t tell you how many times my night has ended with Kareoke, but it was a blast every time. You are basically in a room with friends singing your favourite song while you order beers, smokes and snacks. Then you wait for the subway to open in order to get back home, assuming you don’t fall asleep(the seats are heated ). Which has happened, and you end up a few hours away from your destination.
Hiking is good as well. In Seoul you can reach a starting point just off a subway line, which is great and convenient. The hikes are intense, somewhat dangerous and 5+ hours in duration. It will be crowded like every place in Korea, but still a blast. You can join hiking groups easily online and meet up at a starting point. At the peak you have lunch then consume some makoli (whitish rice wine)…this is where the dangerous part comes in. They say its courage for the decent, but when you have a slight buzz climbing down over steep boulders, you question your decision making skills. All in all it’s a blast and a must, since you get to meet some great people.
Seoul has five palaces which are restored and worth a visit. I’ve been to all five, and they are nestles inside the city center. They are pretty much a walking distance from each other, and increase in size as they get newer and newer. I won’t go into too much detail about them, since a quick google search can give you common information about them. As well the city of Suwon is just an hour and a half subway ride from Seoul, which has a restored wall that used to serve as a fort for the region. Lastly, there is the DMZ…make sure you get the “good” tour, where you actually can step into North Korea, inside the neutral house of course. This is where the North Korea will stare at you through binoculars 8(. Don’t forget to visit the Museums as well. The War Memorial Museum is quite well done with many exhibits spanning from ancient to modern. As well there is an outdoor exhibit with many tanks, planes, ships and artillery. Here you can look at your favourite tank up close (Stug III variant FTW).
That’s all for the city of Seoul, at least that I can remember at the moment. After my time there I made my way south through the old capital, an authentic village and the city of Busan…but that’s for a later post!
Last edited by Boustrophedon; April 18, 2012 at 03:12 PM.