Seda: Things of course don’t always go as planned. Some journeys prove to be more challenging and some places turn out to be less exciting than expected. And weather can certainly dampen the mood. So offering you our smiley faces on this post required a lot of fluffy cute cat therapy. More on that later…
Our journey to Seoul didn’t start well. The taxi we pre-booked didn’t turn up. So, rather than running the risk of being late, we called for a new one. Once that arrived, the journey ahead still wasn’t looking easy as all the minor roads in Hanoi were closed for Independence Day celebrations. The taxi driver tirelessly tried different routes and diversions but it was so jammed that we were hardly moving. I was sure we would miss the flight at that point but the driver went into beast mode and absolutely smashed the rest of the miles once we left the city centre behind!
Just as I thought we might have a chance again to make it in time, a spectacular communication failure saw us being dropped at the domestic terminal instead of international! Turns out we’d found the only taxi driver who didn’t know what “international” meant! Thanks to that we were delayed a further half an hour as we had to wait for the shuttle bus to take us to the international terminal. Luckily the rest was ok as the airline staff kindly let us go through priority check in.
So here we are in Seoul, somewhere we never expected to be. At first glance, this is a very modern city with massively wide roads. When I say wide, most have 4 lanes in each direction with the 5th being the slip road!
It’s an expensive place though. Let me put it this way, we stay in a room the size of a shoe box with a bunk bed in it and not much else, and this is costing us 3 times as much as our double bed in the Hanoi hostel. A really small toilet also has a shower in it. Why stop there? It is also used as a grooming and beauty room, make up studio, washing room, hair drying room, chatting room and God knows what else. I should have never underestimated the use of 2 sq meters!
Andy: The weather has been miserable since the moment we arrived. It has rained really heavily most of the time which has stopped us from enjoying what Seoul has to offer.
The first day we arrived we took a walk and stumbled upon Namdaemun market. We didn’t want to venture too far as we were pretty tired from our overnight flight but after we saw so many wonderfully colourful and interesting things in the market it invigorated us. I dare you to stay sleepy after standing by the busy “pigs feet” stall!
We also had our first taste of Korean food here. These lovely ladies helped us order, and one even came over and stirred my hotpot for me. I must’ve been looking at it quizzically!
Did we mention that it was raining a lot? Well, on our second day in Seoul we were trying to get to Gyeongbokgung Palace (our first attempt) before the heavens opened and we ran for cover. This time with no umbrella or rain jackets – It was bright when we left the hostel, honest! We got stuck in quite possibly the worst mini underground shopping mall for around 5 hours. What a waste of a day!
Seda: The next day, after checking the forecast we could see rain on the horizon, but we had a cunning plan. Because we are clever, we decided a quick and easy way to see a lot of the city would be a hop on-hop off bus tour. So, we borrowed an umbrella from the hostel and started the 30 minute walk or so to the bus stop. About 10 minutes into our walk it started raining heavily, and by the time we arrived at the bus stop we were both soaked and thoroughly miserable! On top of that, the bus had the a/c on set to freezing which made our wet clothes stick in the shape of our bodies.
Andy: After about an hour, the rain had stopped so we got off the bus at the National Museum of Korea. It was a huge imposing building and as we entered we didn’t know where to start. Thankfully we had a friend to help us!
By the time we’d walked around the museum we were nearly dry, but as we exited it was starting to rain again. We made it to the bus stop to continue our city tour. It rained for the rest of the day. Even when we managed to find a gap and got off the bus to look at a new area the rains soon started again. We had to take refuge in a coffee shop which wasn’t on the top 10 must-see destinations of Seoul but the latte was good!
We completed the tour on the bus listening to the commentary which was very thin on the ground. Maybe they didn’t have that much they wanted us to know about Seoul?
Seda: The next day was partly dry thankfully, so we thought we’d make the most of it. We walked to somewhere impressive we’d seen from the bus – Gyeongbokgung palace and the nearby national folk museum. They were both nice places to walk around, made even better by hundreds of visitors wearing traditional Korean costumes they hired for the day. We posed to camera with some of them, while some others were posing for their professional photographers which I might have gate-crashed.
Andy: It feels like there are a lot of fried foods that’s available cheaply around Seoul. When we booked this hostel, we counted on having breakfast available to lower the expenses. What we got in reality was toast with all sorts of spreads; peanut butter, chocolate spread, lotus biscuit spread and strawberry jam. I just hope we got down there early enough so we didn’t get the licked spoon!
Nice as it is, there’s nothing healthy about it. Whatever weight we had lost so far on our travels, we will surely put it back on between these spreads, sugary drinks and fry ups. We’ll have to be careful we’re not ejected from our next flight due to excess weight!
Wherever we’ve been so far we’ve always had the local food throughout our stay and loved it. Unfortunately, some of the ingredients used in Korean dishes are not our favourites such as seaweed, strong fish flavours and kimchi.
We haven’t really tasted anything that we would go crazy about except of course Korea’s most famous export -its barbecue. Although slightly expensive we were really keen to try and we certainly weren’t disappointed as it was delicious. We ordered some marinaded chicken, and beef skirt. All of the salad and condiments are free and obviously you cook the meat yourself. Not only is it great fun, but it tasted amazing too.
With all this rain around since we arrived we noticed our energy levels have been very low and we get tired very quickly. We were a bit confused by this, but after having a second look at the weather forecasts we saw that it was around 95% humidity most days. Even though the temperatures are not all that high it was still very energy sapping for us.
We moved hostel for the second part of our stay in Seoul, and found a place not too far away. When we arrived there were loads of cartoon characters dotted around the place which we couldn’t work out. After a little research we found out that our hostel was on the road where the Korean animation main area is housed, and its unofficially known as Cartoon Street. So, I spent the next 2 days taking pictures of Seda with various characters!
Seda: Constant rains were getting to us while we were walking on Myeongdong market street thinking it will pour down at any moment. We then saw this guy standing among the crowds dressed as a cat like a mascot at football games. Andy turned and said to me that he’d heard about cat cafes online and was curious about them. This was my opportunity. I had heard enough to drag him there! The cat guy was carrying a board saying that they had “50 cute cats” which I was rather sceptical about to be honest but when we got there however, I think there may have been even more!
Andy said that it was a really cool experience sitting in a cafe, drinking your coffee and stroking cats! Hmmm…I’m saying nothing!
After proving the point that you can never stop taking pictures of babies and cats, I had to drag my “cat-hating” husband out of there!
Andy: On our last full day it was mostly rain free and so we took a walk to Deoksugung Palace. We had a walk around the palace courtyards marvelling at the beautiful buildings before going into the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art which was also housed inside the palace grounds. It had displays from prominent Korean artists from the last century and was rather interesting.
On our last evening in Seoul we had some Korean Won burning a hole in our pockets. What better place to spend it than a pub. As luck would have it we found a lovely craft beer pub called Walkabout on the same street as our hostel. It was a great little place selling a wide variety of lovely beers and Seda even found a cider! They had their own 3 cats as well, which felt like being back in the cat cafe again!
Seoul and South Korea was not on our original itinerary but once we booked our flight we were really excited to see somewhere new. As it turned out the weather was against us throughout the week but we tried to make the most of it. It would be fair to say that Seoul was not our favourite place we’ve visited so far, but we leave having had some great experiences nevertheless.