Waking up at 6am to 26 degrees was something I knew I’d have to get used to with being in Seoul for the next dew days, but it really helped me get up early and make the most of my short time in the country.
After having a shower, and getting dressed, I still felt warm and sweaty. I was staying at a relatively new hostel called Fun Fun Stay which is located on the vibrant and youthful area of Hongdae.
I initially had a lot of problems finding the hostel, but that was due to my horrendous organisational skills of not carrying a map (I had everything else organised in my important folder apart from directions to the place). The hostel is located above a shop and Indian restaurant on the fourth floor.
After breakfast, it was time to get exploring. I picked up a t-money card, topped it up and away I went. The first stop on my list was Gyeongbokgung Palace, which is right outside Gyeongbokgung station on line three. It costs nothing to see it from the initial courtyard or the changing of the guards. To see more of the palace, you pay 3,000 Won. You can also pay 10,000 won for a ticket to all four palaces, but I didn’t know how many I’d realistically get to see on my short visit.
Gyeongbokgung Palace was voted the most scenic palace in Seoul and is by far the busiest. I cant speak for the others, as I didn’t visit them, but Gyeongbokgung was beautiful.
I spent a good 2 hours wandering around. What struck me was the intricacy of the architecture, and the colours. There was one main palace, with several little palaces around it. I managed to be around for the changing of the guard, which happens every hour. If I was a guard in the summer I’d need to change more often than that … it must be sweltering in those outfits.
I walked through the grounds and found a lovely little spot away all the tourists. It was so peaceful and lovely in the shade. I later walked further and the path lead me to the National Folk Museum of Korea.
After my jaunt around the palace, I went back to the metro station to Anguk station to explore the traditional Hanok Village called Bukchon.
Filled with many traditional teahouses, Bukchon is a traditional Korean village, where many Koreans still live. The houses are beautifully made. There are a number of different alley ways and hills with great view points.
During my time wandering around, I found one wee hanok which was obviously capitalising on tourism. On the top floor, there was a great wee view point which was nicely air conditioned. You paid 3000 Won for entry and got a lovely cold drink. A bit expensive, but was really roasting hot and I enjoyed the cool environment and view for 20 minutes whilst consulting my guidebook on where to wander to next.
After this, I attempted to get back to Anguk station, but my sense of direction failed me. I ended up wandering down into a neighbouring area of Insadong, which is known to be quite touristy. Here I bought a few souvenirs (cheaply) and picked up some street food for on the go.
it was at this point in my trip, as I continued to wander down random alleyways, that I started to feel very much like the minority. I walked through an area where there were a number of old Korean men some sort of board game in the sun. A little old man walked past me, smiled, giggled and put his thumbs up at me. Quite strange all the same.
The rest of my day was completed mostly on foot. I wandered into Seoul town hall area, which was lovely and vibrant. The town hall is a lot more modern than I expected, there were a lot of people around, children and families mainly, play in in the fountains, cooling down from the heat.
The next nearest location on my list was the Cheonggyecheon stream: to be honest I was expecting a lot more from it. The stream is 5 miles long, and has been described as an urban oasis. It was built in 2005, costing 900 million and built on the site of an old highway. It was nice, and I walked a fair wee bit of it, but parts of it looked quite overgrown. It was nice to stop and sit and rest, after spending most of the day on my feet.
For the remainder of my day, I headed back to Hongdae and got ready for my evening. It was my intention to see the Bampo Bridge fountain, which is the longest bridge fountain in the world, and has a light show at 8pm on weekdays. I followed instructions to get there from online, but got totally lost. Later I looked in my guidebook and found I was about two shops on the metro away from it. I got off too late. Gutted, as it was something I was looking forward to seeing.
So instead I headed into Myeong-Dong, which Is quite a vibrant shopping area of Seoul. It was 10pm and the place was still so alive with activity.
So my first day in Seoul was quite relaxed, a lot of walking, seeing new things and experiencing a different cultural.
One thing I learnt from day one was that in Korea you hand over money with both hands.
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable, its designed to make its own be comfortable.”
Happy and safe travels.