Korea is a super cool travel destination and should be high on the bucket list for lovers of travel. The home of K-pop is an all singing, all dancing extravaganza and a must see for travellers visiting Asia. It's been a long held dream to revisit this wonderful country, it's thrilling to be back after many years. It's clear the Koreans haven't been sitting on their hands in the last few decades, as first impressions of Seoul leave me wide eyed and very impressed. The Korean economy is an economic juggernaut, with the wealth generated evident throughout the Korean capital. Despite the ongoing threat caused by the aggressive posturing of the North Koreans, the demilitarised zone just sixty kilometres north seems a world away from the bustling and energetic lifestyle enjoyed by the citizens of Seoul.
The journal left off at the conclusion of an excellent visit to Taiwan, where I boarded a plane for a two hour flight to Seoul. Of course I understand each country has individual quirks, but I had a surprisingly difficult time getting things in order after arriving at the airport. Firstly, none of the ATMs accept a foreign card in the arrival terminal, and
I spent an hour trying every single machine available, after consulting the information staff several times. Finally they advised that a bank downstairs accepts foreign cards and I headed down feeling a little annoyed, as they could have told me before. Anyways, I finally had travel funds and happened to ask a girl walking by if I was heading in the right direction for the train line. She smiled readily and chatted in excellent English. It turns out she's a Thai national living in Seoul, and was heading to the same metro stop as my destination. However there was another hurdle to overcome, involving the purchase of a T money card from the automated machine. There wasn't a single staff member around, and the instructions were only in Korean. It turns out you have to purchase the card, then go to another machine to top it up. My new friend kept reappearing when needed most, and finally we boarded the train to central Seoul. After connecting on FB we waved goodbye, and I continued on to my guesthouse in Hongdae.
Dustin guesthouse is rather small and cramped, however the manager Sabrina will do anything for guests to make for
an enjoyable stay. The location of the hostel can't be beaten though, it's right on the main strip of Hongdae which is heaving with young university students and others who flock there at night to enjoy the shenanigans. The talented street artists dazzle huge crowds of an evening with singing, dancing, and magic in this vibrant area of Seoul. I had a blast on the first night, starting with a meal at a Korean restaurant with two guys from the hostel, then watching the street artists perform. I spent the next day exploring Hongdae on foot, and that evening took the metro to the giant outdoor viewing screens at Samseong to watch the World Cup. Australia competed against Denmark that evening, but unfortunately the broadcast was cancelled. I was an hour away from the hostel by metro and decided to check out trendy Gangnam nearby, then hurriedly sent a message to a friend back home for an update on the score. He provided several messages on the game as I journeyed back on the metro, it was almost as tense and exciting as watching the game itself!
The next day I headed out to Gyeongbok palace for another awesome
day. I arrived just as the changing of the guard ceremony was taking place at the palace entrance (just as in Taipei). The Korean guards wear traditional costumes, and with colourful flags and ancient weapons it's an impressive spectacle. Korean girls like to hire a Hanbok during a visit to the palace, with shops nearby hiring them out for around ten dollars. The tradition adds considerably to the spectacle of visiting the palaces, as locals snap selfies and pose for friends around the grounds. There's a free guided tour in English and I was quick to join the group, as the knowledgeable guide chaperoned visitors to several of the palaces, explaining the history of the dynasty responsible for their creation. The architecture is stunning, with plenty still to see and do at the conclusion of the tour. I suggest visitors spend at least half a day to enjoy all Gyeongbok has to offer.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Seoul is Times Square shopping centre, home to the biggest TV screen in the world and more brand name stores than you could care to imagine. It's actually connected by another giant shopping centre through walkways, and I
spent a half day ogling the wealth generated from the miraculous rise to economic prominence of the country since the Korean war ceasefire took effect in 1953. World Cup fever is kicking in all over Korea, with the locals thrilled by the 2-0 victory against world champions Germany. The games have been on at the hostel every night, where guests hang out and speculate on how the competition may unfold. The great thing is the excitement Hongdae is right outside the building anytime you feel the urge to step out. I met up with my Thai friend one evening, and she took me to a local Korean barbecue restaurant. We had a fascinating chat about her passion for K-pop. She has made a successful career living in Seoul, going to concerts, interviewing the band members, and purchasing bulk memorabilia which is later sold online to fans in Thailand.
Due to the cramped conditions at the guesthouse I decided to shorten my stay in Seoul, and took the KTX to the city of Daegu further south for a change of scene. Everything works so efficiently in Korea, and I was on board within 15 minutes of purchasing a ticket on
the bullet train. We rocketed down to Daegu at speeds of over 300kmh, with the ticket prices surprisingly cheap. I couldn't follow the guesthouse directions for the life of me, and maps apps don't seem to work well in Korea as the data is considered sensitive due to the threat from the north. However, two locals helped by walking me all the way to the door of the building. Koreans are kind and friendly to foreigners, and will do anything to assist if asked. What a change Empathy Guesthouse proved to be, I had arrived in heaven! There's a huge common area, immaculate rooms on several floors and large bathrooms. The first few nights I had a room to myself, which was a blessing as I had picked up a nasty summer flu from room mates in Seoul cranking the air-conditioning to absurd levels.
So I had no choice but to sleep it off for a few days, spending plenty of time hacking away in the room. Nevertheless I still got out and about every day and evening and became increasingly fond of Daegu. The city centre is beautiful and picturesque, I spent days just wandering around in different
directions while getting a feel for the city. I considered a day trip to Gyeongju to see the palaces but was just not feeling up to it. Sometimes travel can be very intense, but other times it can be quiet and provide time to recuperate if needed. This is what I chose during my five day stay in Daegu, nevertheless without packing in the sites I have great memories of my visit to this beautiful city, which is often overlooked by tourists. Come to think of it, basically all of you should be here now!
"Quiet people have the loudest minds." Stephen King
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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