Seoul has Soul

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August 5th 2019
Published: August 13th 2019
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The Gwanjung markets is an undercover clothes by day/food by night market. The Netflix series ‘street food', the Seoul episode, focused on this market and one proprietor in particular. We had a snack of kimchi + meat dumplings there, washed down with a cold Cass beer, before heading off to another stall to have Toppoki (rice cakes with chilli pepper sauce) and Gimbap, a Korean type of nori roll filled with beatle leaf, rice and vegetables. While we were eating, we noticed photos of British chef Gordon Ramsay , and as we left, the owner insisted on feeding us more gimbap like she did to Gordon! Afterward, we stopped by a really nice craft brew pub near our hotel which was blasting K pop videos!

The next day, we headed off early to wander around the Bukchon Hanok villiage, a village of traditional ‘hanok' houses in the middle of the city. Part residential, part small commercial shops, it took us awhile wandering around to find the specific areas of Bukchon we saw on YouTube. The houses and doorways were beautiful, and surprisingly there wasn't a huge amount of people walking around. It was a hot, unbearably humid day over 35 degrees. We're from Brisbane so our summers are similar, even hotter at times but we're usually indoors not walking around in the hottest part of the day! Still I had to dress up in a traditional ‘Hanbok', a traditional dress that is usually worn on special occasions such as weddings and cultural festivals. So I went to one of the many Hanbok rentals near the palace, quickly got fitted out and my hair done all for 23 000 KRW ($30AUD). As I was wearing traditional attire, I got in for free. Regular entry is 3000KRW, Bill opted not to wear the male version of Hanbok (to be honest it didn’t look as nice as the women’s one anyway! Bill played photographer taking photos of me around Geongbukgung palace like a lady in waiting from one of those Korean dramas. Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first and largest of the royal palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty. Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace was located at the heart of newly appointed capital of Seoul (then known as Hanyang) and represented the sovereignty of the Joseon Dynasty. The largest of the Five Grand Palaces (the others being Gyeonghuigung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace), Gyeongbokgung served as the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty. Today it is enjoyed by tourists and locals alike with only 500 tickets being issued to foreigners a day so it doesn't feel over crowded. The palace pavilions are sprawled over a very large area, reminded me of the palace we went to in Hue, Vietnam. The gorgeous mountains in the background make for a stunning backdrop. Our favourite parts of the palace grounds was around the lake with the gorgeous trees, branches and a stunning pavilion in the middle. Even though I had hired the Hanbok for 4 hours, we returned it after just over 2 hours as we had been walking around in the heat all day and had enough! Even the regular changing of the guards ceremony had been cancelled due to the heatwave-like conditions. On our way to the palace, we had noticed dozens and dozens of police buses, and as we left we knew why. There was a massive demonstration all through the streets with thousands of people out, all looked to be aged 60+, waiving Korean, USA and even an Israeli flag. From what we gather, they were demonstrating for the continuation of the Korean-US alliance and a call for deposed president Park to be re-instated and current President Moon to be charged for treason. We also saw anti-Trump banners too! It was getting quite passionate, peaceful but passionate, with chanting and loudspeakers in a procession down the major street. Our theory is the older population are more conservative wanting to continue with the US alliance and not engage in peace talks with the DPRK, which is what current President Moon is doing. But I can't verify that as my google searching did not bring up any results for that day's protest do its just a theory only.

Afterward we went to Itaewon district, where we found all the other tourists, international bars and found another craft brewery. That night we walked through our nearby district for beers, and couldn't decide on food (everywhere is a Korean BBQ) so eventually we found a very local restaurant with delicious local food (Korean cold noodles the best in this weather!)

The next day we ventured to Namdaemun markets, a huge market selling food, homewares, clothes, souvenirs, you name it! I bought some souvenirs. Afterward we went back to Myeongdong for a spot of shopping and I bought some Korean beauty cosmetics, there is so much to choose from but I have some favourite brands. More food, lunch time! Another typical Korean restaurant with hot pot noodles and stir fried octopus on the menu – it was filling and delicious! What we love about Korean restaurants, other than the delicious foods, is the buzzer on the table to call over wait staff, rather than flag them down, as well as a drawer for cutlery and napkins at the table. Korean restaurants back home have them, but not other restaurants. Its just a far more efficient system that just hasn't quite latched on to other non-Korean restaurants. We had then planned to go to Gangnam district after a brief hotel stop, however given time it would have taken on the subway, we opted to go to the Hongdae district, which is near the Hongik university and its full of uni kids hanging out, doing K pop dance battles in the shopping street, and did I mention more shopping?! We found yet another craft beer bar (see a theme here?) and sheltered from the late afternoon downpour. We caught a taxi to the Namsan cable car station to catch a cable car up to the N Tower Seoul. We had hoped we would get there in time for sunset, however the lines at the cable car were so huge the sun was setting (not that you could see in the haze) as we were going up in the cable car. The lookout itself is breathtaking, and is a large space for locals, tourists and families to mingle and look at the sprawling Seoul metropolis below. The area is covered in ‘love locks’ as well, thousands of them, and for an eye watering fee you can buy a love lock too. Our love is enduring so we didn’t feel the need to buy one nor part with the cash! Bill's theory is every now and then they come by and take the locks away by breaking them, and wash off the permanent markers and re-sell them. Somehow I don't think they would re-sell them! The tower itself was a mission to get into, with several multimedia rooms we had to wait in to line up to get the elevator get up the tower! Once there, the views were magnificent, only spoiled by the bright lights of the various gift shops reflecting off the glass. But we still got some really good photos. On the way down we had to line up for the elevator, and indeed later lined up again for the cable car! It is a great views, even if you don’t go into the tower and only spend time on the mountain, which you can as there are many restaurants and bars there. We then took a inclined elevator down to street level and walked back to the hotel. Our last day and night in Seoul was done.

We love Seoul, and next time intend to spend more time in South Korea, perhaps pairing it with a trip to Japan. For me, Seoul is edgier and bit more gritty than Tokyo, and less gritty than Bangkok. It’s a good blend between the two, as well culturally, the general vibe felt a good blend between Japan and Thailand. We can't wait to come back! The city is yet to feel the brunt of over tourism so that was another tick from us. For now, we are halfway to our next stop Istanbul!

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