An unexpected adventure via South Korea: Part Two

Sunday 28th June

So, as you can guess, after a dance-filled night out, this morning was a write off. We only managed to get ourselves out of the door at half past one! Once again we had our toast breakfast 😀 then headed off both Luis and I following Sooguen as he took us around the city. We caught a bus and got off outside a temple. This temple was small and tucked back in-between bigger and taller buildings. We couldn’t step into the temple itself as there were crowds of people in prayer or participating in a ceremony of some kind. However it was beautiful. The Korean traditional style buildings seem to use a few brighter colours than the Chinese, I feel they use green much more which is really pretty! There were rows and rows of colourful lanterns hung up above us. From there we walked across the road onto a street that was popular for tourists: Insa-dong. The street is said to be one of the most memorable attractions in Seoul and represents the focal point of Korean traditional culture and crafts. It has a small outdoor shopping centre which you just follow a ramp all the way around to climb up to the top, passing various shops selling jewellery, artsy stuff and snacks.

From there we headed towards the Bukchon Hanok Village which is a small part of the city full of the old style houses. Despite being newly built (they looked too perfect and unweathered to be genuinely old!), they were lovely. We didn’t get to look inside because they are current homes to Korean citizens. I love the Asian-style architecture. I think it’s much more beautiful than the thatch-roofed cottages or Victorian-style houses we find in the UK. I asked Sooguen about the average price of houses for one person with a stable job and it was as pricey as London. With that in mind, we were then faced with a decision. To climb or not to climb. There was an option of catching the bus up the hill (that we couldn’t see at this point) to SungKyunKwan University but as we’d have to walk in the opposite direction and wait, we chose to climb. It was boiling but what’s a little hill gonna d0..!? It’s a killer. That’s what it is. It was also big. Luckily it didn’t take too long to climb and it meant we had a fantastic view back over the city but seriously.. We walked back down into the campus and were led through a view passage ways to a building to catch the elevator up to the top floor. This brought us out to a patio grassed area which would be so lovely to sit in and study when you want to escape from the world. I’m a bit sceptical as to whether we were allowed but we then climbed a ladder (ergh, I am scarred for life after the one in the Tiger Leaping Gorge!) and were welcomed by a panoramic view of Seoul. I fell in love. I already had when I had seen it from Naksan Park but this was just amazing. I am a sucker for panoramic views of a city…

Panoramic View of Seoul from SungKyunKwan University

We walked through the campus and out to the front end of the University to see the old main building that appears on the 1,000 won bank note however as it was a Sunday, the gates to go into that particular area were closed earlier than usual. Oops. Nevertheless we rewarded our long day of walking with a Mexican-style dinner! It was absolutely delicious. I have to say: the restaurants, fast food, cafes, etc. in Seoul never disappointed. And as a food-lover, I was extremely happy. Even though Luis did say that it wasn’t “true” Mexican cuisine, he enjoyed it a lot 😀 Once stuffed we went to Dongdaemun Design Plaza. This is the fashion hub in the South Korean Capital. Dongdaemun has every fashion item imaginable: fabric, clothes, accessories, and wedding goods. There is a massive shopping centre full of Korean and International high-fashion brands. Alongside the shopping centre is the gate itself, officially named Heunginjimun (meaning ‘Gate of Rising Benevolence’) but is much more commonly known as Dongdaemun: ‘Great Eastern Gate’. It wasn’t my most favourite part of town but for any fashion enthusiast it would be amazing to visit. My favourite part of it was a grass area filled with lit up white plastic roses. I don’t know why they were there – or if they copied the idea from the Tower of London anniversary – but it was beautiful to see once the sun had set. By 9pm we were exhausted and headed back to the hostel, Sooguen headed home as he had University classes to go to the next morning. However we did not crash until at least midnight due to Jisoo coming over to chill with us for a while! 🙂

Roses nearby the square in Dongdaemun

Monday 29th June

We had a chilled day, slept in, ate our daily toast and were tourists. We went to see the main Palace in the centre of Seoul. It’s amazing how there are big hills or small mountains inside the city!! It wasn’t an eventful day so I’ll just post a few pictures of the city 😀

Tuesday 30th June 

Today we got up late again. We were to meet Jisoo at some point as he had told us he was free. And as fate would have it, Sooguen was suddenly available for the whole day too so he decided to join us. It was the only day where all four of us were together 😀

As Luis and I hadn’t done a great amount of sight-seeing we chose to meet them at Changdeokgung Palace on the North-eastern side of the city. Sooguen was already there when we arrived and we ate lunch as we were all quite hungry and had to wait for Jisoo. There was a street near the metro station that was full of eateries, coffee shops and a couple of small clothes shops. We went to a cheap place that sold fried rice cups and it was so good! I chose a seafood one and Luis chose the original because it was non-spicy (hehe). I am quite proud that my tolerance to spice has risen. Once stuffed we went to the Palace… And realised that if we went the next day, it’d be free entry for everything for Luis and I. We decided to do something different seeing as we had another day, it would be free, and it meant Jisoo and Sooguen wouldn’t have to walk around something that doesn’t tickle their fancy at all! 

Koreans are big fans of baseball so it was suggested that we go see a game in the late afternoon. We got on a bus that took almost an hour to get down to the south side of the city and went to see Lotte World. The owner of the company, Lotte, wants to go down in history thus is building the tallest building in Seoul. Beside it lies a large Lotte World shopping centre and another indoor and outdoor amusement park across the road. We spent a few hours in that area. I found a Krispie Kreme Doughnut Shop and excitement took over! I, honestly, ran to it (with three guys just wondering how crazy I was) and bought a doughnut. Totally worth it. Then bad luck struck and we realised it had rained so it was unlikely the game would be on… Damn.

Instead we went to a entertainment part of the Jamsil district and were treated to a delicious Korean barbecue by Jisoo and Sooguen. As the game was cancelled, we played a few arcade games, each having a go at a baseball simulator, and the guys had a go on a shooting game. Then, we actually went into a gaming centre that was a underground room FULL of massive computer screens. We played a multiplayer car racing game for an hour for 5,000₩. That is equivalent to £3! Unbelievably cheap but so much fun! 

Wednesday 1st July

Today we resumed the role tourists and headed to Changdeokgung Palace (after our round of toast that was becoming a tradition for us to have each morning). We had the cup of rice for lunch again which was delicious! And somehow the rest of the day ran away with us. Partly due to our late start but also we found ourselves just waddling around slowly in the heat. We went to Namdaemun (the South Gate) before heading down to the Han River for one more walk along it. The view was still as fantastic as the first time we crossed it. 

Sooguen came to meet us at our hostel at around 7:30pm to decide what to do for dinner. Despite Luis just wanting to have food delivered and sit on the couch for the rest of the evening, we headed out to a pizza place which was ten minutes walk away. This pizza was HUGE. It was one slice too much for three of us and had space to have three different style toppings on it! We sat outside and ate it which was really nice. 

This evening Sooguen and I had chosen to use all the points I had on Ctrip to stay somewhere a bit nicer than a hostel… (no offence to the hostel, it was really nice!). I chose the Pacific Hotel in Myeong-Dong district because it was more central and easy transport wise. It was a lot nicer than either of us expected. And so exciting! Finally a little teeny bit of luxury after five months – and many nights in hostels – in China. Sooguen suggested that we go up to the Namsan Tower, otherwise known as the Seoul Tower. I dare say.. it was perfect. It was quite a clear night and the full moon was high in the sky. Although we didn’t go up the tower, we caught the gondola up to the top of the hill it stood on and the view points there were still fantastic! It was the most perfect last night I could have ever had. ^^’

Thursday 2nd July

As Luis was due to leave the hostel for Seoul Airport at 11am, I made sure I was back at the hostel by 10am so we would be able to drag our luggage together. However when I arrived I found he was only half packed and, in a typical Luis way, we had a situation to deal with. His flight was booked for the day before. Oh bugger. He was frantically searching for a flight out the same day however Jeju Air is a rubbish website and never seems to work with any credit cards at all. So he got himself sorted and went to the airport to buy a flight there. It was weird to be saying goodbye to him for the final (for now) time. I had said the words ‘goodbye’ to Luis four times by now (having only meant to have parted ways twice) and we were laughing at the idea of it possibly being the fifth if he couldn’t get a flight. Nevertheless he managed to get the exact same flight and we were definitely not going to cross paths for the next year at least. 😦 I am so glad that I did end up going back to Ningbo and got to know him properly. He is a gem of a guy 😀

We dragged our (well, my) bags to Seoul Train Station for Luis to catch the Airport Railroad (train) to the Airport and for me to chill in the station before I, myself, headed to the airport at 2pm. And you won’t believe my luck.. the ovens and machines in McDonald’s weren’t working! So I sat and read for a while. Sooguen had said he’d come after his classes finished and I managed to get hold of Jisoo incase there was a chance I could say goodbye to him properly too. Eventually they appeared, one after the other, and they took me up to Burger King where we chatted together until it was time for me to catch the Airport Railroad.

Jisoo & Sooguen seeing me off in Seoul Station
Jisoo & Sooguen seeing me off in Seoul Station

I don’t really have any words for leaving Seoul. I am pretty aware I’ve repeated a million times how saying goodbye has been for me so I’ve probably bored you all to death with my woes… The main focus for me this time was Sooguen and all I’ll say is saying goodbye to him was tough. :/ I’ve become a complete softie and cry at anything. I managed not to let the tears appear until I was on the escalator descending into the underground.. So there we go, a week in South Korea had been lived in a blink of an eye.

Thursday 2nd July

It is finally home time. I woke up torn about leaving this wonderful place and returning to my parents’ abode in good ol’ Calgary.

Seoul is definitely a city I would return to. I don’t say this because the whole week was incredible and I have a bias that takes the form of Sooguen. Rather, I loved the atmosphere of the city itself. There are parts that are busy and scream “city life” but others that are so much calmer thus more like a english ‘town’. It is a city you can escape in. The river itself is beautiful and relaxing to walk along. As Luis pointed out, it has a mixture of old and new architecture scattered across the city which reminds you how beautiful it is. I want to return and see the rest of Korea next year. For such a small isle, there is a lot to see that we didn’t even get close to. It’s good to have a goal for next summer. It comes hand in hand with the idea of going to China to work after graduation. 

The flight home was rather bumpy with turbulence. I couldn’t focus on much as we rollercoast-ed our way to Vancouver so I just listened to my iPod, thinking about the past six months. I am aware that I am so so so absorbed in Ningbo and what it was, and my life there but it is such a big part of my life right now. Understandably so.. right? XD I’ve gone through every moment trying to glue it to my long term memory so I won’t forget any of it. As many have seen I made a video and now to moving on and looking forward to the looming fourth year that I need to throw myself into..!