We arrived in Seoul at 4am, and stepped outside into -5 degrees, coming from Australia via Asia, I didn’t exactly bring a coat, so I was bloody freezing stood outside in just a hoodie waiting for the bus. After a little confusion we got onto the right bus and with some help managed to get off at the right stop. Naively we thought we’d just jump in a taxi to where we were staying. Bad call is seems as almost no one in Korea speaks English, after around 3 attempts, we were saved by free Wi-Fi and an iPhone – Searched the address, translated it into Korean and madly waved it at a taxi drivers face. Sorted, he took us to the address (supposedly) we got out but we were at completely the wrong end of a very long very bizarrely numbered road…
After a lot of dragging of backpacks, knocking on wrong doors and walking straight past it, we finally found the Tea GuestHouse We arrived at 6am, a full 9 hours before Check in at 3pm hoping we could leave our bags at the reception until check in. Minimal English was spoken even by the staff, but after a cup of Korean tea and some awkward sign language/waving of booking forms etc. we were shown to our room, apparently the hope of translating the fact we would like to leave our bags was extremely optimistic but it did result in us being able to use our room early. After a night flight with no sleep and around 2 hours of being outside in -5◦ I quite frankly couldn’t have been more chuffed! We’d opted to stay in a traditional Korean Hanok in Insadong, and it was beautiful! The beds are mats which fold up which gives you a lot more room during the day time, and most importantly means you are very close to the floor, which has amazing under floor heating. I’m not gonna lie the first thing I did when I got in was not roll out the bed but dive straight onto the bare floor face down and lay there until some warmth has been restored to my body!
Once we’d got toasty and had a few hours kip, we got kitted up to go outside, i.e. put on every single piece of clothing we owned with the effect of being slightly warmer but looking a lot like the Michelin man. We ventured out into Insadong a quaint artsy sort of high street and had a walk around, looked around the shops, stopped for hot chocolate, bought an obscene amount of street food (dog kebab anyone?) and headed back for the night. The next day we got up early caught the metro into central Seoul for Namdaemun Market where we promptly invested in hats and gloves, a worthwhile investment as it started snowing moments later. The market was intriguing; full of stalls selling Korean fashion and winter wear punctuated by hot chocolate stand (yes please!!), once again nobody spoke English but we got by with our essential purchases and decided to head to Dongdaemun, this is the biggest shopping area in Seoul with 26,000 malls. We started in what was effectively a 4 story enclosed car park, full of literally thousands of stalls, this once again was Korean style clothing at absolutely bargain basement prices. The next mall we went into was pretty amazing; 3 floors of fashionable women’s wear, with pretty much nothing costing more than a tenner, after living out of a backpack on a very limited wardrobe for the last year it’s fair to say I was pretty pleased with this find! Not sure of the name of this mall but it was next to Doota mall (which is much the same but seemed slightly more expensive).We also visited Changdeokgung Palace (just a bit of a mouthful then) it was interesting to see the massive grounds and old style buildings. We also took a trip to Seoul tower, to look down on the city and ride in the cable car but didn’t bother to go up the tower as we couldnt see all that much through the grey sky and snow! We visited the Beautiful Tea Museum in Insadong Where we tried Pu-Erh (aged tea) you can try teas of differing ages, some well over 50 years old! (Who knew?!) It wasn’t cheap but it was a really peacefully and interesting place for a cuppa and definitely an experience! Another of the great things about Seoul is they have tourist information people who walk around all the main areas in bright red coats who offer your assistance, help you if your lost or simply suggest activities if you should find yourself at a loose end!
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Street food loot on our first day, definitely had eyes bigger than our stomachs!
Savoury food was generally nice and tasty, but the sweet street foods available are stunning, bean paste pastries, traditional Korean cookies, ‘The kings dessert’, (1600 strands of honey wrapped around a nut or chocolate centre), and my hands down favourite a small thick doughy deep fried pancake with a melted peanut brittle centre… out of this world! We had been saving the treat of a Hanjeongsik (a traditional Korean set meal with lots of small dishes) for the last day, after some help from the red coated tourist information, we found the suggested restaurant and ordered a bottle of Sojo (the most popular Korean spirit) and grape rice wine to start, they both certainly warmed you up after a few sips! We ordered our set meals and waited, a couple of dishes came out, and then a couple more, and a couple more and each time we though this must be the last set another waiter would appear. If you are (like me) one of those people who can never decide what to order and then instantly regret whatever you decided when you see someone else’s food this is definitely the meal for you!
We finished our trip with some shopping, buying gifts mostly in Insadong where there is a huge variety of pottery for sale. Lastly we stocked up on Korean green tea, more hot chocolate and more peanut butter pancakes. Considering Korea wasn’t originally even on our itinerary (we only actually decided to go because we couldn’t get Russian visas) we had an amazing time, I’m glad we got to discover it!