So here we are. My fourth and final post about the trip to South Korea. I promise that from here on out, you'll never ever have to hear me breathe another word about Seoul (unless you ask me, in which case you'd probably have to punch me in the face to get me to shut up). It's the Virgo part of me that gets really antsy if I don't sit down and record things. I like knowing that one day, when I'm old, arthritic and living in a house with my thirty-seven cats, I can look back at this trip and remember the adventure I had in South Korea in 2014.
- Seoul Searching #1: Annyeonghaseyo South Korea!
- Seoul Searching #2: Food, Walking & More Food
- Seoul Searching #3: SEOUL
I might just take this chance to talk about a couple of things I never addressed about South Korea in my previous posts since I've got a couple of friends who are thinking of travelling there in the near future. (Plus, it's always the little things you notice that are always the most interesting).
Remember how I mentioned getting internet reception in the middle of freakin' nowhere of the Korean countryside? And even then, it was fifty times faster than Australia's? Well, HOLY CRAP IS SEOUL'S INTERNET FAST. And you get free wi-fi at almost every cafe/chain-store you go into. There's none of this sign up your email and we'll spam you with marketing every month and then you can use our internet, no sir. It's free. Gloriously free.
And if Sydney Trains is like an old, run-down Volkwagen Country Buggy, Seoul's KORAIL system would be the freakin' Batmobile complete with riot controls and super-enhanced armour. Most of the system is underground and the network spans all of Seoul, across the Han River and into most outer areas. Trains come every five minutes like clockwork (don't think they're people-operated at all) and if you're a first-time traveler to Seoul who can't read any Korean (like me), no sweat. Everything is signposted and transferring trains is easy as pie. They've even got light up maps inside the carriages which show you exactly where you are and what station the train's heading into. Most lines even broadcast the next stop in four languages (Korean, Japanese English and Chinese).
Best of all, a round trip from one end of Seoul to the other costs about 1000 won (or 800 won), which is about a dollar in Australian currency. A dollar. I can't even.
By the way, if you're staying in Seoul for a couple of days, buy the T-money card and recharge it for credit. You use it to swipe in and out of train barriers, use buses and other transport, access wi-fi in certain areas (such as subway carriages), use vending machines and buy things at convenience stores. It's like the Opal card but on steroids.
Okay, enough about the superior quality of life in Korea. It's just making me more depressed the more I think about it (why Sydney why?!). Let's actually get into the adventure part of the post.
Day 7: Insadong, Seoul Tower & Hongdae
Our legs were still aching from yesterday's trek through the giganormous Gyeongbokgung Palace but we sucked it up, got up early and took the train to Insadong. Everyone was recommending this place to me because apparently, Insadong was where traditional Korean culture meets contemporary Korea. And they were right.
Walking around Insadong, you notice that everything's got a really artsy vibe to it. Murals are splattered all over the streets and little alleyways and a lot of the stuff you find in the shops are handcrafted and quite unique. I wouldn't actually recommend buying souvenirs here though since it's a place that's often frequented by tourists and as a result, shopkeepers have hiked up the prices to really unreasonable amounts. So basically, look but don't buy.
You know what's cheap though? Street food. Above is the Tteokbokki waffle I was talking about in my last post. The lady literally stuck a stick of tteokbokki into the waffle maker, closed the lid for a minute, took the "waffle" out and drizzled it in "flower honey". It looked and tasted like a glorified rice cake.
A mini plaza in Insadong. It was like the QVB because the higher you got, the more expensive the wares. On the highest level, they had a cafe which served coffee in mugs shaped like toilet bowls.
We had lunch at Insadong (spicy tofu stew FTW) before heading all the way down to Namsam to see Seoul Tower (Do you know Namsam Tower??).
Geum Jan-di, SARANGHAE! (Sorry - Boys Over Flowers reference)
At Namsam, you have to ride the cable car up to the actual tower (it's situated on a mountain) and at the top, there's a large area full of restaurants and photo points.
You can immortalize your love with a tacky plastic lock that looks exactly the same as everyone else's (because there's only one shop that sells locks up here)
After Seoul Tower, we headed to Hongdae.
Okay, I don't even know where to begin with Hongdae but if I had to choose a favourite district/area of Seoul, I'd go with Hongdae. For those who don't know, Hongdae is close to Hongik university and it's basically where all the cool kids hang out to have some fun. It's kind of got everything - bars, clubs, cafes, shopping, art museums, jazz culture, street performances, you name it. They've even got - wait for it - cat cafes. Apparently it's the most active at night but if you come here in the morning (which we also did on our last day in Seoul), you can still have a walk around grab some food. I don't know, I just loved the whole energy of the place.
Was the name intentional?
The hotteok place that came highly recommended on Eat Your Kimchi. We stumbled upon it by accident and then I started taking pictures like a loser and the guy flipping hotteoks looked up and did the peace sign but I freakin' missed the shot ugh.
Also, HANDS DOWN THE BEST STREET FOOD IN ALL OF KOREA. Doughy pancake filled with brown sugar, honey, peanuts and cinnamon.
Uh yeah, no.
Coffee break at "Angel In Us" coffee. No I'm perfectly serious - that is the name of the chain.
Hongdae street performers entertaining the crowd
Day 8 - Lotte World and Myeongdong (again)
Serena and I spent most of the day in Lotte World - the world's biggest indoor amusement park. The picture doesn't really convey the sheer size of the place. At first glance, it seems kind of small but the whole area consists of twisting passages that go under and around the building. The rides kind of branch off and tunnel under the park and it's actually quite easy to get disorientated.
They've also got an outdoor section called Magic Island and here, you've also got a couple of rollercoasters, height-dropping rides and other attractions.
Funny story but Serena and I actually lined up for almost an hour for one of the rides. After getting off, we realised that the ticket we had was a fast-track ticket that would let us jump certain queues. Definitely one of our most idiotic moments of the trip.
Lunch at Lotteria which is owned by the Lotte franchise (if you couldn't guess from the name). I got a Shrimp Burger and my sister got a Bulgolgi burger. So bad but so good.
Goodbye Lotte World...
So because we are certified fat-arses with bottomless wells for stomachs, we decided to head back to Myeongdong for some midnight snacks. The guilt was killing me by this point but like, how can you say no to this??
I also blew lots of cash on things.
Day 9: EYK and Cat Cafes in Hongdae
So this was our very final day in Seoul. Yeah I know, I couldn't believe it either. I felt like there was so much more to see; we never got to go to Gangnam or Itaewon and I felt so cheated. Ah well, save some for next time eh?
My sister and I had breakfast at a small little place near our hotel before jumping on a train to Hongdae (again). We had two things to cross off the list (EYK landmarks and a cat cafe).
Hongik University - I would give anything to be able to study here for a semester or so. I mean, it's right in the middle of Hongdae!
Okay, so here's a story to make you cry if you're an Eat Your Kimchi fan. Basically if you watch EYK on YouTube, you'd know that above is a picture of the You Are Here cafe which is jointly owned by Simon and Martina. After much confusion and getting lost, my sister and I finally found the place and I took a suitably cheesy photo in front of it. We were debating whether to go in or not because to be honest, the place looked kind of empty and the drinks were pretty pricey. In the end, we decided against it and walked to the other end of Hongdae to get a snap of the EYK studios.
It was here that I checked my Instagram and saw that Martina had uploaded a photo of some flowers captioned "the flowers I planted at the You Are Here Cafe are now blooming - look!".
She'd uploaded that 20 minutes ago - roughly around the time my sister and I were there.
Ugh, the regrets....
Not sure what this place is called now but previously, I think it was named Cafe Gio Cat
Anyway, so after that unfortunate, missed-opportunity, we needed to squish some cats to put the joy back into our lives. So we went to a cat cafe.
Best. Decision. Ever.
We came at exactly 1:00pm (when the cafe was just opening) so we were the first ones there. It meant that there were just more cats for us. The owner led us in to a sectioned off room where we had to sanitize our hands and change into sandals. We also had to store our bags because, in her words, "the cats will pee on them". After doing that, you can enter the main room and pay the entry fee (8000 won = $8). Entry fee includes a free drink which you must always keep in the cup holder on the tables (cats are prone to knocking drinks over).
Apart from a couple of rules (don't annoy sleeping cats, pick up unwilling cats, pull their tails, etc.) you could kind of wander around and do whatever you pleased. I don't think there's a time limit on how long we can stay but my sister and I were there for ages and the owners didn't even bat an eye.
For those who are a little bit worried about the standards of the cafe, you really don't need to be. Cats are very well looked after, clean and affectionate and surprisingly, there are no bad smells in the place at all. The owners keep it very well maintained and orderly.
This thing kept following me around
No seriously, it was always there.
The Don't-You-Dare-Touch-Us Cats
The Cat Whisperer
The Hungry Cat
The Fluffy Cat
The "Whaddya lookin' at punk" cat
And my protective mountain lion cat.
We said goodbye to Seoul and went back to the airport that night. As I said before, I honestly don't think I had enough time in South Korea - especially in Seoul. There is so much to see, do and especially eat. I would've loved to have had a day dedicated to just walking around a neighbourhood, sitting at cafes and just soaking everything in but as always, you have to make do with the time you have.
It's okay though because I know for sure this isn't going to be my last time in Seoul. I am definitely coming back one day, hopefully with a couple of friends so we can check out the nightlife, Gangnam and a couple of other things I missed (Korean karaoke omg). Until then though - Annyeonghaseyo South Korea!