Seoul, South Korea
Annoyingly I was up at 4am. But forced myself to attempt to sleep again! I did manage to eventually and was then fast asleep when my alarm went off at 9am. Typical.
After faffing around and packing up all my things, I headed out to meet my friend for a juice. The juice place didn’t open until 11am, so we gave up on that idea and headed to the metro. Enroute, we passed through more underground shopping (it’s literally everywhere!) and some cool cafes.
One of them was an acai cafe – so we had to stop! I had only just had breakfast, so second breakfast..! I just had a small acai bowl (it was tiny) but so good! And we eventually made it onto the metro.
After a couple of stops along, we were back outside. This area was so wide and open. A long strip of concrete and grass down the middle of a massive road, slicing between the tall glass buildings. To the south, more glass buildings. But to the north, palaces with a mountain backdrop! There were two large statues along this concrete strip; Yi Sun-Sin who is famous for going into battle with Japan and won with only small ships. The second was King Sejong who is credited for simplifying the Korean script and creating the alphabet. At the far end was the palace of Gyeongbokgung, which used to be the main palace of Seoul.
The buildings were made of grey stone, with elaborate red and green painted roofs in a Chinese style. After passing through the main gate, flanked with dressed up guards with large flags, we were into a large courtyard area. From here there was one more gate, a courtyard and a moat before reaching the queens palace building. It all looked very similar to the forbidden city in Beijing.
Behind was yet more small pretty buildings, a large lake, a pagoda and lots of wooden totem poles. It was all really cool. Off to one side was an open-air exhibition of historical buildings laid out in a street, styled as they would have been in the early 20th century. Random!
We hopped on the bus and ended up staying on it a bit long. We ended up at Changdeokgung palace – very similar to the palace we had just visited. So back on the bus and we made it to Insa-dong. Another one of these trendy areas, full of young Koreans, lots of cafes, souvenirs shops and green tea shops.
One of the green tea shops were doing free samples, so we tried some out! There was a cool building of individual craft shops, shaped in a rectangular spiral. You walked around and ended up going upwards for about 4 floors. It was pretty.
For lunch we went to a Loving Hut restaurant. This is a chain of vegan restaurants – and I’ve never been to one before. Apparently each one is different and they change their menu depending on the location. You really wouldn’t know it was a chain – it felt more like a small individual family restaurant.
All the seats were on the floor, you get a small cushion. The food is all mock meat dishes (made from soy), I’ve never tried mock meat before. We ordered sweet and sour, and a Korean barbecue dish. And were presented with 10 dishes. The two we ordered, plus a multitude of side dishes – spinach, acorn jelly, seaweed soup, kimchi, apple, some other soy stuff. Wow. The food was so good though! But far too much.
Even after we finished, it barely looked like we ate! From here, we walked along a couple of streets towards the Bukchon area. This is a traditional area of wooden houses, which have been preserved and people still live here now. In between all the museums, cafes and exhibitions. It was very touristy! These traditional houses are called hanok. With white walls, grey roofs and in a traditional ‘chinese temple’ style shape. It was all really pretty. There was a steep hill heading upwards, we went up (through the crowds!) and ended up with amazing views back across the city.
A huge contrast between the traditional houses, looking back at the new glass skyscrapers and Seoul tower. Back down the hill and we ended up in another trendy shopping area – Seoul is full of them! There was a long pathway full of people busking and drawing.
We left the main streets and weaved around a few back streets, before coming across the traditional tea shop we had been looking for. It smelt so good inside – they serve all kinds of tree bark and leaves as tea here. I had no idea what any of the teas were. So ordered a random one from the menu – it ended up being very dark, almost like drinking date syrup. I couldn’t drink it all. Not very refreshing. It was served with a sticky rice puff which was nice!
At about 5pm, we headed off to Bongeun-sa Buddhist temple. It was a bit of a long journey and had to change metro a couple of times. But we made it before it got dark. There were several layers of temple buildings, built on a bit of a hill and surrounded by forest. The temple was founded in AD 794, its buildings have been added to many times over the centuries. Some of the cherry blossoms had started to bloom, which was a pretty backdrop for the green temple buildings.
Inside the biggest temple building the ceiling was totally covered in coloured lanterns. I was surprised at the general lack of temples around the city. I had expected them to be dotted around everywhere – like in other Asian cities. But actually, there are more churches here than temples!
We hopped back on the metro for a couple of stops, to the main area of Gangnam. This area was made famous by the song, of the same name, a couple of years ago. It’s full of clubs, bars and eating places. Each one seemingly trying to out do its neighbours by how loud it’s music is and how bright it’s lights were! I was still full from all the food I’ve eaten all day. So we just had a small dinner of raw salad rice paper rolls at a Vietnamese restaurant. Gangnam is miles from everywhere. We caught a bus back to Dongdaenum, which took about 40 minutes. It was now a bit chilly and I didn’t bring my coat out with me! But luckily the bus dropped me basically right by the guesthouse.