Last year we visited two European destinations, Malta and Slovenia. This year our focus was back to Asia. After visiting already some Asians countries like Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and a little bit of Cambodia (Siem Reap to be exact), we were ready to explore South Korea! It has been on my radar for a while now since I took up World Heritage Studies for my higher education. Besides, Filipinos have been suckers for Hispanic “telenovelas,” then the Korean telenovelas, (known as Koreanovelas), as well as KPop, caught up. Eventually, they rubbed on me as well.
We planned to travel to South Korea for a bit more than two weeks and then continue to Hong Kong, before going to the Philippines. We were hoping for four weeks of sightseeing! Our bags were packed, and that wasn’t the easy part since we needed to pack warm clothes for South Korea (March in South Korea brings temperatures around 10°C, we read) and lighter clothes for Hong Kong (more than 20°C) and the Philippines (30+°C). We tried to press all that into the suitcases (as well as some gifts for my family in the Philippines) without exceeding the weight limit. We had booked a flight with KLM via Amsterdam to Seoul, South Korea’s capital.
We had planned to spend four nights in Seoul and arrived at the Incheon International Airport in the afternoon in local time (early morning Berlin time). We got through immigration without much ado then immediately went to look for transportation for Seoul. We asked at the Information about where to get things and later found a shop, that offered local EG SIM Cards for the phone.
There, we also got another thing, that everyone, who wants to travel to South Korea, really needs: A T-Money Card. It’s a card, where you can upload money at subway stations or in convenience shops and then use it to pay for public transport in large parts of South Korea. You can use it for buses as well as subways in many different cities. It makes traveling in South Korea so much more comfortable, especially when you don’t speak the language and can’t ask how much something costs (or can’t understand the answer…). After getting the card and recharging some money in it, we didn’t need to buy another bus or subway ticket for the whole journey.
Nearby the departure area, we found the ticket counter for AREX and bought tickets to Seoul Station. The AREX is a train that brings you from the Incheon Airport to Seoul in less than an hour. We chose the next Non-Stop Train and soon boarded the modern train to Seoul.
We booked a hotel nearby the Seoul Station via booking.com before the trip. The Hotel Manu was actually just within walking distance. We walked through the underground past the subway station to get to the hotel and took the Exit 7, which is only a few steps from the hotel. The subway exit is also home to many homeless people. While it felt safe and there even seems to be a policeman all the time, it still felt strange.
However, we were a bit more shocked, when we came to the hotel, as it looked like ripped open and an abandoned building site. For a moment, we thought it was closed down, and nobody told us. Around the corner, fortunately, there was the entrance, and they were open after all. It turned out that they were having a major renovation, with a new bridge from the hotel to a new pedestrian zone above the road. We saw pictures, how it should look, when they are finished, and it might be really cool. It looked like it will be possible to follow the new pedestrian zone above the street from the Seoul Station directly to the hotel (and to the nearby Namdaemun Market). Our room turned out to be okay, and as we had one on the top floor, we weren’t bothered by the noise of the building work, that started later, beneath us.
It was already early evening, and I needed a moment to rest (I couldn’t sleep well on the plane), while my friend walked back to the Seoul Station to the huge Lotte Mart for some groceries. It was too late for a real sightseeing tour, but we decided to walk to the nearby Namdaemun Gate. It was actually an outlook on what expected us in South Korea – the old and the new side by side. The gate is dating back to the 14th century and is surrounded by “new” Seoul with skyscrapers. Unfortunately, we couldn’t enter the gate, as it was already closed. It looks terrific, however, especially in the evening.
Nearby the gate is the Namdaemun Market, the largest traditional market in South Korea, so, we walked there too. It was a bit of a letdown, as it was rather deserted. We were either too late or too early. We still walked through it, but when we didn’t find something for (late) dinner, we walked to the Seoul Station.
While the food court at the station was closed too already, a few fast food restaurants were still open. I actually was a bit surprised as I had expected Seoul to be wide awake in the evening. We eventually returned to the hotel (this time staying above the ground) and soon went to sleep to be fit for sightseeing in Seoul on the next day!