Korea Seoul

Sept 26, 2008 – Seoul


A trip back to the Insadong area allowed us to finish up the souvenir shopping and even some Christmas Shopping. This must be a record for me for starting my Christmas shopping. I suspect the same cannot be said for Darlene.

After finishing our shopping expedition, we tried to find a walking route that is listed in the Lonely Planet guide book. The walk would have taken us past areas where Shaman rituals are performed. The guide book did state that part of the area is under redevelopment. When we got to the area we found many apartment buildings where we felt there should be small alleys to navigate. We walked trying to find the area and the path. We have learned that when you are looking for many tourist things in Korea going uphill is a pretty good bet. We kept going up, asking directions periodically and kept getting told to keep going up. Soon we got to a gate with police / military personnel, we asked for Inwangsa and got told to carry on – “100m on your left”.

After 100m there was a fence and gate to go through. A young Korean man dressed in black active wear was standing beside a sign that asked visitors to be respectful in the area and the sign told us that the practicing of shamanism is prohibited. This was the first sign that we may be in the right area. We started hiking up the trail, which was not terribly well maintained and neither Dar or I felt it was quite right. To our right there was a fence with barbed wired on the top. Along the trail we passed another gate – through this gate several soldiers exited a compound/barracks area. We continued up the trail. After a while we came upon an exercise area and then another more updated exercise area. These are common on many trails.

The trail turned up hill and each step was marked with white paint, which I think was reflective. We passed a small sandbagged bunker. As a clearing opened up, we could see a magnificent view of parts of downtown Seoul and old Royal Palaces. We continued up hill through a gate topped with more barbed wire. As we reached the next opening we could see military observation posts, several soldiers all dressed in black active wear and golf shirts — just as the young man at the bottom of the trail was dressed. One observation post was well developed and was topped with a large piece of artillery. We continued another 300 m to the summit of Mount Iswang and we were treated to a great view of Seoul from all angles. It was a great treat on a sunny and cool fall day. From the hill you could see old parts of the fortress wall that used to protect Seoul. In some areas it has been restored and at points along it you can see new military observation towers.

Korea has mandatory military service and we have seen many Koreans in uniform traveling to and fro on the subway. This hike was the first real ‘military’ presence we have seen in Seoul where you can begin to appreciate that this is a country still officially at war. Even so, the soldiers were not carrying weapons and they were dressed to blend in with hikers in the area.

As we stopped for a break and had a nectarine . Two women at the top shared some of their cookies with us. Just another small example of the friendliness and generosity of the Korean people, and a great way to close the trip.

Korea Seoul

Sept 25, 2008 – Seoul / Suwon

Seoul / Suwon

The Korean Folk Village in Suwon, south of Seoul, is the Korean version of Upper Canada Village. It has replicas of traditional houses and some actual traditional houses that have been moved from different parts of Korea to give visitors an idea of how a village could have looked. As you move through the village you can see different classes of houses and how Koreans would have lived. They have actors who are living the part so you can see how some of the daily tasks are done.

The Village also has different performances that are done during the day. Today they were canceled due to rain. This is the first time during our trip that we have had rain during the day – it was off and on but never very hard. It was also cool enough to get us both wearing long sleeves.

Today seemed to be school trip day at the Folk Village – as it was full of school kids. Which meant we got to practice saying ‘Hello!’ to many kids.

After the village we traveled back into Seoul, about 2 hours of bus and subway, we arrived at Apgujeong, a high class shopping area. The area is packed with plastic surgery clinics and an anti-aging hospital. Didn’t look like there was any shopping for us. We did come across a very cool kind of bank – a Beer Bank!!

Korea Seoul

Sept 24, 2008 – Seoul


Just over 2 weeks ago we arrived at Changdeokung (Palace of Prospering Virtue) for the 11:30am tour to find out that it is closed on Mondays. Today it was open. You can only go into Changdeokung on a guided tour, so this was the biggest collection of English speaking people since we arrived here.

Changdeokung was a backup palace for the Korean royalty used up to the end of the Joseon dynasty that ended in 1910 when the Japanese invaded and occupied Korea. It was originally completed in 1412. Because it was used into the 20th century, some parts of the palace are decorated with western furniture, it has a modern kitchen and electric lights. We learned that the males and females had separate living quarters for during the day. This reflected a belief in Confucianism that men and women should be separate. During the night the King could spend the night in the Queens residence where the sleeping quarters are located. Each building has a name painted in large Chinese calligraphy at the entrance. The name of the Queen’s residence was “Place where Great things are made” (loosely from my memory). Basically – the place where heirs are made.

The palace also has a large garden that was behind the area containing the buildings that is called the secret garden. It is 78 acres, is very peaceful and contains lotus ponds and various pavilions and retreats for the royalty. In the garden there is a gate named the gate of never growing old – this is to encourage longevity for Joseon Kings whose average life span was 44 years.

After visiting the palace, it was shopping time for Darlene. We spent most of the afternoon browsing shops in the Insadong area of Seoul. After that I let Darlene loose in the Lotte Department store. Apparently it is very big and busy and expensive! Dar didn’t last too long in there – but that’s not before she discovered her very own brand of chocolate!

During our shopping we were stopped by 3 Korean girls. For school they had to interview English speaking foreigners to learn what we thought of Korea so they could practice their English. At the end of the interview Darlene gave each of them a “Canada” key chain. This was quite a surprise to them. To reciprocate, one of the girls reached into a shopping bag and gave us a small bag she had just purchased. We politely told her the gift was unnecessary but this made her uncomfortable. So we accepted the small gift so as not to offend.

Korea Seoul

Sept 23, 2008 – Seoul


The morning was spent catching up on documenting the trip and photos from the last few days. Our nights had been late so that we didn’t work on it. The work was done as we rode the train from Busan to Seoul. We took the KTX (Korea Train Express) – Korea’s high speed train. The trip took 2 hours and 45 minutes. The fastest speed that I noticed was 298 km/hr. The train ride wasn’t as smooth as I remember the bullet train in Japan but it is still really nice. Forty-four high speed trains run between Seoul and Busan every day.

We are back to Seoul a few days before we fly home to see things we didn’t see before and to let Darlene do some shopping!

Today for dinner we explored a new part of the city for us. We had learned that Jackie Chan has a restaurant in Seoul which is apparently only 2 subways stops from our hotel. We’ve read mediocre reviews of the restaurant but decided if there is one restaurant there are more.

We decided to walk and discovered that behind the hotel is a small river with biking trails, running trails, workout stations, archery field and a croquet court. We found ourselves in an area that is newer and more residential than we had been in before. Brand new giant apartments buildings, families milling about, kids riding bikes in courtyards, restaurants and small spots. Really probably everything you need to live was within walking distance. It was a long way from a tourist spot. We found a small pizza place (Kanana) that for about $6 you could get a large pizza. This is a lot cheaper than the $25 we paid for our last pizza at a more westernized restaurant. Food wise, any restaurant that is westernized seems more expensive.

We wandered around the area and passed a pet grooming store with two little doggies that has just had their fur done and were wearing matching outfits. It was just a picture that had to be taken!

We passed a small restaurant with a plastic chairs and tables in a courtyard so we sat down for a pint and watched the world go by. Amazed by the traffic and moving of patio tables so that cars could be parted. We saw one motorcycle pass and a cell phone was dropped. The bike quickly stopped while the passenger ran back to retrieve the phone.

One thing we noticed and heard is there is a fear of beef from the US, apparently due to false information about BSE, we did see one amusing poster about it.

Korea Seoul

Sept 10, 2008 – Seoul to Sokcho

Seoul to Sokcho

Internetless today. It is a travel day today. We moved from Seoul to Sokcho on the Northeast coast of Korea. Leaving Seoul by bus, we could see the develpment occuring in the south of Seoul. Entire blocks of apartments being built. Not just one 20 or 30 story building being erected but sets of eight or ten 20 or 30 story buildings. As we moved more out of the city there were more fields of rice and smaller towns.

About 2 hours out of Seoul we went through Wonju. A town that last week was hosting an International Tatoo that included the Canadian Forces Pipes and Drums. Though intrigued, we passed figuring that it was too far from Seoul. I didn’t actually realize how far it was.

We splurged on an deluxe bus for our trip about $22 each to travel about 4 hours. The deluxe portion is that there are only 3 seats to a row so it is quite spacious. There were maybe 12 people on the bus.

There does not appear to be a wholelot to the town, but we are using it as a staging area for Seorksan National Park where we will do a few days of hiking.

We wandered toward the port area of the town, going over a larger bridge that went over one section of water only to find there is another section of water that we had to get over and the second part of the bridge isn’t finished. You can’t get there from here. So we wandered back toward the hotel and found a korean grocery store with a food court in it. It was dinner time so we got some dinner (about $6 for both of us), a kind of rice filled omelette, hamburger steak and cole slaw and soup and free water!

Then we wandered through the grocery store which is really Korea’s answer to Walmart (though I am sure if we look we will find it). What we noticed is that gift sets are very popular. Gifts sets of oil or ham, you name it there is one. We just picked up some breaky for tomorrow and snacks for during out hike – though Koreans seem not to travel with food as much as we do as they tend to pick up food along the way. We we travelled on the subway during rush hour and most people just had a purse or paper (and cell phone) but no signs of a lunch.

You can buy fireworks in the corner store here and someone was just setting them off on the beach.

We understand from the guidebook that the beach is lit at night. Not for swimming but so that spies from North Korea can be spotted. As the bus got closer to Sokcho we noticed fencing and razer wire along the coast for probably to prevent North Koreans from entering.

No pics for the next couple of days as the thigh-top is not hooked up to the internet.

Korea Seoul

Sept 8 2008 – Seoul


We have become regulars with the ‘sandwich lady’. Today we didn’t even need to order – as soon as we got to her truck she started cooking our breakfast. It’s so convienent. She is located just at the entrance to the subway. She seems to do a pretty brisk business.

The plan for today was to go to Changdeokgung, a UNESCO World Heritage site. On the way there we picked up cold canned coffee to go from a 7-11 type store. Our side the store was a woman with a cart making fresh donuts. We both got one -mine was stuffed with Red Bean curd. It was good!

Changdeokgung is the palace of Illustrious Virtue. One thing we learned is that Korean cultural attractions do something that ours do in Ottawa. They close on Monday. We got there and there were others, Koreans and Foreigners all discovering the same thing.

Plan B. After sitting and having some water we consulted the guide book and there is a Buddhist temple close by. So we were off in that direction. Yogyesa was established in 1910, it was moved in 1937 and is very beautiful. We arrived and the monks were conducting a prayer ceremony. We toured around the Great Hero Hall and were granted permission from the tourist office to enter the Brahma Bell Tour. Normally I think you must go with a tour – they saw us looking at the tour of two people who went up and felt sorry for us. At the entrance to the temple and in the Great Hero Hall there are lanterns that are lit once a year for Budda’s birthday to pray for health and happiness for your family.

There appeared to be a protest behind the temple. An area with the tent erected and people appeared to be living there. I inquired at the visitor office about this and asked if it was a protest and the volunteer said it was a protest. I asked about what – but she smiled clearly uncomfortable so I thanked knowing that no information would be forthcoming. I think the answer is here: but i’m not sure. The other clue is that the laterns when seen from above spell the word OUT.

We wandered by to Insadong, we were then on Saturday but it was very crowded. This time Darlene had time to shop! The other thing we learned is that Korea is a city where something is always happening. While in Insadong we came accross the filming of a Korean drummers. This was a real filming for a movie or TV show, so not only have we been caught on film kneading bread, now our hands are clapping in the soundtrack of a drum sequence. Carrying one down the street we came across the filming of a comedy TV show. I don’t get the shows here. Alot seem to have to do with food.

After Insadong we headed to the island of Yeouido. This is the financial and polictical centre and has the tallest building in Korea. So we went up it. On the 60th floor they have the highest art gallery in the world . The exhibit that was on display was a Hello Kitty exhibit. The funny thing is Stevie Harper and George Bush are in the exhibit holding Hello Kitty Balloons! I think the balloons were added to the art work. From the gallery we have a great view of the haze over Seoul and some fo the apartment blocks that people live in. There are also alot of helipads, though we have seen very few helicopters.

Off to the fish market. The Noryangin Fish Market is huge – several football fields of seafood. We were there about 5:30 and while some booths were closed, many where open. You have to get there before dawn to see all the action of selling bulk fish. This was all people buying fish and seafood for dinner. While we recognized most things – others were not anything we recognized.

Korea Seoul

Sept 7 2008 – Seoul


Took it easy this morning as we have had 2-12 hour long tiring days. The sandwich lady is off today – Darlene wandered around and found some huge and yummy muffins, chocolate and coffee milk, and Starbucks cold coffee products at a Crown bakery for breakfast. We have seen Crown Bakery often in
Seoul. We also got our laundry done and get some more pictures captioned so we would remember where the pictures were taken.

After laundry was done it was off to Namsam Park and the North Seoul Tower. This is Korea’s answer to the CN Tower, no where near as tall. It is located on a hill in the park or probably more accurately the hill is the park. There is a cable car that goes most of the way up the hill but that would be too easy. We walked. There are stairs going up the the base of the tower. Lots of Stairs. Lots and Lots of Stairs. It’s about 30 degrees Celsuis today. I’m not sure how long it took to get up, but we were pretty drenched at the top.

We decided not to actually go up the tower. After being up the CN Tower we didn’t think it was that worth it. What was weird was along the safety rails by the tower there were padlocks. Pairs of padlocks locked to each other then to the rails. In front of the rails was a sign asking people not to lock locks to the rails basically so the rails wouldn’t fall. Afixed to the rail was another sign – “Please do not lose your key”. All of the locks had dates on them so we figure it is a sign of love.

At the tower was a demonstration of 8 martial arts from the 24 martial arts that are described in Muye Dobo Tongji (The Comprehensive Illustrated Manual of the Martial Arts of Ancient Korea) that was published in 1870. (Gotta love google for filling in the information). It was quite an impressive demostration.

After that we decided to go back down to the city. We checked on the cable car, but is was almost as expensive to go down and it is to take it round trip. We walked down. Our legs were trembling at the end of the trip down.

We arrived in the very commercial shopping district of Myeongdong. This area is full of stores, like the Gap, Club Monoco, Roots, Body Shop. It was absolutely packed. I had a ‘pogo’ that was in some kind of seafood batter, it was pretty good. I’m going to have to try a bacon wrapped hot dog before I come home.

From there was took a subway over to Itaewon. This is area was our least favourite area of Seoul at this point. It felt cheap and trashy. This is also the closest area to a large US Military base (sorry Casey – but I think there is a connection). In this area we saw more non Koreans than we have at any other point in our trip so far. We felt somewhat out of place. We did overhear on person talking about how much she enjoys Shwarma’s in Ottawa!

After that we decided it was time for dinner – we came back close to the hotel and ended up trying a place called Two Two Fried Chicken. It seems to be a westernized Korean restaurant that has lots of fried chicken. It was the first meal we had where there was no Kimchi – it didn’t come with pickled radish or daikon.

Korea Seoul

Sept 6, 2008 – Seoul


Stopped at the sandwich lady to get breakfast – grilled westerns and then a coffee downtown.

We saw a building with an interesting sign: Maple Bear which had the name of the institution Maple Bear and a teddy bear holding a Canadian Flag. The director was outside and spoke with us – he was from Windsor and explained that Maple Bear was where children attended school to learn English and get exposed to Canada – basically immersion. We went up to see the 3 classrooms that were in progress and noticed that 1 of the teachers was white – possibly someone in Korea to teach English?

Deoksugung: Palace of virtuous longevity across from the Seoul city plaza. We saw the changing of the guards there and had our picture taken with one of the guards. We also had some conversation with a bunch of girls that were probably around 12 years old. They were very excited to be practicing their English and giggled alot. One told me I was pretty and had a small face. They also asked if they were pretty – I told them they were very pretty. We also had a chat with 2 girls in middle school who twirled their hair when they spoke with us – they were also happy to practice their English.

Palace of shining happiness (Gyeongbokgung)– after passing the US embassy which had an unbelievable amount of police protection. Here we got to try on traditional Korean outfits. Bruce was dressed as a high level general. This is very large palace, another changing of the guards show. The throne hall Geunjeongjeon was rebuilt in 1867.

After Gyeongbokgung we walked through the Insadong district which is a shopping area of art and antiques. We saw a group of street dancers performers in traditional costumes who were performing down the street. Following that we saw most of a traditional Korean wedding. We were late so just saw the end of the wedding ceremony, then traditional dancers and then drummers with ribbons that were attached to a wire (??) on their hats that they made flow and dance around with movements of their heads, and then the wedding parade – the husband was on a horse and the wife was carried in a seat held up by 4 men.

We wandered down to the Lotte hotel to book our trip to the Demilitarized Zone. Then took a train to Lotte World (Jamsil Station). Lotte World is a ‘disney world’ type area. Seouls version of West Edmonton mall. The mall has an ice rink, shooting range, swimming pool. On the third floor which we couldn’t go to without paying an admission, we could see a ‘mountie’ costume.

We traveled back to Dongdaemun market area to see a sound and light show. We are never exactly sure where the shows are on (or when) but we found it. It was a music performance that was on Cheonggyecheon stream and area that has been cleaned up and turned into a stream and walkway. Rafts were floated into the stream and the performance was in the center of the stream. We sat on the edge and soaked our feet in the cool water to help cool them down after a long day of walking. From there we grabbed some dinner in what turned out to be a Japanese restaurant. Our first clue should have been the plastic replicas of food displayed outside the restaurant

Korea Seoul

Sept 5, 2008 – Seoul


This morning we went down to the transit station and on the way had breakfast: a woman had a sandwich cart which she made breakfast sandwiches – we had a grilled western sandwich with ham and cheese and sliced cabbage (I think) – Bruce had the all dressed with mustard, ketchup and a grainy substance that looked like sugar or salt – but we don’t know what it was.

We headed downtown and walked through a market. There is food at small stalls everywhere – we noticed that groups of stalls located beside each other all sold the same items – strange – would have thought that different items would be better for business. We stopped to see a display where a woman was kneading a big mound of dough on a wooden board. There were 2 men with large wooden mallets dipped in water that were pounding on the dough in between kneading. Once one of the men saw us stopped and looking he got us set up with the mallets and had us pounding the dough – all of a sudden there were people taking pictures of us – a couple of them looked like photographers.

There is a lot of traffic and mopeds and motorcycles seem to drive both on the sidewalks and the roads on existent or non-existent lanes. The travel books advice for tourists not to drive is a very good one – the traffic is a it crazy.

We had lunch at a small restaurant (see picture) and then walked around in a few markets and through the streets for the afternoon. We had dinner at an outdoor spot in a market. The food here is very good and there is a lot of seafood -esp. octopus, shellfish, etc.

In the evening we went to a free outdoor show that consisted of drumming, dancing, acrobatics/tumblers, and a short opera (I think).