I arrived at Incheon International Airport at about 6:00 am, eight hours after departing from Singapore. The weather was good; I could feel a crisp, clear autumn day. For someone like me who grew up in a country which only has two distinct seasons, I was really thrilled! From the airport, I followed the signs going to the Airport Transportation Centre and then took the all stop train at B1 Level going to Seoul Station. After 55 minutes, I found myself in the heart of Seoul.
I booked a single room online through booking.com. It was a charming guesthouse with a lovely café downstairs located just a few minutes walk away from Seoul Station (exit Number 15). I was lucky to have my room upgraded (for free) to a single room with an en suite bathroom. After checking-in, I quickly had a shower and got ready for the adventure of the Kiriray Travel Junkie in Seoul.
1. War Memorial of Korea (9 am to 6 pm, closed every Monday). From Seoul Station, I took a subway (Line 1) going to Namyeong Station and then took exit 1. I wandered around the Outdoor Exhibit. There you could see a display of the equipment used during the Korean War. I also visited the Memorial Hall which is dedicated to the memory of the those people who died during the war.
2. Bukhansan National Park (Open all year round). From Namyeong Station, I took a subway (Line 1) going to Dobongsan Station. The travel time was about 45 minutes. I walked across the street from Exit 1 and walked through all the hiking vendors and restaurants to the entrance of Bukhansan National Park. I followed the trail and the Koreans who were obviously natural born hikers. The entire struggle was real and I finished the trail after five (long) hours. It was seriously tough particularly for someone like me who didn’t have any hiking experience before! The view on top was worth all the pain though.
3. N Seoul Tower (Open all year round). I went back to my hotel, took some rest and got myself ready to see the N Seoul Tower. From Seoul Station, I took a subway (Line 4) going to Myeong-Dong Station, took Exit 3 and walked for about 15 minutes following the street of the right side of the Pacific Hotel. Joshua (a long lost friend whom I’ve met in Cambodia and is now based in Seoul) and I took a cable car to see that one of major tourist attractions in Seoul. There were love locks everywhere. It was indeed a perfect place to spend some time with the one you love.
I was too exhausted by the end of the day. Perhaps hiking on the first day of a trip wasn’t really a good idea at all. I went to sleep still in awe of those young and old Koreans who made it to the top of Dobong Mountain.
1. Nami Island (Open all year round). From Seoul Station, I took a subway (Line 1) going to Hoegi Station. I’ve read that a lot of tourists visit Nami Island so I decided to leave my guesthouse early to get there just before the tourists crowd arrive. From Hoegi Station, I transferred to Gyeongui Jungan Line going to Mangu Station. And then from Mangu Station, I transferred again to Gyeongchun Line going to Gapyeong Station. When I arrived at Gapyeong Station, I took a taxi going to the Namiseom dock to catch a ferry going to Nami Island. There’s a 30-minute interval for ferries going to Nami Island from 7:30 am to 9:00 am, 10 to 20 minutes internal from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and 30 minutes interval from 6:00 pm to 9:40 pm. It was a really good idea to get there early, I supposed. I’ve wandered all over the place and saw only a small number tourists. On my way back to the terminal after two hours of walking around, I was shocked when I saw the number of tourists who just arrived to visit the island that day! And I was glad it was my time to leave.
2. Petite France (9 am to 6 pm). I took a ferry back to Namiseom dock and looked for the Gapyeong Tour Bus stop. Upon exiting the ferry terminal, I walked passed the Namiseom Zip Wire and continued walking straight until I saw a bus stop shed. I had to cross the street though because the Gapyeong Tour Bus stops at the opposite side. Some people may find it hard to locate the bus stop because there was no signage at all but once you see the 7-11 store, you’re almost there! The bus stop is situated right next to it. You always have to be mindful of the bus timing to avoid wasting time though. I told the driver that I wanted to go to Petite France and then paid 6,000 Won for the bus ticket. Le Petite France is a French artistic village situated in the Korean countryside. I spent an hour roaming around that colourful and lively site. It was a wonderful experience! I entered a gallery displaying sculptures and paintings and I was in total admiration! I always have this soft spot for cute little rustic decors and there I’ve seen a lot! There was an old man playing an accordion, a miniature Eiffel Tower and an observatory too. It really felt like a taste France!
3. Gyeongbokgung Palace (closed every Tuesday). From the same bus stop where I got off (in front of Petite France), I took the Gapyeong Tour Bus going to Cheongpyeong Station. From there, I took a subway (Gyeongchun Line) going to Mangu Station. From Mangu Station, I transferred to Gyeongui Jungan Line going to Hoegi Station, and then made another transfer to Line 1 going to Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station. From Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station, I transferred again to Line 3 and got off at Gyeongbokgung Station. It took an hour and a half for me to finally arrive at my destination. Originally built by King Taejo in 1935, Gyeongbokgung served as the principal royal residence until 1952, when it was burnt down during the Japanese invasions. I love how I learned something about the history whenever I visit places like this!
4. Bukchon Hanok Village (Open all year round). From Gyeongbokgung Station, I took a subway (Line 3) going to Anguk Station. I took exit 2 and walked straight for about 15 minutes. Bukchon Hanok Village is a home to a hundred of traditional houses called “Hanok”. I overheard from one of the tourist guides that today, many of these hanoks operate as cultural centres, guesthouses and restaurants too, providing a chance to experience and learn more about the Korean traditional culture.
5. Namsangol Hanok Village (Apr to Oct – 9 am to 9 pm, Nov to Mar – 9 am to 8 pm, closed every Tuesday). From Anguk Station, I took a subway (Line 3) going to Chungmuro Station. Upon making way at exit 4, I walked along the road between Chungmuro Media Centre and Maeil Business Newspaper. Namsangol Hanok Village is another traditional Korean village. What interests me about the village was the location because the area is standing between the tall buildings. According to the person I’ve spoken to when I was there, traditional weddings are also held in the village. It could have been an interesting event, too bad I didn’t witness any though!
6. Myeongdong Cathedral. From Chungmuro Station, I took a subway (line 4) going to Myeongdong Station. I took exit 8 and walked along Toegyero-gil St. and turned right at the intersection. I then walked along Myeongdong-gil St. going to the Catholic Center. Myeongdong Cathedral is the Church of Archdiocese of Seoul. It looked really magical at night!
7. Myeongdong Shopping Centre. Myeongdong is one of the busiest places in Seoul and I couldn’t agree more! It was a bustling place, a home of a stunning shopping district in the heart of Seoul! I walked around for about three hours and hopped from one boutique to another! I even tried the rose ice cream cone from Milky Bee. It was such a lovely way to end my night!
I had a really long day so after having a very relaxing leg massage in Myoengdong, I decided to go back to my hotel. I needed a long sleep, and so I did.
1. Deoksugung Palace (9 am to 9 pm, closed every Monday). I opted to sleep longer the night before my visit to Deoksugung Palace. For the past two days I was really exhausted and I felt like I needed to get enough rest, for once! From Seoul Station, I took a subway (Line 1) going to Citi Hall Station, exit 2. I strolled around and took a lot photos while waiting for the Changing of the Royal Guards. Fifteen minutes before the start of the ceremony, I looked for a perfect spot to watch the rite. It was a really beautiful experience; something I didn’t know still exists.
2. Changdeokgung Palace (Closed every Monday, check the website for opening hours). From Citi Hall Station, I took a subway (Line 1) going to Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station and then transferred to Line 3 going to Anguk Station. From the station, I took exit 7 and went north along Donhwamun-ro Street. It was the second royal built following the construction of Gyeongbokgung Palace in 1405. I was supposed to join the Secret Garden Tour but there was no slot available anymore by the time I got there.
3. Insadong. From Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station, I took a subway (Line 3) going to Anguk Station and then I took exit 3. I walked straight and then turned left when I saw a street full of souvenir items for sale. It was also a lively area which showcases old but precious and traditional goods. There were also teahouses and restaurant where you could sit and watch the crowd of amazed tourists passing by.
4. Cheongyecheon Stream (Open all year round). According to a website, Cheongyecheon Stream existed only as neglected waterway hidden by an overpass. Today, it has been transformed into a haven of natural beauty amidst the bustle city of life. I sat on a rock and watched the other tourists went by. The sound of the flowing water was really relaxing. I didn’t want that moment to end yet, but I had to leave.
5. Namdaemun Market (Closed every Sunday). From Anguk Station (line 3), I took a subway going to Chungmuro Station and then transferred to Line 4 going to Hoehyeon Station. I took exit 5 and walk along the street of Namdaemun Market, which is the largest traditional market in Korea. Being there made me feel so local!
From Namdaemun Market, I went back to my guesthouse to pack my things up for my flight going to Jeju Island.
Travelling around Seoul was made easy by the use of a T-money Card. I love how this card works because you can use it on trains and buses all over South Korea. Some taxis also accept payment using a t-money card too. I got my t-money card from a G25 store situated at Seoul Station (and just in case you forgot to bring an adapter that fits Korea’s electrical power point, you can get one at any G25 stores too for only 1,000 Won!) Do take note however that the T-money cards sold at G25 stores are not pre-loaded yet. I didn’t realise that until the time I was about to use it. Perhaps the language barrier was a problem that was why no one at the store told me about it. I actually bought the most expensive one (a cute little bear head which you can attach to your mobile) thinking that it was already pre-loaded. (I could have saved 5,000 Won.) Recharging a t-money card was really easy too! You just have to place your card on a machine card reader located at the station, select your preferred language, select recharge and then you will be given choices on how much money you want to recharge. Insert cash and voila! You can already use your money card anywhere in South Korea!
When you ran out of cash, there are a lot of money changers all over Seoul, particularly in Myeongdong area. Also in Myeongdong, you will find a lot of stores selling beauty products, yummy local street foods and massage places too! Indeed, Seoul is a home to many old historic sites and places of traditional culture and a modern city evidenced by those numerous high-rise buildings you may see everywhere.
I really loved the place where I stayed at when I was in Seoul as well. It’s called Town Guesthouse which I found through booking.com. If you’re looking for a cheap, clean and friendly place near Seoul Station, then this guesthouse is the one for you! The guesthouse also has free wifi, free breakfast, and is secured with its own password protected security lock. There’s also a nearby convenience store called CU which is open 24 hours (which is something you’d really be thankful for when you feel extremely hungry at midnight!). If you are intending to visit other places in Korea like Busan and you need to take KTX trains, the station is just a few minutes walk away from the guesthouse too. Plus, Jay and his uncle were really great hosts! They were helpful and accommodating and they will definitely make your stay a hassle free one!
Ciao for now! Happy travels!