In August I visited Seoul for the first time to go to a good friend’s wedding. I was only there for a week which definitely wasn’t enough time as I barely scratched the surface of all South Korea had to offer. I had plans to squeeze in as much as possible, but those plans such as to go hiking in some national parks disappeared as I was mushed by the jetlag and the rain from the end of monsoon season that was still going on strong.
One thing that really struck me about Seoul was how everything is so efficient and public transportation compared to Vancouver is really cheap. I put around $10 on my transit pass called a T-money card and I used it for a whole week without having to refill, I was traveling lots too. You’re charged for the distance you travel and it’s about $1 for 10km, something I really wish Vancouver started doing instead of the standard $2.50 per trip. The other super nifty thing is that you can use the card wherever there’s the T-money sign; I took a taxi with my Korean friend and she placed her wallet on the scanner that the taxi had. Bill paid, off we went. Uber efficient.
I’m a little disappointed I never made it to some national parks. I had planned to go to Bukhansan to see what hiking in Seoul was like but I’ll have to save it for my next trip back! I did get a taste of the city life, it was pretty overwhelming how densely populated Seoul is but I saw that there was an effort to put lots greenery in. I also found out that South Korea has a network of bicycle lanes connecting the country with some bike lanes next to the rivers in major cities. I didn’t see many places where I could just rent a bicycle, however, so I wasn’t able to bike around during my short visit.
I spent a fun day walking around Insadong which is a part of Seoul that has a mix of modern and traditional. There’s lots of shops selling traditional handicrafts, artwork, and antiques; and the restaurants and cafes that line the street are in traditional buildings. I enjoyed dessert at a tea house stuffing my face with sticky rice rolls dipped in honey.
The love wall: I came across this fence with hundreds of baggage tags attached to it that have love notes written on. Some tags, not to be lost and forgotten underneath others, I found tied to tree branches close by. Ah, to be young again.
I am definitely planning another trip to South Korea – there’s way too much I haven’t seen and I really want to check out Jeju Island!
Update: I just realised ironically that when I was walking around Gangnam (I didn’t stay long and sought refuge from the crowds in one of the many Paris Baguette cafes soothing myself with greentea cake) I had no idea about the Gangnam style phenomenon. Only when back in Vancouver weeks later did I come across an article on how the artist Psy has managed to break into mainstream media here. I always knew being a dork is globally cool.
Maybe useful travel tips:
- Arriving at the airport you have a useful option of renting a phone with data – considering my atrocious navigation abilities this was really useful. I rented an iphone 3g with Olleh and it was pretty cheap with unlimited data at about CAD$8 per day.
- To get to Seoul (and back to the airport) you can take what they call Limousine buses which is sort of like an express bus and only costs CAD$10 for the trip, cheaper than taking a taxi. Journey time varies but it was about an hour ride for me. And the buses have free WiFi.
- If you’ll be using a lot of public transportation get a T-Money card, it’s more convenient than buying single ticket for each trip.
- I was more comfortable using the subway system as on the trains next stops were shown on screens in Korean and English. On public buses next stops are only shown and said in Korean.
- Try all the side dishes, it’s my favourite part of eating Korean food.