So here I go again….
About 27 months after my last big trip, I decided to head off again to do some exploring. This time I wanted to challenge myself a bit more, in terms of visiting some countries that don’t speak English that widely and whose cultures differ greatly from mine. So I chose to start with Korea and Japan!
Here are my video highlights of my first few days.
Days 1 & 2 – Flying to Seoul and Deoksugung Palace
After an 11 hour flight from Heathrow to Incheon, I touched down in South Korea on Thursday 16 May 2019. Unfortunately it was very hazy so couldn’t really see the city as I came into land. As with any long distance flight, with an 8 hour time difference, I’m jetlagged to hell!
One of the first things to hit me is that it is astonishingly hot here, something I was not expecting. 30 degrees and humid. I had read that it is not wise to come in the summer because it is too hot, so I chose spring. What must summer be like?!
Today I visited
- Seoul Art Museum – mainly to get out of the heat! It was all contemporary Korean art, some of which was interesting. You can definitely sense a tension is the art, reflecting a constant tension at the situation in the north.
- Deoksugung Palace – one of four main royal palaces in Seoul. Highlight was watching the changing of the guard and listening to the most out of tune band ever which was very amusing (for a taste of them, see my video)!
- Cheonggyecheon-ro stream – this was really cool. Years ago this stream was concreted over, and a flyover built on top of it. About twenty years ago the city and the people decided the reclaim the waterway, and today it is a lovely place to sit in the shade and relax.
I also had dinner at Namdaemun market, my first proper Korean meal. I have been a bit concerned about the whole Koreans love meat thing, but today was Ok! I saw some plastic rice and eggs in the window and went for it! I also tried kimchi for the first time (fermented spicy cabbage and very much a national obsession) and wow, yes, it blew my head off!
First thoughts are that everyone is really friendly, everyone is very orderly and respectful and I seem very tall!
Jetlag is hitting me so I am signing off for today…
Day 3 – Gyeongbokgung Palace and Jogyesa Temple
A marathon 21,000 steps today, mostly spending wondering around the quite frankly mahoosive Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds. A royal palace complex for hundreds of years, it fell into ruins, only to be rebuilt in the 19thC. I felt a bit like a rockstar as loads of teenage girls repeatedly came bounding up to me asking to take a photo with me and to fill their surveys out! Move over Bono. Or Rick Astley is probably closer.
I also visited the Korean Contemporary History Museum. I had not been aware of the details of the turbulent recent history of this country, especially that it only gained independence from Japan in 1945, and then 5 year short years later was invaded by the north, hence the start of the Korean War.
I also visited the beautiful Jogyesa buddhist shrine, with three huge buddhas and hundreds of coloured lanterns strung across the sky.
I ended my day at the sweaty, crowded and vibrant Gwangjang market, where I ate some delicious mung bean pancakes. Partly because everything else had a face, or used to!
Day 4 – Changyeongung Temple and Namsan Park
More palaces today. There are quite a few around! Today it was the turn of Changyeongung Temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not as vast as the palace complex I saw yesterday, but it did have some beautiful gardens. There were again lots of Korean people dressed in traditional costume touring the site which made a lovely atmosphere and some nice photos.
It was also mercifully a bit cooler too, and less humid, and a breeze too! I went on a vegetarian food hunt to the district of Hungdae, following a recommendation in my Lonely Planet which ended up being a wild (veggie) goose chase. However I luckily stumbled across a lovely place called Sukkara. It was part Japanese, part Korean, part very welcome! I knew getting decent veg food here would be hard and boy it sure is, unfortunately.
I ended the day climbing Mount Namsan. I had planned to get the cable car up to visit the North Seoul tower but half the city had the same idea so I just went for a stroll round the park and watched the night fall.
Day 5 – National Museum of Korea and Dongdaemun Design Plaza
I started my last day in Seoul doing what I love best – visiting galleries and museums! Today I had the pleasure of visiting the amazing National Museum of Korea. It really is one the best museums I have ever been to! It is purpose built, and has fantastic lighting, exhibition spaces, layout, you name it. It also contains some beautiful artwork. With an obvious focus on Asian art, it has comprehensive collections of buddhas dating back hundred of years, as well stoneware, statues and paintings. Here are a few of my highlights.
I also visited the impressive Zaha Hadid designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza. It is pretty impressive from the outside, but it seems that the authorities do not know what to do with it inside. It feels very empty and lacking in focus unfortunately.
I am heading out of Seoul tomorrow to see the more rural side of this country. Seoul has been fun but I am ready for a bit more down time!