“Is this so hard? Walk in and eat delicious food, and get hammered in the street? Being Korean is pretty awesome.” -Anthony Bourdain
Of course one of the major benefits of life in Japan is travel, specifically the ease of travel. We hop on a plane and an hour and 45 minutes later we are in another one of Asia’s largest and most eclectic cities – Seoul, South Korea. A trip to Korea has been high on the bucket list and with a visit from a friend from home, we thought why not?
To be honest I didn’t have a clue of what to expect from Seoul, except for their love of kimchi, korean bbq, and of course the overshadowing looming threats of the conflicts just 52km north of this capital city. Seoul is an interesting place, it’s bright, hugely populated, and more of what I would expect from an Asian city. To compare it to Japan I’d say that Seoul has more flavors, is a little more raw, less inclined to follow the rules, and lets face much dirtier than Japan. The more I travel around Asia the more I really see that Japan is very much “Asia lite” (of course this is a good thing and strictly my opinion ;))
A high on the priority list was a trip to the DMZ-The Demilitarized Zone protecting North and South Korea’s boarder. Of course this DMZ isn’t the only one that exists in the world, however, for those who watch the news I’m sure you are well aware of the conflicts on the Korean peninsula and just how unstable the north and south’s relationship is. So why not make it a tourist attraction? Take that away and you walk away feeling pretty unsettled at the lack movement towards unification and the crazy amount of propaganda they spit at you from both sides. Needless to say if you are able to, take a trip there. They say it’s one of the scariest places on Earth, however, given the fact that it’s a popular tourist attraction it took a little bit away from the fear factor. Despite this, the barbed wire fences, Korean guards, and active landmines were helpful reminders of what this place really is.
Our tour included a trip to Imjingak Park, The Bridge of Freedom, The 3rd Infiltration Tunnel (we were not allowed to take photos in this tunnel, but we did go to the very end which is 170 meters from the North Korean boarder. It was a little eerie being that far under ground and so close to North Korea…just saying’ maybe not the safest thing), DMZ Theater & Exhibition Hall, Dora Observatory, Dorsal Station, and Unification Village. Here are some photos!
Alright back to Seoul and the heart of this story. I LOVE Seoul. Really and truly it was my kind of city. The food, the people, the bazillion coffee shops, the nightlife, the soju. It was just fantastic and such an amazing weekend. My asian travels are still limited at this time but if asked, Seoul is by far my favorite place I’ve EVER visited. I may be hyping it up, but it’s true friends this is how I feel. One thing I came to learn very quickly is how much Seoul is a food lovers paradise. Literally, the amount of delicious street food you can acquire is endless. I only wish my stomach was bigger as I would have eaten my way through this city, easy. Here are a few photos of street food deliciousness.
When not eating we managed to find ourselves exploring the historical parts of this city. We visited one of Seoul’s six palaces, Gyeongbokgung Palace and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jongmyo Shrine.
Some other popular destinations we visited included the Kwangjang Market Place and the Myeongdong Shopping Street (this street reminded me quite a bit of the Shibuya area of Tokyo). Seoul is also filled with little pop up food stands that are filled with food for the brave. By brave I mean pigs feet, live squid or octopus, and some other local delicacies that I haven’t braved quite yet…give me some time :P. Here are a few snaps!
I have not yet reached the level of food connoisseur and am probably missing out on these fine delicacies that Seoul was offering to me, but what can I say I’m a work in progress. Despite this, one thing I came to learn is there is no shortage of fried chicken, beer, and soju so what better way to welcome ourselves to this city then a night out with all of the above. Let me tell you, I thought the Japanese knew how to throw em’ back, Korea has definitely one upped them for sure. Not wanting to risk a hangover and miss out of a day of touring around we managed to keep things pretty tame, but that didn’t stop us from indulging just a little into the culture! 😉
Our last day in Seoul included wandering the endless streets of food and shopping in the Hongdae District, which included the Trick Eye Museum (a cheesy way to spend a an hour and 15 bucks, but still had fun taking photos), a puppy cafe (oh yeah I’m loving these animal cafes…new business model perhaps?), and of course the most necessary dinner at Korean BBQ. I have to admit this was probably one of the coolest things we did on this trip. There is a street not far from our hotel that was filled with Korean BBQ joints. I’m talking legit coal fired grills in trash cans type deal. It was raw and so authentic I loved every second of it. The best part was despite the language barrier, a very kind elderly Korean man walked us through every step of traditional Korean BBQ. It definitely made our experience more enjoyable. Here are some final pictures to wrap up our tour of Seoul.
That’s a wrap friends! If ever given the chance to go back I would do it in a heartbeat. Seoul is a wonderful city, that even in the shadows of political conflict, has figured out a way to keep moving, keep growing, and party their way through it! Seriously, Seoul should be on everyone’s bucket list!
Until next time! Ja Mata!