Back to South Korea! We decided in February to fly back to Europe from Seoul, we had to choose somewhere in Asia to fly from as we started to book our summer in Hungary to make sure we had a place to stay during peak time.
Welcome to Seoul
We landed late and luckily got the last bus to the city which went all the way to the hotel we had arranged again another Arrivedo Guide exchange for four nights in the Dongdaemun area. For the first two nights we were given the VIP room with a super comfortable bed quite possibly the best bed we have had during our trip. The best part was a huge jacuzzi bath all for us. The hotel was incredibly friendly and the manager’s focus was all on making guests happy, everyone gets a free welcome pizza and a beer or soft drink. For the last two nights, we were in a duplex room which was different than most standard rooms as it had a spiral staircase to another floor which was cool.
Free Tour With the Hotel
One of the perks of staying at DH Naissance is the free tour around Old Seoul which we had on the last day. The manager or the assistant manager kindly drive guests around the area to give an insight into the parts of the city that are harder to travel to without a car.
The manager took us to the locations and it was a lovely trip which ended with a beautiful view of the city and Bukhansan Mountain. The trip showcases the old fortress wall that used to protect the city of Seoul, this wall snaked along the mountains. We also got the chance to snap some photos in a traditional village street with old Korean style houses. A converted temple which is now used a banquet hall and restaurant offers some pleasant architecture to pose in front of. The best part is the view at the top of a mountain overlooking the city, the day was not as clear so views we a bit hazy, but Seoul does suffer from pollution.
Time to shop! We made our way to the shopping district Dongdaemun which is an area of the city filled with shops, mega shopping complexes and markets. Pretty much every part of this area has some sort of shop selling something on interest. There was a whole huge building dedicated to only selling fabrics! So much fabric in one building. A shopping centre that just went on for well over a mile selling just clothes. Even underground shops connecting each exit of the metro to the station. We were overwhelmed with choice, but finally found a new suitcase third one lucky! Plus side is where there are shops, food is always close by and we picked up some tasty meals in one of the food courts.
Seoul has many beautiful and old palaces from the dynasty period. We only visited the main palace as each one required a lot of walking. From leaving the metro station we were approached by a group of young teenagers in Youth Corp uniforms offering free guided tours as a voluntary project. We had one guy take us on a tour around the palace even though he was around 12 he was incredibly intelligent and knew all the ins and outs of the palace along with interesting facts about the palace.
The king would sleep in a room with no furniture and guards surrounding him to make sure no one could kill him with something from inside the room. The queen was also confined to the palace grounds and would never leave the palace. The palace area is a wonderful place to wander around and experience. Currently, the palace is still being refurbed as many of the structures were destroyed during the Japanese occupation.
In the heart of the city is a beautiful mount named Namsan, on the very top of this mountain is the Namsan Tower which is a communication building but also an observation deck providing awesome views of the city. We took the cable car up to the top of the mountain. Warning, around sunset time the queue for the cable car is very long, we arrived around an hour before the sunset and it took just under an hour to get on to the cable to take us to the top. There are only two cable cars one going up and one going down which is why it takes a long time. The actual ride is not overly worth it as we were crammed into the cable car on the way up, there is a bus that goes to the top which is cheaper and probably less crowded.
From the top the view is amazing, we actually considered the sunset view to be one of the best we have seen for the whole of our trip. Seoul is a mix of mountains and buildings dotting the landscape which makes it look awesome and more interesting. The fiery sunset full of colour is wonderful over the city. The viewing deck attracts a lot of people so make sure you grab a space before the sun sets to get a good view. We did not go up Namsan Tower as there was quite a queue and the viewing deck was perfect. The peak of the mount offers 360 views of the city after enjoying the sunset we headed over to the south side to glance over the view of the Hangang River.
After Namsan Mountain we made our way to Myeong-dong which is an eclectic shopping area full of markets, shops and tasty food. The best part of this area is the food, we ate our way around the streets picking different tasty treats to try. The area also has many intriguing animal cafes but we decided to just stick to wandering the streets and taking in the smells and sounds of the vibrant area.
Hangang River Night Market
Our last night in Seoul we took a trip to the Hangang River Night Market, there are many night markets across the city during the weekends. We chose this market as it offered views of the river and the Banpo Bridge which has a fountain show during the night where it sprays water from along the bridge into the river. The food at the night market is amazing, so much choice and great delicious food to try. We enjoyed Korean fried chicken which is amazing along with Korean beef and many other tasty treats. During our time there we stumbled on a performance of dancers and sat to watch while eating out food.
Another Seoul Hotel with Arrivedo
Our last three nights in Seoul I managed to negotiate to create a guide for the Mayfield Hotel and Resort which is a 5-star hotel close to Gimpo Airport. The large hotel was a lovely place to stay although the downside of being far from the city centre wasn’t great, it seemed to be more of an airport or wedding hotel. We had access to the fitness centre and there is a free shuttle to the metro and shopping centre. However, it seemed to be more like a 4-star hotel with a lack of flexibility.
Sokcho and Seoraksan National Park
For a few days we decided to take a break from Seoul and picked an area on the opposite side of the country, luckily transport options are quick and fairly well priced excluding the fast train. We hopped on a bus and made our way to Sokcho which is a coastal town on the east coast of Korea. The journey was comfortable in fact it was probably one of the nicest buses we have ever been on.
This little town on the east coast is mainly an area for staying for visiting the national park nearby with easy access to the beach. The town seems to be a fishing town with many fishermen passing in and out. We stayed right next to the beach the only downside we encountered was the cold sea water. The town had a large lake which we wandered around in the evening to watch people fishing.
Seoraksan National Park
From Sokcho there is a direct bus to the national park, we saw photos online and decided it would be a great place to see. The national park is beautiful, we took a cable to the top of one of the mountain to enjoy some magnificent views of the surrounding nature. We spent the day walking around the park and enjoying the views and fresh air which is a nice part of being here as Seoul does have a pollution issue. The national park is full of mountains, waterfalls, temples and walking trails.