We’re now in Osaka, having flown out of Seoul yesterday morning. This required an immensely early start, as our flight was at 8am. We left plenty of time, but unfortunately, our taxi driver somehow believed that Seoul was about to be hit by a nuclear missile and so drove to the airport like he was risking his life. And ours. At one point, he was driving down the motorway at 133kph – believe me, I had an eye on the speedometer – while simultaneously responding to a text message on his ginormous Samsung mobile.
I suppose our only saving grace is that it wasn’t a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and didn’t blow up while we were weaving through the traffic like something out of a badly-edited sci-fi movie. The journey is usually between 50mins and an hour. We made it to the airport in 19mins.
Stepping out onto the departures drop-off area, I thanked both the old gods and the new that we were in one piece and began to think about how I cold get my hands on some coffee…
All in all, we had a great few days in Seoul, but all the same I don’t think we did everything we could have. We were both hit hard by jet-lag, which led to afternoon naps and lots of foot-dragging while walking around. Seoul is really massive and I think if we’d been better prepped (remember, we adding this leg to our Japan visit just a couple of weeks ago!) we might have done things differently. So what did we do?
We spent an enjoyable morning at the Korean War memorial and museum. The walk around the fighter jets, tanks and other assorted leftover weapons from the war was very thought provoking. As was the main memorial, including lots of references to the international UN soldiers and other peacekeepers who contributed to the effort.
Our hotel had the most amazing traditional spa, including three hot spring baths and three saunas. I took advantage of the facilities several times – my familiarity with Japanese onsens helped avoid any awkwardness and I wasn’t started at by the other customers.
As I managed to overdo it in the hotel gym one morning, I spent the rest of our visit limping and in pain. I’m convinced I’ve torn something in my left knee (the “good” one, the one I haven’t had surgery on), so I’ve not used to the gym since and walked with a lot of difficulty all during our time in Seoul. Doh! All my own fault, of course…
The Gyeongbokgung Palace, while a replica of one destroyed earlier, was impressive. I found it hard to navigate the whordes of noisy and rude Chinese tourists though. They travelled in packs and made it a challenge to get near anything up close or take uninterrupted photos.
On the cuisine front, we actually ended up eating a LOT in our hotel, something we never do. But the hotel (the best I’ve stayed in for quite some time) had a happy hour at the executive lounge we had access to. This included a free bar and an excellent buffet which included lovely Korean food. I had some great curries, some exceedingly spicy kimchee and assorted steamed gyoza-type parcels. All mouth-damagingly hot and delicious. And the fact that the bar had unlimited champagne made it quite difficult to go out again each evening…
Our most fun evening was spent in Gangnam (as per the eponymous song!), which was a mix of high-end western brand shops and lots of back streets with cool hipster-ish cafes and shops. The atmosphere was fun and I wished we’d had more time to explore, but we needed to pack and get to bed, ready for a 4am start to fly to Tokyo, then Osaka.
In summary, I found Seoul to be a very fun and accessible city. People were constantly friendly and helpful (except for the legendary Seoul grannies who push their way everywhere and ignore any sense of a queue – especially on the metro). It’s massive, so getting comfortable with exploring using the Metro is a must.
Seoul was much noisier and brasher than any of the Japanese cities we’ve visited. People speak a lot more and a lot more loudly in public, and it seems a lot more relaxed in terms of public behaviour. I described it to a friend as ‘Tokyo after it’s had a few pints’. It’s grimier and smellier than Tokyo, a bit more chaotic and not always as chilled out. But it represented a lovely change and I saw enough to convince me it’s somewhere I’d like to revisit in the future.
Some initial reflections, there – I’ll write more about the trip to Seoul when time permits. Right now, it’s 0700 in Osaka and it’s time to launch a strategic assault on the breakfast buffet here in our hotel.