2 weeks after my trip to Europe, I packed my luggage again, this time to a place much nearer to home. Nevertheless, it is a well-known fact that this city is frigging cold during winter, as temperatures can drop below -10c at night, or even much lower during cold snaps. This city, Seoul, won the Best Design City 2011, and as an architecture freak myself, I was really very curious and excited to see what this city has in store for me. I can tell you, I wasn’t disappointed. Apart from the uneasiness settling inside me because of the recent death of Kim Jong Il which resulted in heated spats and threats between both countries, North and South Korea, I was ready to explore this city with a few of my friends. This is considered my first time ‘backpacking’ to another country by planning everything myself, including flights and hotel bookings, as well as the travel itinerary. I cant help but say how proud I was when I managed to settle all this crazy administrative stuff. Now, follow me as I bring you through a journey to the Land Of Kimchi!
The morning before the flight got off with a horrible start because I realized the names on some of my friend’s airplane boarding pass were not complete. Some were late. And I had a bad stomachache. When we took a transfer flight to Kuala Lumpur, I was almost dying when I got off the plane because the pain in my stomach was so excruciating. Luckily there was a pharmacy at the terminal and I bought some charcoal pills. After 3 hours of arduous waiting, we took a flight to Seoul.
The air outside the airport hit us hard when we arrived. The cold was intense. Coming from a tropical country where the air is almost like the steam coming from boiling water, walking into a freezer was too much to bear. We took an airport shuttle bus ( I do not recommend bus, because the subway is a much faster and cheaper option, unless your flight is at midnight), towards Honggik University, and we took a subway to Gongdeok. Those planning to visit Seoul should get a hotel near to the Seoul Subway because Seoul’s metro is really world-class and efficient, and it can bring you to every corner of the city. We got into our hotel Lotte City Hotel Mapo, only to realize that my card could not be used for paying the rooms. We managed to solve the problem in the end though, and contented with the service from the counter, we went up into our rooms to rest. After some time, we realized it was snowing outside. It was not a heavy snow storm though, nevertheless, it was a sight to behold especially for those who have not seen snowfall before. I got to see lots of it in Switzerland so the novelty of seeing snowfall had somewhat worn off, but it was still a pretty sight. We went out to take some photos, only to return to our rooms minutes later because it was too cold outside.
The next day, we started our journey with a free complementary bus ride from our hotel to Myeongdong, the fashion street of Seoul, with endless shopping and food for the tourists and locals. I am always awed by the sights of pedestrian streets, because we do not really have any pedestrian street as big and massive as those in other typical Asian cities like Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai. Although it was a weekday, there were still a number of shoppers in Myeongdong. Our shopping spree did not commence on that day though, because we just wanted to explore the area first.
After that, we walked towards Geongbokgung Palace, passing by Gwanghwamun Plaza, where the statue of King Sejong sat majestically, watching over the entire Seoul, both old behind and the new in front. The Geongbukgong Palace stood with might behind King Sejong, with the mountains towering behind it. In front of King Sejong, tree-lining boulevards flank both sides of the plaza, with cars whizzing past, while time seems to stand still on the plaza. It was a breathtaking sight. But too cold. Day time temperatures were still hovering well below zero degrees and the sun was so weak.
We walked to King Sejong Statue, and entered the museum dedicated to him. He was considered Korea’s best ruler, and was well-known for inventing the Korean written script. The museum was very familiar, because I watched Running Man (a Korean variety show) on my computer every week, and there was an episode filmed there.
After gaining more knowledge about him, we left for Geongbukgong. It was really amazing how the modern building structures were able to blend so well with the historical monuments of Seoul, like yin and yang coming together in harmony. The palace was beautiful, although it cannot beat the sheer size and grandeur of Beijing’s Forbidden City. We passed by a lake literally frozen, and after some exploration, we left for Korean Folk Museum. We learnt more about the Korean culture and the race at the museum, with some additional knowledge about how they survived the Japanese Occupation and the Korean War.
After that, we walked towards Myeongdong again for dinner, before leaving for Cheonggyecheon Stream. It used to exist merely as an overpass neglected in 1970 until it was restored in 2005, becoming a haven of natural beauty amidst the bustle of city life. Narae Bridge, expressing a butterfly in flight, and Gwanggyo Bridge, symbolizing the harmony of the past and future, are just two of the more than twenty beautiful bridges featured along the path of the stream. The ‘Rhythmic Wall Stream’, lined with fine marble, various sculptures, and Korea’s 8th stone building, Palseokdam, adorn the Cheonggyecheon Stream. It is even more breathtaking at night.
To be continued…