South Korea wasn’t on our original itinerary radar, but after hearing more and more about it during our first year of travelling we added it in…. and we are very glad we did.
Both Shanghai and Seoul have two International Airports – we flew from Hongqiao to Gimpo and then caught the underground Metro train from the airport directly to our accommodation. We were lucky enough to be able to stay on the one line but it did take us 70 minutes. After our two-hour long evening flight, loosing an hour with the time difference plus over an hour on the Metro, it was after 10pm when we arrived at our Airbnb rental (read our review here).
One good thing about these big cities, they have fantastic Metro/Subway systems that run in numerous directions and even if you need to change lines it is often so much quicker (and cheaper) than going via road transport. The Metro here was a little bit more expensive than Taiwan and China but still pretty reasonable against the other options. This means you can save on accommodation by staying a little further out of the centre without being cut off from the main points of interest.After a quiet morning we dragged Lincoln and Braxton away from the huge array of toys at our apartment and headed into the city. We wanted to get a feel for this new city and country and what better way, than through the food. I had received a recommendation from The K Food Project (a Kiwi foodie living in SK) about Gwangjang Market, so this was our first stop; we tried a few foods and explored the sights, sounds and smells. While Seoul is a large city of over 10 million people, with it being so spread out, it never felt crowded and reminded us a little of the cities of Taiwan we visited.We continued our walkabout to City Hall and found the “I Seoul U” sign with some fountains to entertain (and cool off) the boys. We were trying to head to the N (Namsan) Seoul Tower but there were no Metro stations nearby, it was too far to walk in the heat and a “Kakaotaxi” (South Korean Uber type service) was too expensive for our liking.So we headed towards another market, Namdaemun, and Logan managed to get a peek of the tower between some of the buildings. On our way we noticed Sungnyemun Gate and while Logan went to take some photos, the boys and I sat in the shade I did some Googling and learnt a little of it’s past. It was the main southern gate of the old city wall during the Joseon Dynasty and was designated as National Treasure No. 1 in Korea in 1962 for being the oldest wooden structure in Seoul. In 2008, the wooden pagoda on top the gate was severely damaged by arson and restoration work on the gateway started in February 2010 and was completed in April 2013.We aren’t big fans of organised tours but visiting the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) between North and South Korea was high on our list of things to do. So after a recommendation from Kiwis Fly The Coop, we booked a morning tour with Trazy Tours and our guide, Yeoni, was pleasant and very informative. As we were further out of the centre city we met one of the tour company’s drivers at a Metro station not too far from us and he drove us to the main bus. This morning drive began to show us just how spread out the city of Seoul is, incredible to see how the city winds along both sides of the Han River. We met the main bus and picked up a few more people before we headed north towards the border. During the 40 minute drive, Yeoni gave us some history about the divide of the Korean peninsula and a little of her insights into life in both South and North Korea. Our stops for this tour included –
- Imjingak Park and Freedom Bridge
- DMZ Exhibition Hall and the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel
- Dora Observation
- Dorasan Station
- And as is quite common with these tours, a “no pressure” shopping stop, for us it was a ginseng centre.
I wasn’t too sure what to expect from visiting the DMZ but it certainly wasn’t as tense as I thought it might be. We didn’t see any soldiers besides the ones at the check point, as when you enter and exit the Demilitarised Zone they check everyone’s passports. There are the usual tourist souvenir shops and as with most tours we were just moved around from spot to spot, but it was an interesting learning experience for the whole family and I’m glad we spent the money to do it. Adult tickets were $41.80 USD/$63.42 NZD each and children aged 3-10 years were $29.20 USD/$44.30 NZD.Our last day in Seoul saw us have another wander around the city. We visited the main royal palace of the five that are located in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung and made a trip via a couple of Metro lines to Gangnam. The palace was incredible and set amongst such large grounds, we paid 7,500 KRW/$9.73 NZD for the family as Braxton was free and we wandered around admiring the buildings and all the people dressed up in the traditional attire. I loved the female’s gorgeous dresses but it was a little strange that they then just paired it up with any random shoes; we saw everything from nice sandals, to trainers and even crocs!! The males were just the same, such a odd commination for a beautiful traditional form of dress. Travelling to the area of Gangnam was a bit of fun, it was made famous by the 2012 hit song “Gangnam Style” and right by the Gangnam Metro station is the square and an area with a stage and some signage. We had read that the song is piped out of speakers all day but this wasn’t running when we were there and no doubt the local shop owners would get sick of that. Although we found the Koreans so polite that they probably wouldn’t say anything anyway.As we only had 10 days available for South Korea we decided to visit just one other spot, Busan. Down on the southeastern tip of the peninsula and recently listed by Lonely Planet as number 1 place to visit in Asia in 2018. While these types of lists don’t really determine our travel plans, we were interested to see what the fuss was all about and we knew a couple of Kiwi families living in the area that we wanted to meet up with. So we purchased high-speed train tickets to zoom us down the country.
Average Daily Spend for 10 nights in SK – $213.80 NZD ($41.30 over budget per day)