S. Korea: Traditional Seoul (also, skiing!)
In my travels around Asia from my home base in Japan, the flight to Korea was the shortest. Two-hour flights are really the best — I didn’t need to rush to KIX in Osaka the morning of, and I slept the night before in my own warm bed. I’m only saying this because my travel buddies for this trip (HZ, JH, and JH’s friend RP) all had to take long flights with layovers and delays. (hah!) For once, I didn’t have to suffer!
Japan being so close to Korea means that quite a few things are similar (if you were to compare between Seoul and Tokyo) — but if you’re coming from any other country, the atmosphere in Seoul will be much more impressive, I think. One of the things both countries do is preserve old neighbourhoods, with turn-of-the-century houses that are still lived in by locals. There are a couple of these hanok villages in Seoul — the most famous one is Bukchon Hanok Village, located between Gyeongbok Palace and Changdeok Palace. It has become something a must-see tourist attraction, and there are certain “iconic” spots you are encouraged to photograph.
We also did some exploring around the area, and took our time meandering up and down the “hills” (some of the roads in that neighbourhood are very, very steep!)
When I was planning this trip, I convinced the others to a brief stay in a hanok-turned-hostel near the Village. We ended up staying with Sopoong Guesthouse, which has over the last year has become very popular (they even opened a second branch just before last December). If you’re going as a small group or a couple, I highly recommend them — KJ was very friendly and knowledgeable about the area, and Youmi was super sweet. Both are fluent in English, which was a huge relief to us (we should have studied some Korean before travelling, I know…)
Continuing with the traditional itinerary, we visited a palace during our stay as well. There are four or five palaces within Seoul but most of them are better known for their gardens, and their architectural beauty is much more obvious in warmer weather. So for this trip we only took the time to visit Gyeongbok Palace (also known as Gyeongbokgung 경복궁).
I don’t know very much about Korean history (other than the country was at one point made up of three smaller countries, and sometimes there were queens instead of kings), so it was a rather quick walk through the palace for us. The cold weather and chill wind also hurried our steps a bit.
In the end we gave in and bought hot drinks to warm our hands and stomachs while we wandered (this happened a lot throughout our trip — HZ complained how he drank more coffee on this trip than in the past few years combined).
I didn’t find out until a month before our trip, but there was (still ongoing, actually) a special exhibit at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, called Home Within Home, by artist Do Ho Suh. These two articles have more information about it (and more pictures of the work itself). Essentially, the artist is exploring the issue of personal identity as defined by the idea of “home”, both physically and metaphorically. After reading about his work, I knew I wanted to see it for myself. It was a compromise with the boys — I would drag them to a cultural site, and then they would drag me to go shopping or eating.
Let’s take a brief intermission to talk about winter holidays in Seoul. Or rather, the absence of Western holiday customs. Even after the past few years in Japan, it’s all still very odd to me. In both Japan and South Korea, it seems that Christmas is a lovers’ holiday. The “typical” Christmas in these parts must include eating fried chicken (I don’t know why), eating cakes with white icing, and a romantic walk through illuminations with your lover on Christmas Eve. Without really thinking about it, we ended up doing all three…
In our grand travel plan, we would head to YongPyong Ski Resort for three days, starting on the 25th. That didn’t leave very much time to truly appreciate Christmas, but we managed to fulfill the checklist nonetheless!
From the 25th to the 27th, we were on the eastern side of S. Korea, staying in the tiny town of Daegwalnyeong-myeon. It’s one of the closest towns to the famous YongPyong Ski Resort (we didn’t stay at the resort itself, because of the prices). Did you know Winter Sonata (one of the dramas that sparked the whole “Hallyu Wave“) was filmed here?
I never watched it, to be honest, but I could see why it was chosen — the grounds are extensive! The gondola ride from the bottom to the top of Dragon’s Peak must’ve taken over ten minutes! It would be very easy to block off one area for filming and still be open for regular tourist business here…
It was JH and RP’s first time to ski. I was proud of them when they managed to stay upright by the end of the day! As for me, I’m happy I didn’t fall down at all, but I also didn’t really challenge myself either (much to HZ’s eternal disappointment, maybe). If only skiing wasn’t so expensive, it would’ve been fun to stay for a few more days… The snow is better in Nagano though.
Probably one of the best memories for everyone during our brief out-of-Seoul excursion was finding a nice BBQ place for dinner! The hostesses weren’t really used to serving foreign customers (a good sign?), but they were super friendly and tried their best to serve us what we wanted. They helped us cook too!
I wish I could tell you where they’re located, but all I remember is that they were on the second floor of a building. If you ever go skiing in YongPyong, you should try to find them for some delicious Korean BBQ!
Yay, finally a post about Korea. I know it’s May, but better late than never, right? Next up will be more stuff we did back in Seoul, then there’ll be a post about all the YUMMY food we ate (I’m still trying to lose the weight I gained from this trip…)!