Research and preparation before any overseas trip is something I have long done but it hasn’t always been that way. My first overseas trip whilst based in Japan was to South Korea in the early days of January 2006. Along with my friend and colleague Asif we headed off to Seoul for a four night trip with very little knowledge of the capital city and no plan at all.
From our previous travels (not together) we had become used to just turning up at places and booking somewhere by walking in but it seemed that was not the done deal in East Asia so the authorities were a bit suspicious of us at the airport when we were unable to enter details of where we`d be staying. Luckily, Asif had his Lonely Planet book (just saying that seems very retro in these times of abundant online information!) so was able to just give a name of a backpackers which we did actually end up going to via bus from the airport for 8000 won ($7 or £8)!
Having actually taken a first class flight to Seoul (Asif booked the flights and they were very reasonably priced) we were then on a bus and booked into a dorm at twin room rate meaning we`d have it all to ourselves. There was no hanging around once inside as we almost instantly ended up going for yakiniku (grilled meat) with a Japanese guy called Ono-San. It was all very cheap but I was really underprepared on the clothing front and it was absolutely freezing in my light jacket!
We moved out of the backpackers the following morning but then checked back in 30 minutes later as the other place we looked at was far worse. This time we had a much better room so it was maybe worth it. The underfloor heating at Seoul Backpackers in Hoehyeon-dong proved to be so welcome in such a cold environment. It was minus seven degrees outside at times I recall.
We later walked to Gyeonbokgung Palace where we saw the changing of the guard and took a walk around the grounds of the place. The setting here really was quite stunning and it proved to be a great historical sight to properly start off our tourist experience.
The massive Lotte World Tower was next not that I can remember anything about it other than getting a photo with a Korean lady in traditional costume.
After a detour walk up Namsan Mountain hoping to reach N Seoul Tower for free we finally gave in and took the ropeway up to the summit of this 236 metre construction. The photos are of course terrible as this was 15 years ago and they were taken on the mobile phone of that era!
I was freezing so had a cup noodle at the top to warm me up whilst looking out at the night skyline. As with Tokyo, it was concrete and lights for as far as the eye could see.
Back at the hostel, we again went for yakiniku with three other guests which was good fun. I don`t think people socialise with other guests so much these days in the smartphone and wifi era. These were very different times and I didn’t have a guide book so when discussing what to do the following day I came up with the idea of going to the Olympic Park in the Songpa District as all I really knew about the country was that Seoul had hosted the summer games back in 1988.
I`m not sure what places in Seoul these next pictures were so I can only assume I was impressed by their architecture, and maybe we went looking for towers which we could go up for free.
I have a feeling that this picture may have even been taken in a toilet which offered fine views of the Seoul skyline for free. I could be completely wrong though!
As I`d decided much of the daytime schedule, it was only fair that Asif chose the nighttime entertainment so at 7pm we went to Korea House to see a traditional dance and music performance. We were both really tired by the time we sat down and I think we both fell asleep at some stage of the show which (when I saw it) was actually quite impressive and reminded me of what I`d seen (those hats with long paper streamers attached which blow around in the air when the dancers head moves!) four years before that on British TV`s opening titles for the FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan. We got to have our photos taken with some of the cast afterwards so we were both happy with that.
Trying a kimchi burger at fast-food chain Lotteria was something we both wanted to try, and was quite possibly as adventurous as we got on this trip! We did go to the Hongik University area for some street food after that and had a couple of beers in a bar.
There are a couple more places we went to which will feature in future flashback posts, and I`m sure there were a few more things which have long slipped my mind but all the information provided above has been the result of my memory and a small diary I kept vaguely detailing our itinerary. This trip to Seoul was the first real step into the world of Asian travel for me and I would go on to visit Hong Kong, Vietnam and Cambodia later that year where I was indeed far more organised!
Click here to read `TF Flashback: Seoul Olympic Stadium (2006)`
Click here to read `South Korea 2015 Pt I: The War Memorial Of Korea`
Click here to read `South Korea 2015 Pt II: Dining Out And Other Such Cultural Stuff`
Click here to read `South Korea 2015 Pt III: Exercise, Games & Activities In Seoul`