|A quick stop for breakfast in Seoul|
The routing I took to get to the Philippines offered me either a 3 hour or a 16 hour layover in Seoul, Korea. Given the opportunity to add another country to my list and to wander around town for a few hours, how could I possibly say no? I couldn’t. And even though it meant a 4am arrival at the airport in Korea and waiting around a bit for things to open up and get started early on a Sunday morning I definitely got to experience a bit of Korean hospitality, transportation, food and drink.
The 4am arrival into Incheon airport caused a few problems right from the get-go. The lounge was open so I got to take a quick shower but other than that there was nothing. Even the food options available in the lounge that early pretty much sucked. On the plus side there was plenty of Hite beer available so I had one of those to start off the day and then headed out to see the city. Sortof. I had to wait about 45 minutes for the left luggage facility to open up so I could leave a bag there. I probably could have just left it in the club but with a laptop and other things inside that didn’t seem like a good idea. There are free lockers airside at Incheon – just ask for a key at the information desk near the base of the two spokes in the terminal – but those weren’t open until even later in the day. Instead I sprung for the $5 fee, dropped off my bag and headed into town.
Most folks heading into Seoul from the airport take the bus. There are a few companies offering airport limousine bus service that seems pretty nice. There are some traffic implications to consider with the bus (though not much at 6am on a Sunday) and they offer direct service to many different hotels around town. Since I wasn’t headed to a hotel and since i had no bags I opted for a different trip. I took the train in. Taking the train means riding on a dedicated link from Incheon to Gimpo (the other airport in town, similar to Narita and Handea in Tokyo) and then switching there to the local subway system. The total transit time was just over an hour which is about as good as the buses can do at their best, and the train is much more consistent, but it depends on not needing to be at a particular hotel to really work out well. It also meant that I got another mass transit card for my collection. That is quickly becoming one of my favorite souvenirs to bring home from my travels.
|A shopper and fishmonger surveying the day’s offerings|
Just after 7:30am I finally made it to the first stop on my tour schedule: Noryangjin Fish Market. The fish market is Seoul’s largest and even on a Sunday morning there was plenty of activity. Not so much with the wholesalers working (at least not that I saw) and even some of the retail folks took the day off, but there was plenty going on inside. The biggest disappointment for me was that all of the restaurants around the market appeared to be closed; that definitely put a crimp in my dining plans for the day. Still, wandering amongst the stalls and seeing the vast spread of fish available is always a fun time. It didn’t seem quite as vast as the Tsukiji market in Tokyo, but it was close and still plenty fun.
|The romance of train travel|
Following the time in the market I still wanted to wander around town a bit but I was thwarted by a bit of rain. Rather that deal with that I chose to hop on the train – the KTX Bullet Train – and go for a little ride. The trains are reasonably cheap and phenomenally fast. I paid ~$30 for a return ticket with one way in first class and the other in coach for a ride of about an hour each way. That hour had me over 200 kilometers away from Seoul and our top speed was just over 300km/h. The first class car was much nicer and quieter than the coach one and the whole train had WiFi (but I didn’t have a laptop to try it out). The ride was fast and quiet. I truly wish that the United States could figure out how to implement something similar, even if only in limited geographic areas. I know that it will not likely happen in my lifetime, but I can dream.
|Some of the traditional hanok buildings|
A couple hours after leaving on the train I was back in Seoul and the rain had cleared up, leaving me with no excuses not to wander about a bit more. And wander I did. I was fortunate to have come across a guide that Hanok Girl has put together for some walking tours of the Gahoi-dong neighborhood in central Seoul. The neighborhood includes several old homes and guest houses – a traditional Bukchon hanok village – many of which are now owned by the government and which have been restored to their former glory. The juxtaposition of the old and new adjacent to each other right in the heart of the city, with the old being preserved as a reminder of years gone by, is quite impressive. And the walking tours that Hanok Girl provides are great. I did tour #2 and it was pretty much exactly as the website said it would be.
At that point I was pretty much exhausted so it was back to the airport to collect my bags and head off for the flight to Manila. There are plenty of things I didn’t get to see in Seoul so I’ll have to go back at some point, but for a quick introduction I think I did pretty well. And I’m intrigued enough to want to go back which is a good thing.
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