When we began planning this trip, South Korea wasn’t on the list of destinations, and was a country that I really didn’t know much about. Due to a flight change and some thorough ticket research, I found that I could fly to Seoul, South Korea and purchase an additional flight to Malaysia for the same price as a direct flight to Malaysia. So, South Korea became a ‘bonus’ country for the overall itinerary and I am really, really happy that it did.
Seoul is an incredible city with seemingly endless things to do and see, literally. Some markets and shopping centers are open 24 hours a day and clubs can stay open until 6am! There are palaces, temples and museums to visit, Bukhansan National Park (Read My Post Here), the DMZ, Olympic Stadium and countless shopping districts. Each neighborhood of Seoul is unique and simply walking through them can be quite entertaining. We often found musicians, dancers and a verity of street performers wherever we went not to mention the amazing food.
The first neighborhood that we decided to stay in was Hongdae, a university district with a young forward thinking crowd and busy indie music scene. Hongdae is full of life with restaurants and bars lining the street and local artist performing in several plazas. This is no surprise as Hongdae is home to Hongik University, one of the nations top fine arts colleges. The high student population also leads to a busy nightlife with any bars and clubs open until 6am!
The the two hostels we stayed at in Hongdae were alright for location in relation to the city with only a short walk to the subway. Hongdae was one of the louder and dirtier neighborhoods we went to where garbage would be thrown on the streets and music from the clubs would rattle the hostel walls till the sun came up. We didn’t get too deep into the club scene and after a couple nights decided to find something a little more out pace. Somewhere without garbage lined gutters and a clean bathroom. We quickly discovered Myeongdong.
Myeongdong is known for its markets and shopping district along with Seoul Tower. The hostel we stayed at in Myeongdong was cheaper and much nicer. The Namsen Guest House 5 was clean, quiet and close to everything we wanted to see. The neighborhood of Myeongdong is home to the Namdaemon Market and Seoul Tower with quick access to Insadong, Dongdaemon, palaces and temples.
To get out of the bustling city, I hopped on the subway and in less than a half hour I was surrounded by mountains and wilderness of the Bukhansan National Park where set out to hike Baegundae Peak, the highest peak in Bukhansan National Park. Unfortunately we didn’t find Baegundae, the poorly scaled map and my inability to read Korean had us take a left too early and put us on a very similar trial to Wonhyobong Peak. A common mistake, locals say, when people are not familiar with the parks trails. “It is the second bridge, not the first, You should have gone straight!” says a local hiker as we descended. The hike was still a decent trek and offered great views with a stop at a temple that we wouldn’t have seen on the other trail.
On our last day in Seoul, we decided to check out the southern neighborhoods and the river walk. We took the subway to a station near the Han River and rented bicycles to pedal our way down the extensive and quite impressive bike trail system. After cycling for a couple hours we hopped back on the train and headed for the Gangnam neighborhood for dinner on Gangnam Food Street. We found a Chinese wok restaurant and enjoyed a delicious and spicy meal consisting of many mixed vegetables, meats and seafood.we expected street food and hawker stalls but found more chain restaurants than anything.
Before we knew it, we were on our way to Malaysia. One country down, and nine or ten more to go! I will write more detailed post about each place we went when I get time, check back for updates!