Leaving Seoul after the 4th day was incredibly difficult. I never could have imagined feeling how I would feel while in Seoul. We initially considered it a bonus country. We thought we’d head up to the North Korean border and explore a little bit then off to the real meat and potatoes. Boy were we wrong. I have a feeling my biggest regret on this trip will be not budgeting enough time for Seoul. Here are a few reasons why Seoul captured my interest and left me longing for more time there.
While I’m sure on this trip there will not be lacking in delicious food, I had not anticipated really loving Korean food. However, the combination of flavors and the interactive nature of the meals really took me by surprise. I loved that when you had Korean barbecue or assorted Wok dishes, they’d be cooked right in front of you and you could just grab whatever off the pan with your chopsticks and dive in. It was very enjoyable watching other tables eating and laughing while taking shots of Soju. The meal time is such a huge part of South Korean sociability, and I enjoyed taking part. There were other various foods I had in Seoul, and you can read about that in my article, Seoul Food.
Although the heat was intense in Seoul, that didn’t keep us from going outside and adventuring around. Between renting bicycles, climbing mountains, walking street markets, and exploring historical sites, there wasn’t much time spent indoors. Climbing the mountains and biking by the river also provided a little relief from the heat. Not only did we get some awesome pictures, it was super fun to participate in local past times and interact with people doing everyday things.
Other travel blogs had said to budget 80 to 100 dollars a day, but we never hit that. The only way that would be a reasonable budget is if you plan to do a lot of shopping or go up to the DMZ. Although the timing didn’t allow us to make it up there, I think it would have been worth the expense to get up there. We even made the mistake of eating at a few touristy restaurants that were more expensive than we had wanted and still managed to stay under budget. Accommodations were super nice and cheap outside of Hongdae neighborhood (cheap but not super nice). Overall, it would be well worth spending a little more to have more time in Seoul.
There were so many people that made an impact on us in Seoul, and that contributed to why I felt sad to leave. When you have a moment with someone, and then you know you’ll never see them again, it can make you a bit weary. When we first arrived, our plane had arrived 2 hours late and it was midnight. We reached the neighborhood of our hostel, but we had no idea how to navigate there. We were in a city square looking at a map, and a young South African man who’d lived in Seoul for 10 years asked us if we needed help. He then walked us the 20 minutes to our hostel without us asking and along the way provided us with many useful tips. The following day, a girl from Spain helped us navigate the subway. Not just backpackers, but the locals were also very kind and helpful. When I reached the top of a mountain, a group of men asked me to get in their picture. They shared that they were 60 years old and it was quite the accomplishment for both of us, since that had been my first mountain climb. A smile will get you so far, and I felt that the locals were kind and understanding.
When we had first arrived, the man from South Africa had told us that he thought that Seoul was the safest place in the world. I didn’t realize until we were further along in our trip, that he was absolutely right. There was no time during my stay in Seoul that I felt sketched out. I even found it humorous that while we were passing by a parked car, they locked their doors at US! I almost felt proud that for once in my life I seemed intimidating to someone. It seems the locals agreed about the safety, because I’d see people sleeping in the subway with a bag next to them labeled with all the highest end shops. The comfort I felt being halfway around the world was incredible.
The markets in Seoul were very enticing. All the bright lights made it feel like day time. Once it cools off at night, there is so much going on that you could spend hours there without even buying anything. Live music fills the streets. The youth are break dancing, playing instruments, beat boxing, singing karaoke, putting on fashion shows. I couldn’t stop smiling while watching so many enthusiastic youths show off their hard word. The food smells delicious from every corner and anything you could ever need is being sold for super cheap. No one is pesky or hard selling, they just politely welcome you and you’re free to look around.
I’m sure there’s so much more to say about Seoul, and I’ll probably address more of these things in individual posts. I was thoroughly impressed by incredible infrastructure that Seoul has developed. All of the locals seem happy, healthy and calm. The city itself was unbelievably clean and safe. People would walk the streets cleaning up even a scrap of paper. The subway was cheap, efficient, and organized. The city is a wonderful place for travelers, and has something for everyone. I would go back again, and I’m sure I will.
Onward and Upward,