With bellies full of Kobe beef and red vino, it was time to bid farewell to our Barnsley buddies and set off yet again as a twosome. It seemed a bit weird for a while not turning around to make sure we hadn’t lost the gang, what didn’t feel weird was the shear relief that we had managed to dump numerous (and quite heavy) souvenirs on the unlikely lads, saving ourselves an absolute packet on postage :). Thank goodness Bryn had only brought 21 pairs of boxer shorts with him to Japan, any more and our free postage could have been down the swanny. Thanks to trusty Peach cheap airways, within a few hours we screeched down in the ‘Worlds Best Airport’ and all we had to do now was track down the aptly named ‘Come Inn’ and look forward to some very hard earned rest.
Needless to say, the eagerly anticipated hard earned rest never materialised, In fact, I’m not even sure why we ever thought, that in Hongdae, Seoul – ‘The Epicentre of Korea’s Youthful Nightlife’ there would be any rest. The Come Inn nestled safely above ‘Kens Bar’ and as we opened the room door to one particular ‘Fog Horn Leg Horn’ American, its a wonder we didn’t just walk away. Oh this place would have delighted the Albert Arkwright’s and Granville’s of this world but unfortunately, despite ear plugs and pillows over our heads, we emerged from our beds the next day sporting bags the size of our mothers knickers and there was definitely two people not appreciating the Open All Hours ‘perk’ of this hostel!
Despite naff all kip, at 8am we were on the tube gripping our list of must do’s which had to be ticked off by the end of our short 7 day stint in Korea. What better way to get a sense of the city than the N Seoul Tower. Standing at 237 metres, it certainly made us realise how big this city looks to those lucky enough to have wings, it also made us realise that this place is just as crazy if not more so than Japan. The first thing you notice at the foot of the tower are millions and millions of padlocks in every colour, shape and size. Knowing that national security is obviously a prominent issue in war torn Korea, we were relieved to find out that these suspicious looking locks are simply a ‘lock of love’ dedicated to all the sweethearts out there who throw the keys away to symbolize unbreakable love! Awwwww (mad as bloody hatters!).
Locks and locks of love
We had the biggest lock of the lot!
There’s even locks at the top of the tower………along with a mosquito
Counting down the days (and the miles)
A birds eye view
Yep, as mad as the Japanese
Back down at normal altitude and having endured about 1000 steps to get there, we rushed across town to the theater. Danny had booked us in at a show where basically, 5 Korean folk dash about the stage banging pots, pans and ovens and chopping up anything food related standing in their way. As excited as a prisoner on death row, he dragged Claire along and watched her ‘eat’ her words as soon as the curtains went up. Who would have thought that a show relating solely to the kitchen and food could have been so funny when you didn’t even get fed at the end?
Nanta Food Show – Brilliantly tasteful!
Feeling very hungry after the show, we hopped over the road to Shingate, a department store which puts Harrods to shame. Wandering for what felt like hours up and down the food floor searching for Koreans infamous ‘Shrink Wrapped Pooch’, we began to wonder if the Korean ‘Hot Dogs’ were just a myth.
The local post office
Walking to Harrods, N Seoul Tower in the background
Still hungry yet relieved somewhat that Danny didn’t get to try a ‘Sauteed Spaniel’, the next place on the list was Cheonggye, Seoul’s previously hidden underwater stream. The stream is now a focal point of the city where one can join the locals along with a few tinnies from the offy, and soak your weary tootsies alongside the office nine to fivers. Feeling the blood rush back to toes we thought were long lost, we then had one final place on the list before we saw the sunset on Seoul that evening.
Insadong is an explosion of arty farty free age types. Full of tat shops and crazy little boutiques, it didn’t take us long to track down a cozy little boozer and get settled in with a kettle full of Korean home brew, a wedge of tofu and some spicy ‘your gonna pay for this later’ kimchi. We don’t remember what mode of transport we used to get home that night.
Nipping into the City Plaza for a quick cool down
Flying the flag for South Korea
Another country, another stupid hat
Danny meanz business
The remedy for English Al Fresco dining
The ‘not hidden anymore’ Cheonggye Stream
The Sun setting on Isadong
Crazy Ice cream cones
Korea’s dangerous homebrew
Waking the next day with heads banging like the pots and pans of yesterdays Nanta theater, we managed to piece together events following three kettle fulls of home brew. Despite us viewing the world through slanted eyes along with the rest of em, we had made it to the tube station and wobbled onto the last train of the night, regrettably, we were woken up by a very authoritative gentlemen after only 2 stations instructing us that the train goes no further. With Claire quickly reliving the time she passed out on a train in Leeds and woke up somewhere near Doncaster, we hopped off the train and shared a taxi with one of Hongdae’s Ambassador’s for youthful nightlife. Despite the heads, the list wasn’t going to get ticked off if we stayed in bed so off we went to the Korean War Memorial Museum.
Without going on too much, this museum was absolutely out of this world. Knowing only what you read in the papers or hear on tv, this place completed the jigsaw puzzle of the North/South Korean war and we both left feeling like we deserved a seat alongside Daphne and CJ when we get home.
Brilliant Mosaic at the entrance
Thankfully neither of us smoke
Putting his hours of dart practice to use
Having thoroughly enjoyed our history lesson, next stop was the Samsung Museum across town. Hoping to witness the cutting edge technology of Korea and play with the best gadgets the world has to offer, the hopes soon faded as we walked slowly up to the ancient ceramic’s floor full of half chiped pots and cups hidden behind their perspex casings. What we failed to read in the Korean small print was that this museum was merely sponsored by Samsung and the nearest you would get to cutting edge technology was the dyson speed hand dryer in the bogs. A little disapointed, we found some big shiny silver balls by the carpark and took some photos of those.
Cutting edge Samsung sponsored balls
After a hard day’s slog at the Museums, Danny had lovingly lined us up an absolute treat for tea. Eyeballing up the stalls and stalls of decapitated pigs, bulging intestines, pigs trotters and tongues the length of an Olympic swimming pool, Claire had her fingers crossed they’d be a McDonalds on the way back home.
One trotter or two?
Look like Pancakes………. taste absolutely nothing like them
Danny chewing around the pigs nails
Retiring on an empty stomach but taking maybe a little bit more than fair advantage of the one allotted egg each for breakfast courtesy of the ‘Come Inn’, we leisurely strolled down to the Gyeongbokgung temple for a free guided tour at 11am. Maybe it was the 6 eggs he had or maybe it was the heat, but after a few minutes of the guided tour Danny was feeling a little worse for wear and following the changing of the guards, it was time for some upbeat fun and food in Gangnam.
Celebrating with Claire’s chinese birth year symbol, hopefully she would leave her hat as a gift
The dark clouds loom as Danny takes a turn for the worst
So big it didn’t quite fit in the view finder
Changing of the guards
Let the fun commence – Claire didn’t care, she walked around like this all day!
Not sure what John Lennon was doing there
Whats that Danny?? Someone else daring to stir!!
Looking very sheepish there Danny?! From one theater to another
Some of the crazy buildings around Gangnam
Whoopa GANGNAM STYLE!
The best bar in Hongdae! Coming to a Barnsley near you!
Eating with chopsticks is a piece of cake
If Carlsberg did hangovers………..
Fed up of the Come Inn, or to be more exact we think they cottoned on to the egg thieves, we moved down the street to Housetay, a cute little place with only a few beds and a 6 week old Beagle puppy. Dragging Claire eventually away from the the big brown eyed ball of fluff which Danny kept insisting was just an exceptionally slow roasting Sunday dinner, we hobnobbed it down (along with the rest of Seoul) to the trick eye museum. Unlike all other previously visited museums in Seoul, this place was just a barrel of fun and a laugh a minute photo opportunity. Some guys take it upon themselves to basically paint these super cool 3D pictures with you as the oscar nominee.
Unfortunately the entry fee wasn’t fake
It seemed real enough
A bit embarrassing when you look back……
Danny this could be you
He’d eat it if he could
Just a big kid in an icy world (but it was actually an ice museum next door)
Making more souvenirs to send home
The finished articles, but whose won?
Carrying what must have been by now a 4 week hangover, we were up a little later than usual and decided to visit a slower more historic part of Seoul. Bukchon Village is a small UNESCO heritage village nestled amongst the crazy bright lights of this mad and lively city, its a complete contrast strolling up and down the deserted streets learning about the history of the village and the folks that used to live here. Unfortunately, for Claires weary legs, Danny had mapped out another 5 mile walking tour………
Utterly enthralling it was too
Lets hope they didnt throw the key away to this padlock
Wandering up the pretty streets
Old meets new
Having a break in a rooftop cafe
Following this outdoor museum, Danny thankfully found us a cracking place for some tea. The Majang meat market wasn’t too far from Bukchon village but, owing to the countries infamous delicacy, Claire insisted Danny went into the market first to ensure no pound puppies would be making it to our table. Thankfully, as always, there were no dogs in sight so, speaking not one word of the lingo and like little dogs with their tails between their legs, we nervously sat down in a room full of locals slurping, belching and farting their way through tea. We need not have worried, we fitted in quite adequately.
Sticking out like a sore thumb
Happy to finally cook for himself again
Saving the best day until almost last (basically owing to the fact we were lucky to even get on a trip), it was DMZ day! DMZ (demilitarized zone) is where the shit hits the fan. Its a strip of land which runs across the Korean peninsula and serves as a buffer zone between the war torn North and South Korea and despite its name, the whole 160 mile stretch is the most heavy militarized border in the world. Unfortunately, you cant visit this place on your own, you can only go on a very strict and heavily controlled tour where you have to adhere to not only a strict full length dress code, you also need to be transferred onto a armed guarded united nations bus (which we can only think guards the extortionate tour fee which you got to pay!).
To be fair, despite the fee, this day was wicked. Firstly we went down into an infiltration tunnel which was found in 1973. An informer from North Korea told the South Koreans about this big tunnel which was primed for attack, owing to the shear size of it, we have no idea how they missed this one. Next was the Dora Observatory where you can spy into North Korea and check out whose flag is bigger that the other. The last part of the trip was the JSA where, after a strict ID check and a very stern recap on the rules from Private Benetez, we got to step into North Korea. We weren’t allowed to pull funny faces at the opposing guards or aggravate them in anyway else we may be shot – fair enough, we didn’t push this one, although these cartoon like guards did deserve a bit of ribbing. Apparently, the guards stand in this taekwondo stance ready to attack, they just stand there all day long in their raybans ready to jump. I suppose owing to some previous incidents occuring at the border, its as well, however I’m not sure how the Bruce Lee wannabees would compete with Kim Jong-Uns nuclear weapons.
Getting back on the bus, the last stop was of course Claire’s favourite………the gift shop. Loading ourselves up with tat in the most heavily guarded gift shop in the whole world, it was an absolute wonder that we managed to get back on the bus forgetting to pay for our magnet! With Private Benetez gone, we sat shaking all the way home on the bus agreeing that if any hand chopping would be done we would accept the fate of one each.
Tickets in hand and ready to go on the bus!
Arriving at the tunnel
Thankfully this hat was just on loan
Outside the entrance of the tunnels
No photos allowed but we risked getting shot instead – This is North Korea!
A hope for peace at the border
Not a pretty sight, some families have been separated for years
Freedom house pagoda
The bridge of no return
Wrong country wrong war Claire
The South Korean side of the JSA looking into the big grey building which falls under North Korean guards
Taekwondo masters at work
Standing in North Korea with a South Korean Taekwondo expert at the ready…… it was difficult to resist poking him
Now this is a line you wouldn’t dare cross
Outside the JSA
After accidentally stealing from the most heavily guarded gift shop in the world and worrying all the way back to our digs, we decided we needed a nice relaxing few hours and therefore chose to do so as the locals did and head to a Jjimjilbang. Dragon Hill Spa was not quite as the name notioned, yes it was a spa of some sort but you could buy burgers and milkshakes on the way in and chow down and slurp on them whilst sitting in the ice room, sweating your pants off in the sauna or whilst chatting to your mates on your mobile phone. It was more like a Saturday afternoon down at the Metrodome leisure centre. Despite all this sheer chaos, when returning to the changing rooms to get dressed we found the real spa, a whole floor of naked Koreans scrubbing ever conceivable body part in full open view – Claire still regrets that last burger on the way in.
Ready for the kilns in the obligatory dress (at least in this part)
No ketchup on my burger please Sir
Having witnessed more bush than holding Don King in a headlock, we hit the town for the last final night aiming to replace all the bad which had been sweated out in the sauna
Hongdae by night
The BEST FRIED CHICKEN SPOT IN THE WORLD!!
Not feeling guilty about it at all
Shite…….I forgot, diet starts tomorrow
It was sadly our final day in Korea, the list was completely ticked off despite sampling Korea’s nightlife to the full each and every single night. The last thing on our list was Hwaseong Fortress located 30km south of Seoul, built in 1794 and reconstructed heaps since, it is a sight for sore eyes. All that laid between us and reaching this fortress was about 300 steps, 40 degree heat and a hangover.
A sample of the fortress in the town – these were for people who couldn’t be bothered with the steps
At four miles long there was plenty to see
We made it to the top
Posing at the top
The view was worth it despite the heat
Almost back at the bottom
Taking ‘green motoring’ to a whole new level
Walking along the river back to the tube station
If your cafe has no view, paint one
So that was that! Crazy Korea over within a moment. We never did get the lie in or the well deserved rest despite being on the go every single day for well over a month. We never recovered from our Japanese hangovers either, we just spent another week topping them up. Although Korea was a super place, we couldn’t wait to get to the Philippines and sleep for a week!
Our route on this post:
|1||Incheon Airport, South Korea||August 14, 2013|
|2||Seoul, South Korea||August 14, 2013|
|3||Panmunjom, South Korea||August 20, 2013|
|4||Panmunjom, North Korea||August 20, 2013|
|5||Panmunjon, South Korea||August 20, 2013|
|6||Seoul, South Korea||August 20, 2013|
|7||Suwon, South Korea||August 21, 2013|
|8||Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea||August 21, 2013|
|9||Suwon, South Korea||August 21, 2013|
|10||Seoul, South Korea||August 21, 2013|
|11||Incheon Airport, South Korea||August 22, 2013|