So my second day in Seoul was spent recovering from a mild hangover and a lack of planning. Without a phone and offline maps to guide me I have had to go old school and so for a while I sat in the hostel marking things on my oversized tourist map of Seoul. That is until I met Bram, a dutch fella, who had arrived a scant few hours earlier. We hit it off pretty quickly and once the sun went down we went out for cheap Canadian beer and got to know each other. It’s nice to have a travel buddy again after about a week alone.
Today, the third day, was the day to see things. I had yet to do any real exploring outside of Itaewon and I was itching to see what Seoul had to offer. Luckily, so was Bram, and so off we went. First stop was at Anthracite the boutique coffee shop next door for the morning pick me up and some map checking.
The plan was to see the centre of Seoul and enjoy some of the historical palaces. Hopping on the subway was a breeze and if you ever need to get anywhere in Seoul I can say without any hesitation that the subway here is the simplest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s all numbered and your trip doesn’t cost you anything until you clock back in and it goes off distance travelled – totally different to Tokyo’s ridiculous subway cost. That and the trips to the subway are lined with quirky artistic stuff that just makes Seoul so special…
We got off at Gyeongbokgung station which is about 100 metres from the entrance to Gyeongbokgung palace. The gates are beautiful and the palace itself is immense. It only cost $3 to enter and see the inner grounds, but you can’t set foot in the main palace chamber. It is still lovely though.
As we were about to find out they do a rather interesting public demonstration of the changing of the guard and so we stood there blocking a bunch of people’s views.
It was rather cool, but we kind of ruined the atmosphere with what we thought were hilarious observations like mine that in the time it took to do this changing of the guard any invading army could have landed, and walked right through to take the palace for free – it was a seriously drawn out affair. This made a few Korean guys laugh as they listened in, so I guess it wasn’t all bad. We observed a tonne of blonde foreigners all seemingly swarmed by Korean guys and it wasn’t until Bram likened it to being attacked by flies that we both fell apart laughing, much to the dismay of a few children nearby – oh well.
From there we made our way to some restaurants nearby to get some lunch. What we were about to learn is that the Koreans do love to add spices to most things, and so the Gimbap was delicious (big sushi like roll thing) and my ramen was not at all similar to the Japanese ramen I had been enjoying over the last month. I was a little disappointed, but not as disappointed as Bram who hates spicy things and whatever he ordered was basically spices with a little food added in. Disappointed we were, sniffling we definitely were, and insulted the cooks were definitely insulted as we walked out with most of our food still uneaten.
After that little let down we made our way through central Seoul towards the market district.
It took us a while to navigate our way there but once we did we were not disappointed at all. The traffic really picked up, and the markets were insanely busy. Stalls, stores, and boutique shops as far as the eye can see, and then some. But, we have discovered something that is just not sold in Korea…deodorant. My number 1 tip so far is to make sure you don’t run out of deodorant while travelling in South Korea. Mine ran dry about 2 hours ago, so I need to find somewhere tomorrow, but they do not sell it anywhere. Not in body shops, convenience stores, malls, beauty shops that have an unreal selection of literally every other fragrance and beauty product for men and women…but not deodorant. It’s because South Korean men don’t sweat, or so I’ve been told. That’s great for you guys, but what about the travellers who do 10km a day minimum on their feet…help us out here. I have found one roll on at the small shop across from my hostel for 18,000 won…which is around $20 AUD…and I flat out refuse to be robbed like that.
We settled into a coffee shop and discussed bits and pieces before he had to meet up with a friend and I had to make my way to the coolest place on earth – Vinyl&Plastic.
Not 100 metres from my hostel in Itaewon is a music library and it is spectacular. A two story building that is wall to wall and ceiling to floor CDs and Vinyl from everywhere and every time on earth. The basement is a cafe and the two floors below the basement is a stage set up for live acts…coolest place ever. However, the downside is to check music out of there you need to be a member. That’s where Vinyl&Plastic comes in…the building next door is a two story cafe that is exactly the same as the music library except it acts as a place for everyone to hang out and buy music rather than borrow it. Again, this place is wall to wall vinyl and record players on the first floor, and the second floor is CDs. There are record player listening stations where you can pull up a chair and listen to any record you feel like, and similarly upstairs you can do the same with any CD you’d like. So here I sit, in the vinyl section of the store writing to you and smiling outwardly and inwardly as Myles Davis serenades me…
Listening to soul in Seoul soothes my soul. Get here people, you won’t regret it!