04 January 2011

Is there a better way to start off the new year?

So I decided to start the new year off the right way.  In Seoul!  The second largest city on earth (depending on which ranking you look at) has everything you could hope to find in a huge metropolis.  Seeing as how this was my first trip to the capital, I spent most of time exploring the big tourist areas and wandering around to really get a feel for the city.  Presented in this post is my basic itinerary for the first four days of 2011.

Day 1 - January 1
6:30 - Wake up, shower and make sure I have everything ready to go.

7:15 - Leave for the train station.  

7:30 - Find out that the 7:45 train is already booked.  Looks like I'm gonna have to wait another hour. 

12:15 - Arrive in Seoul.  Wander about aimlessly for awhile until I stumble upon Namdaemun Market.  This market is larger than Seomun Market in Daegu, but a lot of the shops are closed and there really isn't anything that's worth a picture.

1:45 - Finally get to the first thing I was planning to see, which is Deoksugung.  Deoksugung is situated right next to City Hall, which is a pretty cool building in its own right, and is one of the five main palaces in Seoul.  This palace is a pretty great way to start out my weekend in Seoul.  I get some great shots before moving on to Namankol Folk Village.

3:15 - Get to Namankol Folk Village.  I am greeted with the sight of some pretty gigantic ice sculptures before I get into the actual village.  The village itself is interesting, but not something I would necessarily recommend as a must-see on a trip to Seoul.

4:00 - Begin my hike up to N Seoul Tower.  It's a bit of a trek, but nothing compared to hiking to Gatbawi.  Get to stop at a pretty nice vantage point overlooking the city for some pictures.

4:45 - Arrive at N Seoul Tower.  Take some more pictures before I get my ticket and wait in line to actually go up to the top.

5:30 - Finally get to the top of N Seoul Tower.  I am still supposed to be waiting in line, but I sneaked in with a tour group.  I'm not really sure how they missed me considering I stick out like a sore thumb here.

6:00 - Finish taking pictures and prepare for the descent from N Seoul Tower.

7:15 - Arrive at City Hall for the festival of lights.

8:30 - Finally get to my hostel called Banana Backpackers.  Not the liveliest place in the world, but there were some people hanging around and drinking.

1:00 - Call it a night.  I'm exhausted from walking around for 8 hours and I would like to get up at a somewhat reasonable time tomorrow.

Day 2 - January 2
9:00 - Wake up

9:30 - Arrive at Unhyeongung, which is only about a five minute walk from the hostel.  Unhyeongung is another palace in Seoul, but really just looks more like a glorified residence.  It provides some nice pictures, but calling this a palace is a bit of a stretch.

10:30 - Stumble upon Jongno Tower and Bosingak, which is an old bell tower.  Jongno Tower is definitely one of the coolest buildings I have ever seen.

10:45 - Head on over to Gyeonghuigung, which is yet another palace.  This is definitely an improvement over Unhyeongung, but not quite as cool as Deoksugung.

11:30 - Begin my ascent of Inwangsan.  This mountain is situated in Seoul.  One thing I really love about Korea so far is the fact that all of their cities are either built around or built into mountains.

12:15 - Reach the summit of Inwangsan.  Take a picture before being told by South Korea's secret service that I'm not allowed to take photos in the direction of the President's house, which is situated at the foot of the mountain.

1:15 - Get back to the bottom of the mountain and begin my search for Seodaemun Prison History Museum.

4:15 - Arrive at Seodaemun Prison History Museum.  I mayyyyyy have gotten a little lost along the way.  This museum features some interesting history on the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.

5:30 - Get off the subway at Seoul World Cup Stadium.  I was hoping the stadium would be lit up (everything in this city is), but I am disappointed.  I might head back during a different trip to Seoul.

7:00 - Find Backpacker Friends, which is my hostel for the night.  This isn't exactly a hostel.  It's pretty much an apartment that's been converted into a place that can fit 10 people.  But it will do for the night.  I'm not exactly picky.

10:00 - Head out on the town.

3:00 - Bedtime

Day 3 - January 3 
9:30 - Wake up

11:00 - Arrive in downtown Seoul after taking the subway.

11:15 - Get to Gyeongbokgung.  Now this is a palace!  It is gigantic and I am really glad I went to the other three palaces first because I would have been sorely disappointed in those if I had started out here.  They even have a changing of the guard ceremony outside of the front gate.

1:15 - Finally leave Gyeongbokgung.  It is an awesome palace and is definitely worth an hour or two of your time if you ever go to Seoul.

1:45 - Walk around Tapgol Park.  It's a nice place, but I don't think anything is going to compare with Gyeongbokgung.

2:15 - Start my walk along Cheonggyecheon River.  The river goes right through downtown Seoul.

2:45 - Arrive in Dongdaemun.  Dongdaemun is a huge shopping district in Seoul and has some really cool buildings.

5:15 - Arrive at Bong House, which is my hostel for the night.  And if you're wondering, the owner's last name is Bong.  So get any other thoughts out of your head.

9:45 - Time to head out.

3:15 - Good Night.

Day 4 - January 4
9:30 - Wake up

10:30 - Take a short walk from my hostel to Ihwajang, which is a former president's house.  Not worth the time of heading over here.  It's not really anything more than a nice house.

10:45 - Find my way to Changgyeonggung.  This palace is pretty tiny, but it has a really large garden and pond.  I think I might come back here in the spring to see what it looks like.

12:00 -Enter Changdeokgung, which is right next to Changgyeonggung.  This is probably the second best palace in Seoul after Gyeongbokgung.

12:45 - Leave Changdeokgung and find my way to Jongmyo.

1:15 - Arrive at Jongmyo and find out that it's closed.  I knew there was a reason I was planning to see that on Monday.

1:30 - Take the subway to Seoul Station and book a train at 2:15.

2:15 - Depart Seoul.  It's been fun!

5:45 - Train arrives in Waegwan Station.

6:00 - Home sweet home.

All in all, I would say it was a pretty successful trip.  Jongmyo ended up being the only sight I was unable to visit.  If I end up going back to Changyeonggung in the spring I'll be sure to tack on Jongmyo to my trip.  So what would I recommend as sights to check out from my first trip to Seoul?

1. Gyeongbokgung - You probably could have guessed that this was my favorite place from reading the blog. Even if you aren't into history or architecture, this is still a pretty awesome palace to visit.

2. Dongdaemun at night - Lights, lights, and more lights.  A shopper's paradise. And even if you aren't looking to buy anything I would recommend a visit just to see all of the light displays on the buildings.

3. N Seoul Tower - Hike to the top or take the cable car for a couple bucks.  It was pretty crowded, which was a pain, but you can view the entire city from the tower.

4. Inwangsan (or another mountain in Seoul) - I really enjoy hiking.  If it's not your thing then ignore this suggestion, but there are so many mountains in or around Seoul that I think it's definitely worth it to commit a couple hours to the great outdoors.

5. Changdeokgung - Second best palace in Seoul.

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