Day 1 – The Myeongdong District
This morning my brother, Edward, and I headed off for our second country of his short trip with me. Instead of dealing with the confusing airport train again we instead took a bus from the Tokyo Central Station. It was much easier and I was able to book online ahead of time! We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our flight, headed to a lounge where we ate some delicious Japanese cookies for a few hours, bought our dad some crazy Japanese candy for his birthday, and then boarded our flight to South Korea. The flight was fantastic because we were able to see a Japanese highlight out our window: Mount Fuji! We were very lucky, and it was a great way to end our short stay in Japan.
When we landed in Seoul I was immediately like a kid in a candy store. First, we met a robot that I proceeded to play with. We then saw the Olympic mascots everywhere, as the Winter Paralympics were now going on, and I had to take pictures with them as well. We then headed to the train hub where we got our tickets for the local train into Seoul Square Station. From Seoul Station it was a very easy transfer to ibis Styles Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong, our hotel while in Seoul. After a warm welcome we headed to our room with an amazing view out over the Myeongdong district. Thank you so much to ibis Styles Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong for sponsoring my stay in Seoul! The location was absolutely perfect, and we loved the fun yet modern room. And, once again, we had a fun Asian toilet to try and learn how to use.
After settling into our room we then headed out to a meal of Edward’s choosing: Korean BBQ from a restaurant called On the Grill! Neither of us had any real idea what to do so it was quite the entertaining evening. We eventually figured it out and it was quite tasty. After dinner we headed to walk around Myeongdong. Myeongdong is a super busy and unique shopping area in the heart of Seoul. Our first stop was to get some really cool ice cream that was in the shape of a flower. From there we then walked up and down the streets to see all that we could! I bought some fun socks while Edward went for a sweatshirt. We had so much fun walking up and down the streets of Myeongdong – it was such a cool area!
After a busy evening we were so glad to be staying right in the heart of Myeongdong. We wanted to get a good night of sleep before our morning adventure tomorrow to try and get Edward’s Chinese visa.
Day 2 – The Racoons
We started off the day with a great breakfast at ibis Styles Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong before heading to Seoul Station. We had to visit the Chinese visa processing center to have Edward’s visa expedited as the service we used to get it done before we left the US failed to deliver (it was actually a lot more dramatic than I’m making it sound, but what can you do). Figuring out that the visa center in Seoul existed was a saving grace – without it Edward would have had to fly between Shanghai and Beijing through a third country to reset his visa free periods. But with Chinese visa in hand he could easily ride the bullet train with me as planned. We found the center very user friendly and it was overall a simple process. We left all of his application materials in a process that took about thirty minutes, and we will come back tomorrow to pick up his passport.
With that all taken care of we started off on our full day in Seoul. Our first stop was definitely my choice: the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art. It had a mix of modern and traditional Korean art and was such a unique museum in how well it implemented technology. I mean, Samsung is in the name of the museum, so I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Our audio guides would start talking when we walked in front of a new work of art, and there were so many cool pieces throughout the museum! I loved it and Edward tolerated it / pretended to enjoy it for my benefit / I like to think he actually did enjoy it to some extent.
To even the score, though, our next stop was one that I tolerated and Edward thoroughly enjoyed: the War Memorial of Korea. Don’t get me wrong, it was very interesting and I definitely wanted to see it, but Edward is a HUGE World War II buff so I sat and watched while he read every description of every airplane and tank. I found the memorial itself to be very interesting though I wouldn’t have understood in the slightest anything that he was reading.
Our next stop was one that came to us courtesy of Facebook – the Blind Alley Café. While it might sound like a normal café I can assure you that it is not. Blind Alley is situated right in the heart of a university district and is home to many fun animal friends. Namely, the raccoons! While some people may not agree I think that raccoons are adorable and knew as soon as I heard of Blind Alley that we would have to visit. I loved how well taken care of that the raccoons were and I enjoyed seeing the other animals, like the pig and of course the dog, as well. We were both quite surprised when the raccoons were sat on our shoulders and it made for quite the funny photo op! After meeting with the raccoons we had a raccoon shaped shaved ice (of course) and then headed to our next stop, Deoksugung Palace.
Deoksugung Palace used to be home to members of the Korean royal family. We really enjoyed walking around the grounds and also got a glimpse of a traditional procession walking the grounds. It was very cool! We then walked all the way up Sejong-daero (daero means street) to get to Gwanghwamun Gate. Along the way we stopped and took a few pictures, like with Olympic animals (yes, again), the statue of King Sejong, and the U.S. Embassy. Gwanghwamun Gate is the largest gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace, which was the royal palace during the Joseon dynasty and was built all the way back in 1395. There were many people interestingly dressed in traditional Korean clothing, called hanbok, to take pictures inside of the palace.
After the palace we headed right next door to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea. There were not many current exhibitions but the ones that were on were quite interesting, including one powerful film on the Korean War. Afterwards we made our way to our last artsy stop of the day, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. It was such a cool building! Inside there were many fun design stores and outside we walked (for too long) to finally find the really cool LED flowers. They were unlike anything that I’ve seen and I was so glad that we found them.
By this point our feet were in a sad state and we started to make our way back towards ibis Styles Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong. Even with our sore feet we were able to enjoy the piano stairs that we happened upon in the metro - they played when you stepped on them! On the way to our hotel stopped in the Myeongdong district once again. I bought one of the adorable Olympic animals (I might have a problem?) at Lotte Department Store before we visited Star Avenue which is basically a walkway celebrating K-Pop. From there we headed to eat some very tasty dumplings for dinner. After dinner we bought some Oreo churros and yes, they were as good as they sound. It was a very long, full, day but it was fantastic from start to finish. We saw so much and I’m looking forward to another day in Seoul tomorrow!
Day 3 – The Palaces
Today we had a few last stops in Seoul before making our way to China. We started the day by heading to the Bukchon Hanok Village. The Bukchon Hanok Village is a preserved traditional village. We then split a tasty grilled cheese in a little spot that we found on our walk before we went to Changdeokgung Palace. Changdeokgung Palace is one of the five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty. It was very large and felt even bigger because it connected to the second palace that we visited today, Changgyeonggung Palace. I really enjoyed visiting them both and overall have really enjoyed visiting and learning about all of the palaces in Seoul. They have been unlike anything else that I have seen before and were so interesting!
Our next stop was Jongmyo Shrine, but it was unfortunately closed so we instead made our way back to the hotel to pick up our bags and then headed to the Chinese visa center. Our fingers were crossed, and we were quite anxious to see how Edward’s visa predicament would turn out. Luckily, we got there and were given his passport, visa inside, straight away! It was so easy to do and saved us a huge hassle in China. From the visa center we crossed the street to Seoul Station and reluctantly made our way towards the airport. We did not want to leave Seoul!
Luckily, Seoul wasn’t done impressing us yet. When we arrived at the airport there was a full on K-Pop performance going on, because of course there was, so we watched that for a bit. We then headed to a lounge where we had a full meal. On our way there we passed a nap zone which made me wish that every other airport in the world were that thoughtful. Our last fun Seoul Airport encounter was the string quartet playing in the middle of the terminal. They were even playing the Frozen soundtrack as we boarded our train to out gate! South Korea definitely went out with a bang and I already cannot wait to come back. It was one of my favorite stops so far and I absolutely loved it!
102 countries down, 93 to go.
To learn more about ibis Styles Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong click here.