It's all about Seoul
Trip Start Oct 31, 2009
5Trip End Nov 11, 2009
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On Halloween I left California for Seoul to kick off the first half of the World MBA Asia tour. After a 12 hour flight there was a 2 hour layover in Tokyo before we finally arrived at Incheon airport. Upon arriving at baggage claim Grace (from USC) and I were surprised to bump in to Sam (from Univ. of Maryland). Turns out we had all been on the same flight from Tokyo. Thankfully, our bags came out in a timely fashion and we were able to catch the last KAL airport/hotel bus of the night heading to the COEX Intercontinental hotel-10:25 PM for future reference.
Quick check in and it was finally off to bed around 12:30 AM Monday morning.
Up by 7:30 and ready to check out as much as one person can see in a single day in Seoul. Grace was visiting some family so I was left to my own devices. First up, Bongeun-Sa Buddhist temple. Why? It is directly across the street from the hotel. The temple grounds were beautiful and peaceful You could hear the chanting from the main building. It was quite interesting.
It was also f*****ng freezing!! A freak cold front came in just in time for the two days we were there. Very thankful to have packed a coat and scarf, but walking around the temple I wished I had thought to bring gloves too.
Refusing to let the cold stop me I powered on to the Samseung subway station which was "just around the corner" from the hotel.. down the longest street known to man. Figuring out how to purchase a metro card was the hardest part. The Seoul metro is actually incredibly easy to navigate. After speaking with a few people it seems that this is a recent change, but a very welcomed one. All the lines are color coded AND have a number. Each stop is also numbered and the name is announced at every stop. Oh, and everyone lines up single file to get on the train. It's so civilized and polite. I thought it was great
Next stop, Olympic Park, home to the 1988 Olympics. The woman at the information center gave me a map and said that it takes about one hour to walk around the whole park. I thought, you have to be kidding me. With the wind and the 0 degree Celsius temp there was no way I was going to last that long. 45 minutes later I was still walking around. Didn't make it to all the sports complexes but there was a really nice sculpture garden and it was just a really nice park in the middle of the city. Would have been even nicer if I had feeling in my hands.
After Olympic Park I was determined to make one more stop before calling it a day. N Seoul Tower is supposed to have great views of the city, and a few restaurants ,so I figured it was the perfect place to grab lunch.
*Important fact about the N Seoul Tower. Do not let the green on the map fool you. The Tower is not located in a park but rather, at the top of a very tall mountain. I know this because I accidently wound up climbing said mountain. I took the metro to the Chungmuro Station, just as the guide at the hotel said to do. For the record-it takes a good hour to get from Olympic Park to Chungmuro
Anyway, upon arriving at the stop it took a little while to get the Tower in view. Once I located it, it looked pretty damn far away. But, I checked the map and it looked like it was supposed to be right next to the Korea House, where I was standing. Just when I was ready to bail I saw a very tiny marker on the road with an arrow stating N Seoul Tower 2.4 km. 2.4...that's not very far. I figured I would be there within 20 minutes or so. Well, that was until I realized the 2.4 was actually uphill. And then, after a 1.2 km climb uphill the path turned in to stairs. Hundred and hundreds of stairs. Having gone that far there was no point in turning around and no choice but to follow through. IT WAS AWFUL. Let me remind you that temperatures were still hovering around the freezing mark, and the winds had picked up and the mountain is actually a mini forest so the entire thing is shaded.
I'm not going to lie. There were a few times when I didn't think I was going to make it. The only thing that kept me going was the fear that no one knew where I was and it would take forever to locate my body on those stairs.
45 minutes later I made it to the top of the mountain, and the base of the tower
After the meal I could finally think straight again and did a quick lap around the observation deck with a detour in to the sky restroom (see photos to see why).
While I was at the Tower I made a breakthrough discovery. There is actually shuttle that takes people to and from the Chungmuro station to the Tower. WORTH EVERY PENNY.
Made it back to the hotel around 5 and proceeded to PTFO. Phone rang at 6:00. Grace was back from her family visit and we both decided that it was too f'ing cold to venture far so we went to the underground mall attached to the hotel to find dinner
She ordered three different authentic Korean dishes for us to share. One was some kind of spicey stew with some kind of noodle-type product. One was a plate of cold buckwheat noodles (not my favorite) and finally, we had dumpling soup which was delicious and absolutely hit the spot after such a cold day.
The underground mall is absolutely fascinating. For starters, it's freakin huge. There are also dozens of small dining establishments like the one we ate at and they are scattered through out. But, if that's not enough, there is a food court too. The other thing we couldn't get over was how busy it was at 9 PM on a Monday. All the stores are open late and the mall is definitely the place to be. Either that, or everyone was just looking for a place to stay warm, just like us.