Waiting for the nukes

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Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Wednesday, April 10, 2013

We decided to stop in the capital of South Korea, Seoul on our way to China. Many of our friends and family thought that this was a terrible idea as at the time North Korea were threatening to test nuclear missiles and there were reports that foreign travelers were to be evacuated from the South. The media reports at home were in complete contrast to those of Japan and South Korea. With the exception of e-mails from home and Irish/English newspapers, the drama would have gone unbeknownst to us. A friend of ours who we met travelling in Bolivia called Henus was born and raised in Seoul and had offered to meet us at the airport. Henus rubbished all reports from home saying that South Korea has been listening to this for years. Every South Korean boy has to serve in the South Korean army for a year. If there was any immediate threat, himself and all other trained males would be called back to the army to fight. Knowing all this, I had very little concern about North Korea and Eoin had none whatsoever.

Henus was a Godsend in the airport as he took control of getting us on the right tram and to our hostel. The journey ended up taking a very long time as the airport was well outside the city. After dropping our bags at the hostel, Henus brought us to a local restaurant for traditional South Korean food- Shabu Shabu (similar to a hot pot) and Kimchi (cabbage donned in chili). The food was surprisingly tasty. It was far from home for Henus so he left us at about ten. We headed to Starbucks for a tea late (our new addiction) before hitting the sack. Our hostel was more like an old house but the owner was very friendly and it was situated in a lively, built-up location.

Day 2 was very relaxing. We slept in, grabbed breakfast and headed to The Dragon Hill Spa. This was a highly recommended jimjil-bang. A jimjil-bang is a large complex where men and women separate to spend time in various different spas and baths. After they join together to enjoy numerous saunas, napping rooms and other facilities. Everyone here had to wear matching shorts and t-shirts. It was a great day out! Our dinner that night consisted of very untraditional toast and cereal. We passed the evening uploading photos of Japan and updating the blog.

Day 3 was all about sight-seeing. First up was the Changgyeonggung Palace which had beautiful gardens. Next was a visit to Gyeongbokgung. This is the largest of Seouls palaces, fronted by the grand gateway Gwanghwaman where we saw a show put on focused around the daily changing of guards. Another must see palace is apparently Changdeokgung. We were sick of palaces at this stage and after a quick glance over the wall we ventured on to Bukchon Hanok village. This is the cities densest cluster of traditional style homes, cafes, art galleries, craft shops and museums. Close by was Cheong-gye-cheon which is pretty much a raised highway that was demolished and the ground dug up to "daylight" a long buried stream. It transforms Seouls centre, creating a riverside park and walking course that's a calm respite from the surrounding commercial hub. It was about 5 o clock upon our arrival here so we grabbed dinner in a pizzeria overlooking the Cheong-gye-cheon. Our intention was to go to the Namsan & N Seoul Tower after dark to take in the views of the city but instead we opted for a trip to the cinema to see "Oblivion". 

Our fourth day was a Saturday and we split the afternoon between walking by the Han River and visiting the Olympic Park. After, we met up with Henus and went to Gangnam, made famous by the song Gangnam style. I'm not sure what our expectations were but it was just another built up part of the city surrounded by shops and restaurants. Henus really wanted us to try more traditional food so we went to a Korean restaurant followed by a bar where we ate Jeon (Kind of like a Shrimp and Kimchi omelet/pizza). It was clearly disgusting! The local drink was alot more pleasing and extremely cheap. Our favourite was Makuli- alcohol made from rice and Soju. We stayed out until the last metro, reluctantly said our good-byes to Henus and headed back to the hostel.

Our second last day was mostly spent at The War Memorial of Korea. This was very informative! Throughout the museum, there were 13,000 items displayed in its six halls under different themes plus various weapons and equipment from prehistoric times to the modern period as well as paintings of battlefields and sculptures of notable warriors. There were also over one hundred large weapons displayed in the outside exhibition area on the lawns around the building (including planes, ships and tanks). Throughout the day, we had alot of fun shooting guns, taking pictures of ourselves to super impose into army-style photos and also getting a go on the jet simulator. The audiovisual effects, lighting, vibration, and even gunpowder of the simulator are designed to make visitors feel as if they are right on the battlefield. The chairs we sat on moved in every direction to make it feel like you were sitting behind the controls, zoomed left and right to avoid bullets/bombs and made you feel like you were going head first over a cliff. It was great but we couldn't help thinking how this element of the museum glorified the armies' weapons and techniques. Our flight from South Korea to China was early on the Monday so that evening we headed back to our city hostel, collected our bags and moved to a hostel closer to the airport. This ended up being a mini apartment and one of the nicest stays of our trip.

The next morning was mainly spent in the airport. After getting up at the crack of dawn, catching a metro and checking through customs it was time for China! Overall, Seoul was a fantastic city. We travelled at a much slower pace throughout the five days as up to this date every other country was quite action-packed. The relaxing did us the world of good!
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