Three megacities in just three days
Only from Seoul was it possible to fly directly to Vladivostok. But I had to get there from New Caledonia first. So I flew from Nouméa to Brisbane. And from there in the evening onwards to Seoul via Taipei. And then two days later – on the first day of validity of my Russian visa – to Vladivostok.
In Brisbane, I only drove past the motel I had stayed in before. And for a very specific reason. Because before leaving I had ordered a country sticker for the car on the Internet. However, it was not delivered on time. So I left the motel as the delivery address. To pick it up here now.
And it had actually arrived. One problem less. Because on my trip from Vladivostok to Frankfurt I probably wouldn’t have got a country code sticker of Australia for the car anymore. And from conversations with other travellers I knew that in many countries a missing nationality plate for the car is reason for a small payment to the police – sometimes several times a day 😉
It was winter in Brisbane and it was raining. Since I already knew the city well, I just did a little shopping. And talk to the friendly manager couple of the motel until I had to leave for the airport.
The night flight to Taipei had unfortunately a delay of 4 hours. That meant that there were only 2 hours left of my planned half day in the capital of Taiwan. In fact, only an hour left. Because the trip from the airport to the city and back by train also took me another 30 minutes each. Of course I could have stayed at the airport. But first of all I already found the waiting in Brisbane boring. And second, to see the city center of Taipei at least once. Because I had never been there before.
It looks a bit like Kowloon (Hong Kong), away from the main shopping streets. At least from the billboards on the houses. But the buildings are also a bit like in some areas of Beijing. So my first impression wasn’t that great. But I’ve only seen a very small part of the city around the main train station. The tourism industry, of course, sees this completely differently. And some friends who have been to Taiwan for a long time are also enthusiastic about Taipei and Taiwan.
You will look in vain for English signs or advertisements in the 3 million metropolis. But the bus timetables at the stops look very informative. At least if you can speak Taiwanese or Chinese. And everywhere in the city there are small shops and restaurants. With more time I would have liked to visit them. On this trip, Taipei was just a very short stopover. And I was back at the airport and at the gate for the onward flight just in time.
Palaces and parties, markets and museums, shopping and sightseeing, skyscrapers and hiking trails. The 11 million metropolis in North Asia offers its visitors a variety of experiences. And even though more than 20 million people live in the Seoul metropolitan region in a small area. But the city still appears relaxed due to its many green hills.
You can try to get to know Seoul in 4 days – or in 4 weeks. Two days are definitely not enough. But because I’ve been here already three times for a longer period of time, I did not had any particular plans this time. With one exception: I wanted to do another half-day tour to Panmunjom at the inner-Korean border.
Unfortunately, these tours did not take place on my two visiting days (Sunday and Monday). In addition, a registration three days in advance including the passport number would have been necessary. Too bad, but not to change. So here is just a picture from my visit at Panmunjom in 2013.
In the city center of Seoul
So I had time to walk around town. And to travel from one end to the other by metro and buses with no particular destination. And to visit small Korean restaurants and cookshops in the markets. By the way, the metro line network is completely clear, so that even as a stranger you can quickly find your way around the routes. And the trains come every 3-4 minutes. Nevertheless, it is meaningful to have a map of the city with you. Because it is (currently) not possible to enter routes for Seoul in Google Maps.
The Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest of five royal palaces, was very close to my accommodation. Built in 1395, destroyed several times and reconstructed since 1990. The complex is huge with many different buildings. Originally there should have been 330 buildings. With 5,792 rooms… I wonder who cleaned them? Here you can study intensively Korean history and culture.
Just like in the nearby Buckchon Hanok Village, a Korean village with traditional restored Korean houses.
War Memorial of Korea
Then I took the metro via the main train station to the south, to the War Memorial of Korea. A military history museum and a war memorial to the various wars that Korea was involved in. In particular, of course, the Korean War 1950 – 1953. The atmosphere inside the building is indeed like in a museum. But in the freely accessible outdoor area with tanks, military aircraft, helicopters and even a warship is partly like an adventure park. With many families, school classes and groups. And classical music sounds from loudspeakers.
N Seoul Tower
Also nearby is the N Seoul Tower. Seoul’s television tower on top of Mount Namsan. On a clear day you have a great view over the city and far into the country from here. Or after sunset you can watch the glittering metropolis. By the way, you can either take a cable car up to the mountain top or take the bus. And you can of course walk up the classic way. The tower itself was stylishly illuminated in the evening. The colour depends on the fine dust pollution in the city, as I was told in the hotel. Blue = no pollution, green = low pollution, yellow = high pollution and red = very high pollution. A clever way of informing residents.
As a destination for the next day I had chosen the Namdaemun Market. And I just walked. Rather by chance I passed the Cheonggyecheon Stream. A small river – or rather moat – that runs 10 km through the city center. Greened on both sides, with paths for pedestrians and many bridges. That was’nt always the case, however. Until 2003 there was an elevated road above the water. This was then demolished as part of urban environmental measures. Today the Cheonggyecheon Stream is a small recreation area in the middle of the city.
Incidentally, I often noticed that in Seoul: Wherever possible there are trees, bushes, flower pots, small and tiny green spaces. This is also the case araound Namdaemun Gate, the big south gate, whose official name is Sungnyemun Gate. Like Gyeongbokgung Palace, it was built in 1395, badly damaged in the Korean War, and rebuilt. The roof was almost completely destroyed by arson again in 2008 and the gate was restored a second time until 2013.
It has been number 1 on the list of Korean national treasures since 1962. The Korean national treasures (buildings, monuments and places) are numbered consecutively from 1 to 300+.
Parts of the old city wall with the preserved gates can also be explored on a 20km long circular trail. Probably not in one day, though. Because it leads over four rather steep hills between 120 and 350 meters height, which are reached via stairs…
At the Namdaemun Market right next door you can get everything you need – and more. Glasses and flowers, clothing and kitchen accessories, lamps and food, medicines and furniture, toys and stationery, carpets and tea, and and and … 10,000 small shops and street stalls stretch over several blocks along small alleys that are closed to cars. The goods are transported by scooters or handcart. It is busy day and night here, because it is primarily a market for the local population.
Original Korean food
And it’s a snack paradise for locals and tourists! Because there are also countless cookshops here. Try Tteokbokki (떡볶이), a kind of potato noodles made from thick rice dough. With some fish cake (Eomuk, 어묵) in a chili sauce (Gochujang, 고추장). But how spicy!! Koreans love spicy food.
Even the one or the other café and one or the other bar in Seoul can also come up with something besides their actual business. Cat cafés are out here. Why not visit the Café Blind Alley (Cheongpa-ro 47-gil, Cheongpadong 2(i)-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul). In addition to ice cream, cake, tea and coffee, there are also raccoons and mini pigs to pet.
Or the Vinyl Cocktailbar (Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul). There the cocktails are served in plastic bags. Very handy to take away. And before Greta, Greens and other groups abuse me: On the back of the bags you can find suggestions for recycling. For example as an aquarium for the goldfish or as a container for pens or as a flower vase 😉
In the evening I just had time to wash my clothes. Because there was a washing machine in the accommodation. That was, actually, rather a combination of washing machine and dryer. Very practical, I want something like that at home too. Instead of two separate washing devices!! And once I found out which buttons had to be pressed in which order, both worked without any problems.
But now I have to make my way to my Landcruiser. It should have been in its container in the port in Vladivostok/Russia for a few days already. Hopefully anyway. So for today
안녕 다음에 봐 서울
annyeong daum-eh bwa Seoul
Bye bye until next time, Seoul. You are a really incredible amazing city!
Cheers, Ruediger 😎
In the video (1m 39s) you will find some more pictures of Seoul