My last ‘big trip’ took place last November, when I ventured over to South Korea and Japan for two weeks with Mr. Chuckles. Japan had been on both of our travel wish lists forever, but South Korea was something of an incidental stop we decided to make in order to meet up with our friend. We ended up having a really good time!
This trip was completely self-planned. We were initially a bit anxious about how we would manage without any Korean language skills, but we got by just fine. We purchased a pocket WiFi device with KT Roaming and used a lot of Google Maps (and image search to identify store fronts). Most restaurants have an English menu and in the one case that there was none, we resorted to pointing at the dishes a nearby table had ordered. We had our Airbnb host write out our address in Korean so we could show it to taxi drivers and always ended up in the right place. We’re also pretty spoiled as native English speakers in that we benefit from English being the global language of commerce. There was always enough English signage, including in the train stations, for us to figure out how to navigate.
A few days in Seoul
We stayed at an Airbnb in Seoul located in Bukchon Hanok Village, which is a neighborhood home to hundreds of traditional Korean houses. It is a major tourist attraction in Seoul but it is actually a residential area. We enjoyed walking around the narrow cobbled streets and exploring the nearby cafes and boutique shops.
We loved our Airbnb. It was a traditional hanok where we slept on futons over a heated floor. I was a bit concerned about the state of Mr. Chuckles’ back but we remained fairly comfortable. Our host was amazing and prepared us home cooked Korean breakfast every morning. I think these were actually our best meals. On top of this, we had an Airbnb dog to hang out with. We still really miss Jack.
Over the course of five days, we visited a bunch of the usual tourist spots in Seoul. Toured a couple palaces (there are five big ones in Seoul), checked out a lantern festival, explored the futuristic looking Dongdaemun Design Plaza, did the Gangnam Style dance in Gangnam, visited several markets, and ate a lot of food. Meals in Korea were very inexpensive; I don’t think we spent more than about $10 CAD per meal, in stark contrast to our subsequent expense roll in Japan.
And a day in Busan
We also took a day trip to Busan, the second largest city in South Korea. It was an easy trip from Seoul via the KTX express train, which took just over two hours one way. Busan is a coastal city so there are some nice beaches there, although we didn’t bother checking those out since it was November and not quite beach season.
We did walk way uphill to Gamcheon Culture Village so met our quota of one uphill trek per vacation. Gamcheon is a small neighbourhood within Busan characterized by its steep hills, twisting alleys, colourfully painted houses, and street art installations. It actually started off as a shanty town for Korean War refugees in the 1950s but later went through a period of urban regeneration, and has since become a major tourist attraction.
We chose a nice time of year to make this trip to South Korea. The weather in November was still quite warm, light jacket conditions in Seoul and almost summer-like in Busan. There was just one day of heavy rain in Seoul. Being there in autumn also allowed for viewing some beautiful fall foliage, such as at the Changdeokgung Palace Secret Garden. We enjoyed exploring the mix of old and new – modern city versus traditional historic areas. Plus, the food was good.
That’s all for now. More about the Japan portion of this trip in an upcoming post!