Monday, May 25, 2015

Seoul Trip: March 3rd, 2014

Hey guys!

      It's about time I shared my epic journey to Korea, right? Seoul is a city bursting with top-notch design, beautiful fashions, old and new architectural wonders, and some seriously delicious grub. Korean food has long been a favorite of mine; if you've ever checked out my cooking blog you might have noticed this trend. Have you seen the new Avengers movie?! I got SO excited to see Seoul as a location in a major blockbuster film!

Head's up: image-heavy post ahead!!

     One thing I must say: travel in and around Japan was usually pretty pleasant and quite convenient in my experiences. When I made my initial trek back to the US I had an American debit card with which I had purchased my tickets, but I eventually cancelled that card as debit isn't widely used in Japan and the fees could get a bit ridiculous at times. No worries, though; in Japan you can pay for your airfare at most convenience stores in cash! Make your arrangements online through any of the sites that accept that form of payment, head to your local conbini and use their LOPPI (or similar) kiosk to print out your order information and pay at the register. Considering that most residential areas in/around Tokyo have convenience stores within a few minutes walk, it's a lot more convenient than it may initially sound.

    For my trip to Seoul, I packed my bright yellow carry on bag and a backpack the night before then arose early the next morning to catch a taxi to my nearest train station (舞浜駅 ; Maihama station) and from there I walked to one of the attached Disney Resort Hotels. I had made arrangements a couple days prior to catch a coach bus from the hotel to Narita airport, which cost me roughly $30US and provided a comfortable and stress-free route to the airport. They have multiple buses departing throughout the day, just head to the front desk and the friendly folks will do what they can to help, many of them quite capable of excellent English. It is an international resort, after all. If you're trying to save even more money in your travels, you can always opt to take a bus or walk directly from where you're staying.

The Japanese alps.

I flew with Korean air, which was a comfortable enough experience for me. I had no real complaints on either the flight there or the return trip to Narita. We had an inflight meal which had more flavor than others I can recall. I had the beef option, which was a beef stew.

     It was March when I travelled to Seoul, so it was still a bit wintry. I didn't mind this, though, because the cold is still something of a novelty for me as a desert-born girl. 

     My first glimpse of Korea was from my window seat as we approached. Naturally, I photographed the moment to preserve it.

     Once arriving to the airport, we arrived to quite a resplendent display of traditional garb.Whether you choose to view it as perhaps a bit cheesy, or a fun welcome is dependent how cynical you are, I suppose. I saw it as an amusing way to greet travelers and happily took a handful of photos. After all, they went through all that trouble to dress up, may as well appreciate their efforts!

Oh, so fancy!
Caught someone smiling :)

     Incheon airport is supposedly rated as one of the world's best airports. Entering the country it seemed quite like any other international airport terminal overall, just with some fun South Korean touches like the period costumes…and K-Pop playing videos next to the walkways. K-Pop and Korean pop culture have really taken off globally with huge fan bases in Japan and abroad so it makes perfect sense for them to advertise one of their most famous exports right out the gate. 

   Once I'd made my way through immigration and customs, I headed out to the main ground transit hub. Almost immediately I was approached by an excessively friendly older gent who asked me where I was going and offered to lead me there, but I declined when he tried to lead me towards the taxis. Stranger danger much? Little bit. To be totally earnest, though, I had gotten used to random people approaching me throughout my time in Japan as it was rare that I could really go out, be it to the grocery store or a ramen shop, without someone getting curious and wanting to talk to me. This was mostly pleasant so I didn't mind, though I'm a bit shy and found it hard to cope with so much unsolicited attention at times. 

      Anyway, it didn't take me long to find the bus terminal and find the bus I needed.
Driving from Incheon airport towards Seoul. The colors remind me of home~

      For the record, I stayed at Yim's Guest House. As I mentioned before, I no longer had a debit card to prepay for rooms or airfare so I was unable to take advantage of AirBnB or other services. Yim's guesthouse was a nice refuge in the city at a reasonable rate. The front desk clerks speak both English and Japanese in addition to their native Korean, which is so fantastic! The location is close to Changdeokgung Palace, the traditional Insadong cultural neighborhood and many other attractions.  It took me a little while to find as it's kind of tucked away in a small side street with many other businesses, hostels and guest houses, but it's within walking distance of train stations, convenience stores and a bus that takes you directly to the airport. The staff were extremely helpful, offering suggestions for sites to see, maps, guides, etc.

     The room included a mini-fridge, which was a pleasant addition.

     The bathroom was pretty utilitarian, just a small tiled room with a shower head, toilet and sink. It was impossible to shower without soaking the toilet seat, but that's what towels are for, right?

Glamorous view from my room. 

     Immediately after settling my things into my room, I made my way out into the neighborhood to start getting my bearings and see what I could find for food. One of the very first places I stumbled upon was this octopus joint. I do ever so love me some cephalopods, so I was in. Read more here!

Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here's my suckers, so eat me, maybe?

     After filling my belly, I ventured out to the nearest train station and made my way into Seoul proper. The travel and long day had left me feeling grungy and South Korean bathhouse culture is world famous, so I figured it was the perfect time to give it a go…except, I couldn't find the place! I wandered around the bustling neighborhood surrounding Seoul station, using the GPS on my phone and getting gradually more tired and frustrated…until a couple of Korean cops pulled up and asked if I needed help. ^^;; I must have looked as lost as I felt, huh? The kind gents drove me to a much closer spot so I could find the place then went on their way.

    Jjimjilbangs, or Korean bathhouses, are a lot more laid-back than Japanese onsen, I suppose. The buildings are divided into three primary areas; men's, women's, co-ed. The men's and women's areas are both individually nude areas while you're given a set of house-clothes to wear in the co-ed areas. This was my first time in an actual bathhouse of this sort... Having tattoos and piercings, as I do, I'd always been wary of causing trouble in Japan since some bathhouses ban them. At this place? No one seemed to give two flying farts. Tattoos, body hair, body fat, piercings, race, none of it really caused any real reaction….outside from the exfoliating treatment I received, that is, but that's a story for a whole different post! Read more about Siloam bath house here!

     After getting scrubbed up and steamed clean, I eventually made my way back to the hotel to rest and plan for Day 2! On the way, I spotted this "Relief Goods Storage"…in case of biological warfare or terrorist attack on the station?! 恐い。。。Scary!
But I guess this is the world we live in now… 

Fun fact: there are ads playing on the signs that display train information.

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