Thursday, May 11, 2006


I'm an adult now, so I can eat ice cream bonbons Pino for breakfast.

Monday, May 08, 2006

off to the airport

Pouring rain ever so early in the morning, we left our hotel and headed to the subway to go to the airport. Armed with a sheaf of stamped, ready to mail postcards, I kept my eyes open for a postbox along the way, but none presented themselves. Thinking there would surely be one somewhere in Gimpo airport, and anyway lacking the time to search for one not on our route, we proceeded.
Unfortunately, Gimpo airport is quite bare bones, and has very little in the way of amenities. Eating choices are minimal, and there are no postboxes anywhere on the premises. We boarded our flight and flew back home, where we pasted disappointingly Japanese stamps next to the Korean ones and posted them.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

To market, to market

If you're headed out on the town for exploring, be sure to bring tissue paper, because it would really not be fun if you have a poop attack but you don't have the paper you packed because you had a fight with your boyfriend and ya'll decided to spend the day apart and he took your daypack and all you have is your notebook so you have to tear a bunch of pages out and use that.
Would it?

I went to Insadong, previously mentioned, and scored a few more souvenirs, then headed to the old market, Namdaemun, where many inexpensive and interesting goods can be found, such as Bae Yong Jun socks aimed at Japanese tourists, complete with a picture of his dreamy bespectacled face and "Yong-sama" written on them. 1000 won.
From there I hit up the recommended Kyobo books, an excellent and large bookstore with a large English section - but small translated Korean lit section (they only had one thin Hwang Soon-won novella, whom I believe is highly translated) - where I nonetheless picked up Three Days in That Autumn by Pak Wanseo, a modern female writer.
Content with the day's shopping, I headed to meet boyfriend-the-poophead at the appointed time, at which time we once again attempted to check in to the Sheel Hotel. Luckless, we ended up at the Samsung Motel a few blocks away. Adequate, but not wonderful. Also, apparantly the word "motel" has the love hotel connotation, while the word "hotel" does not, at least when spoken. It was clear that Sheel was a love hotel, but only from the appearance - not the name.
After checking in, we went to the nearby convenience store for a dinner of rice, kimchee, cookies, chips, and drinks. By this point, it had started pouring rain, and we got fairly soaked. However, being our last night in Seoul and determined to get as much in as possible, we headed back out into the night.
Dongdaemun, the famous clothing market, is open until 5 a.m. I'm not sure what time it reopens in the morning, but we hopped on the subway and rode the few stops to the area, and proceeded to browse the rows upon rows of stalls in the cavernous buildings. Certain areas were devoted to certain types of products, so one section might have 30 stalls selling ladies' underwear, while another floor might specialize exclusively in ties. We also checked out a slightly more upscale mall adjacent, but found the prices to be too high. Ascending to the top floor, however, I scored a good deal on Korean-style chopsticks and bibimbap spoons - about 1500 won for a set of 5 pairs of chopsticks.
At about two a.m., we concluded the evening and climbed, soaking wet, into a cab that bore us back to Jongno3ga and the hotel and sleep.

back to Seoul

After a leisurely checking out of Hotel Sheel (noon! no 9 and 10 am checking out here! take note, Japan), we jumped on the subway and headed to Country Life for lunch, the vegan Korean food buffet at Shinsa station. Fantastically delicious and very reasonable (8000w for all you can eat). Highly recommended.
From there we headed to Gyeongbokgung, the biggest palace in Seoul. We were just in time upon arriving to witness the colorful changing of the guard at the main gate, with many men in colorful elaborate costumes and interesting instruments and flags. The grounds were expansive, with many different enclosures and sub-palaces for different royalty. The king had his own quarters, of course, and the queen, crown prince, and dowager each had separate sections as well. The buildings were mostly open-plan shells, with little furniture or decor left inside, though the woodwork was elaborately painted. I was again suprised at the relative lack of tourists on such a nice day in Seoul. Occasionally, groups of about 20 Chinese tourists would come along, but quickly dissapated. Nothing like the swarms we had left behind during Golden Week.
More of a highlight, however, was the National Folk Museum on the grounds to the palace, with free entrace that comes with palace admission. It's a large and interesting museum, with extensive dioramas, mannequins, and displays showing various aspects of Korean life and history. Outside is a small sculpture garden including phallic sculptures, zodiac sculptures, and scenes from a traditional village.
I found it very interesting that same sexes of all ages hold hands everywhere. There doesn't seem to be any weird stigma like there would be in the states - we saw old and young women, 20-something men, older businessmen, and all sorts of other combinations. It was really nice.

From the palace grounds we walked past Anguk station and up Insadong, the folk art street. Lots of vendors selling souvenir-y stuff, and very crowded, but not just with foreign tourists. There are several veg restaurants in this area, including the aforementioned Dimibang, as well as Soshim, which was closed by the time we tried to go there, and a Buddhist restaurant and shop that was incredibly expensive. We ended up eating at Little India, about 1/2way down Insadong and on the 2nd floor: mediocre, overpriced curry. But vegetarian. They served the curry with a side of pickled radish, which I thought a strange touch, but no weirder than the ketchup they serve with samosas in Japan.

We tried to check in at Hotel Sheel again, eager to try the Cyber floor, but they were booked up! We went across the street to the All in Motel, which was a tad cheaper but much shittier. I'm not posting their information, it's not worth it. They had internet, though.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

fourth day: Gyeongju

We began this day by taking the bus #11 out to Bulguksa, perhaps Gyeongju's most famous temple. One thing that's remarkable after being in Japan for so long is the spaciousness of Korea. The tourist locales aren't teeming with people! The hotel rooms have space to turn around! There is overall a less crowded feeling to Korea, even in Seoul. Space doesn't seem to be at such a premium, and there is more room to breathe.
After Bulguksa, we headed back to town to visit the tumulus park, tombs of the Silla kings and queens. The mounds are impressive, but not shocking. The park is very peaceful, and seems like a good place to have a picnic. It's a lovely place to stroll around between the rolling mounds and ruminate about 6th century kingdoms. You can enter one of the mounds and get a feeling for how the burial process took place.
We returned to Seoul by way of express bus to DongDaegu (not as nice as our bus from Busan to Gyeongju) and then the KTX to Seoul. We made our destination Jongno 3ga this time, as it's centrally located and is on 3 subway lines. We scoped the area for a few minutes, and passed on Hotel Doulos - too expensive. Next door was Hotel Sheel, a theme love motel, with different decor on each floor. Decor includes cyber, modern, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, European, and VIP. Also Indian. We got an Indian room - we didn't know it when we checked in, but we were very happy with our room. All the amenities of June and Liebe, and great decor. Since we checked in late, we got a reduced rate of 45,000. However, when we wanted to extend the next day and try another theme, we were told that the room rate would double if we wanted to keep it during the day. So we trucked our stuff back to the subway lockers and proceeded with our day. Not that much of a hassle, really. The lockers are only 1000 won and the hotel was really close to the station.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

third day in Korea

Spent the day in Busan checking out the Gukje market in Nampodong. Lots of tiny streets crammed with vendors selling all kinds of stuff, from socks to doorknobs. We also walked around Busan station some more - the area adjacent to the station is the Russian sector. Lots of signs in Cyrillic. Lots of blond heavily made up women.
We decided to head to our next destination, Gyeongju. The cheapest, fastest way from Busan is via express bus from the bus terminal at Nopodong station. En route, we were accosted by a friendly businessman with kimchee breath who wanted to practice his English. Due to Ian's terrible pronunciation, James thought that we were coincidentally headed to Gwangju, 4 1/2 hours away, instead of Gyeongju, 1 hour away. Excited that we were coming to his town, he talked to us animately during the 20 minute ride to Nopodong, and then hung around at the bus station trying to get us to meet him the following day. The mistake was discovered, and James resignedly said goodbye as we headed off to catch our bus.
Arriving in Gyeongju late, we walked around and checked into the lovely love Motel Liebe next to the bus station, with a big sign poking into the sky. Lots of amenities similar to the hotel June, and also 45,000 won. Central, pleasant, recommended.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

korea day 2

We spent the day in Seoul taking the cable car up to Seoul Tower and wandering around Namsan park, for good views of Seoul, lots of nature, and many singing schoolchildren on outings. We also hit the lovely veg restaurant Dimibang, at Anguk station on Subway Line 3. I wrote a review for the restaurant at the Happy Cow website here. Then the KTX, or Korean bullet train, to Busan. This was very pleasant, fast, and comfy. Even more so than the shinkansen in Japan, which is smokier, and of course a lot more expensive.
In Busan, we stayed at the Pusan Plaza Hotel, which we had reserved through the Life in Asia website. It was really tatty, and lacked most of the amenities that the June Hotel had for the same price. (Actually, the bill said it was less, but since we reserved online, I think that LIA took a big cut.) Seems to be geared toward Russian business people and tourists - they had business cards in Russian but not English. I don't recommend this place - check the Arirang down the street or one of the other motels on this street. I bet they would be better, and cheaper.
Style forecast for Busan: high heels and baggy-butt sweatpants.

Monday, May 01, 2006

first night in Seoul

Alighting at Gimpo airport, we headed onto the subway. One of the first things I noticed about Seoul was the smell - the streets are dirtier than Tokyo (but still not incredibly dirty) and there was a mixture of sewer and kimchee aroma in the air! Sewer, of course, stronger outside, but kimchee smell noticable down below. Since we got in so late, our train didn't go all the way to the station we needed, but stopped 2 stations previous. From there, we hopped into a cab the rest of the way and found our hotel.
Stayed in the Hotel June. Not immediately convenient to tourist spots, but on Line 5 so a straight shot to Gimpo airport and only a few minutes by the same line to downtown. We were able to book online without giving a cc, so it was very easy. The hotel is beautiful, a business/love hotel with tons of amenities. The only indication of possible love hotellery is the pack of condoms next to the bed. The room was stocked with a high speed internet computer, big flatscreen tv, DVD player with free video lending, a/c, air filter machine, water cooler, fridge with free drinks, tons of toiletries, whirlpool tub, and lovely decor. The front desk guy was really friendly and helpful and spoke English. The room was 45,000 won, or about $45.
The kimchee smell got less noticable as the days passed and I got used to it.
Today we're looking forward to seeing some sights and checking out some of the veggie restaurants listed on the Happy Cow site before heading down to Busan.