South Korea with Maarten

March 1~3 2008

Maarten (whom I lived together with in my student house in Enschede, NL) had come to Japan on a study tour of the Computer engineering department and had visited a lot of companies here in Japan. After that he had the possibility to spend 3 more weeks travelling around, of which he stayed most with me. As he had already seen quite some of Japan on his study trip (althoug the orginizing committee had not planned any time for sigtseeing Kyoto... HOW CAN YOU FORGET THAT?!?) he thought it would be nice to go to South Korea for some days. South Korea is a quite popular trip for Japanese people and it is relatively cheap, although flying there is still way more expensive than within Europe where most flights don't cost much more than the airport taxes...

I made a separate file with locations in Korea for Google Earth.

When flying there we had a nice view of Mt. Fuji

The first dinner in Seoul was an experience. No food samples in a showcase, no picture menu, no menu at all, no english speaking staff... (I should have tried japanese, I forgot to). Anyway, the stuff the girls next to us were eating looked good, so we asked them whether they could help us (they did speak english) and they ordered the same for us, plus 2 beers :-) We had a great meal. Actually, the restaurant should be a bit famous because of it's authenticity, which was the reason for those 2 girls to come there, they were also visiting Seoul apparently.

The next day, after going to the tourist information and arranging a Japan Railpass for Maarten, we went into the city for sightseeing the UNESCO world heritage sites. First on our list was the Gyeongbokgung palace, where we arrived just before the relief of the guards ceremony (held 3 times a day at 11, 13 and 15:00 I think... poor guide that is relieved at 11:00... but still better than the one that has to wait in the rain, as in case of rain it was cancelled the leaflet said...)

We walked in with some group and despite all the guards... without a ticket (we thought the ticket was only for the museum outside, but when we wanted to re-enter the palace grounds later as a shortcut on the way back, we were asked for tickets...). Anyway, we were in and enjoyed without knowing about that.
Soon I picked up some Japanese tour and started eavesdropping. Now I really found out how practical it is to know Japanese. I can really recommend it to everyone, as at every major sightseeing attraction in the world, even where no English is spoken, you will be able to get some additional information for free! So this building is 400 years old, but it was re-painted in 2002 (or around that time, I don't remember clearly anymore). The one behind it (cannot be seen on the picture) is 200 years old and still original. The best view you get when you walk all the way to the right, in the corner of the outer wall (it's probably true, but so many things on the picture that it got too messy in my opinion). By the way, I didn't hear the guide say that the palace was bombed 416 years ago and again 97 years ago (except 10 buildings)... by the Japanese... (but let's assume that's just because my level of Japanese was not sufficient yet.)

We also went to Jongmyo, where some old writings are stored, but nothing can be seen there actually... only some long red buildings with a lot of pillars in front. The connected Changgyeonggung palace grounds were nice and the "secret garden" was ok, but probably looks way better after winter.

Then we went to the Bukchon Hanok village, a part of Seoul with traditional houses. It's nice to walk around there throught the narrow alleys with old houses. Some have nice metal work on the door (some image of a big palace gate or so) and they use a lot of natural stone and wood, which gives a nice atmosphere.

We went to some tea house (which are very sophisticated in Korea) to rest our legs (since that, day 2, Maarten has been complaining about his poor feet :-p ).

For sunset we went to the Deoksugung palace. It was lit up nicely.

At night we decided to go to the Seoul Tower. Of course a tourist trap, as you have to pay once for the ropeway to there and then again for entering the tower (we knew). Walking back instead of a return trip ropeway would have been an option, even at night we found out later. The path is wide, illuminated and the stairs should actually be famous (because of some korean drama recorded there or so). Anyway, we just payed and enjoyed the view.

The next day we went to the war memorial. It's funny, in Hiroshima Japan the have a peace memorial, but the Koreans apparently prefer to remember the war...

"The ROK army used this new loudspeaker for the psychological operations against the North Korean people's army. This equipment installed and employed in the Demilitarized Zone, was dismantled in accordance with the mutual agreement during the second South-North talks on 3 June 2004."
"Weight: 9ton - Range of broadcasting: 15km"

After the war memorial we went to the electonics district (whis is said to be Asia's largest). I got used to Akihabara here in Tokyo, and I actually like Akihabara's atmosphere better. One other point, the almost don't show any prices in the electronics shops in Korea... annoying.

Finally we went to the Bongeunsa temple, which is an important place for one of the many Zen sects. It has many beautiful paintings on man of the buildings.