Asian Adventure In Seoul
I ’ve gotta say that today was a good day. And I think Seoul just may have overtaken Hong Kong in the Asian Adventure rankings. (Macau can stay in last place. Both Jeff and I agree.) We did a walking tour of Seoul through all kinds of different neighborhoods.
Started off with Seoul Tower, where we walked. And took a funicular, and hiked some stairs, and took a cable car. Then, we walked some more, and finally took an elevator to the very top! Outside, they’ve got a nice little love lock bridge and decks with great views of the city. Unlike our trip to Taipei 101, there was a little more visibility. The elevators take you up however many floors (a lot) in just thirty seconds while you watch some video on the ceiling. We had fun petering around the top level taking photos. Sent a postcard to my nephew while I was up there.
Hills & Puppies & Kittens
Started our trek to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which is supposedly really excellent for taking photos. It took us a super long time to get there, but we were happy it was mostly downhill. So many hills and stairs on the Asian adventure. They’re absolutely everywhere. It literally gets painful. Passed a few things on our way, including a whole strip of pet shops.
The cutest kitties and puppies. I was ogling one and some ladies next to me jumped up and ran to grab a little kitten that escaped onto the sidewalk. As we were walking away, I turned around and immediately thought I saw another baby kitten on the sidewalk. Went to grab it only to realize it was a pigeon. Good thing I didn’t actually catch it.
Also passed a whole strip of motorcycle shops and went down an alley that looked like a Little Russia or something. Everyone seemed to be speaking Russian. Bakeries, laundry shops, the whole nine.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Finally made our way to the Design Plaza. It’s a super futuristic plaza with several, metal-looking buildings in weird shapes, like… a kidney bean. A bunch of sculptures all around it. There are five museums housed here, and they even have an interactive design museum. (Product design, not graphics.) If we had a couple more days in Seoul, I might’ve cruised through the museums.
Evidently, it’s the Instagrammable spot in Korea because there was no shortage of Insta shoots happening. I’ve been really frustrated with my photography this whole trip. Partly because there are so many people everywhere that I can’t get a good shot of much of anything. Dongdaemun was no exception, but I think I got a couple okay ones.
Asian Adventure Highlight: Ihwa Mural Village
Next up—Ihwa Mural Village, which was another hike. Passed a temple and a significant, historic wall on the way. More hills. We stopped at a small coffee hut on the way for a minute. This trip took us through back roads and alleys with incredibly steep stairs.
It was clear we were off the main roads and in people’s neighborhoods, but it was really interesting. (Asian adventure!) When I told Jeff about the mural village, he warned me that it’d better not be another Nam Shan Estate or I was cut off from “great Instagram spots.” You can breathe easy, though, because it turned out to be a really cool little spot. …At the very, very top of several really steep hills.
Ihwa is a little section of houses in Seoul with murals painted on, well, everything. Little shops and cafes. People have stations set up outside where you can get your picture taken with props. They even have an angel wings wall, which I’ve always wanted to do. (And now I have!)
Lack of Insta-Awareness
One annoying thing is that people line up to take photos of certain things (like the angel wings wall) and some folks f*ck around. They take their time, and act like they’re the only people on the planet.
We were waiting for two girls on the wings. They were literally eating ice cream while swapping cell phones and posing. I wanted to take their ice creams and throw them down the hill. (The ice creams, not the girls.) Anyhow, super pleasant stop. No more formal warnings from Jeff.
Cheonggyecheon, a river walk through Seoul (below), was supposed to be our next place. As luck would have it, we’d already seen it and passed over it a bunch of times. It got substituted with Insadong, which we skipped our first day. Jeff didn’t realize that Insadong was a whole little market area and now he really wanted to go. So… we walked another mile in the blazing heat to get there.
Passed all kinds of “specialized” strips of stores. It’s strange how that seems to be “the thing” in Seoul. One whole block was lighting and another was prosthetics (similar to the pet block and the motorcycle block from before). We also walked past several blocks there were just jewelry stores.
Got to Insadong and did a really quick run-through. We were pretty tired, but it was an interesting enough little area. Stopped for some bookmarks for Jeff’s mom and sister. (We’ve basically started a bookmark collection for them both from around the world. Easy to pack and easy to mail later.)
May Day Protests
On our walk back to the hotel, we noticed a heavy police presence and what looked like some sort of parade. We realized, which our guide the day before told us, that this was actually the beginning of a labor protest of some kind (on May Day). Saw another gathering that looked like a sit-in in front of the Chinese Embassy, right behind our hotel.
When we got back, we could see the Labor Protest march start and… it was massive. Traffic was blocked left and right. As far as you could see from our hotel room. When I thought it had moved through, I realized they’d only paused it to let traffic through and there was more.
Did some quick Googling and learned that the sit-in was a whole ‘nother protest. China had apprehended seven North Korean defectors, one a 9-year-old girl. South Korea was protesting China sending them back to North Korea (thus, the Embassy). Talk about an Asian adventure, amiright?
We could hear megaphones and, at one point, the sit-in sounded a little angry, but eventually it all passed. Just glad today wasn’t the day we got dropped off at Town Hall.
Flying to Hong Kong
So, today was just a travel day, flying from Seoul back to Hong Kong. Had an easy morning and Jeff navigated the bus system masterfully. We got back to the airport all by ourselves A-OK. Checked in and made it through security. We found that Seoul airport doesn’t actually have the equivalent of a Hudson News anywhere in it. You can’t just get a drink and snacks somewhere. It’s all restaurants with full meals. So weird. But I did find an entertaining WiFi network name.
Our flight was good, a little over three hours, and we took the Airport Express train into HK. The Central station is huge, though, and it took us a while to navigate out of it. Then, you can’t cross the street just anywhere. It’s actually a highway, so you have to find a random overpass. A little frustrating when you’re tired and just want to check in. But we found our place eventually.
Super thin and tall. We have the entire fifth floor of another apart-hotel. Saw some girl walking around in her skivvies in an apartment right across the way from us. Perils of tight living quarters, I guess. Or you could just… draw your shades. Decided to take it easy for the night and rested up for the next day—a day trip to Lamma Island!
The Last Day of Our Big Asian Adventure
Omg. Woke up suddenly in the middle of the night to a loud thud, followed by what sounded like a heavy quarter rolling around on the floor. It was so loud it woke Jeff—who’s the soundest sleeper ever—and I’d swear to you it was right next to us. Even Jeff agreed! We both immediately got up and searched the floor for the culprit, but there was nothing. Chinese ghosts, I suppose. It was freaky enough it kept me up for the rest of the night, though.
Apparently, our scantily clad neighbor had a male companion over for the night, who shamelessly walked around in the nude in the morning. So… there was that. Asian adventure indeed.
Lamma Island Ferry Confusion
Got some brekkie and headed out to find the ferry to Lamma Island, a little fishing island in Hong Kong. There are many islands, but for some reason I can’t recall, I picked this one. Paying for the ferry was trickier than anticipated. Despite being in Central Hong Kong where banks are abound, you can’t find an ATM to save your life. And I can’t forget the maze of highway overpasses and metro tunnels to get the the ferry docks. Eventually, we figured out where to get cash and how to load our Octopus cards for the journey, but it did take some time. The ferry itself was uneventful, thankfully.
Arrived at the island and, yep, it’s a little fishing village. There’s another village on the other side of the island. Supposedly it has better beaches, but we figured it’d be much the same and opted to forgo the taxi ride over. The village is super tiny and can be walked in a half hour. Lots of markets and restaurants. There’s a little [unimpressive] temple and a primary school. Eventually, you reach a point in the village with signs posted that tell you “private property only moving forward.” So we turned around and decided to find a place to eat and have some drinks.
Our waiter turned out to be an expat from Denver. He escaped a bad break-up by moving to Asia to teach English. His very own big Asian adventure, I suppose. He’d been here ever since, though he no longer taught English. Makes me wonder what the work visa situation is, but good for him. He was young, and who wouldn’t want to live on a little island in Hong Kong for a couple years?
We spent our last day gazing at the water on a little island, having a few tasty beverages. As we always do at the end of our vacations, we assessed our favorite days and agreed—this was a good trip. I do love Asia.