Several years ago my close friend & soul mate left me in Hawaii to move to Seoul, South Korea. At the time, I was baffled. I knew she needed the change and it was a great opportunity, but, Korea? Really? We threw her a fantastic “fairies and fedoras” going away party and I bitterly decorated the place with photos of Kim Jung Il’s face and told my sweet girl to enjoy her new psychotic (yet fascinating) neighbor to the north.
Flash forward several years later, we find yours truly on a rock in the middle of the pacific with a rough case of island fever. Before my trip to Seoul I hadn’t left Guam since I arrived in December. No, that’s not that long, but in the months leading up to my move I was seriously spoiled with constant traveling and moving about.
When I lived in Honolulu I never experienced island fever and didn’t expect to experience it on Guam…but I did. Before I took this trip, life was starting to feel pretty heavy. I kept feeling like I needed to get off island and explore something new; I needed to be overwhelmed by the energy of a big city, and I needed to spend time completely alone. Oh, and it just so happened that someone very special to me would be playing hockey there that weekend!
This post is not, by any means, a Seoul travel guide. I BARELY scratched the surface and while I made a long list of things to do there, I only checked a few things off the list. The point of the trip was simply to just be there.
So here’s how it went:
I took a red eye out of GUM that left around 3 am. It took me about 10 minutes total to park my car, check in, and get through security. I grabbed a large Asahi while I waited to board. The flight was great. I had a row to myself and got a little bit of sleep. There weren’t any refreshments other than small cups of water, and while the plane was a bit dated, it was very clean. I wasn’t expecting much as it is a low cost carrier, and I consider this a “commuter” flight.
I landed at ICN and the line at immigration was a bit lengthy, yet entertaining. I was excited to be at the airport, so after I collected my bag I wandered around for a bit. I grabbed a coffee and a pastry, did some serious people watching, and picked up my mobile wifi device.
I still had a few minutes to kill before the Airport Limo Bus left, so I grabbed another coffee (I was really excited to see Starbucks) for the road.
Let’s talk about the airport limo bus. This shit is great. I know, I’m too excited about a bus, but seriously – it was like $12, dropped me right in front of my hotel, and was super comfortable. It took about an hour and a half, had fully reclining leather seats, and was nice and quiet.
Ya know what wasn’t great? My hotel. Oh dear. No. TRAVEL TIP: don’t book a hotel because the lobby looks cool. Or because there are swings in the lobby. Ok, actually, don’t book a hotel that has swings in it at all.
I stayed at the Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel in Itaewon. Itaewon is a little grimy but a popular spot for going out, and is frequented heavily by ex-pats and US Military. It came highly recommended from several friends. I chose this hotel because I wanted something with some character – I was going back and forth between this and the Hyatt…I ultimately chose this one because it seemed to be right in the middle of Itaewon, reasonably priced, and…it looked cool.
The hotel was dirty. I’m not one to check the sheets of my hotel room immediately upon arrival, but given the dark hallways and dingy carpet that’s what I did. The first room I had came with an overpowering smell of cheap women’s perfume. Ok, it smelled like a [strip]club, and there were stains on the bedding. I got moved from room 706 to 606, and while 606 did not smell like strippers, it was similarly dingy.There were way too many mirrors in the room. Like, above the toilet. Why? just, why?
The point of this hotel rant is that I didn’t get any rest there. It took a huge toll on my trip as a whole – I felt exhausted the entire time I was there…and between the bright white lights and mirrors in the room, I likely looked like a clown or drag queen. If you’d like to read my scathing review, you can find it HERE.
So I spent Friday wandering around Itaewon. I got my nails done (one of the best manicures i’ve ever had) and bought some random crap. It was great to have so many dining options and stores and hundreds of coffee shops within reach. Seoul is the OPPOSITE of Guam and that was apparent as soon as I landed. I had pizza and sangria late that afternoon and ventured to Myeong Dong Friday evening.
Myeong Dong is overwhelmingly awesome. Street food and shopping…yes please! I ate several random things, and did some shopping. I headed back to my hotel room to drop my stuff and ventured to a few bars in Itaewon.
I wandered in and out of a few, and ended up at a packed out bar with a big front porch. I got hit on by a Korean man who asked if I was from Uzebekistan, did some people watching, and dragged myself back to my hotel room. With a pizza. I watched a terrible Australian sitcom and passed out.
Saturday morning was an adventure. I really wanted to workout, but could not, for the life of me, find a yoga studio or spin class near me. (I really want to do a spin class in Korea – think K-Pop dance party, on bikes. YES, YES, YES!). So, I went for a run. I thought I was heading towards Myeong Dong and I ended up in Namsan Park, headed up towards N Seoul Tower.
The tower was on my list of attractions so I figured I’d run by and catch a glimpse – I ended up running all the way up to the ticket counter. I grabbed a coffee and headed to the top of the tower, getting many ridiculous looks from people. I really enjoyed it there- the love locks on the fence were cute, and views at the top were great. They also have postcards available with postage so you send them from the top of the tower. Cute!
When I came back down I forgot that I was running home, bought souvenirs, and then had to sort out transportation back. I requested an uber and after waiting about 30 minutes I finally got on a bus. Ok, I might have bought some chocolate rocks (because i’m 7) and Soju (because I’m me) before boarding said bus.
The bus took me to MyeongDong, and all of my efforts to secure a taxi failed miserably. So, I ended up on another bus to Itaewon. By that time I needed to RUSH to get ready for the hockey game down in Anyang.
I rushed out the door and struggled to find a taxi that would go to Anyang. I thought it was too late to take the subway – little did I know that I was about to sit in traffic for a solid two hours. So that’s why no one wanted to drive there…
I arrived in Anyang for the Anyang Halla game at the start of the 3rd period. Crap. Fortunately there was another game on Sunday, so I could still catch a full game.
Arriving at the rink was really exciting, despite being so late. It was really cool to see my friend up on the wall of the rink, and even cooler to see him on the ice! The last time I saw him play was in 2003. When the game ended my new friend Kelly (and her sweet little girl) walked me downstairs to greet the team and finally be reunited with my friend. It was awesome. We caught up over dinner (a seriously nice outback steakhouse) and then I headed back Itaewon to catch up with my australian sitcom in my shady hotel room!
This best part of the trip was seeing my friend. I hadn’t seen him since my high school graduation in 2003, and it was so incredibly cool to see him play in Korea. This guy knew me back in the days when I was voted “most shy” in high school and was fairly socially awkward. We were at boarding school in Lake Placid and I was the new kid – it was a tough year for me, but he was one of a few people who always managed to brighten up my day, simply just by being there. And while it has been years since i’ve seen him, it really didn’t feel like much time had passed at all. He’s an old soul with a heart of gold and like he did at 15, he brightened up my day just by being there. It was comforting and wonderful to spend time with him.
It’s crazy to think about how much has happened over the years, how much has changed, yet how much remains the same.
Sunday morning I ventured over to Garosugil street in Gangnam. This was my favorite neighborhood, and I think it will be much nicer when it gets warmer. I wandered around, shopping and sipping coffee. It was lovely. I discovered “Too Cool For School” cosmetics/skin care and I’m in love.
Sunday afternoon I headed back to Anyang for another game. I met some really awesome people and had a great time. The game was an intense one and the Halla did not win, but I was still happy to be there. (They ended up winning the championship, by the way). Afterwards we went out for Korean BBQ and grabbed a couple drinks before I headed back to Itaewon.
Monday morning I packed up my stuff and checked out of my hotel. They had charged me for drinking budweisers and eating beef jerky out of the mini bar. Obviously I objected to this – I do not drink budweiser nor do I eat beef jerky. My vices are pizzas and pastries and cheap champagne. get it right!
I grabbed breakfast and coffee and hopped on the subway. I was immediately annoyed with myself for not using the subway earlier in the trip. It was cheap, fast, clean, and efficient. Although I was generally the only person who was awake on the train.
I headed up towards gyeonbukgung palace and the jogyesa temple. I went to the palace first and got there in time to see the changing of the guard. I wandered for awhile, took a lot of pictures, and ventured towards the temple. I really could have spent the entire day there.
After the temple I wandered though Insadong. What a cute shopping district…and some more awesome street food. “try the chicken” turned into “let me buy all of your chicken” with absolutely no regrets.
I stayed in insadong until the last possible minute. I jumped back on the subway and headed back to my hotel to grab my bags and catch the limo bus!
This time I grabbed some soju and snacks for my trip back. I had another enjoyable trip and arrived at ICN with enough time to stop in a few stores and eat some of the best fried chicken i’ve ever had.
The airport was very crowded but still moved rather quickly. I’m not going to lie, I was a little tipsy from the Soju, so nothing really bothered me throughout my departure process.
The flight back had significantly more people on board than the flight there, particularly screaming babies. Jeju lets you move seats after take off, so I moved to the back of the plane to avoid the several screaming children surrounding me. I finally fell asleep only to be awoken by the same screaming children, who had followed me to the back of the plane.
I arrived back at GUM ready to jump in my bed. I was exhausted. It was a great trip – sort of an introduction to Seoul. I had a great time and I can’t wait to go back!
Oh, and that soulmate of mine, who moved to Seoul, is moving to Guam in June. She’s also the one who sat down with me months ago and helped me make the final decision to come here (with no expectation of ever getting orders for Guam). Funny how things work out- and it is so cool to see life come full circle.