Unlike most vacations, where I wake up early and go explore the city, staying out late into the night, this one was much different. Although initially hard to accept at first, it wasn’t so bad in the end and I actually had some time to rest. Rather than those early morning wake up calls when the sun rises, I adapted to sleeping in until about 11 or 12 and leaving the house about 2. For the first few days Sawon, our former couch surfer, was able to take us around to show us what Seoul had to offer. After seeing the mess that Sawon got herself into in China with missing multiple trains and flights I never imagined that her bad sense of direction and traveling would still be present in her hometown. With her GPS phone in hand we still managed to get lost in a city that she has lived in her whole life. While directions are not she forte, that is for sure, but one this that she’s got down is her love for food, which I can appreciate very much. It seems that half of my vacation consisted of eating which was a glorious thing. From street vendors to restaurants, Sawon had my mouth filled with delicious goodies.
After sightseeing the first few days while Sawon was off work, we decided to take a trip south to Busan, which is a port city and currently is the 5th busiest port in the world. We stayed at a hostel named the Indy house, which was very nice and clean, and the people were very nice. Located on the coast, Busan was filled with beautiful scenery and fresh air, which is a nice change from Shanghai. Like every Asian country that i've visited i have been painstakingly mistaken as a local and continuously approached by others. While this wasn’t too much of an issue in Seoul were many people speak English, in Busan this was a different story. Being the nerd that he is, Miles decided to pick up a survival Korean book and started to study the language. This turned out to be very beneficial and somewhat helped to get us around the city. On one of the days we went to explore the Beomeosa Temple, which was near the North Gate of the former city wall. We took on a little trek through the mountain forest, which was supposedly 1.9km away but it seemed much longer as we climbed the mountainside. Hiking the strenuous terrain in street clothes, I was motivated by the old Korean people who we crossed paths with decked out in backpacking gear. What was supposed to be a little hike turned in to a multiple hour ordeal, as we got lost in the Geumjeonsan Mountains. While there was pretty scenery, this walk wasn’t so pleasant in the rain.
Along with the great food, Korea offers heated subway seats which is a nice addition to add on the commutes, it also offers Jimjibangs, which are spa houses in which there are gender divided rooms with multiple pools of water and a haven for relaxation and the best part is that it is open at all hours of the day. After our epic hike Miles and I decided to go to one o the Jimjibangs, but this simple task turned in to an adventure, as we once again got lost. After a few subway transfers, a few miles of walking and a random bus ride we finally made it.
After spending two days in Busan we headed back to Seoul to do a little more sightseeing and hanging out. We booked a Tour to go see the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which is the border between South and North Korea and one of the most heavily armed areas in the world. Not having much knowledge of the history, it was quite an interesting tour in which I was able to climb through one of the 4 tunnels that the North Koreans had dug in an attempt to attack South Korea. The tour was topped off with an interview session with a North Korean defector who told her story and answered questions. Through this experience it added to my perception of how crazy the North Koreans are the impact that a bad leader can do to its country.
Having no cell phone or wireless Internet in Korea has made communication a nightmare. Since Sawon’s apartment was abandoned, there was no Internet, so we had to go to computer bars for Internet. These computer bars are filled with around 100 computers all of which are usually filled with Korean boys playing computer games. With their headsets on and their snacks by their side, they have brought gaming to a whole new level.
I tried to meet up with my friend who is also named Miles, but unfortunately we never were able to meet up in Seoul or Busan due to the lack of being able to communicate. But, for Paulette, we were able to meet up with a friend of hers from college named Linda and her Fiancé Danny. I had met them when they visited Shanghai and this time it was their turn to show us around some. They are a very nice couple that we met for drinks and took us out on our last night on the town. They took us to this street vender bar that made cocktails in a zip lock bag, which is something, ive never had before. With a wide variety of drinks, we were able to cruise through the streets sipping on a Capri-sun type pouch but only better.We made a pit Stop at the "Board Game Cafe" which was like a coffee shop that had dozens of board games to play. You pay by the hour to rent the board games which I thought was a fun idea. One of Linda’s friends was having a birthday party at this club called “Naked”, so we were able to get VIP access. The club was filled with a nice combination of locals and expats, which gave it the best of both worlds. Afterwards, we headed over to a dive bar that offer the infamous “Soju Kettle” a drink filled with Soju, the native drink of Korea and Kool-aid. The night was topped off after pulling an all nighter to catch 5:30am metro. Filled with ruthless drunks coming home from a rough night of drinking and people getting their day started early, it made for some entertainment. Wearing his cowboy boots and a big belt buckle and a hat with a confederate flag on it, some American soldier made a complete fool of himself as he ran his mouth. After already getting in a fight in which he was punched in the mouth and leaving a blood trail in the subway, he continued to keep talking, this time with another guy who was half his size. With everyone watching, the little man belittled this tough acting southern boy with a nice 5-finger slap across the face, leaving everyone laughing and hooting and hollering. Oh Korea you never fail to amaze me.
My time in Korea was well spent and I was able to get the full vacation. I was able to experience a whole new country filled with a rich history, Eat FANTASTIC FOOD, get some relaxation and most of all make memories with friends that will last a lifetime.