In June, my wife Sherry and I travelled to Seoul, South Korea for our first international travel together. We chose Seoul as our first international visit since it’s a traveller-friendly Asian city and my wife’s best friend and maid of honour, Julie, currently lives there. For me, it was the first time I had travelled outside North America and set foot in the Old World.
We arrived on a Sunday, losing a day on our 11 hour flight because of the International Date Line. We promptly headed to our hotel, the Millennium Seoul Hilton, which is located in the Jung-gu district in the centre of Seoul, near to Namsan Park, Seoul Station and one of the city’s most popular tourist shopping districts, Myeongdong. Our room was on the 10th floor, with a king-sized bed and a great view of the park, facing eastward. When we arrived it was 5 p.m. local time (and thus 1 a.m. in Vancouver). We had hoped to start our exploration of the city that night, but a little “quick nap,” ended up to be a very long and restful sleep!
For the first several days, Sherry and I met up with Julie, and she showed us around several neighbourhoods, including Ikseon-dong, a colourful area with trendy shops and cafes, and Anam-dong, a university district, where she’s currently staying. Julie lived in Seoul for several years, going to school at Korea University and working at the United Nations Development Programme, so she was familiar with areas that were less well-known to tourists. Our first night, we went to a Korean barbecue in Anam and we cooked some delicious meats on the charcoal grill; it was a heavenly meal!
Later, we explored Chang-deokgung Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was originally built during the Joseon Dynasty in 1405 and rebuilt in 1610 and 1804. One of the most beautiful palaces in Seoul, it is also home to the Secret Garden, an extensive garden filled with flowering trees, ponds, pavilions and streams, used by the Korean kings and queens for rest and relaxation. While we were in the area, we dressed up in traditional Korean attire (Hanbok); we got a thrill out of walking around as Joseon king and queen in and around the palace!
By ourselves, Sherry and I did a little less history and culture, and a lot more shopping, especially for clothes and cosmetics. We went to three main shopping districts: Lotte World in Jamsil, visiting the Observation deck of the tallest building in Seoul, Lotte World Tower; COEX Mall in Gangnam, checking out the COEX Aquarium; and Myeongdong, enjoying the various street foods (the cheese butter baked scallops was amazing!). It was exhausting checking out all the various stores, but it was fascinating seeing all the products available, some not for sale in Canada.
Seoul is the first city outside Canada and the United States I’ve travelled to. It is a large and bustling megacity, and with almost 10 million people just in the city proper, 25 million in the metro area, it makes Vancouver feel like a town in the countryside by comparison! Each district felt like a city in itself with its own distinctive look and feel, ranging from the traditional to the ultra-modern. Several of Seoul’s chic stores and cafes offering incredibly delicious food and drinks are on small maze-like streets that feel like cramped alleyways – signifiers of an ancient city layout made without automobiles in mind and an attempt to create a unique atmosphere blending historical architecture with contemporary ideas. Many of the locals were friendly, and were quick to help out a couple of tourists getting stuck behind a metro gate or having linguistic troubles. We would definitely love to return to Seoul and visit other parts of South Korea, such as Jeju Island and Busan, one day.
There was a lot to see in Seoul and so little time to see it. While our vacation was exciting and invigorating, having to shop at many stores and see a lot of sights spread out in such a large area did not make for a relaxing trip! So for our next destination, Sherry and I will be heading to a much smaller Quebec City later this July for a restful Canadian vacation within the ramparts of Old Quebec! À la prochaine; have an amazing summer everyone!