I am hopelessly behind on recaps and blogging in general. We spend the end of October and beginning of November in South Korea. It is now Christmas time….woops. Better late than never I think!
Arriving in South Korea we were tired. A quick-paced trip through Japan and our inability to rest while in exciting cities finally caught up with us. I had hit a wall.
I have learned that sometimes it has nothing to do with a place, but about what you need in a place at the moment. Seoul is everything I love about a city, but I just needed something else at the moment. I was craving nature, small towns, and somewhere away from Asia. Scott didn’t share my sentiments and Korea was one of his favorite places.
We met up with my cousin, Tara, on this leg of the trip! It was awesome to spend some time with her, push her out of her comfort zone (she tried so many strange foods and we were so proud!), and to learn about Korean culture from our resident expert on all things Korean. We had a great time and it made me so happy that she loved Korea so much that she extended her stay an additional two weeks after we left.
We know we will be back one day with our full energy and excitement because we really, really enjoyed this country. We liked the historic sites, the food, the culture, and all that soju.
Seoul, Jeju Island
Things We Liked
Kimchi, ease of transportation, traveling with family, craft beer scene, seeing friends, banchan (free sides with every meal), Korean BBQ, renting cars, HAIRCUTS, cheap booze, and seafood.
A side note – it was fall in South Korea and it was amazing to see the trees change colors, celebrate Halloween, and feel crispness in the air. We loved having a bit of fall to break up our perpetual summer.
Things We Disliked
Expensive food, political unrest, cold soup (I make an exception only for gazpacho), cancelled DMZ tours, cold weather (although refreshing at times), and getting sick.
1. Noryanjin Fish Market
We love fish markets. If a city has a fish market you can bet we will make an appearance. The Noryanjin Fish Market in Seoul is our favorite so far. The market is open 24 hours a day and has endless types of seafood for sale. Hidden restaurants also surround the market. None of these restaurants serve their own food…they just cook what you purchase at the market and serve it to you with the appropriate sides (kimchi obviously). We decided to go to the market for dinner and pick out our own food. It was totally overwhelming and we never quite knew what was happening (knowing how to speak Korean would have been super helpful).
Here is how it works:
-You walk around from stall to stall scoping what type of seafood looks good
-You haggle for a price you are happy with or you go to another stall
-Purchase your seafood
-If you bought a live fish or sashimi they may grab the fish from the tank and kill it right in front of you before chopping it up….I passed on that and chose sashimi that was already cut (this might have not been as fresh but I was willing to take my chances)
-They put whatever you purchased in a bag (potentially still living depending on what you bought)
-A runner walks you up to a nearby restaurant where they cook your food for you and provide you with sides (for free) and alcohol for purchase
We settled on some shrimp, abalone, live octopus sashimi (it wiggles as it sits on the plate and as you put it in your mouth), and a huge plate of assorted fish sashimi. It was a one of a kind dining experience and we would go back in a heartbeat!
2. Road Trippin’ Jeju Island
We forgot how much freedom there is to have your own set of wheels. We rented a car in Jeju Island, as it is really the only way to see the sites on the island (and my American friend living in Seoul assured me we could handle driving). It was refreshing not to take a bus, taxi, or metro for a while! My cousin probably thought we were strange by how excited we were to have our own transportation, but after months of relying on public transportation it was AWESOME. We just couldn’t shut up about how cool it was to have so much freedom.
Jeju Island is a popular vacation spot for South Koreans and I can totally see why. First, with $15 round trip flights it is affordable to fly there for the weekend. The island is fairly big and there are a lot of beautiful places to explore such as waterfalls, cliffs, lava tube caves and volcanoes. We checked out as many spots as we could and braved the cold for a few mini-hikes. In addition, themed museums are big on the island (Teddy Bear Museum, Puzzle Museum, Sex Museum to name a few). We stuck to exploring the outdoors mostly, although we did make a pit stop at the Haeoyeo Museum to learn about the female divers of Jeju Island.
1. My Birthday
I hesitated to include this bullet point for fear of making anybody feel bad. Scott and Tara did everything perfectly on my birthday…they treated me well, took me bowling (my game has gone downhill), found Korean craft brew, and best of all found some delicious tacos and margaritas to drink! It was a perfect day with some of my favorite people!
During my birthday I may have received 3 “happy birthday!” messages because when you are in a time zone that is 15 hours ahead your birthday happens at a different time than it does in the USA. Travel can be really isolating at times and a birthday makes that perfectly clear since they are a day usually spent surrounding by friends and family.
I woke up the day after my birthday with my inbox flooding with birthday greetings. It was awesome! Thanks for the love. It was a tough day for me and it was great to have a reminder of how many people care about me.
2. Getting Sick
The entire time I was in Korea I felt slightly under the weather. It was not until the last day or two in Korea that I was full-blown sick. This came at the worst time as we also had one of the longest travel days clocking in around 30 hours to get to Bali, Indonesia. Obviously the perfect cure for a bad virus is to sleep on an airport couch in between two 5.5 hour flights!
3. Cancelled DMZ Tour
We (Scott and I — my cousin opted out of this tour for the record) signed up to tour the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the democratic buffer zone between North and South Korea. The DMZ is the most fortified border in the entire world. We wanted to take a tour of the DMZ, but also the Joint Security Area where negotiations between the two nations take place. It might sound unwise to go here, but it is actually a huge tourist destination and is relatively safe (as long as you follow all the instructions and don’t do anything really stupid). We were very picky with our tour operator and chose the one that works with the USO because the US Military makes us feel safer.
A few days before our scheduled tour we received an email saying that our tour was cancelled, but they could waitlist us for the tours in the next few days. We put our name on the list and hoped for the best, but no dice. We hope we get the chance one day to go to the DMZ, but for now my parents can rest easy that there are no journeys to North Korea in our future.
Side note: We have noticed a trend sweeping Asia….to wear the exact same outfit as your significant other. Some couples go so far as wearing the same exact shoes. How romantic! I have loved spotting all the couples in their matching outfits and I get a big kick out of it.
I can’t tell you that Scott and I jumped on board (yet), but I did finally got photo proof of this trend. I present you with the following couple:
Total Number of Nights: 14
Currency: $1 USD = 1,136 South Korean Won
Number of Miles Traveled: 1,700 miles (including our flight from Japan)
Number of Miles Walked: 93.6 miles (average of 6.7 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 201,314 steps (average of about 14,280 per day)
Transportation Used: subway, airport train, plane (Seoul to Jeju Island), rental car (!)
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (1), Apartment (2), airport couch (1)
Number of Beds: 4