A Travellerspoint blog

Wheels down in Seoul

sunny -3 °C

Despite the best efforts of the air crew,it was an agonizing ten-and-a-half hour flight from Vancouver to Incheon International airport in Seoul. The flight was smooth and the cabin service top notch for all of the 300ish passengers but just far too long to sit for that length of time. The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner was impressive with the in-flight entertainment system and button adjustment for the adjusting the window tint. We were provided with two meal services and one snack service. The cabin crew also provided beverage service four times and cocktails were included.

We flew straight north from Vancouver along the coast up to Anchorage and then across the Bering Sea into Russia. From there we flew south along the west coastline of Russia into China and then across to the Yellow Sea for our approach into Seoul from the west coast.

It took quite some time for our bags to come out but clearing customs was a breeze and helped make up some time. A quick pit stop was required before finding the vending machine for purchase the metro card. A reloadable card is the cost effective way to go if you are going to be using the subway more than just a couple of times. I was able to purchase the card from a convenience store in the terminal but had to exchange money in order to load the card. Once that was all sorted out, there was a brief stop to have a picture taken in an Olympic painted bobsled setup to promote the games.

The subway line ends at Seoul Station which was the destination so no issues with missing the stop. After 60 minutes on the subway we made it to the station. Seoul Station is much larger than I expected it to be so some locals kindly helped me find the right exit for the location of the hotel. Just a mere 50 feet from the exit was the Hotel Manu Seoul. Checked in and was pretty darn happy to get into the room. I knew in advance that the room was going to be quite small. Took a couple of seconds to realize that I had to put the hotel room card in the reader just inside door for the lights to stay on. I haven't seen that at a hotel in several years. The heated toilet seat with auto-flush and bidet is by far the best feature of the room.

The main floor of the hotel is basically a small food court consisting of a fried chicken vendor, pizza vendor and a beer vendor. These being 3 of my favorite food groups , I knew I picked the right hotel. A mother and daughter from the US who were staying at the hotel and there to attend the games sat at my table. We had a great visit and I got some great information on transportation and the game sites. The mother is a Ears, Nose and Throat doctor in the Chicago area while her daughter is a computer programmer in Boston.

I crashed hard at around 10 pm after being up for almost 26 hours straight.

Hoping to find an alternative to driving, I woke up at 5:30 am and walked over to the KTX ticket booth at Seoul Station. I was able to get standing room tickets for Thursday morning to go out to the Gangneung Coastal Cluster and Saturday evening to return to Seoul. No driving required! I'll have to take the subway line 1 to the train station in Gyeongjeon which is 30 minutes north west.

I grabbed some Korean cash (Won), returned to the hotel to cancel the car rental and then enjoyed a tradition Korean breakfast which consist of a fried egg, sausage, sliced apples, special bread, and salad. Yes, salad for breakfast!

The rest of the day was pretty quiet with a trip up to Namsam mountain via cable car where I bough t a ticket to go up to the observation level of N Seoul Tower. I knew Seoul was big with almost 10 million residents but seeing how far the city stretched from roughly 200 meters above Seoul was astounding.

I just had to have lunch at a South Korean McDonalds and it was interesting to see some of the unique menu items McDonalds offers in South Korea. I tried the Golden Potato Burger which has some kick from the Bulgogi sauce. The Shrimp Beef Burger looked interesting too.

Late afternoon ended with some shopping and a massage from the hotel spa. The shopping highlight was a tour of a grocery store as I enjoyed seeing all the fresh seafood and Korean food staples such as Kimchi, Pajeon (a Korean pancake), and Mandu (Korean Dumplings).

The massage included several techniques that I'm fairly certain would not be endorsed by the Canadian Chiropractor's Association.

The evening was spent touring the Myeongdong market area. Many brand name shops and department stores line the streets and alleys. Common products for sale include clothes, shoes, and accessories. There are also numerous food vendors offering a wide variety of street food.
The first dish I tried was fried Pork Belly with Yaki Noodles and the second dish was a Mung Bean Pancake stuffed with vegetables. A return trip is a must as there is more items I'd like to try including the Kimchi Pancake, Steamed Octopus Legs, and the Tteokgalbi Meatballs.

Not yet sure what the plan for tomorrow will be but the options are numerous.

Posted by cm008507 04:46 Archived in South Korea Tagged tower seoul n myeongdong Comments (0)

Ready or not, here I come

Departure day has arrived

After countless hours of research and planning, several stressful moments, the day has come to board a plane to fly to South Korea to take in the winter Olympic games and tour the country.

Olympic ticket sales were languishing so I wasn’t in a rush to commit to specific events. I was keeping an eye on airfare prices and with each day, the prices were going lower. Knowing it would likely go the other direction within 30 days of departure, I bought my ticket.
A couple of weeks later, I booked a hotel in the Myeongdong district which is adjacent to Seoul Station. Myeongdong is a popular shopping district and a number of tourist attractions are close by including the N Seoul Tower.

The plan was to purchase a 7 day unlimited use KTX pass and take the high-speed train to and from the Olympic game sites each day. I soon discovered that while you could buy a pass, making reservations was a huge issue as demand exceeded supply. The fine folks at KTX clearly did not do the math properly. Probably the same people that were fired from Hyundai for getting the gas mileage claim horribly wrong on the Elantra.
While there is standing room spots available on a first come first serve basis, the hundreds of angry pass holders were indicating it was going to be an all-out donnybrook to get one of the few spots.

Time for plan B, take the bus! The city of Seoul announced they would provide 70 buses each day during the games free of charge. Unfortunately they were all booked before I discovered it was even an option.
Express Bus looked to be an option as I found dates and times to get us to Gangneung on the 15th and returning on the 17th. I selected the seats and had the credit card out and ready to enter at the next payment screen. Unfortunately when I got to the payment screen, I discovered that they only take South Korea credit cards. Foiled again!

Time for plan C, book a rental car. The thoughts of driving in South Korea reminded me of my last visit to the Proctologist, painful but necessary. Booked the car including a GPS. I had to book through a National Car Rental agency a little off the beaten path as it appeared none of the rental companies located beside Seoul Station had a car to rent on my days. I felt a sense of relief that I had transportation sorted out and bought the Olympic tickets for the key events that were close to selling out.
Received the confirmation email from National and noticed a statement near the end of the document indicating that a GPS will be provided if available. Um… excuse me!

Another ‘oh shit’ moment. Maybe I should record the directions as a backup. Nope! Google does not have an agreement with South Korea for mapping data. A quick internet search revealed that MapQuest should work. Nope! Road names not available or in Korean only. A bit more research indicated there was an app I could put on my phone and then download the map of Korea to get turn-by-turn directions in offline mode in the event cell coverage is an issue. Issue resolved. I think.

The plan is to leave early on the 15th so there is plenty of time to get to the Gangneung Coastal cluster. As luck would have it turns out the 3 days I will be driving are expected to be the busiest with the Lunar New Year celebration occurring on the 16th. Apparently there will be lots of speed zone cameras and a couple of toll booths. Speed limit is 90km/hr making the drive about 2.5 hours each way.
The accommodations in Gangneung are at a boarding house with bunk beds in a common room. Should be interesting and thankfully only for two nights.

Once we land in Seoul it will be a 1 hour subway ride to Seoul Station.
Tomorrow is a day set aside to adjust to the time change and get my bearings so tomorrow post may not have much to report.

Time to board the plane in Vancouver!

Posted by cm008507 10:56 Archived in Canada Tagged airport vancouver international Comments (0)

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