When you’re on the road you meet a lot of travelers. Here is what I learned after listening to other people’s stories, each one experiences a city differently, therefore that shouldn’t affect your path and keep you from exploring a place first hand, after all isn’t that why we all take the road in the first place and not just sit in front of our Tv’s watching national geographic ? Though I heard Seoul might disappoint me, I still gave it 10 days to see how it is.
From Busan To Seoul
On a Sunday night when I took a night bus to Seoul, I honestly wished I could stay there much longer because I met so many awesome people, 9 days were not enough. After a 4 hour bus ride I got to Seoul at 6 am with an address that took me over 2 hours to find, not because of how far it was from the center but because the city was in the process of changing addresses’ names. Fortunately I managed to find WiFi from a convenient store and contacted Jessica, my host, when I was in the right neighborhood.
It was the second week of February, Seoul was colder than Busan, but surprisingly it wasn’t snowing during my whole stay, I guess I should call that lucky.
Day1, Monday: Insa-Dong and Meyong-Dong
Jessica had a day off from work which made it less trouble for me to explore a bit of the city with her company, first we got some breakfast, Korean fried dumplings, or “Mandu” with Korean radish “dan moo ji” which I thought it was pineapple the first time I’ve seen it back in Busan . It was so delicious and a really good alternative from the usual eggs and toasts breakfast. Eric, her neighbor and co-worker joined us before we all went to explore the city. We went to a couple of palaces only to find out that they were close because it was a Monday.
Jessica have been working as an English teacher for 2 years and her contract was about to finish, she explained to me how she never got to see much of what Korea has to offer due to her lack of free time. A while later a second friend joined us, a British/Egyptian guy who was part of the “Mamma Mia!” Team on their world tour performance took us to a traditional tea house near Insa-dong, over 10 dollars for a cup of tea, way out of my usual budget,
In “Insa-dong” if you can stop yourself from buying non necessary souvenirs, you can’t stop yourself from trying every snack you see on the street. Later on we headed to Myeong-dong , where we had some drinks at a Dog cafe. Moving on to “itaewon” for a somewhat fancy dinner with couple more people from “Mamma Mia!”, I found myself in a group I had difficulty getting along with, since they were all gay. At one point Eric turned to me and said: “we know you’re looking for an escape plan..”.
Meeting someone for the first time plus staying in their place can get awkward sometimes, but I can handle that, However I have to admit, I do struggle when I’m around gay people.
Day 2, Tuesday: The War Memorial of Korea and Itaweon
The next day , Jessica left home to work early in the morning and I got up at around noon, I checked my “Meow“ app to try to find someone to hang out with for the day, and set up a date at 2pm, a while later another Korean friend from Facebook who lived in Canada before told me that she could meet me since she was in the city that day before 5 . I had to say yes because she was cuter than the first one and so I met her at 1pm, we went to The War Memorial of Korea , the coolest museum I’ve ever been to besides one in Hollywood boulevard. Sujung and I easily got along, she even agreed to call the other girl and let her know where we were, a huge mistake from my part because in my mind I thought we’re all gonna hangout but Sujung wasn’t down with that and so she left a while after Gina came at 3pm . I’d regret that later because I liked her vibe, but anyways I decided to rejoice the moment and so Gina and I headed to Itaewon where we ate some kebab and got pranked by a turkish ice cream man, we walked along these interesting little streets, amazing multicultural shops, Itaweon is where most foreigners live. Gina left for a class and It was time for me to go to a couchsurfing meet up held in the same area.
On the website it said the event was to start at 5:30 pm, at 6 pm I walked into this Irish bar and asked the bartender about the event, he had no idea what I was talking about, then, luckily a lady overheard me, pointed to her table “over here” she said, Patricia was an english teacher, from New York, who’ve been in Korea for over 5 years, we had a lovely conversation before a Korean guy did the exact same thing as me when he walked in the bar, and from there more people came, it was really awesome to meet all these different people in one table, locals, expats(foreigners who work in Korea) and some other travelers like me.
Day 3 : Wednesday Gyeongbokgung Palace and Gangnam District
From where I was staying, getting around Seoul was more convenient by bus than by metro, it can be challenging sometimes to get off at the right stop but I prefer the experience, I went to Gyeongbokgung(경복궁) Palace that day, A huge royal palace that feels almost like a little town once you’re inside, I got there kind of late so I didn’t take any tour guide and therefore I had to guess what each building used to serve as by myself which was fun actually, after a couple of hours walking inside and outside the palace I headed Seodaemun Prison History Museum but found it close because it was past 5pm by that time. Nothing to do, I switched to my app for help and tried to meet someone for some coffee, a couple of hours later here I was with 2 different Korean girls who didn’t know each other, this time I didn’t regret it because when I met the first one, Celina, there was a huge language barrier which kind of led me to practice eye contact a bit, a while later Jung, a girl I met from the cs meet up the previous night, joined us in our coffee place and introduced the two to each other before we all walked around Gangnam, a fancy shopping and nightlife district in Seoul. Celina left and Jung and I had some Korean food, I had the famous “Tappokki” (떡볶이), I have tried it before but this one particular plate was the hottest thing I have ever put in my mouth, Jung witnessed a really special moment in my life, I am pretty sure I teared up.
I loved how easy-going Jung was, being a traveler herself she got me intrigued by her trips to Europe.
Day 4, Thursday, Seoul city Tour bus and live music in Hapjeong.
Another lazy morning, 2 pm hit the clock and I finally got outside, and went looking for the Seoul city Tour bus, which I always consider a great way to get familiar with a city in one day, I hopped off at the National museum of Korea, this time I got a free guided tour and I learned so much about ancient Korean history, I knew I’d forget most of it soon by I’d always have respect for South Koreans, from the museum I headed back to “Hongdae” near where I was staying. It’s been 4 days since I got to Seoul but It was the first time I would explore the coolest place of the city even if it was just a 15 to 20 minute walk from home. In addition to having a street market you’d get easily lost in, there was a university campus two steps from countless clubs and bars. That night I had a date with a Korean girl I met on Tinder, her name was Mijin, she was funny and she spoke perfect English so I had to meet her, I didn’t have any backup this time. we went to a live music show at a bar in “Hapjeong”, Patricia had invited me to this live music show, but missed it herself because she had a headache, and man did she miss a great night. After having trouble finding the place (korean adresses ) we got in, a packed room and some amazing music played by this multinational band, led by a Moroccan singer, it was new and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, neither did Mijin, I had to say hi to my hometown singer after the show was done. I learned about his story and asked to meet him again before I would leave Seoul. The white reed caravan was awesome. back to my table, Mijin was so much fun to hang out with, although she had stated more than once that she wasn’t looking for a hook up for I was a traveler, almost all we talked about is sex.
Friday, Day 5 : Clubbing in Hongdae
You know “The lazy Song” by Bruno Mars, well that was me that day, that if I don’t count doing laundry though, I was looking for a new host since It was my last night at Jessica’s as we had agreed on before. Unfortunately, It was too late to find anything in a such a short time so I booked a bed in a guesthouse nearby. At night I went clubbing with Mijin. Now while I was waiting for her at the Subway station, a guy came up to me and asked me if he could join me to go clubbing, no problem I said, a while later Mijin came accompanied with her Spanish couchsurfer, It was perfect, a group of four is better than a group of three. Once inside the club, the music was awesome, I’ll always remember one particular song that got me rocking that club like crazy. By 4 am I lost Mijin and so I headed back home but to my surprise I got stuck outside because I couldn’t find the key that Jessica would always keep hidden in the mailbox whenever she would home before me. So here I was thinking about spending the rest of this cold night like a homeless person. What to do now? I went to the convenient store and asked the guy there to share his own cellular WiFi with me and sent a couple of message here and there but no one was answering. Sitting at a table in the street with not much options in hand, the guy came to me and gave me a NESCAFÉ can. Here is the thing, to me anything that comes in a can is supposed to be cold, but this one was actually hot, It was a priceless moment for me. hot coffee is not something I could even think about. After that drink I remembered that the same scenario happened to me in Tokyo once (getting stuck oustide), and so I went to check again, but this time I used the flash light from my phone, feeling like the stupidest person on earth I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the key laying there, it was a card by the way. When I got in I have to say sleeping on the floor in a warm cosy covers felt like heaven.
Saturday day 6 : N Seoul Tower and more Clubbing
Looking for my guesthouse Whitetail Backpacker & Hostel, I found myself inside some guy’s living room, since the front door was open I got inside, did a quick scan and realized that I just disturbed someone’s peaceful moment in front of his TV. However, he helped me find my way and I got a felling that I wasn’t the first one to do that. Once settled I tried to get Minji out with me to check out the Seoul tower with me. I went alone, which turned out to be a good thing because otherwise I wouldn’t have the story of me hiking a mountain alone at night, and yes It was scary but definitely a great experience. Here is how it happened, to get to this Tower situated on a peak of a mountain, there is the easy way or the hard way. the easy way to take the right bus, the hard way is to hike supposedly on daytime. It took me 20 min with one hell of a steep. Even though the mountain is in the city, I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere when I was between all these trees. I’d never forget the moment when I got to the top, and felt like I was in a movie, thank god I wasn’t injured. It took forever to enter the tower though, and let me tell you that when you see New York from the top every other city view seems just OK. Back home I took a shower and went clubbing again to the same spot.
I’m in love with Seoul for one reason, partying in Hongdae. it reminded me of south beach,Miami where the party also don’t stop before the sun rises up.
Sunday, Day 7: The Trick Eye Museum and a drink with my hometown Singer.
Another lazy day, I got outside until 4pm to the trick eye museum in Hongdae, where I met an expat, another English teacher who told me about her story in Korea, the good and the bad part. Kaitlyn didn’t like how society in Korea puts pressure on single people and make them look like losers just because they are not in a relationship. that actually brought many flashes of instances I saw before walking around the streets of Seoul. One thing that sort of bugged me is how often I saw good-looking girls with much less good-looking guys here.
Even if it was a Sunday I went clubbing, a third time in a row, and here is the thing about me and clubs, there is times where I would be like: “clubs sucks and I’m never putting step inside one” , and there is times where I would go to clubs 3-4 times in row, while having the best time. I know it’s weird.
Monday, Day 8: Bukchon Hanok Village
Jessica thought I would be moving to another couch when I left her place on Saturday so when I said I was staying in a guesthouse she told me I could come back anytime I want, I already booked 2 nights so I only could come back on Monday.
Jung was free to meet me, we went to Bukchon Hanok Village, a place definitely not to miss if you visit Seoul, lot of traditional houses, where people actually live in. well actually only rich people could own such landmarks. From there we walked to Insa-dong and then to Myeong-dong. I’ll always remember the hat being sold in street stands, that has foreigner in Korean written on it. and we tried to sit a cat cafe but the admission was a little expensive. but I got to see what it looked like, I prefer Dogs.
When I got back home I found a message waiting for me from Omar, the singer, asking me to meet up In Hongdae, we had a drink in a bar I wouldn’t dare to get inside to by myself, here I had the chance to hear Omar’s full story that landed him to Korea, and then we moved to another place, this one, I loved, it was a Reggae bar. I remember asking him why there was almost no homeless people unlike Canada, he replied: “in Canada people get paid when they’re homeless, In korea you go homeless, you die”. I heard another perspective of how life in Korea feels like.
Tuesday, Day 9, and another CS meet up
On my last day, I only had time to pack and to attend my second cs meet up in Seoul. it was in a different bar in Itaewon, this time I participated in inviting as much people as I could, 4 showed up, 3 Korean girls and my Tunisian friend who I met back in Busan. When Mijin arrived, I spent most of time with her, but what marked that night is when I was making out with her, she went to the washroom, a minute later so did I, which made everyone in the room think we were up to something, but what made it even funnier is when a Facebook friend of mine I was supposed to meet for the first time just got to the bar and asked about me, I was expecting her to come but not in that particular moment. Gajung was very fancy and I still can’t believe she brought me cookies as a gift from her last trip to Thailand where she was just a day earlier. while we were catching up Mijin was still in the washroom, even Gajung went in and out before she does. A while later when I tried to introduce the two to each other, I found out they already talked about me. it wasn’t long before we all had to leave.
Seoul was so much fun, the nightlife makes this city vibrant and livable, I’ll definitely consider doing exchange studies there to learn more about Korea’s extraordinary success story overcoming extreme poverty.