Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seoul's got soul!

Our first day in South Korea was spent in the capital, Seoul. Our day started out a bit late as my mom and I both sort of slept in and woke up around 930am. We holed up in Airport Town Square which is really close to the airport but it meant that we were about an hour away from Seoul.

Our first stop was Changdeokgung Palace. My Lonely Planet book on South Korea said that if you had time to visit only one palace in Seoul, this would be it. We get there shortly after noon.

We get tickets to enter the palace (KRW3,000 per person) but my book also said that the highlight is the Secret Garden. You can only get in as part of the guided tour (the English tours are at 11am and 2pm), but during autumn, they allow people to roam freely (in either case, there is an additional fee of KRW5,000 pe person to enter and you can still only get in as part of the tour, even if you plan to roam freely.)

It is definitely worth the entrance fee. Seeing the trees in all their autumn glory made this experience a truly wonderful one.

It was close to 4pm when we left the Palace, and since my mom didn't really have any specific things she wanted to do, I suggested we pay a visit to Cheonggyecheon, a stream in the middle of Seoul that was developed as part of efforts to bring more of nature into the city. Once we get there, we saw a couple of really good photo ops in Gwanghwamun Square on the other side of the Cheonggye plaza, with great big statues set against a mountain backdrop. Not your common cityscape view so since the sun was about to set and we would lose the light soon, my mom and I took photos here first.

We also saw this booth that was offering free use of Korean outfits for more photo ops. Naturally, we had to have our pictures taken in them.

By the time we got back to Cheonggye stream, it was dark. We still decided to take a few more photos before taking a much-needed coffee-and-pastry break in one of the nearby cafes.

I read in my book that if you want to visit N Seoul Tower, the best time to do so is in the evening because it offers really fantastic panoramic views of the brilliant Seoul city lights at night.

The tower is on top of a hill and visitors have the option of taking a cable car heading up or just walking. My mom and I decided to just walk. The problem was we couldn't figure out the path heading upwards and ended up walking up the hill more than a kilometer in the wrong direction. We finally figure out that we had to walk back another 1.5 kilometers only to realize that this would just bring us to the base of another long and winding walk up a staircase to the tower. It said the distance was 1.2km from that point but I think it may have been a vertical distance because it sure took us a long time to get to the top! My mom truly impressed me with her stamina as we both walked up more quickly than a lot of other people and took only one short break (we passed so many people taking long breaks). I was huffing and puffing by the time we finished our ascent and I was drenched in sweat but it was a great accomplishment (especially when you realize that we had been on walking for most of the day already).

Upon purchasing our entrance tickets, we were told it would take about an hour for us to get inside. We spend that hour buying souvenirs and having dinner before joining the queue heading into the N Seoul Tower. The great thing about the queuing experience here is that there are a few things that keep you entertained while you are here. First, you can have your photo taken while waiting in line (which you can then claim when you get to the top). Second, once you are in the elevator area, a really cool video is projected onto the walls:

video uploaded in youtube by HighlordSoth

Once you get into the elevator, another video is projected onto the ceiling. The length of the video matches the time it takes to get to the top. This is the first time I visited a tower that had this kind of video entertainment and it certainly made the whole experience really cool!

video uploaded in youtube by user simplyidea

(There's another video projected onto the elevator ceiling on your way down. Check it out here!)

We took in the views, checked the shop to see if we could find more souvenirs we wanted, and of course took more pictures. The different windows displayed the highest peaks in different cities and countries, and it was great to see a window dedicated to the Philippines.

By this time we were obviously tired so we opted for the cable car on the trip down. We got back to our hotel around midnight and as it was a really long first day, we tried to get as much rest as we could since we still had another day ahead of us.

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