My number one goal when in transit is not feel rushed. I don’t want to move at a snails pace or anything, but if you’ve ever had to run through the airport with your bag in tow or your backpack bouncing on your shoulders, dodging other travelers who are not trying to make it to their gate in the last second, you know what I’m talking about. It’s miserable.
I had to fly out of DCA–National to the locals–at 9AM but I had no desire to park at the airport for over three weeks (that would be more than my plane ticket) or deal with morning traffic from Baltimore to DC. Luckily, my friend Ammie–who will be joining me in Seoul by the end of the week–let me crash on her couch which made for a much easier commute.
My plan was to stay up as late as I could the night before (I made it to about midnight EST… so not great) and then sleep as much as possible on my first flight from DCA to LAX with the help of Zquil. (I still managed to watch the whole of Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs before dosing as comfortably as I could for the remainder of the flight.)
I had a full five hours at LAX before my trans-Pacific flight and I had a mission: get to In n’ Out for the first time. It was a quick 20ish minute walk with my suitcase in tow, the restaurant was packed but I was able to put in my order* before a bus full of school kids walked in. Another 20ish minutes back and I had killed one hour of my layover. Nice.
Going through security was a breeze thanks to my TSA pre-check and then it was on to Asia. I won’t say much about my flight** but it was as comfortable as flying economy can be although:
TRAVEL PRO TIP:
Use that U-shaped neck pillow as a butt pillow. It will save you a whole lot of hip and back pain for sitting for long periods of time.
I was also able to sleep a bit but not well, and after 14 hours landed in Seoul a full 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Customs was a breeze and after overpaying for a taxi (the subway was closed and I didn’t trust my jet-lagged self to navigate the bus system with all my luggage) I was safe in my hostel and immediately went to sleep around 1AM Korean Standard Time.
With some help once again from Zquil I was able to sleep for the night, waking up around 8AM in time for breakfast!
Feeling surprisingly rested, I was ready for my first activity of my first day in Seoul: a Full Day Essential Seoul Tour. I found it through trip advisor, it was highly rated, and honestly… seemed essential? Really it seemed like little effort would be needed on my part save for entering my credit card information but would give me a good day’s worth of activity to keep me engaged and awake. And would (hopefully) be a good introduction to the country!
The day would consist of a guided tour visiting the Gyeongbokgung Palace, trying on traditional Korean clothing, going up to an observation deck with a gorgeous view of the city, and going to a neighborhood that has kept traditional housing. The tour ended in Myeongdong–a shopping district–and I left for my hostel but not before trading contacts with Luca, a Hungarian living Beijing and making plans for the next day.
After a short rest at my hostel, I left for my second and last tour of the day: a food tour in Seoul! I didn’t mean to book two tours the same day, but the time difference and the days confusing but it actually worked out quite well.
It filled out my day and left a lot of the logistics out of my hands–which is my kind of vacation–but kept me moving, kept me going, got me around the city and meeting new people.
The food tour met at a subway exit and I was the first to arrive. It was on a street lined by food carts with folding tables and chairs filled with locals eating and drinking. Eventually the party gathered, it was myself, three Australians, and our guide who was a student at university, Hyeong†.
We walked the streets with Hyeong telling us facts about herself and Korea, our first stop was (of course) Korean barbecue and we learned how to eat the “Korean way”. Basically, you took leaves (there was this really nice leaf with an almost minty flavor) and stuffed it with pork belly, pickled onions, kimchi, bok choy, and whatever else was on the table. Divine.
We also learned a Korean way to drink Soju and beer. You take a shot of soju, pour it into a beer glass (not a pint, more like a regular sized water glass), pour the beer in. Then, taking your chopsticks (preferably clean) you stick one in the glass and then hit it with the other to create a resonance and mixing the two alcohols together. It actually created a very pleasant taste.
Our second stop was this noodle fish dish–not spicy as my Australian compatriots had a sensitivity to spice. And our third stop was fried chicken. Fried chicken may not be the official food of Korea, but it basically is. I was so full at this point though that I picked at the food. I was, however, introduced to Mango Lingo, a dangerously delicious beer that basically tastes like mango juice.
After a filling 3 dinners, we walked around a bit and found these gorgeous little neighborhood of cafes. Some of which were beautifully themed and decorated. Of course, we couldn’t help but take some pictures.
After we bid adieu to Hyeong, the Australians and I headed to a bar where we had drinks and talked about our countries. One of my favorite things about traveling and meeting people are the conversations surrounding the differences and similarities of our countries. I hope I get to make it out to Melbourne at some point and maybe reconnect with them.
All in all, it was a good first day in Seoul.
My second day was not as jam packed. I had made loose plans with Luca, the Hungarian woman from my day tour the previous day, to meet in Myeongdong for a facial. After walking around, we found a lovely place and since it was Luca’s last day in Korea before heading back to Beijing, we got gold facials.
I had expected things to be different but it was still really hard to keep a relaxed face when they–for lack of better words–started slapping me in the face. It didn’t hurt but it was surprising and I kept trying not to laugh which made it harder.
In addition to the facials, we also got foot massages and foot baths which were lovely until are feet were dipped into a waxy substance which was so hot I didn’t want to dip it in again, but was eventually coaxed to doing three times total per foot. Once the waxy stuff hardened, it was peeled off in one piece and my feet felt amazing.
The only thing about having facials in the morning was we were in a daze going back out into the busy Myeongdong streets. We found a nice place for a lunch of dumplings and bibimbop and decided to go on a quest for a new bag for me. (My purse was falling apart.)
We used this as an excuse to wander and explore. We eventually found a bag that I absolutely love and had a small dinner of street food before saying our goodbyes and retiring to our hostels where I slept pretty soundly before my next adventures.
Hopefully I will get to see my new friends again.
* – Cheese burger protein style, fries, and a lemon-up.
** – I will say I was able to watch 6 out of 8 episodes of the first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Loved it and will have to finish at some point.
† – I am probably butchering the spelling of her name. Hopefully she will forgive me.