Korea trip 2022-3, day 11 – 7 Jan

J’s friends HK, KJ, J and I caught two trains to Seodaemun station (to the west of the CBD), where we joined a hiking group. My previous experience of Korean hiking groups is that they walk very fast, except when they stop for photos, which is less often than I do. Inwangsan is one of the mountains on which the city wall is built. It has two peaks. We climbed the first but one of the group was suffering from a dicky knee so we decided to come down one of the valleys. (We had also joined a hiking group (whether the same one) on a previous trip. Because I was in less condition then and wanted to take photos, the Koreans complained about how slow I was, so we left the group (I have no memory of where we came down) then caught a taxi to the ending point.) We had an extensive lunch banquet in a restaurant in a back-back-back alley near Gwanghwamun. I took a brief excursion round Sejongno Plaza and Gwanghwamun gate (the are in front of which is being redeveloped). We caught two trains home then had a quiet evening. KJ returned home but we have been joined by another friend from Busan.  

Foggy, with a hint of sun early afternoon, extensive snow on the ground in the mountain, 18040 steps (approx 12.6 km). Food: banquet lunch including, marinated crab, spring onion pancake and grill fish; miscellaneous for dinner. 2 trains, hike, 2 trains. 

Returning to a destination probably involves a mixture of revisiting places previously been to, and new places. In this case, I’d been here before, but this particular hike on this particular mountain on this particular day had been planned before they knew we’d be here. Even so, there are multiple trails on the same mountain. We might have gone somewhere different. It turns out that we largely retraced a previous hike.

Because Seoul metro lines criss-cross a lot, it is possible to take two different routes to/from the same destination or nearby. Our trip there was to Cheonho on line 9, changing to line 5 to Seodaemun. Coming back from Gwanghwamun (walking distance from Seodaemun) didn’t involve returning to Seodaemun but rather taking line 3 to Garak Market and changing to line 8 there. (Though if our hike had been more of a loop and our restaurant nearer to Seodaemun, we might have done a simple reverse journey home.)


Korea trip 2022-3, day 9 – 6 Jan

J’s friend HK picked us, then KJ, then drove to her place in Seongnam city (first city in Gyeonggi-do south-east of Seoul Special City area, but still within the greater Seoul area). She lives near Namhansan (the major mountain south-east of Seoul). My plan is to go there later, but we went today for lunch and a short walk around the temporary palace (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Namhansanseong). We ate dinner at HK’s apartment, then went for a walk, during which it started snowing.

Hazy, misty, cloudy, snow, -9 to 5. 10412 steps (approx 7.2 km). Food: samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) and kimchi and potato pancakes. Car, walk. 

I needed a relatively restful day. We have switched accommodation from J’s brother and sister-in-law’s apartment in south-western suburban Seoul to her friend’s apartment in a new development. Weather forecasts varied between ‘rain’, ‘rain and ‘snow’ and ‘snow’. I probably won’t get excited about ‘rain’.

HK’s apartment complex is huge – 39 buildings, up to 24 storeys each, with 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 apartments in each, so nearly 4,000 apartments and 10,000+ people. Our development in Sydney has two-storey houses or duplexes/townhouses.

Korea trip 2022-3, day 4 – 1 Jan

Bus to Mok-dong, train right across to Gandong then another to a station near there (Purple line 5 splits into two – we might have caught one train but were on the other), picked up by one of J’s nieces, apart from a trip to a coffee shop, we were at J’s oldest sister’s apartment all day, with oldest sister, her husband, his mother, their two children, spouses and two children each, second sister and her husband, and older younger brother’s wife (all of whom I’ve met before; the youngest nephew is too young to remember me – I last saw him at his first birthday); reverse transport (one train) on the way home (in three days of being out and about, I’ve spent about AUD12 on public transport).  

We were planning to meet J’s family for lunar new year (and still are), but her first sister organised about half the family to meet today. Plans are in progress for most/most/all to meet for lunar new year.

Clear and relatively warm (or less cold), temperature -4 to 4. Steps 5104 (approx 3.5 km), bus, 2 trains, car; car 1 train, bus. Food: lunch, rice cake soup; dinner – everything plus rice dumpling and mushroom soup. 

Korea trip 2022-3, day 2 – 30 Dec

bus to Mokdong, train to Dongdaemun Design Plaza station, Dongdaemun gate, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Namsan, Namdaemun gate, Namdaemun market, Sejongno, met Inyoung at a coffee shop in Gwanghwamun, light festival, bus home

Temperature -7 to 2, clear, mostly calm. Steps 35,114 (approx 24.5 km) (by far a new record). Bus, metro, hike, bus. Food: nacho cheese burger on Namsan, meat patty and sweet like a churro in Namdaemun, seolleongtang (sliced beef, green onions, noodles and rice in broth) in Gwangwhamun. 

High on my list of things to do was the Seoul City Wall trail. The wall was built in 1394 and is in a variety of conditions from (mostly) original, added to or rebuilt in old times, (mostly) destroyed or completely obliterated by modern development. I have been to most places along the southern portion, but not Bukhaksan to the north, so this was theoretically a way to string them all together. I had found an online copy of the guide book, and had assumed that printed copies would be relatively easy to find, but the tourist information booth at Dongdaemun Plaza didn’t have any and suggested going to the City Wall Museum, which was out of my way. But there was a map in Korean. 

Along the way I visited (to some degree) Dongdaemun gate, the Cheonggyecheon, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Jangchungdan Park, Dongkuk University (I had applied for jobs there – imagine the walking and photography I would have got done), Namsan, Seoul Tower, Dongdaemun gate, Dongdaemun market, Gwanghwamun Plaza and a light festival (there was also a light display at Cheonggye Plaza). My wife J (having done her own things for the day) joined me for dinner at a small restaurant behind the Sejong Centre and a short wander around the festival. 

My original plan was to continue with the city wall walk tomorrow, but after 35,000 steps and getting lost once (I should have stuck to my original plan), the next leg (ha!) (from Namdaemun to Seodaemun and Inwansan) is going to have to wait. We have been invited to hike on Inwansan by J’s old hiking group later in this trip, but my experience of Korean hiking groups is that walk super-fast and don’t allow stopping to take photos (which, for me, is the point of going anyway). Then on the bus home her friend KJ rang and suggested meeting tomorrow at Sky Park (Hanuel Gongwon) near the World Cup Stadium, which we’ve been to before but it’s big and there are many parts I haven’t been to. Shortly after, I realised that I didn’t have my backpack (which I probably hadn’t needed anyway). We got off the bus and J very cleverly traced the random restaurant we’d been to by searching for seolleongtang Ganghwamun and recognised it from any other restaurant in Ganghwamun. Yes, they had my backpack and we could collect it tomorrow morning. 

Korea trip 2022-3, day 1 – 29 Dec

Suburban Sydney driver service to Sydney Airport, 10.20 scheduled/10.50 actual flight to Incheon 19.00 scheduled/18.41 actual, airport bus to Gimpo airport then taxi to my wife’s brother and sister-in-law’s house in suburban Seoul.

As an Australian, I get 90-day visa-free entry, but as a COVID measure I had to apply for an electronic travel authority. I applied several weeks ago, and got an email with a big green tick and ‘application complete’. When we got to the airport, I showed it to the check-in person, who said I needed a second email with ‘K-ETA granted’. There was no other email and he checked the ETA system and couldn’t find mine. He said I’d have to apply again. I logged on (hooray for mobile phones) and after entering my passport number and email address got a message saying ‘A valid authority already exists’. I showed that to the man, who meanwhile had called his supervisor who checked in a different way and that worked. So I was through. (There was also a second, related procedure I had to do online but that went without a problem. We had our temperature checked but didn’t have to answer any questions about ) I also had a minor delay in getting my hiking boots through the scanner. (My wife got an actual visa in order to operate bank accounts, mobile phones and possibly other things here.)

South Korea has an extensive network of airport buses to various places around greater Seoul and most cities further afield. We took a bus to Gimpo Airport and a taxi to my wife’s brother and sister-in-law’s house (approximately Mok-dong). When she gave the address, the driver told her to repeat it to the GPS app, which processed her speech into a destination … then dropped us a block away, which we had no hope of recognising in the dark (though we knew we were very close). BTW J’s brother is currently working overseas and her sister-in-law is visiting him, so we have their place to ourselves. 

There were small patches of snow on the ground and a forecast of snow overnight, and there’s a tiny amount on the roads this morning. There is no more on the 1-2 week forecast.

Mornings are very dark in the middle of winter. I’m typing this at 7.30 the next morning, and the eastern sky is just beginning to lighten. Compared to it being full daylight when we left home at 6 am yesterday. In fact, the daylight map on the plane showed that the sun sets in Seoul before it does in Sydney, even though Seoul is further west. 

4040 steps, car, plane, airport bus, taxi. Food: airline bibimbap and spicy pork.

Korea trip 2022-3, the day before

This trip has been a long time coming. In September 2019 I got a full-time casual job which looked to be more stable than my previous part-time and/or casual and/or short-term work. I talked to my manager about the possibility of taking casual time off in September 2020 for an overseas holiday, and she agreed. By March 2020 my wife and I had generally agreed on two weeks in South Korea and two weeks in Europe. Then COVID travel restrictions happened.

Once restrictions were eased, we started planning again. In between, my causal job was reclassified as permanent ‘cos I’m awesome, which entitles me annual leave with full pay (4 weeks, for Australians). We decided to skip Europe and spend a month in Korea. We chose January because my work is a bit slower in January, plus there are several public holidays as well as my annual leave. My wife and her colleagues decided to shut their restaurant for the duration, to the disappointment of some customers, but they need a break after working very, very hard for a long, long time (with no annual leave allowance). My wife grumbled a bit about visiting in deep winter, but we’ll go at different times on future trips. I love the cold weather. I originally assumed that Lunar New Year/Seollal would fall after we left (because of the lunar calendar), but was pleased to find that it falls very early next year, and will be a few days before we leave. 

We investigated hotels in the Jongno/Eulji/Dongdaemun area but a brother and a friend of my wife offered accommodation in two different middle-range suburbs of greater Seoul, which means I will have to spend varying amounts of time on trains rather than actually doing things. But some things will be more convenient; her friend lives one station from a major historical site which is high on my list of things to do. My list is actually longer than the number of days we’ll be there. And that’s not counting the social engagements at short notice that will no doubt happen once my wife is there and contacting people. And that’s only in and around Seoul, with a few day and overnight trips. Several suggestions for a 3-4 day trip further afield have been left by the wayside.

Once I get there, I will give all monetary amounts in KRW. For reference, the exchange rate for major currencies today is KRW10,000 = GBP6.53 = EUR7.39 = USD7.86 = CAD10.63 = AUD11.68. (If you can’t remember that, the first approximation is KRW10,000 = more or less 10 of those.)

This blog is mostly anonymous (at least to people who don’t otherwise know who I am), which means that I can’t directly identify anyone else. I will refer to my wife as ‘J’, which is the initial of English name she sometimes uses. Everyone else will be some family or friend of hers or friend of mine, and/or initials. The first three are her brother DS and sister-in-law MH and friend HK. I will update when I can, but it may not be every day. There will be photos.

The last few days have been a combination of getting things done and not becoming too overwhelmed (with greater or lesser success). 

I have already set the alarm for 5 am tomorrow. The temperature in Sydney will be approaching 30 degrees by the time we leave, and will be below zero by the time we arrive at Incheon. Among other things, I need to pack suitable clothes in my carry-on.

Meanwhile, photos of my previous stays in 2006-09 and 2015-16 can be found here and here.