Wow. Everything is so huge here. We can’t get out of the amazement. No matter where our gaze goes: high-rise buildings. Even the smaller ones are at least ten stories high, the others are forty or more. Sure, ten million inhabitants have to be accommodated somewhere, but after we just drove through Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, we are already overwhelmed by the sheer size of Seoul.
On the way to the vacation we stop in South Korea. In Seoul to be precise. This is convenient because we have never been to Korea before and all flights from Ulan Bator to the Philippines require a change in Seoul anyway. So we postponed the onward flight for a few days and booked 5 nights in a hostel in Seoul. The hostel room (advertised as double room with bathroom) was so cheap that we got a completely wrong impression of the price level of the city. This became painfully clear to us when we checked in, when we saw the windowless basement room with the almost one square meter bathroom. We knew beforehand that we would be sleeping in a bunk bed – which might have made us wonder. Well, after all, it is quite clean and the washing machine is free of charge. So, let’s get into the hustle and bustle and explore the city.
Already while strolling through the quarter we notice that Seoul is the exact opposite of the last countries we visited: spick and span streets, coffee stores on every street corner and in between masses of luxury cars: MacLaren, Rolls Royce, Maserati. Bentley. Porsche anyway. But the mass brand is Hyundai. Of course, the cars are also built in Korea. But when we pay for our breakfast in the coffee store, we have to swallow: we can’t get away with less than 20 Euros on any morning. But coffee and bagels taste good and strengthen us for the day. And the order makes us grin every morning when the waitress asks: “Do you like your cappucchino hot or cold”?
We look for the contrast to the tidy streets and find it in the markets. Especially the food markets, which are abundant in Seoul, are very appealing to us. Some of them are specialized (e.g. market for frozen seafood), but mostly the assortment is like the clientele: colorful mixed. We try filled dumplings, pumpkin porridge, dried persimmons and discover new things again and again. Unfortunately, the stomach is always full much too fast, the mung bean roastis and bibimbap have to wait a little bit.
Next to the markets we simply roam the alleys and let ourselves drift. The streets (yes, even in the middle of this city of tens of millions of people) are getting smaller and smaller and the stores more and more numerous and tiny. We have the feeling that Seoul consists of thousands of small stores and handicraft businesses. If you find a store with baking equipment (e.g. for cupcakes), there are at least ten to fifteen stores with about the same assortment. The same goes for sticker stores and stores for packaging material. And for everyone else. Reasons seem to be easy in South Korea.
When you come back to the official malls from the markets and from the small alleys, you will notice the multitude of stores that deal with beauty: Makeup and care products seem to be important for the people here. Huge rows of shelves are almost exclusively filled with face masks. However, we also have to admit that Korean women are very well groomed and have mostly flawless skin. The white powdered faces take some getting used to. What we like in turn is that even young women here wear flat heels or sneakers. We know this very differently from the Ukraine and Russia, where we sometimes felt sorry for our feet, no matter how good the outfit was otherwise.
Anyway, we are glad that we wear comfortable shoes. We have decided not to walk much, among other things to spare Wolfgang’s damaged knee, but it doesn’t really work out. We have informed ourselves well about public transportation, especially to get a glimpse of the everyday life of the city and its inhabitants, but after we are caught up in a large demonstration in the center on the occasion of the Founding Day of the State with allegedly two million inhabitants, there is no chance to get into the subways or to find a cab. But running is the order of the day. And we are quite enthusiastic about the public transport. They are inexpensive and very well developed. We have bought credit cards and the cost per ride is debited when you enter the platforms at the turnstile. If the train emerges from the underground again, the card is reissued – and if the distance travelled is more than 10 kilometers, an additional charge is debited. The same in the buses. All clear, manageable and tidy. Whereby “manageable” was solved first-class in Seoul, both by the city planners and by Google. Google not only lists the subway line in the route description, but also the entrance that you have to take. Same for the exit: the number is called, at which one comes out of the depths again, in order to be as close as possible to its goal. This is not insignificant for underground paths of a few minutes. And easy to find in practice thanks to excellent (and bilingual) signs.
Thus mobile, we visit various districts, palaces and museums – and on the last day Yongma Land. Yongma Land was an amusement park that was abandoned in the 1980s when the interest of visitors waned. A few years ago a smart businessman bought the land and turned the picturesque decay into a business. Mainly photographers visit the area with us, also many K-Pop bands have shot their music videos here. We are enchanted by the charm of the rusting carousels and the manga figures standing around and enjoy the afternoon to the full.
But a big city is also exhausting, and so we are not at all sad that our flight to the Philippines is getting closer, especially since the weather is getting worse in Seoul. We are already looking forward to go swimming and relaxing. After the last months on the motorcycle we have definitely earned this.
And here we always have a slide show at the end of the articles for all those who are interested in more photos: