Ben arrived late Saturday night! I was waiting in the subway station when all of the sudden I got an email saying he was in my apartment. He managed to come out a different subway exit and beat me home; good thing I emailed him my door & room code.
We took it easy Saturday night and caught up over some Kkanbu chicken, a chain that sells some excellent dishes. We ordered Sweet Tender Chicken which is basically sesame chicken but more tender and a little more kick. Before bed we looked through our guidebooks and solidified plans for the next few days all while maneuvering around in my now cramped studio apartment. He slept on my foam mattress which took up most of the floor space that his luggage left open.
Sunday we planned on seeing a Hanok Village, hiking up Namsan to the Seoul Tower and wandering through Namdaemun Market. They are within 10 minutes of each other a great way to spend our bonus day (Ben was supposed to arrive late Sunday night but with the government shutdown got out of his assignment 2 days early.)
Looking for somewhere to eat nearby? Check out these great restaurants in Myeongdong!
We hopped on the subway and headed to Chungmoro station which was a short walk from the Hanok Village. Following the sign we made a sharp left and saw a traditional Korean house. On closer inspection it was aptly named “Korean House” and the sign mentioned the word “hanok” in Hanguel. Unsure if this was where we intended on going we stepped inside to find a smattering of Korean’s in authentic wedding regalia and an info box indicating that this was a great venue for weddings, meetings and other events. Pretty sure this wasn’t what we were looking for we left and kept walking hoping to find the actual Hanok Village.
A Hanok is technically a traditional Korean house but its more of a small community. There are separate buildings for men, women and different families and this was only one building. Walking a few more blocks and we soon realized we were going the wrong way and looked at our map before deciding to head back the subway to reorient ourselves. Upon arrival we immediately realized that we had taken the wrong left turn out of the subway. Skipping the sharp left we instantly saw the Hanok Village a mere hundred meters ahead.
Once inside the village we saw traditional Korean dancing and listened to music while wandering around the sandy courtyard. We passed on some kids crafts and games before finding ourselves staring into an ancient Korean household. The glimpse at this home from centuries past showed a more common lifestyle than the royal life I had previously seen in at Gyeongbokgung palace.
Inside each structure were samples of what little furniture they used along with some rugs and tapestries. There was an old kitchen with logs underneath big black cauldrons and elaborate screens along the walls. Some of the doors had intricate carvings while most passageways were open air. Continuing around the village we saw more of the same style house when we both realized how hungry the walk here had made us. We hoped to try a traditional Korean meal in the Hanok but unfortunately the only food was from a vending machine. We left the village in search of an eatery but I made sure to pause and pose as Ben took a shot of me as a Hwarang (the Korean equivalent of the samurai) defending against the Japanese invaders.
We wandered down the street Looking for some authentic Korean and quickly passed on the Domino’s and Outback at the corner. Eventually we found a hole in the wall lunch joint in the basement of the skyscraper towering above. We picked it largely because of the pictures out front and were happy to find pictures in the menu too! I was glad I knew enough Korean to order since the waiter didn’t speak any English; Ben got bulgogi jeongol, a bulgogi hotpot with veggies and a side of rice and I got the samgyetang, ginseng chicken soup (same as what I had after the palace I mentioned earlier). Our banchan came out and was shortly followed by the entrees. We decided to skip Namdamun market and head to Changdeokgung, a nearby royal palace, and devoured the rest of our meals leaving just enough so that we could each try both dishes.
The palace was a short subway ride to Anguk station. Changdeokgung is a UNESCO World Heritage site and full of vibrance and beauty. Unfortunately the cloudy sky above made the scenery a little more dull than we would have liked. Not letting the weather bring us down we strolled through the palace grounds.
We came upon throne rooms and majestic staterooms. The buildings had a similar feel to Gyeongbukgung but the layout of the palace was entirely different. Changdeokgung is laid out to be in harmony with nature and the surrounding landscape. It is laid out in a a seemingly chaotic nature although the architects in fact took great lengths in designing the second of Korea’s “Five Grand Palaces” to provide good feng shui with the nearby mountains.
Walking around and around we stumbled upon the secret garden at the rear of the enclosure; sadly it was sold out. I guess I’ll just have to visit again. Wandering back down we found a section that was a little less elaborate, likely the old servants quarters. Even though it was not as colorful the design was still beautiful and the layout of buildings and trees provided a nice scene given the dreary sky.
The sun was making its way toward the horizon when we decided to start out towards Namsan. We wanted to arrive around dusk so that Ben could get a glimpse of the city in daylight and see how the landscape changes as the populous switches their lights on to bring a brilliant glow to the blackness of night. It was a short trip to Myeongdong subway stop and Namsan was at the top of the hill. We briefly looked for a place to grab some grub but were unable to find anything in English and decided get something at the top.
Heading upwards the ramp switched back and forth between stairs and a steady path. It curved around to the left and leveled off before going back downhill. Wait, downhill? We want to go up! Were we going the right way? Stopping at the first sign with map we decided we’d taken a wrong turn and turned around. Luckily there was still plenty of light and the rubberized path was quite pleasant to walk on.
We passed joggers and hikers, a small team of runners, a few bikers and a restaurant with a trickling fall out front. Checking out the menu it looked appetizing but we opted to keep hiking when suddenly our path hit the road and we were next to the cable car. We were back at the start but decided to hike the rest of the way and were glad to have some confirmation that we went in the right direction.
This path rarely leveled out and seemed to be an endless series of stairs. It curved in and out of the forest giving teases of the beautiful view at the top. We kept saying we would wait for pictures when suddenly there was a walkway out of the forest with a spectacular scenic overlook. I took a panoramic shot with my phone while Ben took a handful of photos with his new Nikon 7100. A brief water break and we continued upward.
With Seoul Tower growing larger we knew it couldn’t be much farther. Step by step; up we went. At the next staircase the hum of the cable-car grew louder and was quickly followed by a view the massive gondola and Seoul Tower through the trees. A few more steps brought us to a snack hut where we declined the fish-flavored roasted roll up in favor of a corn dog. Just up the next set of stairs we found the signal fires and remnants of the ancient walls that protected the city.
Happy to be on the flat pavilion at the top we took in the sights and Ben snapped a few more shots of the city. The sun hadn’t quite set yet so we decided to wander down below deck; only finding a souvenir shop and some overpriced restaurants we settled on grabbing some ice cream at Coldstone.
By the time we finished our chilling snacks the sky had gone dark. We walked over to our favorite overlook and Ben pulled out his spider-like tripod. He wrapped it around the railing to steady his night shot and snapped a few more. Hopefully I’ll be able to add his pictures in soon!
The walk down was much less eventful and thankfully faster. Monday I’ve got work and Ben will be exploring the city on his own. We’ll meet up for dinner after work Monday and Tuesday but our next big adventure will hopefully be to Suwon to see Hwaesong Fortress!