Seoul wasn’t exactly a city I have been dying to visit. I really just spent time here because I had to connect to Mongolia. I did get a good feel for the city and found it to have some similarities to other Asian cities—Tokyo, Beijing, Bangkok—and many differences. The people seem to be more friendly than Tokyo and aren’t afraid to let you see them looking at you, unlike Tokyo. It was a bit polluted, but nothing like Beijing. During my time there it rained every other day and on sunny days the haze was quite thick.
I visited a few museums, The War Museum, The Korean National Museum, Palace Museum and Folk Museum. I enjoyed that areas that showcased Korean costume and everyday object from the past, but the National Museum took four hours to rush through and had a lot of similar objects. I was interested to see the metal movable type exhibit there, but it gets a bit redundant after a while, especially when you can’t read any of the characters. The War Museum seemed promising, as it may have been even larger than The National Museum but a lot of the space was taken up by monuments to soldiers and busts of famous generals. I assumed the museum would focus on The Korean War but it covered all wars Korea has ever been in from feudal times up until the present. In the end, even with English displays, I learned more about The Korean War on the DMZ tour. War buffs would enjoy it, especially the massive display of vehicles and equipment outside including a B52 bomber you can walk through.
On one sunny day I did walk all the way to the top of the hill where Seoul Tower stands. It’s basically a communication tower that has a few levels of restaurants and observation decks. The climb took me over an hour and I was covered in sweat at the top. I felt a bit disgusting walking around the deck next to Korean girls in their summer dresses all cute and sweat-free. I did pay the 7,000 won to get into the observation deck and see panoramic views of Seoul. Luckily it wasn’t too cloudy and I was able to get a better grasp of just of large and sprawling Seoul really is.
The night of Korea’s first World Cup match the city was abuzz and everyone was wearing red “fighting Korea” t-shirts. I wasn’t going to go out but decided at the last minute that I might regret it and headed down to City Hall. The area was already swarming with people before game time and I had trouble getting too far away from the subway exit. Pushing in I was able to get about a football stadium length from the main stage and screens and was quickly smashed between the crowd and a van. Vendors were selling light up red horn headbands and almost everyone had them on. A large stage was set up in one area where a rock band played before the game started. There are already a number of giant screen mounted on buildings in the area and the city had set up even more for the event. Teenagers were climbing on top of any vehicles parked including the portable toilets. At some point the crowd had shattered the glass elevator leading up from the subway, I assume when trying to climb to the top to see over the crowds. For a crowd so large (in the many thousands) where beer was being sold it was relatively calm and orderly. Korea beat Togo 2-1, I believe and when the game ended I jumped back on the subway and was at my hostel in about 15 minutes.
My second to last day in Seoul was very rainy and windy and after visiting The National Museum I ventured over to the Yongsan electronics market. Although I probably already have way too many electronics on this trip I wanted to pick up a portable hard drive that takes compact flash cards. My computer is over four years old and has a very small hard drive. With a portable drive I could download and backup CF cards (my photos) without needing my computer. It will also be good when I don’t have access to electricity but am still taking a lot of photos because the battery should last a long time. The model I was researching back home is made by a Korean company and I thought I could get it here. In the end, that model is obsolete and I got a different, smaller, lighter model. The price was only about $50-75 less than I would have paid back home, but that’s still quite a big difference. Hard drives that take memory cards aren’t marketed in the US, so I would have had to import it from Korea anyway. It was a big investment but should be helpful without adding any significant weight or space to my pack.
In the six full days I had in Seoul I did see a lot and did enjoy exploring yet another Asian city. I do think the temples, palaces and historic tourist sites are much better in Japan, but Japan did burn all of Korea’s historic buildings down so that’s not surprising. In the end I’m glad I spent some time in Seoul, but Mongolia is really where this trip starts for me.