South Korea was indeed a very interesting country to visit. Not only is it rich in culture and tradition but its also involved in what perhaps is one of the most intriguing yet dangerous political situations to date.
Korea was probably the country I had little knowledge about out of the whole entire trip, so it was great to learn so much more about its history and the current state it finds itself in.
We stayed in Seoul for four nights and just like Hong Kong, its a very modern and an efficiently run city. The people of Seoul were a very friendly and patient bunch and for a city that is only sixty miles away from the borders of North Korea, they were so relaxed and getting on with their business especially when the North consistently threaten with their nuclear and ballistic missiles tests. Its just bonkers to think that Seoul is exposed to such dangerous weapons and that at any moment an attack could happen. But hey, lets not dwell on that because Seoul was such a brilliant place to visit with a lot of fun things to do.
When we first arrived, we took it easy and only being five minutes from Seoul metro station we were able to be flexible in what we wanted to do such as visiting Gyeongbokgung palace which was built in the fourteenth century. With huge grounds containing living quarters, gardens, pavilions and other various halls, I was blown away by the sheer scale of the place and to this day the government are in the process of restoring parts of it which were damaged during the war.
During our stay we discovered a few areas that were just fantastic when it came to eating and drinking.
Firstly Gangnam, yes, that’s right Gangnam, home to Psy (of Gangnam style fame). Unfortunately we couldn’t’ get hold of Psy himself to see if he wanted to party with us but we did bump into John Torode (Masterchef presenter) eating and drinking at a Bavarian bar. Anyways back to the subject on hand, we went to arguably the most epic of all fried chicken places. Korean fried chicken is the bees knees and this particular place (unfortunately for the life of me I can’t remember the name, sorry!) was delicious. The chicken is coated in a Gochujang marinade before it is either fried or battered to your liking. Oh and another thing, they do not hold back on the portion sizes either, so you definitely get your Wons worth. Hands down, the Koreans do the best fried chicken around and since that night, I had fried chicken with all my meals and that’s no word of a lie.
The other area that we visited was my favourite place in Seoul, called Itaewon. Why? because the people there know how to have a bloody good time and there were a number of banging restaurants, bars and pubs to choose from. Fat Albert’s pub was the best for value for money. Like Hong Kong and Japan, alcohol was ridiculously expensive but at Fat Albert’s, they do special deals and the Cass (local beer) was dirt cheap and we were drinking there all night long.
Along the same strip as Fat Albert’s there was a cracking bar called Ramie’s. The food there was out of this world and this place could rival any top restaurant in London as they do Modern European small plates such as ceviche, grilled octopus, forty hour pulled pork sliders to name just a few. My god was it to die for.
Not only that but next to the Fuller’s style pub (which by the way rinsed our good money on crap beer) was a restaurant that did their own take on dishes. There’s one dish worth mentioning there and that was the Kimchi pancake and damn that was good as it was loaded with gooey cheese and streaky bacon.
The Koreans love their Kimchi and I’m the first to admit that before coming to the country I couldn’t stand the stuff but after relentlessly eating it with every meal I’m a convert and to be honest it goes with everything.
We did the DMZ tour (De-militarized zone) and unless you’ve been living under a rock your entire life, you should know what this is all about. I implore everyone to do this because it is essential and well worth the money. Get brochures or talk to your local hostel/hotel guides to help you book a day.
We started the day by meeting up with our guide and a group of other tourists. Our guide Han (or his English name, Ron, just don’t ask) was brilliant as he had a wealth of knowledge and shared so many bizarre stories about the political situation.
Like I said earlier in the blog, Seoul is only sixty miles away from the borders of North Korea and half an hour into our drive towards the zone we saw outposts and barbed wire fencing along the river banks which went on and on and on. It’s crazy to think that a place as chilled out as Seoul, do not take any risks in case something happens. And not only did we think that was bonkers but along the fields, metres away from the roads, the South have laid C4 mines in case the North start rolling in with tanks.
During the tour we stopped at various points to learn more about the zone and why the zone is in place. We encountered tunnels that the North Koreans dug to try and invade the South and even as I write this the South are still trying to locate and discover other tunnels.
We visited the observatory where we met South Korean soldiers patrolling the area as well as being able to look beyond the borders with the aid of a telescope.
There is one positive note about the situation that the South Koreans find themselves in and that is the station and rail tracks they built because they hope this action will bring unification with the North. Even our guide had an upbeat view and a real determination that this will happen in the future but in reality we all know it seems very unlikely as Kim Jong Un is one crazy bastard with no interest communicating and working with the rest of the world. The DMZ tour was mind blowing and it just highlights how fragile the whole political scenario is.
All in all Seoul was a great city to visit and I wish I stayed a little longer there but who knows I could be back sooner rather than later as I want to party with those crazy-fun loving Koreans.