Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Seoul - Part I

The title of the blog is chosen with a serious hope that we shall visit the city second time so that there will be Seoul - Part II coming.  (Update:  We did visit Seoul second time, so part II will be there)  We bunked office on a Sunday morning and decided to hit Seoul, we started late and to our misfortune we were transported in, what we call a "passenger train" in India, a tad more slower than that.  Buying train tickets from the vending machine was yet another Herculean task with every character being in Hangul, thankfully an English speaking teenager helped us to get tickets to Seoul station.  

It took slightly more than an hour to reach Seoul station, though some of us had to do a bit of acrobatics to get out of the metro gates since the machine just said "can't" to their tickets they had bought.  After quickly dropping our tickets in deposit refunding machine, I saw some smiling faces in our gang for having gotten back a shining 500₩ coin out of 2100₩ that we had paid at Suwon.  After coming out of exit 14 of Seoul station, we had tough time to find the location of Seoul tour bus and in the end realized it was right in front of Seoul station main entrance.  We took the Seoul tour bus by paying 10000₩ which is around  Rs. 400.  The deal is like this - the tour bus keeps traversing the route every half hour, you can alight and board in any of the stops (could be palaces, shopping streets or other typical tourist places).  They provide you with a map and audio information about every place.

We first alighted at Itaewon shopping street, a cleaner  and an expensive version of our Commercial Street.  The conductor in the tour bus suggested that place for lunch, but it isn't a great place for lunch. We expected some cheap Korean restaurants but to our dismay it was all expensive Indian, Italian and Chinese restaurants; we, the non-vegetarians, had a cheap, ubiquitous McDees chicken burger and the vegetarians had cheaper French-fries. We boarded the tourist bus and alighted at Namsangol Hanok traditional village, in the Pil-doing area, at the northern foot of Namsan mountain.  The entrance is free and it has traditional Korean houses which displays various furniture and household goods of the people who once lived there.   It takes an hour to fully see this place.

We tried finding the cable car to Seoul tower but the cop told us that it would be crowded like crazy on a Sunday, so we took the tour bus and went straight to Seoul tower.  Standing proudly on Namsan mountain at geographically center point of Seoul city is the 237m tall Seoul tower.  When I first saw Seoul tower from the tour bus, it just didn't live up to the hype it was given by my colleagues, but then when I went atop the Namsan mountain I was just blown by the breathtaking view of the city.  The entrance to the tower costs 8000₩ (Rs. 320) and a lift takes you straight to the top of the tower.  It offers a spectacular 360 degree view of the entire city through a glass window.  It's quite disappointing for photographers for glass panes aren't that clean.  Each glass pane bear the names of cities and the distance from Seoul tower one would reach if he travels in that particular direction.  There are binoculars fixed which require 500₩ to operate, its worth that money for 3 minutes of totally zoomed vision it offers.

We descended the Seoul tower and went to a view point that we had seen by bus while ascending the mountain.  It offered some terrific views of the tower and the western part of the city, the golden sunlight of the evening, the chill in the wind, breathtaking scenery were all just too perfect.  Did some pano shooting, I badly wanted to stay back till sundown but in the interest of the rest of the team members I had to get back to bus.  Namsan mountain reminded me of Chipinque of Monterrey, I saw so many joggers, bikers and pet-walkers there. Some team members wanted to goto Yongsan digital market, realizing that the bus was going to take a long detour to reach there, we got off at a metro station and took tickets to Yongsan.  Yongsan market is a contemporary of Xijahui in Shanghai, it was almost closing time when we reached there.  Just inquired the prices of some electronic goods and took the KTX speed train (2500₩) which blazed to Suwon in just 25 minutes as opposed to 75 minutes of local metro.