Stopover In Seoul

With over 10 million people, Seoul is the largest city in South Korea and unquestionably the economic, political and cultural hub of the country [...] Seoul is an exciting location in its own right, not to mention cheaper than its rivals and incredibly safe. With beautiful palaces, great food and a shopping nightlife, Seoul is a frenetic way to experience the Asia of old and new.

-- TravelWiki

Seoul was another one of one-day 'layovers', similar to Cairo and Dubai - not really enough time to experience all that it offers, but still better than not checking it out at all. I got in late in the evening and made my way to the Birdsnest Hostel (my review) I was staying at just to spend the next fifteen minutes ringing the bells to no avail until one of the other guests heard me knocking on the door and let me in. Once there, the owner was very apologetic and seeing how tall I was, offered me to stay in a single room for the same price as I paid for the dorm.

Dinner was next on the to-do list so I went out and jumped into one of the Korean BBQ places. Not knowing a word of Korean and with nobody speaking English there, it was an interesting experience, but I was still able to get myself a very nice dinner.

Next morning I had about four hours to spend in the city before heading back to the airport, so I met up with Helene, a fellow couchsurfer who has lived in Seoul for a few months and was looking for someone to join her to explore some of the sights. We met up downtown, near Deoksugung palace, just in time to watch the change of guards ceremony after roaming around the 'palace' for a bit.

Korean palaces turned out to be very modest, with large empty areas inside and mostly wooden structures serving as meeting halls and living quarters inside. The decoration was mostly wooden ornaments painted in vivid green and red colors - not something I imagined when I thought of a palace.

Next, we walked up to the Changgyeonggung palace. On the way there, we saw lots of police, some in riot gear, standing or running around. It appeared to be in response to a silent protest by a few hundred people moving from one place to another.

As with Deoksugung, behind the impressive walls there was a lot of empty space inside Changgyeonggung with groups of buildings here and there. With the palace being restored multiple times, it just seemed to be too 'neat' and did not really appear that historic.

We spent quite a bit of time just walking around the palace before it was time for me to grab some quick lunch and head back to the hostel and then to the airport to catch my next flight.