I love long layovers.
They are the best way to see and experience another city. It also helps you decide whether or not you want to go back again and explore it further or be simply satisfied with checking it off your list. Seoul was the perfect layover city from Japan back to New York. I spent seven amazing days all-over Japan, and even though I had a blast, it was also very exhausting. My Japan schedule had non-stop itineraries of excursions everyday and I was happy to finally kick back, relax and do a no-plans day in Seoul.
First of all, Incheon International Airport is pretty far from downtown Seoul. It is about 30 miles away (48 kilometers), so keep that in mind. Like many international airports, there are numerous transportations to choose from: Airport Railroad Express (AREX), buses, limos and taxis. I took the bus for 10,000 won and depending where you are headed, it is pretty easy to figure out and airport employees are helpful as well.
I got to my hotel around noon time just in time for lunch. I didn’t really have any specific plans other than to explore the city, walk around, eat street food, visit some historical site and definitely check out the Olympic Park. I collect Olympic Parks around the world and so it was on my must-see list.
What is the first thing to do when you arrive at your destination? Eat! Korean food is one of my all-time favorites. Did you say Korean barbecue? Bulgogi? Exactly.
Another important part of my travels is discovering street food. I’m not gonna lie, Seoul has definitely some interesting street food!
I was still tired from my Japan trip and my feet was still sore from all the nonstop walking I did. I could have easily stayed in my hotel room and sleep but why on earth would I do that? I stayed at Astoria Hotel in the Dongdaemun neighborhood, and the train station was not too far of a walk. I needed a destination and my priority at that time was to check the Olympic Park off my list.
As I headed to the train station, I noticed a traditional looking roof not too far from my hotel. Of course, I walked towards it and I’m glad I did because this unexpected turn led me to the Namsangol Hanok Village! A hanok village, is a village full of traditional Korean houses.
I love accidentally finding treasures like the hanok village. That’s the best part of exploring a new place without specific plans. I am a big fan of Korean dramas especially period dramas, and walking around this cute little historical village was definitely a treat. I might have lingered a little too long and I knew I cannot spend all afternoon there, but wait — I was in for more treat! On my way back to the main street, I stumbled upon a photo studio where you can dress up in a hanbok (traditional Korean dress). Needless to say, I went for it.
Playing dress up was super fun! The hanboks were beautiful and that was my chance to be a Korean princess even for half an hour! All I needed was a wangja! I also made a friend that day. Jina, the studio owner’s daughter was the one who helped me dress up and took my photos. We were having way too much fun taking selfies.
I wish I had more time in Seoul. It’s always a good sign when I say that. There was so much to see and do. I explored this part of the city as best as I could.
TAKE THE TRAIN
It only took me less than ten minutes to figure out how to get to the Olympic Park by reading a Korean map. And yet, I still don’t know how to take the subway in New York City. The park was on the other side of the city and it took three trains to get there. When I got to the park, I also realized that these Olympic Parks are HUGE and of course, the one landmark (World Peace Gate) I wanted a photo of was on the other side of the park! It was already dark when I got there and I have to admit I was a little nervous.
That fear disappeared as soon as I started to walk and enjoy the surroundings. It was too late to back out. I was already there and I really wanted to check this off my list. There were still people out and about, some couples, families, children and so I shook it off my mind. If anything, I told myself that on the first sign of danger all I have to do is RUN!
My Seoul experience might be short but I’m glad I was still able to squeeze in things that I wanted to do as well as discover hidden gems like the hanok village. I can truly say I didn’t feel like a tourist that day. I almost blended in. At least that’s what I thought.
On my way walk back to the hotel, I saw a cute cafe that was full of young people and so I decided to stop in. I mean what the heck, I wanted to live like a local and free internet also didn’t hurt. I think it was around 9:00 pm. The place was obviously a local hangout and I didn’t see any foreigners or expats around. I got my coffee, took a seat somewhere and relaxed. Looked at my phone and checked out the photos I took that day. I didn’t take any photos inside the cafe. I was having a good time people watching, trying to listen in on conversations and just taking in the moment.
It was nice. Real nice.
Maybe one day I’ll come back and also see the rest of South Korea. But for now, kamsahamnida Seoul.