Originally, I had planned about a week in Seoul, when I would get my Chinese and Mongolian visas and then move on. But someone on Couchsurfing in Beijing sent me a message an warned me to avoid China from October 1-7 due to the National week long holiday, so I decided to spend the extra time in Seoul.
I managed to make a few friends in Seoul and actually used the Couchsurfing hangouts feature quite a bit here.
I arrived in Seoul via the KTS high speed train from Busan, which cost about 60,000 won ($60USD). From there I took the subway to Kimchee Guesthouse in Hongdae. Hongdae is the University district of Seoul, so has a lot of cafes, restaurants and is popular for hanging out for students and tourists, but less westernised than the nearby Itaewon area, which became somewhat westernsied due to the US Military base nearby.
I had a pretty cool experience on my second night in Kimchee. I was chilling out in my dorm room when an old Chinese guy poked his head in, he was checking in to the same dorm. He didn’t speak a lick of English, but gestured and said he was from China. I did the same for Australia, but it was obvious that we weren’t going to be able to communicate easily so that was that. Then a few minutes later he took a phone call, and answered with ‘Moshi Mosh’ – the Japanese greeting for phone calls. I sat up and as soon as his phone call was over, I asked him in Japanese, ‘Do you speak Japanese?!’ (Nihongo dekimasu ka?). He said he did and was amazed to hear me speak a little bit. So we had a good chat with my toddler level Japanese and had a good chat over the following four days. It was the first time I ever used a second language in a third country to have a meaningful conversation so it was a proud moment for me, and I made a bit of a habit of going to Japanese restaurants in Seoul after that to use Japanese some more (and for the food).
On September 10, I met up with some guys from Couchsurfing hangouts and we went to a party for Expats in Korea. It was Alzaro (Indonesia), Minjae (Korea), Luca (Germany) and I. The party wasn’t anything special, but we met a few other guys there; Jimmy (US) and Chan (Korea) and we all went to Secret Society club afterwards.
Unfortunately, Kimchee Guesthouse wasn’t an enjoyable place to stay. It was dirty, full of workawayers who had their own clique, and the staff weren’t friendly. The only time they showed any interest was when I checked out and they asked for a 10/10 review. That was my motivation to give a shitty review, normally I wouldn’t leave any review.
After deciding to go to Mongolia before China, I went for my Mongolian visa first, on 13th September. I arrived 30 minutes after they opened at 9.30am but was still 30th in line. As the clock approached closing time (12 noon) I was worried I wouldn’t be called in time after 2.5hrs waiting, but because so many people before me had already given up, I got in with 5mins to spare, paid the express fee and picked it up the same afternoon, no problem!
On September 14 I had arranged to hike up Mount Bukhansan with some others from Couchsurfing, plus Jimmy and Alzaro. It was a pretty tough hike up, abou 3 hours up and 1.5-2hrs down. Unfortunately it was a little hazy but still pretty cool at the top.
The next day was Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving equivalent. Thankfully my time at Kimchee was over and I moved to Birdsnest Guesthouse, which was a nice small place in what was basically a house. Then Jimmy and I met up and went to a Pro Baseball game together. It was my first baseball game ever and it was a cool experience, not as boring as I expected! And after we met up again with Alzaro, Chan and another guy from Hong Kong and got Korean BBQ.
On the 15th, Jimmy, myself and an Irish girl (from Couchsurfing) watched the AFL Semi Final in Itaewon at Tony’s Aussie Bar and Cafe, run by former Choirboys drummer Tony Le Rhodes, who dropped more C bombs in a minute than anyone. It was good to watch some AFL for the first time in a long time!
Given how much time I had to kill I spent a day wandering around the Nandaemun Market, City Hall and the Palace, and also changed hostels again to Dustin Guesthouse right in the middle of Hondae, as Birdsnest was just a bit too quiet. I ended up meeting up with some couchsurfers again on the 21st September, we went for drinks and Korean BBQ, then Karaoke, and then more drinking until 5.30am. This wasn’t the best idea for me as I had an appointment for my Chinese visa at 9am that morning. I ended up canceling before going to bed, thinking I could easily get it in Ulaanbatar in Mongolia. This would later come back to haunt me.
On the 23rd, I had booked a tour to the Joint Security Area (JSA) along the DMZ border with North Korea. You can read about that here.
Then on the 24th I met up with some Couhsurfers on the Hangouts app again. This time It was Jiyou and I, and we went for drinks in Hongdae and later met up with some others and went to a few bars and clubs and ended up going to bed at 6 or 7am, also repeated the following night until 2 or 3am.
My last night in Seoul Jimmy and I went for Korean BBQ and hazelnut beer (the best thing ever). Then Chan met up with us later to say goodbye, and finally Jiyou arrived in Hongdae as well. In the morning I caught the subway to Incheon Airport, changed my Korean Won over for US Dollars (they didn’t have any Mongolian Tuhgrik) and caught the plane to Mongolia!