22 May - 04 Jun 2013 Seoul

East Asia
Republic of Korea aka South Korea
Comfortable and clean a/c dorm bed with private locker for KRW 14,000.- or US$ 12.40 per night. Free wifi. Fully-equipped communal kitchen with fridge and a modern, homey lounge with large roof-top terrace. Great international backpacker atmosphere.
Laundry: KRW 3,000.- per DIY load (washing and drying).
Enthusiastic and very helpful management and staff; excellent (Canadian) English.
Beer: 500-ml cans of ice-cold Korean Golden Lager (c. 5 % alc./vol.) for KRW 2,600.- or US$ 2.30 per can from any of Seoul’s many 7Eleven convenience stores; or better: 500-ml cans of imported Martens Hackenberg Pils Lager (c. 5 % alc./vol.) for a more reasonable KRW 1,390.- or US$ 1.25 per can from the nearby (Venezia Megamall) Emart, Korea’s No. 1 Discount Store.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Kimchee Dongdaemun Guest House in Seoul, which we would highly recommend, and for directions:

Matt: Growing my Korea legs and exploring, almost in Gangnam Style, the lively neighbourhood of the simply brilliant Kimchee Dongdaemun Guesthouse +8227426696, located right in the action-packed heart of the Dongdaemun suburb, but only 200 m north of the tranquil Cheong-gye-cheon, the soul of Seoul, a beautifully landscaped stream (with waterfalls, rapids, footbridges and 25 different fish species in the clear water) running through the centre of northern Soul and out to the Han River.

Matt: Glimpsing Seoul’s fascinating feudal past at three different p(a)laces: (i) the 1395 CE primary, symmetrical (in accordance with the main axis of the meridian) Gyeongbokgung Palace (to English: “The Palace Greatly Blessed By Heaven”, entrance: KRW 3,000.- or US$ 2.60 per person, including admission to the greatly edutaining National Folk Museum +82237043114), guarded by a detail of South Korean elite soldiers in Joseon-era uniforms, (ii) the 1405 CE secondary, dissymmetrical (in perfect harmony with the area’s topography) Changdeokgung Palace (entrance: KRW 3,000.- or US$ 2.60 per person) with its large Secret Garden (entrance: KRW 5,000.- or US$ 4.40 per person), an enchanting highlight with ancient trees, hidden pavilions and serene lily ponds, and (iii) the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Jongmyo Royal Shrine (entrance: KRW 1,000.- or US$ 0.90 per person) which houses the spirit tablets of the Joseon Dynasty kings and queens (the spirits are believed to reside in a small hole bored into the wooden tablets).

Matt: Slogging up the slopes of the White Tiger Mountain aka Inwangsan (338 m above sea level), enjoying stunning views over sprawling Seoul, South Korea’s 600-year old “ancient modern capital” and an impressive metropolis with 10 million hard-working/partying and always friendly “kimchees”, and visiting afterwards Seoul’s most famous shamanist shrine Guksadang, its stone altar loaded with mainly two categories of perfectly agreeable offerings for the spirits, with cash (but only 1,000 won bills) and booze (but only low-proof Chamisul soju).

Matt: Remembering the fact that Buddhism was first introduced to Korea during the Koguryo dynasty in 370 CE and clearing my lonely mind at Seoul’s two major Buddhist temples on both sides of the Han River: (i) north of the river, at the Jogye sect’s busy headquarters at the 1910 CE Jogye-sa Temple where Zen meditation is the name of the game, and (ii) south of the river, at the more secluded, 794 CE founded Bong-eun-sa Temple.

Matt: Going on photo-safari and window-shopping (thus living our travel mantra: “Take only snapshots, kill only time and leave only foot prints.”) and getting repeatedly lost in Seoul’s huge markets: (i) the overwhelming and Seoul’s most famous Namdaemun Market where day and night 10,000 stores and stalls deal in everything from genuine and spicy Korean pickled squid aka ojinguh jut to fake and not-so-vintage Korean antique tea pots, (ii) the fashion-conscious Dongdaemun Market +82220480500, where 20 shopping malls with 30,000 specialty shops and 50,000 manufacturers sell all kind of textile dreams, from biodegradable underwear to hereditable hanbok at wholesale prices, and (iii) the nearby Gwangjang Market with Seoul’s longest food alley with some 200 stalls specialising in mostly unhealthy but tasty traditional Korean dishes (e.g. thick and fatty but perfectly vegetarian mung-bean pancakes aka bindaetteok).

Matt: Discovering lekker kimchee in countless sour and spicy varieties, Korea’s distinctive and highly sophisticated “sauerkraut culture” (made from pickled Chinese cabbage, radish, cucumber, eggplant, leek, mustard leaf and pumpkin flower, among others), high in fibre and low in calories, which is neither vegan nor vegetarian, but pescetarian since some of its base ingredients include fish sauce, salted shrimp, anchovy sauce or some other kind of dead seafood.

Matt: Touring the Demilitarised Zone at the thirty-eighth parallel (with reliable and professional Cosmojin, +8223180345, KRW 46,000.- or US$ 41.- per participant), one of the last relics of the Cold War, thus (i) spying with high-magnification binoculars from Dorasan observatory into lightless and starving North Korea, (ii) climbing into the communists’ 73-m deep third infiltration tunnel (and, in vain, trying to listen to the hungry breathing of North Korean soldiers behind the three security walls at the end of South Korea’s interception tunnel) and, eventually, (iii) wondering how much longer, due to the lack of a condom in Pyongyang, c. 31 years ago, democratic South Korea and the free world will have to worry about nuclear threats launched from this overeating and emotionally immature Supreme Leader, First Secretary of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, First Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea and Supreme Commander of the (North) Korean People's Army, all in all one of the most dangerous clowns on earth (...who still seems to have a higher approval rating than Barack Obama).

"Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we'll come from the shadows..."

Matt: Entering Incheon’s touristy Chinatown (within easy day-trip range from Seoul, subway fare: KRW 1,850.- per person, one way, c. 60 min) through the First Paeru, the ornate traditional gate that marks the main entrance, and exploring both Korea’s relations with China in the past (statues of Confucius and General MacArthur as well as colourful murals illustrating historical scenes from Luo Guan Zhong’s classic novel The Three Kingdoms) and in the present (souvenir shops with imported cheap kaoliang from Kinmen/Taiwan as well as hordes of noisy package tourists from Red China).

Matt: Learning about Korean swordsmanship aka muyedobotongji, which was systematically arranged and bloomed in the days of King Jeongjo (1752 - 1800 CE), at Suwon’s impressive 1796 CE Hwaseong Fortress (entrance: KRW 1,000.- per person), a UNESCO World Heritage Site and only a convenient 70-min subway trip away from downtown Seoul (subway fare: KRW 1,850.- per person, one way).

Matt: Applauding the incredibly talented and creative Korean folk dancers (sajo dance, jindo drum dance and even a Korean fusion tango), folk singers and folk musicians (gayageum, janggu and other drums) of the Chumsae Dance Company and Kang Eun-kyung Traditional Fusion All Group at a fantastic and dynamic performance in Seoul’s Unhyeongung Palace.

Matt: Looking down on Seoul’s traffic jam from the dizzy heights of the iconic N Seoul Tower (admission to the observation deck: KRW 7,000.- or US$ 6.20 per senior citizen), enjoying stunning panoramic views of this immense metropolis at sunset, trying to count the number of pad locks which were connected for ever and ever to the railings around the tower, an urban romantic island, and inscribed with the lovers’ pet names, and recalling the last three times when Konni and I visited together similar towers during our travels: (i) the Taiwanese Taipei 101, 1,477 km away, (ii) the Chinese Canton Tower, 2,073 km away, and (iii) the Canadian CN Tower, 10,608 km away, agh.

Matt: Participating in the 5th International Yoga Marathon and departing right afterwards from the Soul of Asia, thus taking the top-notch, ultramodern and fast AREX train (fare: KRW 1,350.- per person) from Seoul Station to Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport, flying hereafter uneventfully with Eastar Jet (“Exciting Flying”) in an old and well-worn Boeing 737-700 from Seoul over the 100-km wide Jeju Strait, which belongs to the South China Sea, to Jeju International Airport for only KRW 39,000.- or US$ 35.-, all inclusive, one way, thus travelling on the world's busiest passenger air route (10.156 million passengers in 2012 CE), and, after landing, taking city bus no. 500 (fare: KRW 1,000.- per person) from the airport to my next guest house in downtown Jeju City.

Click below for more blog posts about our big-city trips

Click below for a summary of this year's travels

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From the 2013 Moral Travel Compass for Our Grand Children's Journey of Life:
It’s bad to donate money to large charities;
It’s good to give food to individual beggars.
Keep your bearings!