by special request… what I might do if I had a 12 hour layover in Seoul

Standard

First, I’d take the Airport Limousine (actually just a bus with nice seats) to Jong-No (종노), the information desk at the airport will tell you exactly where to catch it, and then take a taxi to Gyung Bok Gung (경복궁), the largest and most impressive of Seoul’s palaces, open until sunset (not everyone finds their way to the far end of the palace, but it’s my favorite part).

Jong-No Tower, a very good landmark, you'll recognize the donut top!

the secondary gate of Gyung Bok Gung

After an hour or two of wandering, I’d head out the west-side gate, near the folk museum and large pagoda-like building, cross the street, turn left,  and explore the restaurants and coffee shops of Samcheon-dong (the European restaurants are good here, but not really the best place for Korean food). If my legs aren’t too wobbly from the flight and the palace, I’d climb the very steep steps and keep going a few blocks into Bukcheon-dong Hanok-maeul (Hanok=traditional house, maeul=village), a beautiful area of persevered and restored aristocratic houses from the 18th century.

up a side-street from Samcheon-dong

rooftops of Bukcheon-dong

When I’ve had my fill there, I’d flag the first taxi back toward the city and head to Jogyesa (sounds like Joe-gay-sa) the head Temple of the Jogye order. Don’t be shy to go sit, or at least walk through the huge main hall, just take off your shoes first…

in front of the main hall at Jogyesa

inside the main hall

The next street over (across from the temple) is Insa-dong, a tourist street filled with traditional shops, tea houses, restaurants, and street vendors. A lot of stuff is a bit over priced, but you can find some nice stuff, or just enjoy looking. From here, you can follow the street back to where the bus first dropped you off. If time/energy allow, across the street is Seoul’s biggest concentration of neon-lights, lots of restaurants and bars. Just behind it is Cheongyecheon stream, a nice place to sit, deep your feet in the water and relax before catching the bus back to the airport.

a street performer in Insadong

a cup of traditional iced Omija Cha, Five Flavored tea, made from dried Chinese Magnolia Vine berries.

neon lights in Jong-No

Cheonggye Cheon (Cheongye Stream)

These are my suggestions, they’re all relatively close together, the palace is just over a 5 minute walk from the temple, the traditional village about 15, but a steep 15, that would be the most energy consuming. If you do head up the hill, there’s a beautiful traditional tea-house that’s worth checking out, too. Taking the cable car up to N-Seoul Tower is fun, too, really great views of the entire city. It’s nice after dark, and not far from Jong-No. Also, the tea shop that I’ve spent many hours in over the past few years is just a minutes walk down from the temple. They’ll invite you to sit and drink tea with them for free, let them know I sent you, and they’ll be happy! They can also point you to a really good traditional restaurant just around the corner where you can get some really good bibimbab, among other things. Careful for the “yuk hwae bibimbab” it has shredded raw beef. It’s not bad, but you probably don’t want to end up with it anyway! ^^

N-Seoul Tower, on Namsan, a small mountain just a few blocks south of Jong-No

view of North Seoul from the tower

Kkik Da Geo tea shop, just down from Jogyesa Temple

some helpful terms:
I’m going to Jong-No = Jong-No ga-yo (good enough for taxi drivers and getting bus tickets)
Where is Gyung Bok GungGyung Bok Gung eodi-eayo (sounds like audi-eh-yo)
Hello = Annyoung hasayo
Thank you = Gamsa-habnida
restaurant = shik dang
toilet = hwa jang shil

12 responses »

    • the thunderstorms seem to be beating out the heat, but still…

      late October/early November is probably my favorite time (after cherry blossom season!)

  1. Great post Joseph!

    I took my parents on pretty much this course, and later my mom was a bit disappointed because she heard about all the big shopping markets that I didn’t take her to! Sigh. ^-^

    So if shopping’s your thing, go to Namdae-mun market, and maybe, maybe, Itae-won.(Not a great vibe there.)

    Actually Joseph, I realized last night that they’re having the formal unveiling of the rebuilt Kwanghwa-mun gate today. If we’d had thought about it, we could have gone and checked it out last night!
    (Joseph and I were drinking tea just around the corner from Gyung Bok Gung palace, and Kwanghwa-mun is the huge fortress gate just in front. We were only a five minute walk away!)

  2. Great post! Fabulous tour!

    (Let me add one thing – if it’s a Saturday, nip into the Buddhist English Library near the top end of Insa-dong to say hello to a bunch of really nice people and a wonderful monk!)

    Wonderful photos too!

  3. Thank you so much Joseph! I find jet lag makes layover excursions daunting but this looks like a perfect way to walk off the plane legs and the map and phrases will make it so much easier.

    Is annyoung hasayo pronounced “ann young” or “annie ung” or “ann yo ung”?

    Thanks again. I am really looking forward to seeing Seoul now!

    • Hi Eris,

      Ann young is right on (I think it’s literally ‘an nyoung’ though)…

      As my friend pointed out above, they re-opened the main gate to the palace today, so the map shows a detour that’s no longer necessary, you can walk right in…
      Also the stream starts straight down from the palace, but I made it seem as though it starts further on.

      What time do you get in?
      I finish work at 4pm, my # is 010 6567 6412 if you need anything.
      My wife’s number is 010 6575 6412 if you need anything before 4pm. Her English isn’t perfect, but if you speak a bit slow, she’ll understand.

      Actually, if you’d like we could probably make it into the city, if you’d enjoy company for dinner or something! (Although, I’m assuming you arrive early and leave in the evening…)

    • Actually, my wife just said she’d like to meet in you Seoul with Fina, and show you around, if you’d like. She’s never been to the main palace, we’ve always gone to the smaller ones together, and she could show you the best places to eat and stuff. She can make sure you find the bus back to the airport, too! haha

  4. Oh wow, I would absolutely love to meet you and your family in person but my flight lands at a rather inconvenient 4am and I leave for Singapore at 4pm. Maybe we can try again next year on my return trip in June? Libraries and friendly people being some of my favourite things, it seems I’ll need to go back on a Saturday anyway.

    In the meantime I’m going to try and stay out of trouble so I don’t have to bother EunBong but I guarantee you her English is better than my Korean.

    Thanks again for everything Joseph! All the best to your family and I do hope we’ll meet soon!

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