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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Comprehensive Seoul trip guide/run down - part 2

Picking up where I left off last night.... where was I? hmmmm, oh yeah.

Tapgol Park
Saturday morning we woke up exhausted from our lack of sleep in the Love Motel, but determined to have a great time anyway. We walked out of our motel and saw a pretty park across the street, so we went to Tapgol Park. This park was apparently established in 1890 and is renowned for being the starting point of the March first independent movement in 1919. So they have the Proclamation of Korean Independence engraved and lots of pretty buildings. See?

That was a very short stop. After that we walked towards the metro and saw a McDonald's along the way. Normally I avoid McDonald's in the US or Korea... but this morning I spotted the breakfast menu which had pancakes with real/fake syrup!! I was so excited we had to have McDonald's breakfast. After that we got back to walking and subway riding. We were carrying backpacks with all our stuff for the weekend, so they were pretty heavy but we couldn't check into our next place until 1pm. We headed towards Chandeokgung.

I won't go into a deep explanation of the significance of Changdeokgung, but wikipedia will. I'll just say that this is a must see when going to Seoul. It's one of two major palaces that are center-points to Seoul. There are other palaces, but the two we saw on Saturday are the ones to see if you can't see any others.

To get to Changdeokgung, either get off the subway at Jongno 3 and use exit #7 and head strait until you see the palace (about 3 blocks), or use the Anguk station and follow the signs.

It costs 3,000W to tour the palace and there are English tours several times per day. You can tour the palace without a tour, but the tour is very interesting and I think that's what made this my favorite palace of the trip.
Central receiving hall.

King's residence

Section of the palace the royal family lived in during poorer times.

When you get done with the tour of the palace, you can go on a tour of the "Secret Garden" or rear garden. This is wonderful and I highly recommend it. It costs 5,000W and you have to go with a tour group, they don't let you into the garden. There are English tours twice a day at 11:30 and 14:00, I assume you can go on a tour that speaks Korean or Japanese, but you should try to go on the English tour, because it is so interesting.  We went on the 10:30am tour of the palace which ends right before the 11:30am tour of the garden so you can do both. We lucked out as we didn't plan it that way.
The secret garden was soooo beautiful. This tour alone lasted about 1.5 hours.

Ma Ma Guesthouse
After this it was 1pm and we could start trying to check into a traditional guest house. We found one on the internet, but when we went and called, they were full. There was another guest house next door, but it was full too. They were so nice though, they said they knew of another guest house we could go to. Not only that but the proprietress actually told us to get into her car with her and she'd take us there. It was actually only a couple blocks away to the Ma Ma Guesthouse where they only had 1 more opening for the night.

I cannot emphasize enough how much we enjoyed our stay there. For those who don't know, staying in a guesthouse is staying in a traditional style Korean house. Which means sleeping on a futon on the floor. If you're lucky (and we were) you get a room with a bathroom attached, otherwise you share a communal bathroom.
Several pictures of the courtyard and a picture of the double room we stayed in. You can see our bathroom in the right corner. Some of the rooms have air conditioning, some don't. Ours didn't, but we were very comfortable. And like all traditional Korean houses, the floors are heated in the winter.

These pictures were taken from the Tea House across the street. Such a nice peaceful neighborhood. Only two blocks away from the Jogno 3 station (#7 exit and head strait), another block up is Changdeokgung. Notice all the flags on the sign? I think that means he speaks all those languages, he certainly spoke English well. These pictures are for your reference so you'll recognize it when you see it. :D

We could come in at anytime, we stayed out and drank a little (not too late, we wanted to get up and do stuff the next morning) and were told that we were "so early" when we got in at 11pm. I'm sure they don't mind the late night partier's as long as your respectful when you come back, the proprietors live there too after-all. In the morning, they fed us breakfast which included a hearty nut-bread toast, peanut butter, strawberry jam, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, oranges, orange juice, and coffee. We ate a lot and they seemed disappointed we didn't eat more, lol. So don't feel shy.

If you want to book here, don't count on there being an open spot, we were lucky to get the last one. Book ahead of time. Print this picture and take it with you, in the right hand corner are directions for a taxi driver if you have to get one. But remember, don't take the Black taxis!
The first # is a cell phone, this is mainly for if you get to the guest house and you're locked out (during the day), the proprietor has gone on an errand and will hurry back to let you in. If you get back late at night, and it's locked, you just knock and they'll let you in. You should call the other numbers to book a room.

In case you're interested, the neighborhood around the guest house (Jogno-Gu) is very nice. There are a lot of cultural stores to window shop at, or really shop if you plan on spending a lot of money to buy a hanbok, or a traditional Korean drum. There is also a coffee shop next door (on the way to Jogno station) and a Tea Shop across the street, which is very nice to sit at and relax in the afternoon at the outdoor seating drinking an ice tea and watching people walk by. 

Down by Jogno station is a whole another world at night time. Filled with food shops and drinking, it's a lot of fun if you want to experience how Koreans drink. Get some buchimgae (Korean Pancake), Makkeolli, maybe some Soju, sit outside and enjoy the people passing by as you chat and maybe get to know the people eating and drinking next to you. 

If you're looking for a more american bar experience, Itaewon  is only a couple stops away and has normal bars, though they are really expensive (7,000W beer anyone?). Make sure you catch the train back before midnight or you're prepared to pay the 5,000W-10,000W or so it will take to get back by taxi. (Don't take a black taxi!! and bring your directions with you so you can give it to the taxi driver if needed.)

Anyway, back to Ma Ma Guesthouse. They just opened so they don't have a website yet, otherwise I could recommend it to you.  It cost us 80,000W/night, which for a holiday weekend seemed to be what everyone was charging. It might be less at other times, we didn't ask. The proprietors were so nice to us, so accommodating, it was such a wonderful experience, so close to the palaces, night life and a nice quiet neighborhood, we're already planning on staying there when we go back to do a tour of the DMZ (DMZ tours were all booked this weekend by the time we got around to it). We recommend Ma Ma Guesthouse to anyone. 

Heck, while I was writing this, they called to let us know they had found my sunglasses and would we like them to mail them to us. lol. (Oh, yeah, I lost my sunglasses at the restaurant where the wife works, or she owns, I'm never clear on relationships in Korean restaurants.) We said no thank you, they're cheap, we'll pick them up when we come back to Seoul and stay with them. :D

Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of the restaurant where we ate lunch, but don't worry the Ma Ma Guesthouse can direct you there. It was good, and we had a traditional Korean dish we had not tried yet:
I also don't remember the name of this dish (I know I'm a failure as a blogger, I should have been taking notes. At the time, I was just hungry!), but I do remember what was in it: a Cornish hen (or chicken the size of a Cornish hen), stuffed with sweet rice, onions, figs, and ginseng. The ginseng was pretty intense, but it definitely gave us energy after getting almost no sleep the night before and walking since early morning. This was a very non-spicy dish, almost bland. Shannon and I actually started munching on hot peppers to liven it up. ;)

And this is a shot of Ginseng alcohol. I'm not sure if this came with the meal or if they just gave it to us (see how the Miguks like this!). It was intense but good. It gave you a rush a little like Red-Bull and vodka but without the dangerous caffeine.

After lunch we walked, yes walked, we walked everywhere!, to Gyeongbok palace. Which is the #1 thing to see when going to Seoul. If only because it's so awe-inspiring.

It costs 3,000W, for adults, to tour this palace as well and it's self guided or you can take a tour. English tours start at 11:00, 13:30. and 15:30. Unfortunately, we were right in the middle about 2:30, so we didn't catch a tour this time, we just went on our own.

You can exit Anguk station and walk the 2 or 3 city blocks to the palace, or you can take the subway to Gyeongbokgung station -line #3- use exit #5, OR (so many options) you can take the subway to Ganghwamun station -line #5- and use exit #2.
Shannon in front of the main part of the palace. It's huge!!

The throne room!

Ok, I didn't even get done with Saturday this time. I still have our evening to go over, Sunday and Monday, so stay tuned for more parts to this posting.

I forgot yesterday, but Andy says...

Thanks Andy!

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