RUN! That was my initial thought when I landed in Seoul and wanted to hit up all the sites in 16 hours. I had one tour planned and a few ideas on my list of what I wanted to see, but no game plan. Sometimes, no game plan is the best game plan.
I was traveling alone and didn’t know a word of Korean (wait…I still don’t know a word). Before my trip, I did some homework and studied a map of Seoul for days and tried to decipher what I could visually since none of it was in English.
I landed in Seoul Incheon Airport (ICN) at around 4am there, and the airport trains don’t depart till around 5am, but it gave me a few minutes to roam around the very spacious, clean and interactive airport.
I hopped on the train at the airport (easy to get to, just follow signs once you land and use kiosk to pay, about $8 for a single ride depending on where you’re getting off) and got off at Hongik Univ. It was so early that all the coffee shops were still getting ready to open, so I decided to just walk around and explore.
The infrastructure was impressive. Roads were big and buildings were modern and towered over me like wide giants.
I got a little adventurous and started to wander down small alleys. I realized it was the crack of dawn, and everyone was probably still sleeping. Quiet was a good friend.
Shortly after, a wave of young professionals came hopping out of cars and running in heels to catch buses. It felt like walking around Wall Street in the morning. The morning rush crept in and work-goers continued their morning commute while I tried to find my way around. South Koreans dress so trendy and coordinated, I felt a little under-dressed walking around at 5:30 in the morning. On a late October morning, it was brisk and a jacket and scarf kept me snug.
At 6am, coffee shops were finally opening and I had walked by two Starbucks but wanted to go local. I was starving so I went into this one below. I don’t remember the name but I got a coffee and used the wifi, two of life’s essentials.
I found that the language barrier was somewhat problematic, because some of the airport staff didn’t understand me and neither did the girl that took my order in this shop.
Found my tour bus and was greeted by a very nice tour guide who was proficient in English. I was off to Korean Demilitarized Zone, the front lines of the North Korea-South Korea border, the Dora Observatory, Imjingak Park and the Freedom Bridge. The rest was an experience I’ll never forget.
I’ll never forget seeing North Korea from a distance.
I’ll never forget seeing faces and evidence of hope in ribbons.
I’ll never forget walking through an infiltration tunnel designed to surprise attack South Koreans.
I’ll never forget wondering why humans are so divided.
“Unification is a Process. Not an End Result.” I love this quote. It speaks volumes. It was on some artwork at the Dorasan Station.
After the tour was over, I walked around Deoksugung palace and around in the vicinity.
I don’t want to put a lot into words about this trip because it’s something you will have to feel for yourself when you land, when you roam, and when you tour. South Koreans are filled with hope for unity and it was difficult to see that in a distance, there are so many that are secluded from “the world.” It wasn’t just learning about people’s hope that was so striking, but their confidence in their hope.
16 hours in Seoul is nowhere enough, but it’s enough to make you want to go back for more.