Sunday, 6 April 2014

My Guide for Seoul (Part II)

Well, hello you travel-lovers out there. This is the second part of my personal guide for Seoul. The first part covered some of the city's more known and famous sights and activities. This part will focus on my own very personal favourites.
They might not be new or groundbreaking discoveries, but they stand for experiences which I enjoyed the most during my stay. So, let's get cracking!


On a sunny spring day we decided to do something completely different. We wanted to leave this crowded and sometimes stuffy city and exchange it for a little adventure and let me tell you:
We were not disappointed!

Bomunsa is a temple located on a small island close to Seoul. Getting there is a bit tricky and it takes some time, but embrace it, because you get to see a lot of the country outside of Seoul. 

Getting there:
The easiest starting point is the Sinchon metro-station. Outside the station is a large bus terminal with different bus stops scattered throughout the street. The bus you want to take is the number 3000, which is on the left side of the metro station across the street. It might be the easiest to look for a Paris Baguette, which is nearby. The last stop of this bus is Ganghwado (강화도 ) terminal and this is where you want to get off and transfer. You want to take a bus which will take you to Oepo-Ri (외포리). From there you can take a ferry to the island where Bomunsa is located. 

Seagull-craziness on the ferry

You last step will be to take the bus to the temple.

On the whole you have to plan in about one and a half up to two hours of travel depending on the traffic and the same procedure on your way back. So, it is quite a time consuming journey, but it is worth it, trust me!

The temple is on a pretty steep hill, so make sure to wear good shoes.
Once you reach the first level of the temple you will be greeted by the wonderful chanting of the monks, fresh air and gorgeous buildings. I found the statue of a sleeping building especially beautiful. However the main attraction is a big carving of a seated Buddha at the very top of the hill.
Be prepared for a lot of steps!

How beautiful these lanterns must look lit up in the dark
I did not take a photo of the Buddha carving, because I did not want to be disrespectful, but the combination of the chants, the great air and the overall atmosphere created at this place make all the troubles worth it!

Bomunsa was one of my personal highlights of this trip. All the people we met were so nice and kind to us and Bomunsa itself is just beautiful. If you have a day to spare, go there!

Entry fee: 2000 Won

Additional notes:
- Getting to Bomunsa is difficult, but the travel expenses are alright. Getting there and back cost us maybe 10.000 Won.
- you should prepare a generous lunch box, because we did not see a lot of opportunities for a good meal. So, we were lucky, that we had stocked up on Onigiri and other food.

Bukhansan National Park

A few days after our trip to Bomunsa, we wanted to discover a bit of nature and Bukhansan seemed to be the perfect destination. The national park is in the north of the city and can easily be accessed by the metro in about 45 minutes (starting at Seoul Station). My very first advide would be to wear good shoes again, hiking shoes would be the best. Additionaly comfy clothes and a lot of food are staples as well.

After you made your way through a long street full of shops dedicated to hiking-items you will reach the national park. At the information center you will be provided with an English map and a possible route. We recommended a route to the peak of Dobongsan, followed by a walk over the crest to a second peak. On the whole we were supposed to manage our walk in about four hours.
See that bald peak? Yep, this is where we went
The first part of our walk was quite easy. You could feel how your heart rate went up, but it was not too challenging, but the higher we got, the harder and steeper it got, forcing us to take regular breaks. At first we did not expect to go to the very top of the mountain, but in the end we went for it. Up on top we were exhausted, but utterly happy and we were rewarded with the most amazing view over the city!

During your journey you have to be very careful. The stone can be slippery and you will not always have a rope or a handrail to keep you safe, so always stay attentive! Also, it was quite cold and windy at the top, so you might want to wear a hoodie or something similar. However, I do not know what it is like, when it is warmer.

On the whole this was the most exhausting day for us, but also the happiest. Again, we got to meet a lot of nice people, who were sometimes quite worried about us, wondering if we were okay. We shot some amazing photos and at the end of our four and a half hour long walk, we had this amazing feeling of sleepiness and achievement.

Don't forget to reward yourself with a great meal afterwards! We went for chicken and cheese fries at „Chir Chir“.

Experiencing a Korean Spa

If you want to spend a whole day just pampering yourself, you have to go to a spa! We tried out the „Spa Lei“ in Gangnam and the „Dragonhill Spa“ near the Yongsan Station. „Spa Lei“ is an all female spa, but both of the places are well prepared for foreign customers.
After leaving your shoes in one of the lockers, you will get your clothes, towels and a bracelet to keep track of your spendings.
After getting undressed you will be able to choose between a lot of different types of baths. They have different temperatures and in some cases various ingredients which are supposed to be good for your skin and health. Make sure to take a shower before entering your first bath!

Both spas also had saunas and in case you are willing to pay something extra you can get additional beauty treatments like a massage or a full body exfoliation. If you want to take a break, you can go to one of the restrooms and take a nap or watch a drama.

Especially the Dragonhill Spa has a lot to offer. Apart from the area which is for women only, there are mixed floors with different activities and an amusement hall, but we stayed in the female only area.
Our favourite place in both spas were the basins outside, because you could stay in there for a longer period of time and a slight wind every now and then was also quite nice.

Once you are done bathing and relaxing, take a seat at one of the little tables to shower and wash your hair (so bring your shampoo and shower gel). Some women go really crazy at this step, putting on masks and all the good stuff.
At the end of the day you will feel very relaxed and let me tell you: My hair did not look that amazing in a long, long time!

The entry fees are very reasonable:
Spa Lei: 12.000 Won
Dragonhill Spa: 13.000 Won
And even without the extra treatments and the food (which always costs extra), you get a lot for your money at both of the places.

Molly's Pops

Molly's Pops was one of our favourite spots in Hongdae. It is not cheap, but if offers you a great selection of very different ice cream flavours:
Chocolate Chip Mint, Mascarpone, Cheese, Milk Tea, Beer, Matcha, Grapepruit, Peach... they have it all! 
 Also, the lady, who runs the store is so kind!
All of the creamy flavours are very creamy while the fruity ones are very refreshing.
In March they had to raise the price for one ice cream pop from 3000 Won to 3500 Won, which might sound a bit crazy for some ice cream, but just try it! You will definitely get hooked!

Miscellaneous and additional advice

- After your arrival, go and get a T-Money-Card. You can purchase it either at one of the vending machines at the metro stations or at a convenience store. You can use it to pay for travelling by bus, metro and sometimes even taxi and at convenience stores.

- If you want some more culture, go to the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan. It is entry free and you get a lot to see mixed with an amazing view to the famous Namsan. Also, the architecture of the building itself is stunning.
Tip: We went to the museum first and then made our way to the Dragonhill Spa.

- The area surrounding the City Hall is very nice to walk around. From there you can go to the Seoul Museum of Art and the Gyeonghuigung Palace.
On our way to the art museum

The City Hall and its' surroundings
This concludes my overall guide for Seoul with all the places I would everyone recommend to see. I did not include specific places to eat or drink, because Seoul is always changing, always evolving. A lot of the places we went to during our first stay in 2012 have disappeared and new ones popped up. A great pub or restaurant we went to might not be there anymore once you get there. 

Always remember that travelling is about having fun and experiencing new things.  So, no matter what your next destination is, be open-minded and do not overplan your journey. Sometimes the best things happen, when you just... go with the flow, my friends!

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