Seoul in 3 Days
I had an unforgettable three days in Seoul, South Korea. From trying out some of their world renown skincare products, to sampling the street food, to touring the DMZ, to visiting shrines and temples, I am so happy I planned the trip. But, the morning before I was set to tour the DMZ, my travel companion and I were packing our suitcases in Tokyo to head to the airport, and we got some troubling news. A missile had just been launched over Japan by North Korea. Given the recent potential nuclear war headlines and back and forth between President Trump and North Korea’s unhinged leader Kim Jung Un… I have to say I thought twice before heading to Seoul... particularly the Korean Peninsula’s DMZ. But my friend and I decided to stick to the plan.
The DMZ is a bizarre and unlikely tourist destination in my mind, but that’s exactly what it was. Upon arriving I must admit it was a little SCARY when you realize where you’re standing... and what you’re looking at. We made sure to bring our passports, they are necessary for the tours. We had a soldier board our tour bus multiple times checking passports. It felt like more of a formality than anything, but it definitely made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. We hiked the third infiltration tunnel as a group. Unfortunately the guards are VERY strict about not taking pictures. I wasn’t even able to take my phone down there. It’s cool once you get to the end of the tunnel to peek through to the North. The tunnel was one of many dug by the North for the purpose of being able to transfer large numbers of their soldiers to the South (despite their agreements). Our guide also took us to the Dora Observatory. It’s one of the few places you can even get a first hand look at North Korea. It’s an unnerving place. But I’m so glad I got to see it… to feel it. It is important to note when booking a tour of the DMZ that the Demarcation Line that divides the North and South is something you may or may not want included in your tour. It’s call the JSA (Panmunjeom). The De-militarized Zone dividing North and South Korea is in reality guarded to the teeth with heavily armed military members. Both sides are stacked with electrical fencing, land mines, and God only knows what else. There is a meeting room some tours allow you to go into which is where the North and South signed the treaty. Following the DMZ tour I did a reporter hit from my hotel room on the show I used to host in New York City. The producers of Fox and Friends wanted viewers to get some perspective on what the feeling was like on the ground. In a word... unsettling.
While planning the trip the palaces and temples really caught my eye as spots I needed see. Viewing them in person took my breath away because they are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In Seoul I got to see the Jogye-sa which is the largest Buddhist temple building in Seoul. The ornate murals and carved doors were quite impressive. You can also get lost among the lotus flowers. This was probably my favorite landmark to see in the whole of Seoul… and number two overall from the Asia trip… number one as you can probably imagine was the Great Wall of China when we got to Beijing.
We also stopped by the Gyeongbokgung palace, the biggest and oldest one. I loved seeing the changing of the guard ceremony. We just got there for the tail end of it… and had to book it to get there. Our tardiness may have also had to do with me taking a couple detours to take pictures with girls dressed up in traditional Korean attire. This was similar to what we noticed in Tokyo with a lot of girls walking around with legit kimonos on. There are places in both cities to rent the ‘costumes’ if you’re interested… and if the weather isn’t too HOT! If you notice in one of these pictures… my little baby bump is poking out! How funny! And in the other picture… I am hiding behind the pretty girls! LOL Sneaky sneaky! I hadn't shared my news yet... so that's why the picture to the left hadn't been posted!
Between two palaces is the Bukchon Hanok Village of old wooden Korean homes. Most of them have tiled rooftops and are adjacent to courtyards. Aside from the commercial businesses that have seeped into the area, being in the village felt like a bit of a step back in time, highlighting the contrast between Seoul’s skyscraper apartment living of today with individual wooden homes of the past.
I would venture to say most westerners (myself included) think of Korean BBQ or kimchi when we think of Korean food. But my absolute favorite dish was something I had a couple times called bibimbap. I want to learn to make it! It is a rice dish served in a piping hot stone pot. A runny egg covers countless veggies (loads of dried seaweed)… Because the pot is so hot the egg gets cooked and mixes in with everything. It is so tasty. The street food can be hit or miss. But I must say, aesthetically, it was incredible. The shapes they could twist ice-cream, fruit, and other sweets into… just impeccable. There was a lot of creatively fried street foods too. I think you’ll see exactly what I mean if you watch the YouTube video I put together.
Spending time in some of the world’s largest cities there are always moments that take me back to the years I lived in New York City. Seoul is a place of go, go go and it was nice to spend some time in some serenity, in a riverside park called, Cheon-gye-cheon. There are man-made waterfalls, walking paths, bridges, artwork. It’s part of a pricey revitalization project the city did that involved ripping out a highway and side streets to bring some nature to the urban environment. This is somewhere I would have loved to spend a lazy afternoon if our trip were a couple days longer.
I also enjoyed spending a bit of time at the N Seoul Tower. It’s a great place to get a bird’s eye view of the city and hang a lock if you're there with your lover. You don’t need a ton of time here, but I’m glad we went!
If you're planning a trip to Seoul too and trying to figure out where to stay... Seoul Intercontinental COEX is a great option! My friend and I stayed there during this epic adventure. I want to say a big thank you to IHG for helping make this trip possible! COEX is in a great part of town attached to a massive high class shopping mall. We made sure to work out in the gym every day… but one thing we realized we missed out on the morning we left?! A bath house/spa. It looked absolutely top shelf.