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Korea mainly but also Hong Kong - September 2011 - Page 3

Day 7 - Friday, 9 Semptember 2011

Gyeonbok Palace

Gyeonbok Palace is a giant compound very near central Seoul. Once you are inside the grounds its hard to believe you are in the middle of the city, there is a mountain backdrop which has no buildings on it, the gardens are huge and the walls are high and numerous.
This is the biggest palace in Seoul, and it has been rebuilt countless times because Japan keeps destroying it. I think it was last rebuilt some time last week.
There are a few remaining stones from the version around 1400 from what I could work out.
Interestingly, since Japan keeps destroying it, the place was full of Japanese tour groups, complete with loud speaker guides, matching hats, whistles, flags etc.

In addition to the palace there is also a palace museum, which explains all the ways its been destroyed (fire, flood, meteorite, spontaneous disintegration, slug infestation), and the Korean Folk Museum, which had a dissapointing lack of swords. The Folk museum did however have a visiting Indian exhibition of all the various gods. I rank Kali the best, followed by Vishnu.

The palace, there will me numerous palace pics, get your scroll wheel / pinch to scroll feature on your whatever pad at the ready!

The gate is guarded by the guy out of Big Trouble in Little China, I really like the hats.

More Palace, no individual building seems more impressive than the others, theres a lot of very similar structures.

Inside one of the buildings, seems pretty drafty.

Random courtyard, the gravel made way for lawns as you got further into the compound.

This is my part of the palace, I have taken over and anyone entering will face severe consequences.

Some sort of satanic circle of rodent warriors.

Inside the Korean folk museums section on Indian folk gods.

A Lake area.

Building built in a lake.

Would you eat Vietnamese food in Korea? What if you were on the roof of the Lotte store and everywhere else seemed to have a dress code? Then of course you would.
Admittedly, I have Pho for lunch in Sydney often, but this is what sets Korea apart from Japan, when they have food from other countries here, be it Vietnamese, Thai, American, Chinese, Indian, it is actually quite authentic. I am sure if there was a Pho place in tokyo, the broth would be Miso.

At the 711, I was highly amused by this gift wrapped box of spam. Now my lunch at Din Tai Fung cost about $15 yesterday, including 2 drinks. This box of cans of spam costs $50.

My snack today, the excellent Japanese iced coffee mocha from Doutor, its not like iced coffee in Australia, its actual real espresso. Also some kind of 'soft chocolate', I havent tried one yet so dont know what that means, possibly like melty kiss.


Before I headed off to Dongdaemun, I found myself at Seoul station.
Tomorrow is the start of the 5 day harvest moon holiday called Chuseok, so people were already fleeing in droves, its traditional to return to your ancestral village for the holiday. Wherever I go I seem to be there when its the big holiday season, I was in Japan for all of golden week.
I hear nothing shuts though, and public buildings like museums are all open longer than normal.
As you can see below, the tv news networks have set up for live crosses to the train station to see people leaving for their holiday.

Dongdaemun is the new shopping mecca for teenage culture in Seoul. The name is as close to DONG DEMON as you will ever get, so I was on alert, because I think I have seen that japanese cartoon.
Theres 2 distinct areas, the traditional wholesale shopping areas, and the new fashion malls. Mainly this is an excuse to set up stages out the front and let people put on their 5 minute talent shows, as you will see below.
Oh yeah, I had some Korean food...

Korea and Japan have a lot in common, including cat cafes. I havent been (yet), because I will feel stupid being the only single person, and the only person older than 20 in the place. I will save that for a special occasion.

I decided to try a coffee chain that might be Korean, or maybe its American? Angel-in-us. Whatever it is, it was absolutely terrible, so my rule still stands, when in asia, starbucks makes the best coffee, when in Australia, they make the worst!
The interesting thing though is they give you this buzzer thing whilst they take 10 minutes to make your cup of tepid brown water, which is actually a video player showing ads for nearby stores. I had never seen that before.

Looking down on the bullet trains at Seoul station.

As I walked past, these people started bowing at me for no reason other than how awesome I am.

As mentioned above, these are the tv news stations setting up to show people leaving for their ancestral villages with moon cakes and spam.

Heres the scene at dongdaemun, the newer buildings are very new, most are not completely open yet.

This ride was pretty violent, it doesnt just spin it shakes up and down and throws people out of their seats, and then spins some more before they can sit back down.

Each store has an impressive and very loud stage setup. Some had an American idol thing going, others had a line up of people who got 30 seconds to dance to whatever song the dj chose, and then some had groups of girls with routines. I decided to photograph only the girls, to throw everyone off the gay trail.

They werent very good dancers, in Sydney you can see lots of groups practicing out the front of big buildings at night, using the windows as a mirror.

Heres where I had my dinner, it was a traditional, cheap looking place with no English.

I had to take the lady out the front and point to a picture on a sign, its Mandoo dumplings with various vegetables. I am not sure whats in the dumplings exactly, I would like to thing its dog, but they were nice. I got fried ones even though I showed her steamed ones. The noodles were cold, but I expected them to be. A huge meal for $4.

Day 8 - Saturday, 10 Semptember 2011

War Memorial

You would expect a country like South Korea to have a decent war memorial / museum, and they indeed do. Unlike many, it seems to celebrate war a lot more than reflect on the tragedy. I cant imagine in the Australian war memorial they would let you play pretend soldier computer games with m16's for example.
They also have an impressive collection of actual military equipment, which they often let you climb in and over. Perhaps the 2 most impressive are from recent times, they have parts of the actual torpedo that North Korea sunk the South Korean navy ship with only last year, and a big display about it, and they have the actual patrol boat that North Korea killed a few guys on in the 90's, completely riddled with bullet holes, and you can climb all over it and sit in the (dead) captains chair.

The building looks suitably stately, if a little grey.

The display about the sinking of a ship last year by North Korean torpedo, with parts of the actual torpedo recovered from the ocean floor.

Laser M16 shooting range, you can practice killing communists.

Mock up of a modern AEGIS equipped ships bridge.

There is a history wing, it has hundreds of large dioramas, when you stand near them it makes battle noises of people being slaughtered, plus they also have some excellent looking swords.

The actual memorial part, goes around the whole building, completely deserted apart from me.

The outdoor weapons play area, rockets, planes, tanks, helicopters etc. Lots more pics to come.

An F4 Phantom, these are huge, the photo doesnt really do it justice, easily twice as big as a Sabre.

The Sabre, which was the main American fighter in the Korean war.

An apache helicopter, most commonly used now for killing iraqi civilians to create videos for youtube from the gun cam.

This is a mig 19, the actual plane was flown into South Korea by a defecting North Korean pilot.

Inside one of the large transport planes.

A twin tailed transport plane.

Cant remember what this is, but it was large.

An F5 tiger, or whatever the trainer equivalent was called (T38?), as seen in apocolypse now dropping napalm in the ride of the valkyries sequence.

Me, standing in front of a B52. Whilst they arent as big as I imagined, I still cant figure out how they got it here. Surely they had to cut the wings off?

On board the patrol boat that everyone got badly shot to death on, which sits in the pool of rememberance. I cant figure out how the bullet holes went all through it, I will have to read about the incident to find out.

Looking down at the B52 from the fly deck of the patrol boat. In the bottom of the boat they have a movie theater showing a 3D movie recreation of the events of the day. You might recall that anytime anything happens now thats newsworthy, Korean animators recreate it immediately, they have done the same here, in 3D.

Looking in the other direction at the impressive collection of militaria.

Love Hotels

Single update for this afternoon and this evening. In the afternoon I tried to go to Gangnam. When I say tried, it seems I got out of the subway and went the wrong way. I wasnt worried, it was interesting looking at the various back streets I found myself in, but my confidence in 'there will be a subway station soon' was wrong, as the way I went was a line under construction.
Eventually the road signs said 'COEX' which I remembered was a giant underground mall that has a subway station, so I followed those signs, for 6.5km.
When I got there I was pretty exhausted, so basically walked straight through it, had a giant no fat frozen yoghurt and came home.

In the evening, I decided to head out on foot, cause you can never do enough walking right? I wasnt at all hungry following my frozen yoghurt, so didnt really plan to have a meal, instead I had some baked goods. The route I took was north of Myeongdong which came to more closed streets for market food and an amazing amount of cafes.
Cafes are the korean version of pubs, it seems no one really drinks, they go to cafes and sip chocolate drinks with cream filled goods instead.
However, in this area were lots of barbers poles (you dont get haircuts in these basement places), and 1 hour love hotels.
I realised I had stumbled onto the wrong side of the tracks when I saw a few large old men speaking Russian. I also saw a hilarious Korean biker gang, ride past in their leather...on scooters. I nearly laughed out loud.

Wandering down a lane lined with love hotels, they have vertical blinds that come down half way so you cant see whos coming and going, but I saw a guy come out of one in leather pants, some sort of mesh shirt with a big gold chain, a mohawk, sunglasses, and 4 girls.

Only food pic for the day, my no fat yoghurt meal, it was enormous, but I was starving.

A night time shot of the stream that runs through the city, had lots of peopel walking along it hand in hand. North of this stream is where things started to get a little more...colorful.

I was amazed to find more and more streets closed off to traffic full of restaurants and cafes. Theres at least 25 different cafe chains. I might have to give some another chance.

Thats a huge amount of dumplings.

Laneway full of hotels, they have signs showing you what rooms look like, some of them have beds with extra features, rotating, vibrating, also theres a lot of karaoke lounges around here with private booths.

Back nearer my hotel (starbucks didnt exist north of the stream that I saw), there are a large number of cinemas. The latest release movie is Mr Poppers Penguins, dubbed in Korean. I will probably give that a miss.

Last photo for today, I am amused this homeless guy has constructed himself a cardboard bed, on a stage.

Relatively small update, needed to be back at hotel for F1 qualifying, amazingly I get Star Sports live which has the telecast in English. Same deal tomorrow night for the race.

Day 9 - Sunday, 11 Semptember 2011


Incheon is actually a seperate city, it is basically joined up with Seoul but has its own metro, own very modern central business district etc. It sure looked nice and modern in pictures.
Getting to Incheon on the metro is quite an excursion, it takes about 90 minutes, if you dont get off and you dont get an express (I dont think they run on Sunday).
I had read up that there was things to see at a station on the way called Bupyeong, including a large chinatown area. I went to Japanese Chinatown in Yokohama, so thought I might go to Korean Chinatown near Bupyeong.
Once you get out of Seoul a bit, the subway stations become of a lesser quality, and so do the tracks cause the train slows right down, but at least you are above ground so theres a view. This train also had no electonic boards telling you what station was I had to listen out for BUPYEONG, in Korean.
So after some time of wandering around Bucheon, which sure as hell sounded like Bupyeong to me, I decided I was in the wrong place!

Reboarding a train, Bupyeong was another 4 stations further on, but whilst there were lots of shops and the largest underground mall I have ever seen in my life, there was no Chinatown!

Eventually I gave up looking, reboarded a train for Incheon. Imaging my surprise when the Incheon station (last station on the line), is in the middle of a port area with nothing but tank farms and ship building yards....and a very small crappy Chinatown.
Someone needs to update wikipedia. The modern parts of Incheon are nowhere near the Incheon subway station.
Alas, I found plenty to do anyway, and walked a very long way!

This underground mall was huge and frustrating. It was a grid with no exits and no signage. All the time I was looking for a Chinatown that didnt exist.

Eventually I made it out of an emergency exit, this place is pretty rundown!

Possibly a dog meat restaurant, or not, it was shut so I dont know.

The Bupyeong station, as far as I can figure out now that I am back at my hotel, you get off the train here to transfer lines to the other modern part of Incheon I never got to.

The gate to Chinatown at the end of the line.

There is a hill here, which is where US forces came ashore led by General Macarthur to remarkably end a war in stalemate rather than defeat. Stalemate in Korea remains the best result for any US military action to date, everything since then has been defeat.

This is some sort of monument dedicated to a 100 year anniversary of a US / Korea treaty signed in 1895.

Here is the monument of General Macarthur. He really did lead the troops ashore, I saw photos in the war museum yesterday. He came out of retirement to do it.

On maps I saw there was a seaside fun park on a nearby island (which is joined now by a causeway). There seemed to be a monorail to get there, except it wasnt running. So I walked under the tracks, through a very industrial area making MDF and big ass pipes.
I never saw another person.....1 hour and 15 minutes later I got to the next monorail station, which is the start of the nature park and fairground called Wolmido.

Strangely, to get to the sea, you walk through some slum like housing, its a strange location to live, possibly fishermen live there. Eventually I made it to the sea.

The fun park was pretty run down, lots of seafood restaurants. Im not sure how long the monorail hasnt been running for, but it reminded me of Brighton in the UK, largely abandoned and rusting. The park behind it was quite nice though.

The busiest part of the fun fair.

Theres some sort of rock pool filled with sea water which photos suggested you can swim in, it was a bit too cool today. Im not sure I would swim in it with that pollution skimmer thing nearby.

Nearby there was some more Korean Idol going on. There seemed to be a line up of potential contestants, all doing different acts, there was a juggler before this lady came on and screamed for 6 minutes.

To get back to Incheon, I wisely took a bus. The driver wouldnt let anyone swipe their cards which had everyone confused. Maybe because its Chuseok?

Dos Tacos

Another short update, for 2 reasons. 1 - I got back from the Incheon adventure some time after 4pm. 2 - I had to be back in my hotel after dinner before 9pm to watch the Italian grand prix.
I decided to head to Gangam again, cause I missed it last time by coming out the wrong subway exit.
This took longer to get to than I thought, I opted to stay on the circle line rather than transfer twice, thinking it would be quicker, it wasnt. On the way there took 55 mins, on the way back it took 20. I think the circle line train had crap brakes because he slowed down well before each station.

In Gangnam, a few things were closed and it was fairly quiet (comparitively), not sure if this was because its a Sunday, or because of the big holiday.
I got turned away from a couple of bbq places because I was on my own, which was frustrating, I was running out of time, then I spotted Dos Tacos! I was happy to be running out of time because it was great.

Buildings around Gangnam.

I literally stopped traffic to take this photo, I think it was worth it, the buildings actually arent that impressive.

Dos tacos, seemed like the real thing to me, the guy on the grill was very efficient. Certainly 100x better than taco bell, but that wouldnt be hard.

I got the three taco deal, one beef, one pork, one chicken, because I like to kill 3 different animals for my dinner.
I enjoyed the olives and cilantro. Strangely they were dipping the soft taco shells in water before throwing them on the grill, I will have to try that at home.
Time for the grand prix! There will be a better update tomorrow, I plan to go to the zoo, and everyone seems to love zoo photos.

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Latest Update

Day 1 - Saturday, 3 September 2011
  Adelaide to Brisbane
  Brisbane airport
Day 2 - Sunday, 4 September 2011
  Hong Kong Arrival
  Tsuen Wan
  Causeway Bay
Day 3 - Monday, 5 September 2011
  Repulse Bay...yes
Day 4 - Tuesday, 6 September 2011
  Shenzhen Again
Day 5 - Wednesday, 7 September 2011
  Hong Kong Airport
  Taipei Airport
  Seoul Arrival
Day 6 - Thursday, 8 September 2011
  Din Tai Fung Korea
  Yongsan and Itaewon
Day 7 - Friday, 9 September 2011
  Gyeonbok Palace
Day 8 - Saturday, 10 September 2011
  War Memorial
  Love Hotels
Day 9 - Sunday, 11 September 2011
  Dos Tacos
Day 10 - Monday, 12 September 2011
  Seoul Zoo
  Taking it easy
Day 11 - Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Day 12 - Wednesday, 14 September 2011
  Walk until lost
Day 13 - Thursday, 15 September 2011
  Korean National Museum
  Times Square
Day 14 - Friday, 16 September 2011
  Incheon Airport
  Tokyo Narita Airport
Day 15 - Saturday, 17 September 2011
  Sydney Airport