My 27th Birthday was about 2 weeks ago and I really wanted to write about it because we had a super awesome time! Eric & I had been planning on taking a trip to Seoul for the day, and since time (and money) were running short, we decided to combine that trip with my Birthday. I was super excited. Even though I’m typically terrible with directions & planning things, I spent the entire evening before figuring out all the details of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see in Seoul in our one day. Most travel sites said that trying to do all the big touristy things in a single day was impossible, but I wanted to prove them wrong! I also wanted to save money and not be dead exhausted by the end of the day, so there was quite a lot of planning. And, I think we pulled it off!!
On the morning of my Birthday we woke up around 7, grabbed our bags, and headed out the door. We decided to take the subway from Cheonan instead of the train or bus in order to save money, and it did save us a lot. We were on the subway for over 2 hours one way, but we had Podcasts to listen to and we just relaxed and enjoyed the ride.
A great bonus to planning our day was the fact that everything I wanted to do was within a few subway stops of each other! (Everything except for Gagnam that is. We wanted to visit the neighborhood for the novelty of it, but after some research about the area combined with the fact that it’d take a lot of time to get there, we decided to cross that idea off our list. Not really a big loss I think.) Having an on-line subway map to figure our beforehand was very helpful.
Our first stop after arriving in Seoul was breakfast (green tea donut from Dunkin Donuts? Ok.) and then the Seoul Tower. (Subway lines 3 & 4, Chungmuro Station, exit 2, right outside the exit is a bus that goes straight to the tower.)
Definitely worth it. The view was amazing, the wooded area around the tower and the mountain are gorgeous, and of course, we got a lock… Apparently years ago some people started a tradition where couples will attach a lock to the fence around Seoul Tower to signify their relationship: bound together like a lock. Today, there are millions of locks covering every spare space of the fences! It’s a spectacular sight to see. Many are rusted into a solid mass and there are long thick chains where locks have been attached to locks. Eric & I picked up a super cheesy heart-shaped lock at a convenience store near the tower. We wrote our names on it with a sharpie and, while a couple of Korean photographers snapped photos over our shoulders, we locked it in place over-looking the city, setting the numbers on the combination to my birth-date.
(You can spot our lock in the middle picture, hanging out over the city.)
We decided to skip actually going up the tower, and instead spent the extra money on the cable car ride down the mountain. After some slightly aimless wandering we found our way to a subway and headed toward the Bukchon Hanok Village. (Line 3, Anguk Station, exit 2.) The area of Seoul has been preserved to look the way the city did 600 years ago, with gorgeous traditional Korean architecture and winding alleys for tourists to explore.
So weird that this little serene neighborhood is in the middle of one of the world’s largest cities!
The village is a short walk to Gyeongbokgung Palace (one subway stop away) so we headed in that direction next. We encountered the National Folk Museum of Korea first thing, which, awesomely, is free! Eric was pretty exhausted from walking by this point, and ended up taking a nap in a very serene exhibit that invited museum-goes to lie down on floor mats and listen to nature sounds in a dark room (pretty much a perfect napping place). I wandered all throughout the museum while he slept, inspecting ancient Korean artifacts. I love museums.
(This is an ancient rain coat, hat, & shoes, worn during the summer monsoons.)
After this we headed deeper into the Palace grounds. I seriously love traditional Korean architecture so much!!
We happened to be heading towards to Palace main entrance to leave right as the Royal Guard Changing Ceremony was taking place.
After the Palace we slowly made our way towards Namdaemun Market, stopping along the way to take in some beautiful sights…
(traditional Korean calligraphy brushes)
(Buddhist monks chanting in the subway).
(Namdaemun Market can be found at subway line 4, Hoehyeon Station, exit 5.)
We actually didn’t buy much of anything at the market, though it was super fun to wander around. What we did end up spending money on was street food! I love street food! We had Dragon’s Beard Candy (two guys do a performance while they take what appears to be a rock-solid piece of honey and stretch it out until it looks like a massive tangle of fine white threads, then they wrap it around a mixture of chopped nuts. The finished pieces resemble stringy cotton balls and taste sweet & nutty), Yachaejeon (a batter made of vegetables and rice flour, fried like a pancake. Very onion-y and sometimes has pork mixed into it), and our favorite from the last time we were in Korea (that we hadn’t even seen until now): Gaeran Bbang (a mini loaf of what tastes like a cornbread-flavored cupcake with an egg baked onto the top of it). We call them “eggy boats”.
After leaving the market we headed over to Myeongdong (Line 4) to meet our old friend Tori. She lived in Cheonan when we did, 3 1/2 years ago, and now she’s a music teacher in Seoul. After some miscommunication (Tori: “How do you feel about cats and dogs?” me: “What, to eat…?” Tori, not hearing me because of the crowd: “Yeah, do you like them?” me: “No! Definitely not!!” Tori: “Oh… uh… I mean, you can pet them…” me: “What?! Before you eat them?! What, like a choose-your-own-lobster?! That’s horrible!!” Tori: “What…? NO!!”) she brought us to a “cat cafe”.
You go to the cafe (it’s upstairs, I included the link to the one we went to) and pay ₩8,000 (less than $8) as an “entry fee”, but that includes a free drink. Then, you hang out with DOZENS of adorable fluffy kitties!!! I loved them all so much!! There was a smoosh-face one we particularly feel in love with. And at one point one of the owners handed me a tiny bowl of tuna and the cats went CRAZY and swarmed me. I was in paradise.
Then Tori brought us to a tteokbokki that she’d never been to before. Tteokbokki is like a small half-hot dog shaped rice “cake” (much more doughy than cake-y) in a super spicy red sauce. Well, apparently the place we stumbled into is known as being super ridiculously spicy. When three foreigners walked in the owner lady acted super concerned and wanted to make sure we actually wanted to be there. Then, after serving us this massive salad bowl filled with bright red soup, she peered at us from the register watching as we took our first bites. Definitely the crazy spiciest thing I’ve ever had!! Eventually she brought us a beer, saying it’d help with the spice. Eric & I both got the hiccups (causing everyone else in the tiny diner to stare and quietly giggle), but it was seriously delicious.
While we were there my friend Elijah showed up to meet us!! When I was last in Korea I worked at a winter English camp and Elijah was my Korean teaching assistant. We’d gotten really close and have kept up our friendship long-distance. He refused to eat the tteokbokki with us, because it was too spicy!! He’d brought me a Birthday cake! And Birthday hats! And a candle! And a rose! So sweet! We decided to move over to a Starbucks where having a mini Birthday party seemed less out-of-place and enjoyed cake and the company.
The last subway we could catch and still make it back to Cheonan left at 10:19, so we said some sad goodbyes and ran to catch the subway (literally one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen was Elijah waving goodbye as we disappeared into the crowd!).
The subway trip was long and slow, staring super crowded and getting more and more empty as we got further and further from Seoul. We arrived groggily in Cheonan sometime near 1:00 in the morning.
Amazing Birthday, amazing Birthday trip. And yeah, you can totally have an awesome and fun-filled single day in Seoul!