Unfortunately we didn’t spend long in South Korea as we found flights to Vietnam for £73, leaving four days after we arrived. All the rest of the flights were well over £150 the following week, so we had to bite the bullet and have a very quick trip round the country. South Korea was unexpectedly a lot cheaper than Japan and currently 1£ = 1466Won. Leaving Japan I had no issues at all with my diabetes equipment, everywhere recognises that diabetics travel and have no issue with you carrying needles and injections in your hand luggage. We flew into Busan, a city on South Korea’s south coast, where many South Koreans head for the weekend or for their summer holiday due to the beautiful, large, yellow sand beaches. We booked a hostel for one night, a three minute walk from Hueandae Beach and with great views at night of the city lit up. In July and August the prices of the hostels are over double what we paid at the beginning of September due to the high demand, with the cheaper hostels costing 30000 Won. There are tons of bars and restaurants, with plenty of choice of food on the main strip leading up from the beach, which makes for a great evening out. We took a walk along the beach at sunset, catching views of the city starting to come to life. If you walk to the far end of the beach there is a coastal walk, consisting of a wooden walkway weaving its way along the coast, which takes about 20 minutes for a spectacular view of the Gwangan Bridge.
The following day we planned to catch a bus or train to Seoul but hadn’t seen any of Busan apart from around Hueandae Beach. We decided to take a trip to Gamcheon Culture Village, which was a bit of a distance from where we were staying but was well worth it. You have to catch two metro trains and end up at Toseong Station. From there leave via exit 6 and catch a bus up the hill to the village. The bus costs 1000Won each way and I would recommend buying a map for 2000Won which gives you all the information you need. Gamcheon Village was a former slum which has now been vibrantly decorated with murals and sculptures by the residents. We headed back to our hostel pleased with our morning exploration to pick up our bags and headed to the bus station in Hueandae. One think to note is that there are 2 bus stations in Hueandae, one for local buses and one for long distance buses. The one you need is on the main road up from the beach, take a left on the main road and the bus station is up on your right. Buses leave every 40 minutes to an hour costing 26800 Won. This is by far cheaper than the train which costs 50000, is very comfortable with air conditioning and big reclining seats. We didn’t reserve our seats in advance and this was ok, there was plenty of space on the bus. If you’re travelling in the busy months of July and August it might be that you need to reserve a ticket. Our bus left at 14:30, stopped for half an hour at 17:00 for a toilet and food break (there’s no toilet on the bus) and eventually arrived at Seoul East Bus Station at 20:25. This is quite a way out the city and took 45 mins by Metro, from the stop at the bus station, to reach City Hall stop. We were staying near Hongik University which has hostels for £10 a night and good connections to the city. City Hall is 5 stops away on the Metro and costs 1850 Won and from here you can explore a lot of the main attractions. The 1850 includes a 500 Won deposit for your plastic card ticket which you claim back by inserting it into a machine once through the gates and your destination.
As we only had one full day on Seoul we tried to make the most of it and visit the main attractions. I originally wanted to go to the border with North Korea but you can only do this as part of a tour and need to book this a few days in advance. For our first attraction, Deokhongjeon Palace we got off at City Hall and walked up the side of the station. There was a traditional military ceremony going on outside the palace which was great to see. I don’t know if this happens everyday but its worth swinging by to see if you can see anything. From here carry on up the road for 15 minutes to Gyeongbokgung Palace. This costs 3000 Won to enter and the architecture is great and the grounds are huge. It was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty built in 1395. Spend some time exploring the grounds and sitting in the shade of the trees overlooking the lily pond. If you leave from the Folk Museum exit there is a bus stop directly outside where you can catch the green number 11 shuttle bus to Seoul Main Station. This bus says it does a 2 hour loop of the city but from our experience it doesn’t. Double check with the driver when you get on that its going where you want to go. Tickets cost 1000 per trip and they all go to Seoul Station. Using the Metro at the station buy a ticket to Samagaki Station for the war memorial and museum. I found this all really interesting as I didn’t know much about the Korean War and this tells you everything you need to know, its free to enter and there’s lots to see and learn, so give yourself a couple of hours here. Outside to the right of the museum there is a display of tanks, planes, boats and army vehicles used during the war. There are also plenty of cheap vending machines around outside to grab some refreshments if needed.
To get to Seoul Incheon Airport you catch the Airport Line. There is a stop on another line called Incheon but this isn’t what you need. I’ve heard stories of travellers getting confused with that so be careful! From Hongik Univerity the ticket costs 4650 Won, including the deposit and takes about 45 minutes. Some of the trains don’t go all the way so double check the electronic boards before getting on the train. The airport is huge and incredibly busy so give yourselves plenty of time to check in and get through security. We had tickets to Vietnam booked with Vietjet airlines and when checking in they asked us to provide an itinerary. However we had obtained a three month visa so had no itinerary to speak of, at least not one written down, or a leaving point decided. In the end we showed them our visa forms and this was enough. We applied for our Vietnam visas online but ill explain that in my next blog. Going through security they pulled up my bag when it was scanned and checked my BM kit. After one look they said it was fine and sent me on my way to Vietnam.