12 Unexpected (but cool) things about Seoul

1. I didn’t expect people to make a fuss about The Intrepid Traveler and myself. I mean people are constantly coming up to us – asking if we need directions, if we know where we are going, asking where we are from. We finally figured out that the issue is that we’re alone. No tour group. I gather that ladies of a certain age (ok – over 65) – just don’t wander the streets of Seoul alone. It’s not that we’re in danger – it’s amazement that we are the kinda folks that would do that.


2. I didn’t expect there to be so few ‘North American’s’. In the Namu – our adorable hostel, there are no other North Americans. There is one guy from Edinburgh, (you are not allowed to call him English) – all the other folks are Asian or Indonesian. Interesting eh? We were waiting for a light in the Financial District – Downtown Seoul, and standing in a crowd of 30 to 40 people. Only one other person was Caucasian, and I didn’t ask where he came from.

3. I didn’t expect all the help. We went to a Korean BBQ restaurant – and they literally fed us. They spoke no English, we speak no Korean – so they gave up trying to explain how to cook the food – and did it all for us. That and wait on all the other tables. They even had to demonstrate how to take the leaves they gave us and wrap the cooked meat in them – my favorite – Mint leaves I think. And the BBQ sauce was yummy. Actually – the meal was Delicious – and would have been 5 stars if I hadn’t felt a bit like a 5 year old learning to eat!


4. I didn’t expect everyone to be busy. In most of the other countries we’ve visited – there are always groups of people, generally male, just hanging around. Playing board games, smoking cigarettes, lounging here or there. But not in Seoul. Everyone – from 2 years old to 81 (we asked – he told us) is busy, busy, busy.

5. I didn’t expect all the food stalls. I think I should have – in Bangkok – that was one of the things I most remember. But here they take it to an entirely different level. We have seen Fish counters – with ice chests full of fresh fish – set up on the shopping street around the corner. The gal doesn’t lack for customers either. Trucks drive along playing songs and selling food – right off the truck. We saw a chain of street stalls – vendors wearing identical uniforms (beige jackets – cute hats) and pushing carts with bottles of yogurt and milk. And there is the cooked food. In many cases – they actually cook to order while you wait. Fried dough, sauteed fish, I saw one cart that had deep firers with fish on skewers. You ordered a skewer – he dunked it into the firer for you. Now that’s cooked to order. We even spotted a lady with a machine for making creme filled Doughnuts while you waited. I even saw an ‘Expresso’ Van, a Coffee House on wheels.

6. Speaking of coffee – I totally didn’t expect all the coffee houses. Reviews from a year or so ago mentioned the challenge of getting coffee in the morning – while not any more. There is at least one coffee shop a block – a smattering of Dunkin Doughnuts and Starbucks (we export the best, eh?), but mostly clearly Korean owned and operated. Signs that say ‘Best Standing Coffee’, ‘Coffee by Stand and Drip’, ‘Coffee and Bean’ speak to local control and sign making. And they are expensive – signs outside announce prices in the 2500 to 4000 Won ($2.50 to $4.00) range – pricey even by our standards.

7. I am intrigued by the gender roles. In our guest house – the cleaner is the male host – he washed the dishes and vacuumed the floors. The guides at the museums are all women, the waitresses all female, the cooks all male. I don’t know if I’m drawing a conclusion based on insufficient observation or not – but it does appear that while everyone is super busy – there are assumed roles.

8. Did you know that Koreans take off their shoes when they walk into a house, a restaurant, etc.? All the traditional places, including our guest house, provided a space for you to put your shoes before you enter the house. I’m really glad I brought my Slippers. And I went out and bought seriously cute socks to put on if I don’t feel like carrying my slippers.


9. All (99.5% at least) of the women wear long sleeves. Now it’s fairly cool in May here – 70 degrees during the day – but the school girls are all wearing long sleeve shirts – and short short short skirts. So it’s not the weather. Even walking around downtown, we never saw a woman’s elbows. Beautiful suits, drappy skirts with uneven hemlines, plenty of short skirts with or without tights underneath – super nice fashion – but always long sleeves.

10. I didn’t expect all the English in the Museums – and the audio tours have been fantastic. All the museums and Palaces we’ve toured so far have English signs on many of the displays – and they all offered an audio tour – sometimes free. These were excellent. And they clearly post the times of English tours. We’ve taken 2 – once was just us – another was with about 20 other people – from a tour group of course. But not a ‘North American’ tour group – They were clearly Asian. So the languages here seem to be Korean – and English. I have seen signs in Chinese and Japanese – it’s easy to tell which are Korean – but always there is English.

11. The cars are amazing – not just the number of them for a city with tiny roads and NO parking – but the size. The two biggest brands are not surprisingly Hundai and Kia – but there are BMW – 7 series no less – and SUV’s. I mean there is no parking. None. People put cars everywhere – if there are rules – I couldn’t figure them out – it’s amazing. Very few bikes, not many motorcycles – just cars and buses everywhere.

12. The metro system is wonderful. It’s modern – there are elevators at every station – there are signs in English – the exits are numbered – and put on the maps – so it’s easy to figure out where you will be when you take exit 5 for example. Just Outstanding. Montreal – take a lesson. Interestingly – there is a wall of glass doors between you and the metro cars. When the metro arrives – the doors on the train line up with the doors on the station – and they both open. It’s rather like the subways in the airports. I know there is talk of doing something similar in Montreal – and frankly – I think it’s a good idea.

Ok – that’s enough cool stuff for one Post. Tomorrow I’ll continue with more cool things I’ve discovered about South Korea.

Signing off – The Soup lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

A tale of 2 Hostels – the Namu and the Agit – Seoul, South Korea

We had originally thought to spend just 4 nights in Seoul before moving on – but our age and ability to recover from a long flight has definitely taken its toll – and we need more time here to see things properly.

So – we ended up wanting to spend 4 more nights in Seoul (it’s a fab city) – and that meant a change in sleeping locations. We had to move from the Namu in the Hongdae district to the Agit – near the Yaksu metro stop. So here-in lies the tale of 2 hostels.

The Namu is highly regarded in the hostel world – it is part of the Lee & Co ‘chain’ – and while small – just 4 rooms – it is warm, friendly, well built and extremely well located. The Hongdae district is home to a major university, and most of the student life of Seoul. It buzzes with action from 1:00 pm until late in the evening. Later than we ever made it up for sure. The Namu serves a wonderful breakfast of cereal, cakes, toast, eggs if you want, coffee (brewed – not instant) – jam, fruit – you name it – they offer it. And they prepare it for you – no fuss, no muss. It’s great.

Good things: There is a washing machine – no dryer – and people are very friendly. As reported earlier – I loved the public shared lounge area, with its tiny outdoor sitting space. We met some great fellow travellers – took fun pictures – had a great time.

Down sides – we had to share a bathroom – why do some people manage to splash water everywhere? – I really hate sharing my bathroom. Plus the room got cold at night. I ended up sleeping with socks, long-sleeve shirt, and my fuzzy travel blanket. Good news – it was an excuse to get cute socks.

But we had to leave. So we said good-bye to Sunny and Stella – our hosts – and headed out to the Agit. It is a lot less expensive for starters. Almost 1/2 the price. And we would have our own bathroom. Bad news – only room available had bunk beds. I’m getting the upper bunk – hope I can climb in – and get out without falling!

The beginning wasn’t great. We got lost. We exited at the right metro stop – but couldn’t locate ourselves – or the hostel on the map. And the killer – to exit the metro we climbed up 5 flights of stairs – with our suitcases. We were wiped. But – the kindness of strangers came to our rescue – again. A wonderful young man on a motor cycle figured out how to call the Agit – and Lex – the surprising tall and skinny host told him to tell us to stay put. He’d come and find us.

And find us he did. Plus he showed us where the elevator was to the metro – no more climbing 5 flights.

The Agit at first glance isn’t nearly as fancy as the Namu – the public space is small – and there is someone sleeping in the shared living room. I haven’t figured out who she is, but she does watch a lot of TV and Movies. And the kitchen arrangement is quite different. There is a long shared table, and Lex just opened doors and fridge explaining that everything is up for grabs. Just take what you want. He even had us fix a lunch to go. Ham and cheese sandwiches, Korean style – which means with pickles and mustard.

I had my concerns – but a little exploring showed me a fantastic outdoor space on the upper floor – tables and chairs so we can enjoy a dinner al fresco. And while our room is tiny – the advantage of having a private bathroom is huge. Plus the washing machine sits alongside a dryer! It’s clothes washing time tonight.

We slept in the Agit last night – and while it is now Sunday – still it was amazingly quiet – we slept in until 9:00. Jill admits that she hasn’t slept in that long – in well – since the last time we travelled together.

Our fellow travellers are a very quiet bunch – mostly Asians with one french gal – so that explains the sleeping in – even though our room is off the kitchen. No noisy folks to wake us up early.

And we may well be getting used to the hard beds! (Personal note – didn’t fall out of top bunk either)

So – how ends the tale of 2 hostels – both work. The location of the Namu is better, the rooms decidedly ‘fancier’, the private bathroom at the Agit trumps the nicer breakfast at the Namu, and I am really looking forward to enjoying tea on the outdoor balcony at the Agit.

Our decision – both work. So pick and enjoy.