Originally, Kay didn’t want to visit Seoul because he had already been for work and wasn’t overly crazy about the city, but it was impossible to find direct flights from NZ and OZ to Japan for cherry blossom season end of March, so I convinced Kay that it would be easier to fly to Seoul for a couple days and then take a quick flight to Japan from there.
My plan worked. Kay agreed to do it and finding flights to Tokyo from Seoul during cherry blossom season was a snap!
Flying from Sydney to Seoul was a long flight and we arrived pretty late at night. We booked an interesting airbnb with an automatic entry code. I’m pretty sure our host didn’t speak much English at all, which wasn’t really a problem except that the flat was missing hot water. But we were only staying for two nights with an early flight out to Tokyo, so we decided to just wait until Tokyo to shower.
With only one full day in the city to sightsee, I asked a friend what she recommended and she pointed us to the main palace Gyeongbokgung first.
After spending weeks in South America and then New Zealand and Australia, Seoul was a totally new culture to experience on our trip, unlike anything else. I was enamored by the bright colors and patterns in the changing of the guards. It was completely different than watching a Swedish or British change of guard!
We hadn’t arrived in Japan yet either, so this was our first experience seeing locals dress up in traditional outfits when visiting the palace.We were surprised to see what a popular activity it was to rent or buy Hanbok and wear them to the temples. I didn’t know until later that you receive free entry when you do this.It’s becoming a very popular activity for the younger generation and it’s slightly amusing to see these very traditional garments with selfie sticks and cell phones, but it looks like they are having a good time!After traveling from late summer/early autumn, here we were getting the first glimpse of spring. We were very much looking forward to seeing cherry blossoms in Japan, and I hoped they would be everything I dreamed of. Also, note how we completely bypassed any wintertime on our travels. This was not a mistake. 😉 Gyeongbokgung was built in the 1300s, but much of it was destroyed during the early 1900s by Imperial Japan, so they have been rebuilding for quite some time. It is still considered the most impressive palace in the country!Somehow, seeing people in Hanbok made the whole experience more special. It was like seeing a glimpse of how the palace might have looked with people during the Joseon dynasty.After Gyeongbokgung, we headed to Bukchon Hanok Village, which had a cool vibe and what looked like lots of expensive real estate. 🙂 Around here we grabbed a bubble tea, and I was so surprised when the timer they gives you that vibrates had a mini screen on it and was displaying ads! It seemed ingenious and something we don’t have in Europe or the US yet. Any opportunity to advertise to us…Later we went to Bongeunsa Temple, which Kay had already seen before, but he hadn’t experienced the temple while it was being prepared for a huge lantern festival! The colors of the lanterns were so bright and cheery that it warmed the cold day. I wished I could see them lit up as well!It was pretty jarring seeing the urban high rise development in stark contrast with traditional Buddhist architecture. Kay loved it. Old and new together, intertwined.In a way, it was like seeing the past come to life. I’m pretty sure it would be hard to forget where you come from in a setting like this, kind of like Rome with its ancient architecture and ruins scattered throughout the city.Sorry, I really couldn’t get enough of the lanterns.We explored the temple for some time before looking for a good Korean BBQ for dinner. We also spent a fair amount of time looking for the aquarium at the Lotte Mall, which was overwhelming in size. We eventually found the aquarium, but decided it was too expensive to splurge for.
The next day we had an early flight to Tokyo to start our Japanese adventure. With the first taste of Asia done, we were ready for more!