Wednesday 15 July 2009
Unaccustomed to long-distance standard class travel, I arrive in Seoul a little tired. All the previous times I’ve been to Korea, I’ve been in the area on company business, and this is the first time I’ve had to pay my own way: hence the downgrade in comfort. The evening bibimbap is fine, and the in-flight entertainment includes sufficient Korean and international film and music to keep anyone amused for a while. I opt for the lightweight My Girlfriend is an Agent (7급 공무원). Kim Ha-neul in a short wedding dress riding a jet-ski up the Han River shooting at some baddies in a speedboat is a fun way to open a film.
Incheon Airport (recently voted the best airport in the world) is the usual stress-free experience. This time there’s the new hurdle of the anti-swine-flu police in rather fetching turquoise face-masks. They wave a small torch-life thing at your neck and usher you onwards. But customs, baggage reclaim and cellphone collection is seamless.
Tip #1: always pre-book your Korean cellphone on the Visit Korea website: it’ll be waiting for you when you arrive, and at only 1,500 Won per day it’s a necessary and very cheap outlay for all sorts of reasons. Now, if only I could figure out how the texting works…
The way I usually take to get into the Insadong area of Seoul (a popular destination) is the hotel limo bus for the Seoul Plaza area (14,000 Won) and then get a taxi from the Lotte Hotel (other hotels are available). There are no doubt other ways to do the journey into town (there’s a tube which takes you into central Seoul, for example) but somehow I like staying above ground when arriving in Seoul, and it’s the way I’ve latched on to. The bus is nicely air-conditioned and usually pretty empty – great if you want to make some phone calls on your arrival. It leaves every 20 minutes, and depending on the traffic will take about an hour (plus) to get to the centre of town. The phone rental people will tell you where to get the tickets.
Tip #2: it’s good to have the name and address of your destination handily written in Korean. The taxi driver may not understand your accent when you say the name of the hotel you’re trying to get to. Even better, have the hotel’s phone number to hand so that you can ring them to ask them to tell the driver how to get there. Don’t expect Seoul taxi drivers to be like London cabbies (they’re a whole lot cheaper, though). My own driver couldn’t even read his sat-nav. But fortunately I knew where I was going so could chivvy him along.
Having checked in to the Insadong hotel, I’m feeling peckish but indecisive. So the first ajumma which accosts me into her restaurant in an Insadong side street gets my custom. I point at the menu and am rewarded with a spicy tofu stew with red bean rice and all sorts of side dishes, with a large beer to wash it down. 11,000 Won. Not bad at all. Back to the hotel to try (unsuccessfully) to get some sleep.
Tip #3: if you’re bringing electrical things with you, don’t forget the adaptor. Korea uses European-style sockets with two round pins. You’ll find that many hotels / motels have internet access. I brought with me an ethernet cable for my netbook and never used it.
Index of the 2009 Travel Diary:
- => 1: Arrival
- 2: Suwon and Prince Sado’s tomb
- 3: 20th century art and history
- 3a: Interview with Gen Paik Sun-yup
- 4: Recuperation and the Kilburn Art Space
- 5: Bulguksa and Seokkuram
- 6: Haeinsa
- 7: Korea House
- 8: Galleries old and new
- 8a: Interview with Brother Anthony of Taizé
- 9: Hails and farewells
- 10: Reflections