Seoul is one of today’s most popular tourist destinations.
For the uninitiated, the simplest way of describing it is that it is South Korea’s seat of government. It is a sprawling metropolis which is also the country’s largest city in terms of population. Moreover, it is the main gateway to the rest of the country. More importantly, Seoul is South Korea’s melting pot. But probably what Seoul is most known for is that it is the heart of the highly influential Korean pop culture. It is the seat of one of the most popular entertainment industry. It is no wonder that Seoul is every Korean drama and Korean pop culture fan’s haven.
Seoul is more than a mecca for K-pop fans. Jotted all over the city are historically significant structures which were built as early as 12th century. These structures include grand palaces and sprawling gardens. Buddhist structures are also prevalent. But mixed in with the old is the new. There are numerous skyscrapers, amusement parks and malls spread all over the city. With its multi-faceted personality, Seoul is a vibrant destination for all kinds of travelers, including us.
Seoul in Autumn, the First Few Hours
When we finally landed in Incheon, I was immediately overcome by emotions. I could hardly believe it that I am stepping on a foreign country. All those months of anticipation and planning were not for naught. The first thing that I wanted to do when we arrive is to get a feel of the atmosphere. However, it was kind off difficult because we arrived in Seoul late in the evening. Moreover, I was exhausted from the long flight.
It is autumn in Korea already, a couple of months away from winter. It is thus noticeable how the temperature dipped. One of the things that greeted us when we landed is the cold autumn breeze. This is one of the reasons why we packed a bunch of jackets for our trip. The autumn chill is real!
In spite of our exhaustion, I was able to form some initial impressions from the very little that I saw. Most of us already know it but I can’t help pointing it out again. Seoul’s transportation system is efficient. My first train ride from the Incheon to Seoul is a testament to that. The ride was smooth and comfortable. Seoul’s subway system is also beyond imagination, at least for a simple guy like me who grew up in the mountains of the Cordilleras. The subway is busy and remarkably, it has a life of its own.
(Later on I would reflect mostly on the country’s amazing transportation infrastructure and lament the fact that my very own country is lagging behind. I guess I will be writing a full-length piece on my South Korean adventure reflections, including the lessons I have learned and the insights I have gained. It does help to go out of the country to gain different perspectives.)
Another thing that I have noticed about Seoul is how peaceful it is, especially at night. Although we found ourselves walking at around midnight going to our accommodation, we still felt generally secure. The area we were accommodated in is cramped with many houses, separated by narrow alleyways and similar to the cramped houses of Manila. However, we didn’t feel unsafe. We were just confident walking down the avenue and the narrow alleyways. To think that this is our first time in South Korea!
While we were midnight strolling, my friends and I were finally able to see firsthand the golden leaves of the ginkgo tree. It was already dark but the trees’ golden crowns stood out! It was amazing to say the least. But as we were getting close to the trees (Seoul’s thoroughfares are aligned with them), there was something unpleasant that overwhelmed us. It is the smell of poop and it emanated, as we discovered later, from the fallen fruits of the tree. The stench is unbearable and we didn’t want our shoes to get wind of them, lest we begin smelling like them.
Seoul is a hilly city, something that I did not really expect. And we had a firsthand experience on our first night in Seoul as we had to go up uphill alleys to reach our accommodation. This reminded me of Baguio City, although Baguio’s hills are way bigger than Seoul’s. Even the early autumn breeze reminded me of Baguio’s general climate.
But in the meantime, it is time to sleep. Its barely a couple of hours since we arrived but I was already in awe. I can’t wait for what lies ahead the moment I open up my eyes.