tom911 goes to Seoul

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  1. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Hello this Thursday night from Seoul, South Korea. Just past 9:30pm here and I’m ready to call it a day. We’re 16 hours ahead of California here.

    I booked this ticket a few weeks ago just to do something new and different. Airfare was $868 round trip and I cleared my upgrades at booking. Business class cabin on the flight to Seoul was half-empty and I had an aisle seat with an empty window seat next to me (I moved into that other seat to sleep). This AA route only started up in May so it has been running 10 months now and the fares are less than every European destination I would fly to except Dublin (plus I accumulate over 33,000 frequent flyer miles). While today’s flight has plenty of open seats in business, Friday’s flight, for comparison, only has two open seats in the entire cabin, so it does matter what day of the week you fly. AA provides these international upgrades at no cost to me.

    AA 777-200 business class seats:

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    Departed SFO at 12:20am Wednesday for the 3 hour flight down to DFW. Would love to have departed at 6am but would not make the connection for the 10:30am flight to Seoul. Flight time from DFW was just over 14 hours with arrival just after 3pm Thursday.

    I preordered my meal in business class: Pineapple Teriyaki Beef (grilled fillet of beef enhanced by braised pineapple teriyaki sauce, offered with grilled asparagus, carrots and steamed rice). Other choices were halibut, grilled chicken kimchi, Korean bibimap or spinach stuffed ravioli. Watched one movie (Nebraska), and then off to sleep for 5 hours.

    Woke up at the half-way point of the flight as we were over Siberia where it was spectacularly gorgeous above the frozen terrain. The right engine is just outside my window so that limited my ability to take photos. Don’t recall ever flying over Siberia before. Flight attendant brought by a mid-flight snack of a roast beef sandwich and pasta. Watched some video on the tablet and read a newspaper and a guide book. Pretty painless flight.

    View over Siberia:

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    Upon arrival in Seoul I found at ATM to get some South Korean Won, then sought out the Korean Air limousine bus which would take me to the Grand Hyatt. Just missed the 3:49pm bus and had to wait for the 4:15pm departure. Passed the Hyatt at the 65 min mark and driver kept on going. He completely forgot I wanted to get off there. Went to the end of the line, parked for his 10 min break, and then back on the same route in reverse. Took 30 minutes more to get me back to the Grand Hyatt. At least I got some free sightseeing in.

    Here comes the bus:

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    Have a 16th floor room with a view in the direction of the river. If I have my bearings right, that’s Gangnam over in that direction on the other side. Popped into the lounge at 7pm for some finger food and wine, then off on foot for a walk around the neighborhood which is in Mount Namsan and is home to the Seoul Tower. Rain had stopped by this time. Didn’t see any easy access to the subway though some reports I’ve read say it’s 10-12 minutes away, but maybe in the opposite direction I walked. The hotel does run a shuttle to the subway station at Itaewon a good part of the day so may take that in the morning to get my bearings. Back at the hotel at 8:30pm.

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    Weather the next few days shows high temps in the mid-50s to mid-60s so should be pleasant to walk around town. Other than some rain today, should be clear the rest of my stay.

    As mentioned eariler, I’m at the Grand Hyatt taking advantage of a points and cash stay. I’m paying $100 a night, plus taxes, and giving up some of my Hyatt points, in lieu of paying $300 a night for my room. All the name-brand hotels seemed to be in this price range, though I did find a Courtyard by Marriott for $180 a night on the low end. My hotel is sold out the last few days of my stay (glad I booked it weeks back and didn’t hold out until closer to departure). Had a surprise when I checked in and they wanted me to initial a rate that was 50% higher than what I had confirmation for (160,000 won instead of 105,000 won/$100). That was quickly resolved after some discussion among staff.

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    I did bring some printed menu information with me as I just don’t have experience with Korean food. Hope this comes in handy the next few days. Also have the Eyewitness Guides Top 10 Seoul guidebook which is the series I’ve been using the last few years for travel.

    New photos start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Asia/2014-Seoul-South-Korea/i-VpcfNWH
     
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  2. Sweet Willie
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    Sweet Willie Gold Member

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    I was able to Priceline my room for <$100US (ended up with Renaissance Seoul), so perhaps that might be an option if you do need additional hotel nights. I thought the IC COEX was so-so. The Westin Chosun was very well located for the tourist IMO.

    Of course hit some Korean BBQ spots and also partake of the street food.

    A group of 6 FTers & I went to Seoul ~5 years ago for a Do, a highlight of the trip was visiting the Noryangjin Fish Market, where we wandered the aisles, purchase fresh seafood, then took it upstairs to one of the restaurants present & asked them to prepare the items for us. Delicious.

    Of course the DMZ will be well worthwhile IMO.

    So glad to see that you are there, I think Seoul is overlooked as a tourist destination.
     
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  3. cc1972

    cc1972 Silver Member

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    If you have time, I'd suggest the folk village in Suwon. You can go to Suwon by subway. From there, I think there is a shuttle bus to go to the folk village, but taking a taxi wouldn't be too expensive.
     
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  4. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    I'm just in after 7.5 hours about town (1700 now). Going to visit the lounge here around 7 again and head back out. Need a break to get off my feet. Now that I have my bearings I know I can make it back here on my own on transit

    One thing I've come to realize is that there is way too much to see here on one trip. Just back from the subway station down below the Grand Hyatt, a 13 min walk all uphill on wooden stairs or paved trail. Might have to check into the shuttle schedule for trips back up the hill, though I think that only runs until 2100. Park Hyatt didn't have availability or I would have looked over there, and the one Holiday Inn, where I also have points, just looked too far out.

    I can make this location work for this trip, but might have to look at other options next time. With AA flying here, and pretty decent prices, at least at this time of year, I can see Seoul taking the place of some of my Europe trips that are now pricing over $1,000. I'll pay a little more for hotels here as a trade-off. Wish AA offered something less than a $1,300 codeshare to HKG but that's the best I've seen so far, and SIN is just as expensive with AA flight numbers. I've been to those a number of times and wouldn't mind combining two or three of them with award trips in between.

    Priceline? I'm really big into hotel points after doing the London Olympics on points and cash and World Swimming Championships in Shanghai on points. I'm getting a very good return on hotel points and do have a cap on how much I'll spend. Won't take if off the table but want some control over where I'm staying.
     
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  5. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Day 2 - Friday

    Before I left the airport yesterday, I stopped at a 7-11 for a “T-money card”. This is a reloadable card that is good on the subway and can also be used for purchases at some stores. Card itself was 2,500KRW (South Korean Won--I’ll abbreviate as KRW the rest of this trip) which is roughly US$2.50. Doesn’t come with any value loaded, but I’ll need that card to load value at a train station for my first subway trip. I don’t want to stop and sort out individual tickets each time I take a train ride, and a five day pass at $US40 makes no sense when my trips are going to be just over $US1 each.

    Started the day with breakfast in the 17th floor lounge at the Grand Hyatt. Had scrambled eggs, cheese, yogurt, pineapple, some bread and jam, along with tea and juice, and was set to go. Not a very big breakfast spread but enough to start the day. Several cereals were also available. This comes with my Hyatt elite status.

    Left the hotel at 0930 and walked along the road down the mountain (just over 800 feet high). Took a wrong turn at the half-way point and had to backtrack through some one-lane residential streets, but eventually made my way to the Hangangjin station. A planned 15 minute trip there took 30 mins. Got my T-money card out and loaded 20,000KRW ($US20) on it and took two different trains to get over to Gyeongbokgung station.

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    Arrived just in time for the changing of the guard at Gyeongbokgung (Palace of Shining Happiness). There are a lot of different buildings on the grounds here, including a Korean folk art museum.

    The southern gate (Gwanghwamun):

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    Changing of the Guard outside the southern gate:

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    One of the gates on the way in:

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  6. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Geunjeongjeon Hall with the Joseon throne inside:

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    Many more photos of these buildings in the photo gallery (which I just don’t have time to get in and label individually right now).
    Two more from this area:

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    Visited the Korean folk museum which reminded me a lot of the Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. with both old and new items in display. A couple samples:

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    funeral bier:

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    Last edited: Mar 21, 2014
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  7. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Walked out the front gates and on the mall there was an exhibit of photos from the Korean War. Some of them were of war dead and bodies discovered in caves (didn’t take photos of those). Talked to the organizer who is a Korean American from New Jersey.

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    General MacArthur in this one:

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    Back on the train over to Dondaemun which has an ornamental gate, but one side was sealed off for construction and I suspect that was the more photogenic side.

    Also in this area there are vendors on the sidewalk and shops along narrow alleys. Saw a lot of toys and popped into one electronics shop. Grabbed a hamburger and fries and had to point at a photo card to make my selection. Saw this guy hauling cardboard while a car was behind him honking for him to get out of the way:

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    And a flashlight for every need in a small electronics shop:

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    Back on the train to the station near the hotel. Found a quicker route back up the hill and made it in 13 minutes. Here’s a photo of the starting point for the trek up:

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    Last edited: Mar 21, 2014
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  8. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    90 min break then hit the lounge on 17 for some sauvignon blanc and finger food (tonight they had salmon, cod cakes, a German sausage salad, and deliciously good brownies, among other items).

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    Took an alternate route down the hill at 1900 along narrow streets and alleys. Didn’t see a lot of people, or for that matter cars, but knew I’d eventually run into a main road at the bottom of the hill. About 15 mins later I was on Itaewon which has a train station, a Hyatt bus stop for their limited hourly service (last bus at 2105---got it tonight), and lots of shopping, coffee shops, restaurants and bars. In one alley there was an outdoor stage with a magician when I first went by, and a very good opera singer when I came back. Noticed a lot of American military and even some military police as I was leaving. Earlier in the day I did walk by a U.S. base near the train station I used in the morning.

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    When I first arrived in this area I was stopped by a Korean student who needed some help with his English. He presented me with two sheets of paper with a series of sentences using the words “so” and “such”. Some of the sentences didn’t make much sense (“Jim is so nice a person”) while others seemed OK (“Jim is such a nice person”). We went back and forth and I corrected about a dozen sentences and left a dozen as they were. I’ve had this happen before a couple times with students in Hong Kong and I’m always happy to help with their English (and, after all, I did win the Bank of America certificate for English when I graduated high school so many years ago).

    Warning: I took a couple hundred photos today. Use the right arrow button to zip through them or the slideshow feature.

    New photos start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Asia/2014-Seoul-South-Korea/i-gqV6LST
     
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  9. tom911
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    Just got back to the hotel before 10pm and I'm exhausted, so I'm going to get to bed shortly and will work on the Saturday trip report and photos when I get up Sunday morning. Tonight I was in Gangnam (did not sing or dance and did not see Psy), but the better part of the day was spent at the Korean War Memorial which is a massive site covering the history of wars fought within Korea over the last thousand or more years. Quite an impressive site to see, and once I post some of the photos I'm sure you'll agree with me.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2014
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  10. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Hello this Sunday morning from Seoul. Made it up one floor for the lounge breakfast at 8 and came right back down to work on this segment.

    SATURDAY

    After breakfast, walked down the mountain to the Hangangjin station. Only 10 minutes when you’re walking down, so much easier than waiting for the hourly hotel shuttle to Itaewon station. Worked my way over by train to The War Memorial of Korea, which serves to honor war dead and to document Korea’s history with war over the years. In addition to indoor exhibits with early weapons including spears and canons, plus entire sections on the Korean War, there is an outdoor exhibit of aircraft and tanks. The side wings of the structure itself commemorate the war dead with large panels , and inside the building there is a memorial area. I spent almost 4 hours here.

    There was also a taekwando exhibition in the plaza when I first entered the building, and they were there again, with a much larger viewing audience, when I left.


    Arrival at the Memorial:

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    Exterior building view:

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    A B52 set of wheels from below:

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    A Korean tank:

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    Taekwando exhibition as I entered the building:

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  11. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Part of the memorial area inside the building:

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    Two exhibits inside the building:

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    Second taekwando exhibition as I was leaving:

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    Made it back to the Itaewon station for the 3:05pm Hyatt shuttle. Saw two women outside the station dressed in orange that were there to provide tourist information (first I’ve seen them). Quick visit to the lounge for ice-cold bottled water. Back down for early dinner offerings at 5:45pm, and then took the #3 bus from in front of the hotel down to the Noksapyeong station. Bus didn’t actually stop at the station (the stairs to the tunnel under the street were nothing more than pedestrian walkway), so came back out and found the station a good long block ahead of me.

    On board the bus:

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  12. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Destination tonight was Gangnam, where there are bars, clubs, restaurants, and a lot of shopping. Besides the 15 min bus ride down the hill in heavy traffic, took about 45 mins more on three different trains to get over there. Missed one of the transfer stops and had to backtrack a station (and pay to reenter as you could not walk between platforms without exiting). Only a $1 mistake, so nothing to really worry about.

    Inside Gangnam station:

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    Streets of Gangnam:

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    From Gangnam, made my way to the Myeongdong station (a big shopping area it appears), a second station the Hyatt shuttle serves, figuring I could made the 9:20 bus, the last one of the night (knew I would not make the 9:05 bus at Itaewon). It was delayed in traffic and didn’t arrive until 9:35, and we were back at the hotel about 9:50. Backup option was the #3 bus which ran until around 11. I could have sorted out where to get that back if I needed to.

    Photos from this section are in a new gallery here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Asi...y-II/i-7nWPNdm
     
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  13. anileze

    anileze Gold Member

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    Thoroughly enjoyed it. When one sees the same place with someone else's eyes, it is almost like new, your trip reports and your smugmug collection fall into that category !

    Thanks
     
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  14. tom911
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    Hello this Monday morning from Seoul. Bright sun outside again today.

    SUNDAY

    Left the hotel at 11am and walked down the hill to the train station once more. Plan today was to head out to Bukhansan National Park for a look around. Ended up being a 70 min train ride out, but about 20 mins of that was due to obstacles in my way. The first was when the train stopped at the Kwangwoon University station and car cleaners came on board to sweep and remove trash. Train started back up after 10 mins and reversed course, so went back one station, got off, and took the next train in my original direction. Back on track again heading to the Mangwolsa station near the park. Didn’t quite get there as I got off a station before when I couldn’t see the station signs and mistakenly thought I had arrived (you can see the mountains off in the distance from here).

    View from Dobongsan station platform:

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    Anyway, waited a few minutes for another train and arrived at Mangwolsa for the hike through town up into Bukhansan National Park. Along the way there were a couple of outdoor shops with supplies for sale, as well as eateries for those hikers coming up or down.

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    Did have to navigate through some highway construction:

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    And finally up into the park:

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  15. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    [​IMG]

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    Figured I walked about 2 miles up a paved road and trail in about an hour’s time, all uphill, but at that point decided not to go any farther as I did not have hiking boots and the trail turned to a narrow stone walkway along a stream. Took about 40 mins to walk back down and I found a coffee shop for an ice tea stop (they had signs in both Korean and English).

    Turnaround point:

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    The hike back down (should note that there are some parking lots in the park area and a Korean did offer me a ride back down which I turned down so I could enjoy the walk..a lot of these folks didn't have to hike up from the train station below):

    [​IMG]
     
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  16. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    [​IMG]

    Last view before entering the train station:

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    45 min train ride back into the city and I went to the Seoul station which has long-distance trains out of Seoul and also airport trains. I checked the timetable at my hotel and it’s a 43 min trip on the express train out to Incheon Airport, where I came in. Fare is $8. I could do that for the trip home but it would mean hauling luggage plus a $1 subway fare, and then a bus or shuttle ride to start, so think I’ll stick with the airport bus at $16 one way.

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    While at Seoul station I popped into the Lotte Outlet store that is attached and looked at name-brand clothing that was still too expensive even when on sale.

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    Took the subway over to Myeongdong and back to the hotel via Hyatt shuttle. Visited the lounge there at 6:30pm for some food items (beef meatballs, salmon, tuna, and a pasta salad, along with some cheese) and I was good for the night. Needed a break from touring so tonight I just stayed at the hotel.

    These photos are in a new gallery here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Asi...-III/i-TLBXWbL
     
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  17. tom911
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    MONDAY

    Headed out at 10am after breakfast. Hotel shuttle was out front so took it down to the Itaewon subway station with 8 minutes of travel time. Added $5 to my T-Money card for use on transit as it was running low. Plan this morning was to head to the zoo which is south of the city center in Seoul Grand Park. Started off by boarding the train in the wrong direction (it was pulling in and I hadn't got the map on my tablet out yet), so got off after one stop to turn back around. So glad I have a subway app on the tablet as it's a lifesaver compared to the printed maps with munchkin print. Arrived there just before 11am to find the zoo closed due to avian flu.

    [​IMG]


    The zoo is just part of Seoul Grand Park, There is a lake there and plenty of areas to picnic, and a paved walkway around the perimeter. There is a also a theme park, “Seoul Land”. It was open and entry was about $18. I just took some exterior photos. Guide book indicates they have 40 rides in there. Ice tea stop at Dunkin Donuts and back on the train.

    Zoo entrance:

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    Seoul Land:

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  18. tom911
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    The park is surrounded by mountains:

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    One interesting thing with the train destination signs is that they will show where your approaching train is with a digital train moving closer to your station. I haven’t seen this feature at every stop so it may be limited to certain lines.

    [​IMG]
     
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  19. tom911
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    Next stop: Gangnam. Hadn’t planned to go back there, but then I found out that the Samsung D-Light showroom is there, showcasing all their current products. Their showroom covers three floors of a tall office building. I played with some cell phones and tablets, loved watching the newer 8000 and 9000 series televisions, as well as the ultra-HD models, and watched some room-length video up on the third floor. Surprisingly, not very crowded there.

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  20. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Walked around Gangnam a bit while there, passing an organic ice cream place on one of the side streets, and even popping into an “Irish bar” that was playing Korean rock music. Probably would have stayed for a pint of Guinness if they had something Irish playing.

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    Back to the subway station at 3:40 and it was packed. Couldn’t get on the first train in as I was too far back in the line at the door (they get in line here to board). Was first in line for the second train which had plenty of room. Made it to the Myeondong station at 4:20, just in time to get the Hyatt shuttle back to the hotel which, fortunately, was running a few minutes late.
     
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  21. tom911
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    Lounge visit at 6 for sauvignon blanc and some finger food (egg rolls, salmon, tuna, seafood salad, veggies) and back out on the 7:10 shuttle to the Myeondong shopping area for a walk about. Popped into several shops but didn’t buy anything. Clearly a very popular shopping area. Was back at the hotel just before 10.

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    These photos are in a new gallery (#4 now) that starts here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Asi...ry-4/i-WdrK89X
     
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  22. tom911
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    TUESDAY

    Took the 10:10am shuttle back to the Myeondong shopping area and visited the huge Lotte shopping complex which, besides shopping scattered over three different buildings, also includes a cinema. Took a couple interior photos. They really seem to like bright colors in their shops here, be it footwear or outdoor apparel.

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  23. tom911
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    Walked over towards the Jongno Tower and then over to Cheonggyecheon which is a waterway and pedestrian path that runs 5 miles through town. I first saw the very end of it when I was coming in from the national park two days back, and today was the starting point with a waterfall. You can toss coins just below the waterfall area destined for charity.

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    Walked back to the Myeongdog area and got the hotel shuttle back at 4:20pm. Not back long, though, as I walked down the to subway station at 5:15pm to work my way over to Ichon to meet Mike, who works at the U.S. Army base there, for dinner. We visited a local place with just a few tables and not a word of English anywhere. Fortunately, I did not do the ordering! We grilled some beef and wrapped it and condiments in lettuce leaves for consumption. First time for me and very enjoyable. We took a quick tour of the base after, and I was back at the hotel around 8:30pm for the night.

    WEDNESDAY

    Can see my incoming AA flight left DFW a few minutes late but is expected to arrive at Incheon Airport 15 minutes early right now. I’ll get the airport limousine bus out of here around noon, arrange a lounge visit, and hopefully have an on-time departure at 4:50pm. Flight time to DFW is 13 hours 15 minutes.

    New photos start here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Asi...ry-4/i-d5f472b
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2014
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  24. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    As you'll recall, it rained lightly on my first night here, and that must have cleaned up the air as I had bright blue skies the first couple days. I had a gorgeous view below from the Grand Hyatt:

    Day 2 here:

    [​IMG]

    If you saw some of the mountain views since, though, it was pretty clear the air quality was changing, and this morning you can't even see the bridge across the river below.

    Day 7 here:

    [​IMG]

    Reminds me of the Beijing Olympics where the first few days, because of smog, we could not see the buildings off in the distance. I'm told this bad air in Seoul comes in from China.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2014
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  25. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    Enjoyable trip home. Airport limousine bus took 75 mins to get out to ICN, with about 20 of that spent in the city with hotel pickups (Grand Hyatt, Hilton, Ramada). Another 20 mins to get out of the city on open road. AA check-in counters opened at 1:50pm (3 hours ahead) and I was at the airport at 1:25pm.

    Was surprised to be given an access card for the Asiana first class lounge (gate 119) a few gates down from our departure gate (gate 111). Arrived at the counter there expecting to be ushered over to the business side on the right side of the counter, but instead I was welcomed and sent to to the F side. Must be another EXP perk at AA. I know I ordinarily get first class lounge access on all One World lounges on international travel, but to have access to first class with a contracted lounge is a new one for me.

    Food offerings were pretty sparse as they had been picked over. Had some mushroom soup, Wente chardonnay (long way from Livermore to Seoul), cheese cake, and Haagen Dazs ice cream (macadamia nut and Belgian chocolate). Had a Diet Coke just before leaving.

    Arrived at the gate and had two seats adjoining the window to myself again. Chatted with a passenger in the middle section who had a section of three to himself.

    In the first round of drinks I was served a French red wine which was the featured Ken Chase wine that was not on the menu. Slight problem in that catering had delivered it ice cold. Had to let it sit for an hour on the second tray table and got back to it.

    Meal choices were:

    Whole Wheat Penne Pasta with sauce and vegetable medley
    Whole wheat penne pasta with arrabiata sauce and medley of asparagus, carrots, yellow peppers, and red onions

    Grilled Fillet of Beef
    Enhanced by red wine sauce

    Mushroom Stuffed Chicken
    With garlic mashed potatoes and diced roasted pumpkin

    Korean Bibimbap

    I had the chicken and was very happy with my choice.

    [​IMG]

    Rewatched one movie (Captain Phillips), read yesterday's Wall Street Journal, and then slept a solid 8 hours. My kind of flight. Awoke over Arizona and about 30 mins later was served a prearrival snack of barbecue prawns served chilled with spinach and couscous, along with a side salad (that wasn't on the menu so they must have had extra). The other choice was a noodle bowl with a salad.

    [​IMG]

    Landed just after 3pm with total flight time of 12 hours 15 minutes, well ahead of scheduled arrival of 4:05pm. Did have about a 15 minute delay opening the aircraft door, originally because they could not line up the gate, and then something with a mechanic on scene.

    Used the new passport kiosks which printed a receipt, picked up my bag which was waiting, presented my receipt on exit and rechecked my bag.

    Waiting for my SFO flight now at a cloud-covered DFW. See SFO is having 62 min arrival delays due to weather so the day may be a little longer than planned. Happy I did get the amount of sleep I did ICN-DFW.

    All of my Seoul photos can be found in the Asia gallery here:
    http://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Asia
     
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