I’ve been to Seoul a number of times before - once in 2015 and again in 2016. I’ve always found the second or third time visiting a city to be more enjoyable. I’m always less stressed, less rushed, and more open to spend the day wandering around.
Both my girlfriend and I had saved up enough credit card points to upgrade one leg of our flight to business class. We flew Korean air. The seats were comfy and the food was good, but the cabin was kept way too hot for my preference and the business class seats didn’t have their own vents or climate-control.
This third time in Seoul was definitely the most relaxed; neither my girlfriend nor I had any agenda other than to spend time with her parents and eat as much Korean food as we could.
The last time we’d visited Seoul, my girlfriend’s parents had been living in the UN Village - a residential enclave in Seoul’s Hannam-dong neighborhood. They had since moved to a high-rise located atop the Sinyongsan train station. The new neighborhood was a much better jumping-off point for exploring the city; pretty much everything was a quick subway ride away.
We spent the first couple of days visiting the parks, palaces, and restaurants in the city that we’d come to enjoy. We’d originally planned to visit the Joint Security Area of the border between North and South Korea, but unfortunately, rising military tension between the North and the South and a visit from the US Vice President closed the area to tourists for our originally scheduled day.
The last time we visited Seoul, we took a three-day trip to Busan via Korea’s high-speed rail. This time around we wanted to take at least one trip outside of Seoul and so we planned a daytrip to Gyeongju - a coastal city known for its numerous historical sites.
Even though Gyeongju is across the country from Seoul, it’s only around two hours away by high-speed train. We bought tickets for an early train out of Seoul and arrived in Gyeongju by 10:00AM. We travelled between historical sites mainly by public bus.
Our first stop was the Bulguksa Temple. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the grounds and taking pictures before bussing to the grounds of the Cheomseongdae observatory. The observatory itself isn’t particularly impressive, but the grounds and burial mounds surrounding it were in full bloom.
We had a simple but delicious lunch of Guksu - noodles in an anchovy-based broth - at the least touristy restaurant we could fine. We only had an hour or so after lunch before we’d need to get back to our train, so we spent it rushing through the grounds of the Anapji Pond.
Back in Seoul we met up with some of my girlfriend’s friends for dinner and drinks. On our last full day we hiked the Bugaksan trail. This trail snakes around the top of the mountains surrounding Korea’s equivalent of the White House - the Blue House. The trail was beautiful but photography was forbidden.
On the day of our flight home, we had time for a final meal in Korea. We chose Mokmyeoksanbang a pretty restaurant at the base of Namsan tower that was recommended by the Michelin guide to Korea.