After our full day of pretending to be in the midst of an international incident at the DMZ we felt like had earned a day of doing simple tourism. Shopping.
Our first order of business was to head to Insa-dong which Insa-dentally was very close to our guest house. We had wanted to try ginseng chicken soup but at 15000won a bowl it just didn’t seem like it was worth it. We ended up people watching from an up stairs restaurant where Shana was able to get her iced noodles and I got a spicy kimchi and pork bimbap dish.
After lunch we made our way through the souvenir shops. Just like most places, everything was essentially over priced but we picked up some magnets (obviously) and Shana bought a necklace that looked like a companion to one she bought in Thailand. There were some beautiful inlaid boxes with traditional Korean designs and some really neat sets of metal chopsticks. We decided that we had given Korea enough of our money for the time being.
With our time in Korea coming to a close on a Tuesday most of the major palaces and museums were not open (that we hadn’t already seen) and it was still stupid hot outside. We elected to take it easy at the guesthouse until early evening.
Around 6:00PM we headed down in to the Seoul subway for a train to Myeong-dong again. Although this time we weren’t going shopping. We were heading to North Seoul Tower or Namsan Tower. Constructed from 1969 to 1980 it stands 237 meters tall, but it was built on top of a massive hill. The construction site places the top floor of the Seoul Tower roughly equivalent to the height of the observation deck of the Willis (read: Sears) Tower in Chicago. In other words, the observation lounge is really high up. There is only one option to get to the base of North Seoul Tower and that is to take a cable car to the base. Well, that is partially true. There is a path that goes up the “hill” to the base of the tower. No thanks, it’s really steep. The ropeway is rather expensive though so if you’re on a tight budget go ahead and hoof it. Once you get to the base of the tower though you will have to get in line for another set of tickets to actually go up the observation level.
This is stupid.
Tickets for both should be available at the cable car booth at the bottom but they are not. Anyways, the entrance to the elevator is below the main platform to the left if you’re standing at the ticket booth and it isn’t at all obvious. The arrows point to the observation “deck” which is where you would already be standing if you are buying tickets.
At the top of the tower we hung around for about an hour getting sunset/dusk shots and then waiting till the city really lit up to get some great night shots. While hanging out we met a fellow traveler named Lauren. Lauren walked around the tower with us and after we had mentioned that we were heading to the Hongik University area for dinner and drinks. Being an awesome person she said that her hostel was near there and that she would show us around.
Upon our departure we came outside to see the tower lit up in a brilliant blue light. This is only done on days when the air quality in Seoul is 45㎍/㎥ or less. Much like our experience with the fountain in the Lotte Department store in Pusan, we were leaving slowly enjoying the view when suddenly the blue light went out and a movie projection started on the side of the tower. The three of us hung around for the 15 minute movie that included giant break dancers, the tower being disassembled and then reassembled, being filled up with water and fish, then flushed, and some traditional Korean drumming. It was pretty damn extravagant and cool. Not sure why we hadn’t read about that anywhere but it was awesome.
With Lauren we headed to Hongik University and got a nice slice of the Seoul nightlife as we popped into a couple bars, chatted about Japan vs Korea and generally just had a good time being amused by people walking by on the street. We were so engrossed in conversation that I looked down at my watch and realized we had five minutes to make the last train back to our guesthouse. We said a quick goodbye and rushed down into the Seoul subway for the last time.
The following morning we caught an airport bus, slightly more expensive than trains but you don’t have to change because it’s a direct route to the terminal. And back to Osaka we went.