The first leg our our journey home was a 4 hour flight from Bangkok to Seoul, South Korea. Our flight left on time, and it was another great flight on on Asiana Airlines. We've been very impressed with Asiana, their service is extraordinary---flying in coach feels like flying First Class!
We arrived at Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea right on time, and easily found our tour desk, checked in, and had a 2 hour wait for our tour to start. We found a Starbucks, and had a quick cup of coffee and a cup of tea. Check out these prices, YIKES:
Good thing we'd exchanged our leftover Thai baht for some Korean won. Just look at these bills, looks pretty impressive, but there's a little over 1000 Korean won to one US dollar:
Promptly at 9:30 we were met by our nice local guide, Kwak. This was a group tour, and we were joined by 11 other travelers. We rode a small bus from Incheon into Seoul, about an hour away. The town of Incheon, and the airport are located on an island about 60 miles from Seoul. Along the way, we crossed a long bridge over the Yellow Sea. Here's a really bad "I've seen the Yellow Sea" picture, taken from the bus:
During our drive into Seoul, Kwak told us about the history of South Korea. It was very interesting, her English was quite good, and she was obviously very proud of her country. She easily answered our group's many questions.
Our first stop was at Cheonggyecheon Stream (don't ask me how it's pronounced--I'm sure I'd butcher it!) This stream runs through the city of Seoul, and has a very interesting history. After the Korean War, many people migrated into Seoul from the outlying areas, settling along the banks of the Cheonggyecheon River in shabby makeshift shacks. For twenty years, this area was an eyesore and a sore spot with city politicians. The streamed was covered over with concrete in the 70's and an elevated highways was built on top. The Koreans saw this as evidence of success in the modern world.
In the early 2000's the mayor of Seoul initiated a project to tear down the freeway and uncover the stream. The goal was to restore the history and culture of this area, and to revitalize the downtown area. Kwak was very proud of Cheonggyecheon Stream and the surrounding park and sculptures:
Our next stop: Changdeok Palace, first built in 1405 during the Joseon Dynasty. It was destroyed during the Japanese invasion from 1592-1598, rebuilt and upgraded to a Royal Residence in 1610.
Most of the palace buildings were again destroyed during a revolt in 1623, the Koreans rebuilt it yet again in the mid 1600's. It remained a Royal Residence until 1989, and in 1997 was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city of Seoul now surrounds the palace and grounds.
This is the main entrance gate. There are other, smaller gates on all 4 sides of this walled compound:
The Royal Throne:
I loved everything about this green door, especially the hardware:
We really enjoyed the palace tour, we especially appreciated the lovely style of architecture. Very simple and serene, but no less beautiful than the Palace of Versailles.
Here we are, all bundled up against the cold and wind. We are freezing! I probably shouldn't admit that I had 4 layers of clothes on, and I was still miserable. I'm in danger of losing my "Pioneer Alaskan Badge"!
Next stop on our tour was lunch! Yaaaay--we can warm up! We went to an older area of town, and walked through some very interesting streets on our way to our lunch spot.
Buddhist Nuns, all bundled up in their quilted winter gear, which I wished I was wearing:
Our lunch was served very soon after we were seated, our guide Kwak had taken everyone's order earlier and phoned it in--very efficient! David ordered Bibimbap, a rice dish with vegetables, served in a sizzling stone pot. I ordered the Bulgogi, a delicious broth with thin slices of beef, vegetables and rice noodles. Both meals were really good, and they were steaming HOT!
We ate our meal fairly quickly, so we'd have a little time to explore on our own. We had about 30 minutes to look around, and we walked down a very interesting street lined with antique shops. We enjoyed looking, but didn't buy anything. I also didn't take too many pictures, as I was trying to keep my hands warm with a cup of hot chocolate! Here are just a few:
A Korean gentleman, bundled up in a quilted coat and warm hat. I'm not sure, but he might be a Buddhist Monk:
A simple and pretty old building:
A large old stone building, now housing a fancy French restaurant:
We met up with our tour group, and walked a couple of blocks to our next stop, the Jogyesa Temple, the headquarters of the Jogyejong sect, the main sect of Korean Buddhism.
The interior of the main temple, it was very busy with many worshippers:
The interior walls were covered in very detailed and colorful mural paintings:
The exterior had pretty carved shutters:
And a series of very intricate painted panels:
I loved the guard lions, they certainly have a mouthful of teeth!
One of my favorite Buddhas--he's a happy Buddha!
It was now time to leave for our return trip to Incheon Airport, and we boarded our nice heated bus for the one hour ride. Kwak again answered our questions and graciously thanked us for allowing her to show us her city.
Back at Incheon International we cleared passport control and security, and had about 2 1/2 hours until our flight boarded. We were still cold, so we found Starbucks, and bought another cup of that very expen$ive coffee and tea.
Finally warmed up, we walked around the airport--it's really beautiful, certainly the nicest airport I've ever been in. They've been voted the "Best Airport in the World" in several yearly polls, and I can see why. It's very well laid out, easy to get around, and very bright and cheerful. It's full of nice shops, many great places to eat, and is absolutely spotless!
There's a stage for live music performances, these lovely ladies were playing soothing classical music:
One of the nicest features of Incheon Airport is it's 4 Korean Cultural Centers, located at each of the main concourses. They each have different activities that travelers can participate in, free of charge. We found two of them, the first one had a small painting project and a woven hairband to make. Each center is staffed by ladies in very pretty traditional Korean dress:
We visited another Cultural Center near our gate, this one had some Korean games to try, and a small stage set up. There were some beautiful Korean costumes to try on and pose for photos, so of course we did! David is looking especially handsome in his Red Royal Robes (Honggo Ilyongpo) and I'm wearing a Soryebok, a ceremonial costume worn by queens and princesses. Here we are, those silly Travelin' Lundburys:
We certainly enjoyed our "mini trip" to Korea, and think we might like to go back someday. But now it's finally time to board our 10 hour flight to Seattle. It was a loooooong flight, but they served us two nice meals, and we did get a little bit of sleep.
After quick trip through passport control and customs in Seattle, we still had another 6 hour layover. We killed time with a couple of Starbucks coffees, and a nice free lunch and delicious wine in the Alaska Airlines Board Room. A quick 1 hour flight, and we're back to reality in Spudville!
And now we're planning our next trip, hmmm.....where will those Lundburys go next? You just never know!
Stay tuned, and thanks for traveling along with us.