We began our time in Seoul by exploring the Hongdae district with Chelsea's Korean friend Sean. We ate dessert waffles, which were so good after our early morning flight and train rides from Osaka, Japan to Seoul, and then walked around the area.
I'm most familiar with the texting/calling app "Whatsapp," but in Asia most people (including travelers) use "Line." It's very similar to Whatsapp, except it has a lot of emoji stickers. In the Hongdae district, there is a Line store, where you can shop for products featuring the cute Line emojis. I recommend downloading Whatsapp (for Latin America, Europe, Oceania) or Line (for Asia) before your next trip - both apps use internet for texting/calling, which makes communication with fellow travelers or people back home so much easier. If you don't have an international data plan for your phone, wifi works just fine for these apps!
Hongdae had a lot of really good buskers! I was very impressed with the musical talent here.
In some parts of Seoul, store names are written in English instead of Korean (not always, though.) This "Happy Pills" store made us laugh. We walked in and found out that it's a candy store!
Animal Cafes are popular in both Japan and South Korea. Sean, Chelsea, and I found this Meercat Cafe in the Hongdae area and spent awhile here cuddling with meercats and the other animals walking around the cafe - a wallaby, foxes, and cats.
In the evening, we met up with Chelsea's Korean friend Yewon. She showed us around the Dongdaemun area. We explored the market, which is a combination of street food stalls, retail malls, and wholesale stores.
We found a great little restaurant on the street where we stopped for dinner. Yewon introduced us to all kinds of delicious Korean foods. We are discovering that Korean food is much more spicy than Japanese food. I don't mind, because I like spicy!!
Of the countries I have visited so far, I think that South Korea has the best variety of delicious and unique food! Our second day in Seoul, Sean took us to a restaurant where we were able to taste many different foods. My favorites were the pork belly and a spicy soup! Unfortunately, I am still terrible at using metal chopsticks....
Bukchon Hanok Village
Next, we had plans to see the Gyeongbokgung Palace, but unfortunately it is closed on Tuesdays (when we were there). We enjoyed the afternoon anyways, renting traditional Korean Hanboks and exploring the Bukchon Hanok Village.
The women who worked at the rental shop were so kind to us. They helped us pick out gowns and get ready, and even did our hair in the traditional style for free!
It was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit this day, so we were pretty warm in these long dresses!
Sean was such a good sport all afternoon!
Insadong is a touristy area with lots of shops and restaurants. Chelsea and I enjoyed a free demonstration of this man making Kkul-tarea, a Korean sweet made of honey and cornflower.
He started with hardened honey and kneaded it into a ball. He then poked a hole in the center of the dough and pulled it apart to create an open hoop shape. He continued fold and then pull apart the hoop shape, doubling the number of strands each time, until he reached 16,000! He then cut small pieces of the honey-cornflower mixture and added an almond filling - then we got to taste it! So good!! He recommended eating it with tea.
Chelsea and I had fun walking around the area and doing some shopping!
Later, our friend Yewon came to Insadong to meet up with us and have dinner. She took us to a naengmyeon restaurant. We sat on mats on the floor and shared several dishes of kimchi, cold noodles, and dumplings. The cold noodles were served with a pair of scissors, because they are served all bunched up together in the middle of the broth (difficult to eat with chopsticks.) I thought it was so funny when Yewon stuck a giant pair of scissors into her bowl of noodles!
Insadong is definitely touristy, but it is a fun area to explore!
For those of you who didn't already know, the original draw to Asia for me was Seoul, South Korea specifically. I wanted to visit this city because it is where my mother was born. She was adopted through the Holt agency as an infant, and after a lot of research, I was able to get connected with Molly Holt, the daughter of the adoption agency's founders. The orphanage where my mom was no longer exists, but Holt still runs a different center in the city, Holt Ilsan. This center is a residential care facility for people with disabilities. On our third day in Seoul, we were able to tour the center, visit Memorial Hall that provided history about the Holt agency, meet some of the residents, and spend time with Molly and Dr. Cho, a pediatrician who has worked for Holt for a long time.
Memorial Hall was really cool to see, because it explained a lot about the orphanages that existed during the time my mom was adopted.
The first black-and-white photo is of the actual center where my mom lived for the first few months of her life. The second photo is of adoptee babies on a charter plane on their way to the USA for adoption.
Molly and Dr. Cho both worked for Holt during the time my mother was adopted. They were both such kind hosts, inviting Chelsea and I into their home all day and making us lunch. It was such a special day!
In the evening, Chelsea and I met up with our couchsurfing host, Soyoung, and her friend, Sohye. They took us to the Mangwon-dong market, where we enjoyed walking around and tasting so many delicious new foods!
After exploring the marketplace, the four of us went to a Korean BBQ restaurant for dinner. It was such a fun experience! Our restaurant had big glass doors that were opened out onto the street. We ate pork belly, skin, and neck, cooked over a fire and grill at our table. We were given various sauces and powders to season the meat, and we drank Soju mixed with beer (common here in Korea).
After dinner, we went to a cool surfer-themed bar for a drink, where we met some friendly locals and travelers. Then, Chelsea and I went for a walk along the Han River with Soyoung.
Old City Hall
Originally, we thought that my mom had been left at City Hall before getting transferred to Holt. However, after talking with Molly and sorting through paperwork, we found out that she was actually first left at a police station in a part of Seoul called Seodaemun, and then came to City Hall afterwards. On our fourth day in Seoul, Chelsea came with me to visit this building, which still stands today, but now as the Seoul Metropolitan Library.
The new City Hall is situated just behind the old building, in Seoul Plaza.
After some help from our couchsurfing host, we found out where Seodaemun is, and were able to visit the very same police station where my mother first came. We weren't sure if it was the same building when we arrived, but thanks to the kindest man, Mr. Chong, and google translate which allowed us to communicate, we figured out that it is the same station from the year she was here.
War Memorial of Korea
In the afternoon, Chelsea and I visited the War Memorial of Korea, which is actually one of the best museums I've ever been to. It was laid out well and provided so much information about both the Korean War specifically and Korea's history with wars in general.
There were three floors to the museum, but we unfortunately were only able to explore 1 1/2 of them because of closing time. We could have spent all day there if we had time, though!
Outside of the museum are several monuments as well as tanks, planes, and ships from the Korean War.
I HIGHLY recommend visiting this museum if you are in Seoul!
Myeong-dong is a shopping district in Seoul, where a lot of young people come to hangout. Our friend Yewon took us here to walk around, eat dinner, and sing karaoke!
Korea is known for its skincare products, and Etude House is one of the popular skincare/makeup stores that you can find all around the city. I don't really wear makeup while traveling, but it was fun to try out some masks!
Korea makes really good fried chicken! Yewon took us to a restaurant called Mattacco for dinner, and the food was yummy!
Seoul was such a fun city to explore. I am especially thankful for the opportunity I had to learn some more about my own family history, and for the people who helped me along the way. Next, we are taking a train ride down to the southern coastal city of Busan!