After meandering around Japan for a few weeks, I figured that I might as well check out South Korea while I was in that corner of the world. I have a friend who lives there, and I thought it'd be fun to visit. Unfortunately, my friend ended up being out of town the same week I visited. But he was helpful enough to send a huge list of recommendations. On top of that, I was actually really pleased to get back to some solo traveling after spending the past week in Japan with a large group.

One thing that was miserable, though, was the return trip! Since Seoul was a secondary thought, I had already booked a round trip ticket from Tokyo back to the States. And so I had to fly from Seoul back to Tokyo, plus manage my own international transfer in between. All said and done, it was 26+ hours of travel from Seoul back home! To make matters worse, I'm not typically able to sleep well on planes, meaning much of the time was spent with a sore back and tired brain.

Worth it!

I spent the first night in Seoul, like most of my first nights in cities, just wandering around. I was in the Gangnam district and spotted this cool statue.
Spotted this funny collection of Pokemon hanging outside a shop in Gangam as well :)
I don't often do portrait photography, for a variety of reasons. But I snapped this quick photo while walking around, and it turned out to be one of my favorites on the trip.
Here's a view from the hotel I stayed at my first two nights! I had the foresight to realize that I would probably be ready for a nice, private room at this point in my trip. And I was absolutely correct! I had a few days of comfy beds, soaking in hot springs and eating lavish meals to recharge my battery before heading back to the hostels.
My second day in Korea, I went walking around a bit further north. Here's a neat building I stumbled upon, which made for what I think is a cool photo.
Korea is known for their cafes, and many feature animals as the main attraction. Some of them are a bit unethical, but there's some good ones if you do your research. This was The Mi Three, which is a small family-owned coffee shop with a few Shiba Inus they let hang out. As best I can tell, they've owned all the dogs since they were puppies.
You could tell all the Shibas were really happy to be there, and the barista was very attentive to make sure that both the guests and the pups were having a good time.
I really couldn't get enough of these cute doggies. When the time is right for me, I'd love to get a Shiba of my own! I find them such an interesting and handsome breed. And a great size!
After the coffee shop, I went out exploring some traditional markets.
It was cool to see all the foods on display. At this particular market, the lady gave me a mischeveous grin and offered me a sample of something which I assume was raw seafood marinated in a gochujang-based sauce. Someone started filming me when I agreed to try it, so I'm thinking it must have been a "haha see what the white tourist does!"
That night, I went out to a few nice cocktail bars that my friend recommended. This one had some cool art installations outside, pictured here.
The inside was rather nice, as well :)
The next day, my fun at the fancy hotel had to come to an end. But check out this hostel! All the walls and even ceiling were covered with polaroids from guests. It was a great little place, well managed with friendly staff and patrons.
On the following day, I decided to go for a hike.
Just kidding, it wasn't a hike! Crazy, right? This coffe shop had a whole forest inside it, complete with this cool pool. It's hard to tell in this photo, but it was probably 10 feet deep with some really need floating planters anchored around inside.
Some of the walkways between areas were shallow pools as well.
And some of the tables were actually aquariums! Super neat place, probably the most memorable that I've been to. And the ambiance was great, as well. Here's a brief video.
After the cool forest-themed coffee shop, I started heading back towards the main city center. It was a long walk, but with some great views!
The next stop on my tour of coffee shops was space-themed.
While a bit less impressive than the forest-themed cafe, this one was still cool!
More than the ambiance itself, I loved the menu. As you can see, everything was made to look like galaxies, nebulas and other spacey vibes.
That night, I headed back to the hostel to meet some folks for dinner and drinks. We ended up going to a few game spots, including a batting cage and pool. It turns out that Australians have some REALLY weird rules for pool, which made for a fun night.
However...even weirder than Australian pool was Korean pool. Notice anything weird?
I wanted to check out yet another cafe, this one with apparently legendary city views. Unfortunately, they were closed...oh well, the lobby had some cool wood carvings!
A trip to Seoul wouldn't be complete without visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace. Here we were watching the changing of the guards ceremony, and I snagged a cool front-row photo.
It was surprisingly empty, and I managed to get this really cool photo as well. One of the schticks associated with the palace is that you get free entry if you dress in traditional Korean garb. Lots of local places rent out the garb. It's a cool idea that seems like a win all around for perserving history, making for a fun experience, helping local business, etc.
Part of the Gyeongbokgung Palace included a recreation of an older historical Korean town. They had some hats you could try on, and I got this funny photo.
While most restaurants in Korea featured at-table kiosks for ordering food without a waiter involved, this was the first (and only) time I saw fully robot waiters!
As foreshadowed in my Tokyo blog post, I won this "Fuggler" that Bryan was trying to win. As such, I kept myself entertained in Korea by occasionally antagonizing Bryan on how much fun me and the Fuggler were having together.
Me and my best buddy, out hiking in Mount Seorak.
As alluded to above, my last day in Korea I took a bus out to the other side of the country to visit Mount Seorak and then Nami island on the way back. This was a cool photo of a small town on the ride there.
It was snowing quite heavily at the national park. It made for a beautiful hike, but then a disappointing view at the summit of the mountain.
I passed this older gentleman out hiking. Good for him!
Sometimes ignoring people's advice leads to the most rewarding experiences. Everyone (signs included) warned me that I shouldn't hike this route without microspikes and other safety gear. I decided to ignore them, and see how far I could make it in my old boots and jacket.
Some portions of the trail had a...small...amount of snowfall on them. This was supposed to be a standing walkway, so I'd guess about four feet of snow covering it.
No further comments, just a neat view of a suspension bridge along the hike.
The hike terminated in what I'm sure is an impressive waterfall any other season. Winter, though? It was barely a trickle heading down the slopes!
Overall, I was glad that I ignored the cautions from everyone to venture off on my own. There were a few moments where I fell, but overall I didn't feel like I was in any danger. And the recommended paths were all very underwhelming.
After the national park, we headed to Nami island. This place was picturesque, but a total tourist trap. It's an island that was bought recently, and then renovated and marketed exclusively to attract tourists.
Like most tourist spots, the animals were largely impartial to me and my camera.
I was underwhelmed with Nami island, so spent my time just trying to find new and weird photographs to take. Here's a weird uprooted tree trunk.
After killing a few largely boring hours, there was at least a good sunset on the ferry back!
Lastly, I'll kick off the food photos with another funny one! This made me giggle a lot.
The first hotel I stayed at in Gangnam had a really impressive breakfast spread.
And here's some pictures from the Berry Berry Cafe shown above. The foods were all so pictureque, and all of them incorporated berries of some kind.
Of course, a trip to Korea wouldn't be complete without some authentic Korean BBQ!
I also found a really good yakitori place near one of my Airbnbs. The most unique, and my favorite, was pork belly wrapped quail eggs. Yum!
And, of course, some delicious Korean fried chicken. My mouth is watering just thinking about it...
I can't remember the name of this dish, but it was a traditional Korean stew.
Korea had so many high-quality bakeries. Here's a cute cake that one was selling.
Lastly, here's a street vendor selling these rice balls wrapped with seared meats.
And the finished product from the above. They were pretty good!