In 2013, I booked a trip to Seoul, South Korea. I mentally prepared myself to cross the other pond in coach, because it was a place I really wanted to visit. Then North Korea started playing with their missiles, and everyone advised me that maybe it was not the best time to visit. So I cancelled my ticket.
In 2014, armed with United Global Premier Upgrades, I decided to try my luck with Seoul again. I was aiming for Cherry Blossom Season, but I was off by about a week. It’s not really something you can plan on seeing unless you book a few weeks before hand.
So why Seoul? My uncle travels for work a lot and was always saying what a great place it is visit. And my cousin’s wife’s family is from there and they had just visited and their pictures looked amazing. And I was really interested in the DMZ area, being able to go into “North Korea”.
When I originally booked my ticket, I was scheduled to fly Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Seoul. Why connect thru Denver to get to San Francisco? This was the routing that worked that would allow my upgrade from coach to business class to clear. Originally I was scheduled to depart at 6 am, a few days before departure I was notified that I had been moved to a direct Chicago-San Francisco flight at 7 am. And then at 5 am, as I getting my bearings to head over to the airport, I get notified that my flight has been cancelled and I was now scheduled to depart Chicago at 9 pm, with a 10 hour layover in San Francisco, before heading to Seoul the next day. Hmm yeah, no. I called up United and had a conversation that sounded like code, so I am in ORD but I am trying to get to ICN, they have me overnighting in SFO, but I then I am a day late, can you check on the 13:00 to NRT, with a connection into ICN? Or maybe HKG?
Code Decodor: ORD– Chicago ICN– Seoul SFO-San Fransciso NRT-Narita Japan HKG-Hong Kong
Sure no problem says the agent, I can get on the 1:00 pm departure to NRT,connection to ICN, you’ll only be a few hour later then originally scheduled. I said great, until I remember I was on a coach fare with a upgrade. WAIT, tell me my upgrade is protected. I am not doing 13.45 in coach on a 747. Not happening. I rather stay home. Yes I am spoiled, yes I sound like a snob. Yes you can hate me just a little for that comment. But in all fairness, I fly a lot. Like over 100,000 miles in 2013. I know my limits. Thankfully, my upgrade was protected and all was right in the world again. Well until I realized how sleepy I was because I had not really slept the night before, anticipating 17 hours of flight time.
Finally arrive in Seoul, only to have to stand in a really long immigration line. Something to note, if you have Global Entry, you can apply to get the Seoul version of Global Entry, which would allow you to bypass the crazy lines. But it only makes senses if you fly to Seoul frequently.
This trip was booked before I starting dating Hyatt, so I was booked in at the Conrad Seoul. Because of my flight snafu, I arrived closer to midnight then late afternoon. And my dumb-ass had booked a tour with a 7am pickup the next day. You would think I would learn my lesson at some point. I was upgraded to a very nice room that had more buttons then I knew what to do with. I am pretty sure that toilet was trying to say Hello in Korean.
So the next morning, came to soon, it was time to go to the Demilitarized Zone tour, or the DMZ. Why?I wanted to say that I was in North Korea……
See one foot in both each country!
Looking over into the North Korean part of the DMZ
We stopped to have Korean BBQ for Lunch, I was not sure what some of the choices were, so I kept mine simple. Which turned out to be a good thing, because apparently the kimchi may or may not have had shellfish.
After lunch we headed to the Third Tunnel. At this point, I really wished I had signed up for the 1/2 day tour. The Third Tunnel was built by the North Koreans trying to invade South Korea. The key fact, it was dug by the North Koreans. They are not big people, so the tunnel maybe had a clearance of 5.8 in. And I am about 5.11. You see where this is headed? But wait, to get to the tunnel, you have to walk about 1/4 mile down, on a serious decline. Never once did it occur to me, that I would have to go back up on a serious incline. Yeah……
So I make it down to the tunnel entrance, I manage to walk in about 1 foot and I had to turn around. I kept bumping my head on the ceiling. So I go out and waited for the others from my tour group. Then I looked up and realized that I had to walk up the hill to get out. I will spare you the ugly details, let’s just say there was tears, prayers, hyperventilation, begging, bargaining and all other cries for help you could image. When I finally came crawling out, I look like I had taken a shower. Luckily I had some awesome grapefruit face wipes in my bag. I was able to cool off and refresh. And then I started offering them to other as they came out. Yep, I got a lot of strange looks.
I made some new friends at the hotel lounge, yes big surprise, so the next day they suggested I check out the City Bus Tour. Some fellow travelers from my previous day’s tour were on the bus and suggested stopping at the War Memorial Museum. I have to be honest, I probably would not have stopped normally, but I was glad I did. It was amazing. We only spent a few hours, but could have spent more. You probably need a few days to really see the whole thing. The best part, it’s free!
The next day, I was still not recovered from the jaunt to the tunnel, so I got back on the bus and checked out Insadong. It was an amazing spring days, flowers were in bloom and the shops were open.
Funny how I do not like to shop in Chicago, but in a foreign city, why not. South Korea is known for their cosmetics, and while I am not a big fan, I have friends that like stuff so I thought I would check it out. Snail Mucus anyone??? I ended up buying a lot of hand creams, face masks and perfume. A lot because the prices were great and they products are also really nice.
So after I was shopped out, I headed over to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Again beautiful day, flowers in bloom, HUGE palace to walk around. I managed a few pictures before I sought refugee on a bench and had a good cry because I realized I had to walk about 2 miles to get out of there.
All in all I really enjoyed my trip to Seoul. I would love to go back for the Cherry Blossom Festivals if I could time it properly.