Vacation to Seoul South Korea – Day 5 – Seoul Tower

The Sky Hotel where we are staying has internet but not Wi-Fi. Lori brought her netbook along and has been plugging in via hard wire to get on the internet. We brought an electrical adapter and a power strip so that our personal electronic devices, cameras, and netbook can remain charged.  My I-Touch receives unsecure Wi-Fi signals everywhere, but I can only connect at coffee shops and the Lotte Mart. Apparently, membership is required to gain access. We will try to get ahold of Olleh–the mass transit internet provider–to get a temporary pass so we can better communicate with Chris and I can begin blogging on the train while the experience is still fresh in my mind. 

Chris had a date with a local girl from Paju on Thursday and went out to a shooting range with some friends on Friday, so today (Saturday) was our day to reunite as he needed some parent time and we needed some only-child time. We connected via facebook chat and agreed to meet at 1:00. As we were leaving, we received a facebook notification chime and answered it. Chris’ co-teacher had just called to tell him that it was winter graduation day and he was required to attend. We understood and decided to venture out on our own.

Our subway station at Unseo is HUGE. It is very modern and about the size of 4 city blocks above ground and could be even bigger underground. At the time of day when we have been traveling, there have only been a few handfuls of people there waiting to ride or arriving. There must have been an astronomical cost to build this station, and similar stations are everywhere. There are at least eleven subway lines with many stations on each. The infrastructure to create this mass transit system is mind-boggling, but extremely well-designed, efficient, and affordable. The ride to downtown Seoul cost about $3. 

The end of the line for our train is downtown in Seoul Station about a 45 minute ride. Our first day trip by bus took over 90 minutes. The train is the way to go. Seoul Station is the mother of all stations. It occupies over 10 city blocks above ground and is even larger than that below ground. It is modern and spacious throughout with tall ceilings, escalators, and moving walkways. It is crowded with people like an airport, but the space makes it O.K. The station is at least 6 levels deep with the immediate overhead ceiling about 20 feet. There are places where the ceiling is over 100 feet tall. It is impressive and quite navigable–even for foreigners.

I decided that we would spend the day at Seoul Tower. Seoul Tower is a communications and observation tower atop a mountain near the city center of Seoul. The city of Seoul and most Korean cities were built with fung shway techniques. The original city has mountains to the North and a river to the South. Now that over 24 million people live here, there are mountains and waterways everywhere. We hailed a cab and rode to the drop-off point near the top of Namsam Mountain for about $10–including park admission.

There were about 20 empty tour busses there. The area was already crowded with people and we weren’t at the top yet.  We had to walk the remaining very steep 1/4 mile to the tower. The view was already spectacular and we still had to go up another 250 meters in the tower. We braved another day of single digit temperatures and a brisk wind to enjoy the view that the mountain provided.

People from around the world had purchase mementos and left their mark on one of two decorated places. The first place was a series of Christmas tree metal frames that were adorned with padlocks of many shapes, sizes, and colors. Although many locks had rusted over the years, it was still a pretty cool work of art created by thousands of individuals. From a short distance, they looked like well-decorated Christmas trees.

The second place was inside. It was a wall of fame where individuals could purchase a 4″ tile, decorate it or write a message on it and adhere it to the walls of the observatory. The many messages in several languages was fun to look at. The hand drawings and photos added color to the myriad of tiles that sent messages of peace and love to all who passed by.

We purchased our tower tickets and decided to have a bite to eat. We entered a snack shop and ordered a hot dog and a chicken plate. Both were very good and would please any American with their familiarity. We then proceeded to the tower where we experienced a breathtakingly beautiful view in every direction. Seoul is not set up in a grid pattern. All of the roads seem to be haphazardly arranged around the various degrees of elevation and the waterways. There are areas of small buildings, all under 5 stories tall, but the majority of buildings are 20 stories or higher–and there are a LOT of them. Waves of civilization carry off to the horizon in all directions. It is absolutely beautiful and has been the highlight of Seoul, so far. It is supposed to be even more spectacular at night. We must go back after dark.

We decided to walk back to the train station and began our decent down the stone and wood plank path. On our way down we encountered many people on their way up by foot–quite a feat as there must be thousands of steps. We stopped at a street vendor who was frying something that looked like a pancake on an oil soaked grill. We ordered one, she folded it and gave it to us in a paper cup and charged us $1. It was a fantastic cinnamon pancake.

We made it to the bottom and kept walking toward the station. We passed many residences and buildings in an old neighborhood. From peering through the windows, we deduced that many of the businesses were small–about the size of an American kitchen–and were selling various products, food, and services. But the cool thing was that the people lived behind the business, as there was a back door leading to a residence. Most of the storefronts were about 15-20 feet wide, so the living quarters must have had similar widths. Few were busy, but all had one person inside doing stuff on a computer.

Seoul Station was about a 45 minute walk from the base of the mountain. The wind was whipping and we decided to warm up at a Hilton Hotel. We had passed the hotel on our previous day’s bus trip and remembered that it had a Casino with 50 slot machines. Lori bolted for the slots while I watched the gaming tables. This Casino had about 20 gaming tables–about half of them were Roulette. I found a perch where I could observe this craps-like game that used 3 dice. This game moved very slowly with 4-5 minutes between rolls. Players could bet on the face result of one die, 2, or all 3 dice. The table was electronically underlit so that after the roll, the winning bets were illuminated from underneath. It was obvious who won and who lost but it was never obvious what money belonged to whom. I guess they worked on the honors system. I watched them play for over an hour and got warmed up in this interesting atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Lori was playing dime slots and struck up a conversation with an English-speaking woman who was a flight attendant for Lufthansa. She was on one of many layovers in Seoul and commented that these slots were the tightest in the world. Lori’s $10 did not go very far, but she ended up having a nice conversation with another world traveler.

We hit the bathroom on the way out and were amazed by the electronic bidet that could water wash your bottom from front or back or both. We didn’t realize that one push of the button does not run a complete cycle like at the car wash. One push on, second push off, then a blow dry of cold air. Interesting…

We completed our journey to Seoul Station then found our rail line and did some people watching on the way home. The majority of Korean women of any age are fit, thin, and beautiful, the remaining women are slender and attractive. Every woman has her own unique style and has spent time accessorizing to create her look for the day. Everyone wears really nice scuff-free shoes–2 to 4 inch spike heels are common.

Guys are dressed neat. Professionals wear suits. Students wear skinny jeans. Everyone wears nice scuff-free shoes.  In almost any situation, I am the tallest and heaviest person in the room at 6′ 1″ and 210 pounds. No one is dressed “ratty”.

We arrived home and walked to the Lotte Mart to pick up some snacks. I counted 19 employees in the gift pack area alone! All of them were either dressed in long colorful gowns or in black. There were a couple of guys in black wearing a chef’s hat in the seafood department. His helpers were wearing blue. Pink was the color in the meat department, and red in the deli. Every so often one of them would holler something in Korean to gain people’s attention while they pointed to the item of the day. The grocery store is a fun place to hang out. We bought a quart of pineapple juice and a quart of nectarine juice for about $0.60 each.

We ordered pizza and spaghetti for dinner and had it delivered. It was delicious. I was feverish and had body aches, so I took some NyQuil that Lori had packed and went to bed early. Another day of  exceptional experiences in a strange land.

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Published in: on January 30, 2011 at 9:15 am  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That must have been a nice trip..(?)
    I bet you saw it, but there is a cable car that connects directly to the Nam-San Tower.

    It would have been better if you took the cable car..

    (sorry about my english, I’m Korean ^^;)

    • We saw the cable but not the cable car. Apparently it was not running on the day we were there.

  2. Sounded like you had a great time. I’m actually in Korea right now visiting my dad. I’m at Camp Humphreys and plan on going to the tower in 2 days to meet up with an old High School friend. I know how to take the bus and the train to ge tto Seoul but, how to I get to the tower from there? I have been all over the internet and can’t seem to find a way. lol I don’t know any Korean what-so-ever and I’m going alone. Kinda scary but you gotta do what you gotta do….

    -Martha

    • Trains go to the foot of the mountain below the Seoul Tower, but busses and cabs will take you most of the way to the top. There’s a drop off point about a quarter mile from the tower. It is a fun walk with lots of people. A nighttime trip may be of interest. The lights of Seoul are impressive. Pick up a subway guide or download an iphone app “Seoul Metro Lite” to find the best mode of transportation to get to the tower.

      We don’t speak any Korean either. We hailed a cab and said “Seoul Tower” and the driver took us there even though it was obvious that he didn’t speak much English. He understood the English words for their tourist attractions. We have found cabbies to be most courteous, helpful, and polite.


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