Bangkok-Seoul, S. Korea
After a few fitful hours of sleep and numerous bites from either mosquitoes, bedbugs or most likely both, we stumbled out of bed and quickly left in search of clean sit down bathrooms and coffee.
We followed the recommendations for the Lonely Planet “1 day in Bangkok” walking tour and barely made it one block before a Swiss girl invited herself to be our company for the day. She also was in the midst of a multi-month tour all by herself throughout SE Asia like everyone we have met.
We walked to the Royal Palace, one of the most famous of all the sights in the city and home to the Emerald Buddha. We all opted out to go inside after seeing the admission was $15, when all else was only a dollar or two. Really how many Buddha’s can one see in a single trip without getting a bit fatigued?
We walked along the waterfront and through the amulet market and down to Wat Pho, home of the reclining Buddha. The reclining Buddha is 45 ft. high 160ft. long and gold plated, and one of over 1,000 Buddha images in the complex. It was actually quite impressive and beautiful, and the small Wat’s surrounding the area were quite beautiful as well.
We took a ferry across the river to Wat Arun, and climbed to the top of this temple overlooking the city. The steps were incredibly steep, but we were rewarded with beautiful views and a nice breeze in the stifling heat. Bangkok is known as the “Venice of Asia” and has many waterways throughout the city where you can visit floating markets, fish farms, etc.
We finished the day doing some last minute shopping as we were dripping sweat and feeling more filthy and exhausted than we have the entire trip. We were allowed to shower at our guesthouse where we had left the bags all day just lying on the floor in the reception area. All day we stressed out wondering if our bags had been stolen or rummaged through, but we found them there and intact as we had left them.
All in all we weren’t thrilled by anything in Bangkok and frankly couldn’t wait to leave. We couldn’t decide if it was because we were at the end of the trip and travel weary or not but it we just didn’t like it especially compared to all the beautiful places we had been in Thailand.
We flew out just before midnight and arrived in Seoul at 0700. I had planned previously to meet up with my cousin Melanie who has been living there for the last two years with her boyfriend who is stationed there with the military. When I bought our tickets I intentionally selected one with the longest layover, giving us about 13 hours in Seoul. Luckily there is no visa fee or entry or departure fees for Korea so it was pretty much a free trip to another country we had never been to.
We took the super clean and fast train from the airport straight into center city Seoul where we met with my cousin and her boyfriend. We hiked the 3 miles to the top of Namsan Mountain to Seoul Tower (Seoul’s version of the space needle), where a series of trails are linked by parks and exercise equipment along the way. On the top of the mt. Korean lovers hang signed padlocks, sealing their love for eternity. The view from the top of the mountain overlooking the city was too foggy to see much, but it was a beautiful hike and we enjoyed the cool fresh winter air and great company. It was amazing to hear how many outdoor activities are at their fingertips by living here and bing surrounded by mountains and ocean; snowboarding, kiteboarding, camping, mountainbiking, rock climbing, wakeboarding, you name it they do it. Half way through the day we were already planning our trip back for an extended amount of time.
We strolled around the Itaewon shopping district, sampled some delicious street food, had some amazing tea at a traditional Korean tea house and lunch of course including some real delicious Kimchi. It was strange strolling around Seoul, an exceptionally clean, safe and friendly city knowing that enough artillery and rockets are pointed at the city to vaporize it into a “sea of fire” as leader Kim Jong Un has threatened, and that 1 million plus N. Korean soldiers are only 30 miles away waiting to march across the DMZ. As the U.S. has been distracted by never ending wars in the Middle East, N. Korea has been steadily arming itself as a viable nuclear threat led by the world’s youngest head of state at 31 years old, allegedly one of the most megalomaniacal and dangerous men in the world who recently executed his uncle and his family by feeding them alive to 120 dogs.
As this trip comes to a close I am grateful that I have the ability to travel and to have experiences that oftentimes broaden and shape my opinions about life and morality and what it means to be an American and a global citizen at this moment in history. Some travel to relax, some to escape, some to see new places and experience new cultures, some to indulge in hedonistic practices they don’t or can’t do at home. Whatever your reason for travel, I end this trip with the quote I began it with, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I can only hope that our experiences can educate and motivate others to opt out of their Disney World or Vegas trips for one year and see this beautiful world we live in while we still can.