Our tour began on a sleepy Sunday morning. The Fort McMurray MBA students had to add an extra flight to their journey and flew down to meet the Edmonton MBA students in YEG. We met at the airport at 6:30 am and were all given a micro USB/lightning port converter & charger; an awesome gift from Korea Tourism that will definitely come in handy. After a quick flight to and stopover in Vancouver, we jetted off to Seoul. It was a long 11 hour flight that experienced a few rounds of turbulence. Luckily, we were well equipped with neck pillows, which cushioned our journey there. Some slept on the flight and some watched movies the whole time…. regardless the jet lag strategy, we were all a little groggy when we arrived. Thankfully Professor Roberts was there to receive us zombies at the airport with a shuttle bus ready to go! As Seoul is 15 hours ahead of Edmonton, by the time we arrived in Seoul we had travelled into the future and lost a day. We bused into the center of Seoul and checked into our brand new hotel, the Courtyard Marriot Namdaemun.
Our first excursion on Monday evening was a walking tour of beautiful Gyengbokgung Palace. We had to race the clock to get there as the palace closed early. Professor Roberts acted as our tour guide, educating us on some of the history and culture of this amazing city.
Since the last Korean President was impeached and eventually removed from position, there is an election happening while we are here. The streets were full of candidate posters and supporters. Fun fact: anyone can run for presidency, you just need a certain amount of signatures on a petition to get your name on the ballot. There were over 10 different candidates in the election, however only a couple serious ones: Candidate 1 (blue) and Candidate 8 (orange) were the favourites and had parades of people singing, dancing and marching in the streets.
When the tour was done, we split up into smaller groups for dinner and enjoyed some free time to explore the neighborhood around our hotel. We went to the market and enjoyed a Korean BBQ style dinner where they cooked the food right in front of us. We all enjoyed the experience, and Brent introduced us to Soju – a traditional Korean rice wine!
Ed the travel bear ate and drank a little too much, plus some bloating from the flight, he’s totally unrecognizable!
We woke up Tuesday morning and enjoyed an absolutely delicious breakfast at our hotel: everything from eggs and pastries to dumplings and noodles were available. After breakfast, we walked from our hotel Seoul’s historic South Gate. The huge stone structure is over 600 years old, and was originally part of the wall that surrounded the old city. After a few pictures and another history lesson for Prof. Roberts, we hopped on the bus and headed towards North Seoul Tower.
North Seoul Tower is located in the middle of a beautiful forested park not far from the heart of the city. We struggled the uphill trek for about 30 minutes to get to the base of the tower and then took the elevator up to the observatory where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the city. From way up high we could see both North and South Seoul, the river that splits the two, and the mountains that surround the city. This scenic view of the city could be enjoyed from the facilities as each toilet faces outside!
We left North Seoul Tower and went for a walk through the city along Cheonggyecheon, a beautiful stream-side walking path. This river runs through the centre of the city and Prof. Roberts explained the history behind it and its reclamation into a beautiful city park.
We then made our way to Jogyesa Temple. For the celebration of Buddha’s birthday, the courtyard surrounding the temple was decorated with thousands of paper lanterns of all colours creating a picturesque canopy above our heads.
From the temple we walked to Insa-dong, a trendy neighborhood with a wide selection of restaurants and shops. We split up for an hour and change to find lunch and do a little shopping: deep-fried dumplings were a fan favourite (also, coffee and Red Bull).
We continued on foot and made our way to Deoksugung Palace just in time to see the changing of the guard—a fun, theatrical ceremony outside the palace gate. When it was over, we split into two groups, one of which went back the hotel for some well-deserved rest, while the second group entered the palace and spent some time touring the grounds.
After a small rest, we went out to watch a theatrical comedy cooking show called Nanta. It was a mix of music and dance, with audience engagement pieces (we were in the balcony so unfortunately no one from our group got pulled up on stage). The show had the group in fits of laughter and was a great experience all around. For dinner we split up into small groups again, and after a long day filled with lots of walking and touring, we happily headed back to our hotel for a well-deserved early bedtime.
Unfortunately, Ed the travel bear slept in and missed out on all the fun on Day 2… maybe he will join us tomorrow? Stay tuned!
Blog post written by Korea-Thailand Study Tour participant Gregory Dobbelsteyn.