[Where I’m At; a monthly update of what I’ve been up to, site news, and where I’m going next.]
Greetings from Seoul!
At the start of the month Seoul was not even a consideration. I was originally planning to travel to Sapa in Northern Vietnam, and then cross the border to China. I wanted to visited Kunming on the new railway that connects to the Vietnam border, and explore some of Yunnan Province. This was to be part of my future Southeast Asia railway research.
Once I started planning the trip, things weren’t working out in my favour. I couldn’t find any available tickets on the trains for the days I would be there, which was the main reason I wanted to go. I then went to get a Chinese visa in Saigon, and the queue at the consulate was out the door and down the street. Plus I only have one page in my passport left, and I read that might cause some trouble.
With my flight to Hanoi already booked, and needing to depart Vietnam a few days later before my visa expires, I booked a flight to Seoul instead. It turned out to be a good choice, and I will make another attempt for Sapa and Kunming another time.
Where I’ve Been
I started the month in home base Saigon. My friend Kevin from themadtraveler.com visited during the month, who I cross paths with once a year. He has written several guide books, including some beer guides. I acted as tour guide and wove a path through the city to the new craft beer places that have proliferated across the city. As a non-drinker I have never been to these places, so it was interesting to see these modern establishments opening. I will post a link to his blog post once it is done.
I’ve posted before about the changing face of Saigon, and every month there is more construction mayhem. I’m all for a new metro line, but it’s taking a toll of the look of the old city area. If you haven’t been to Saigon, see it soon before the central area loses more of its colonial-era heritage.
This month the big trees on Le Loi were cut down. These were perhaps the grandest trees of any major city in Southeast Asia.
My original plan was to arrive in Hanoi and get the train to Sapa the next day. With my new travel plan I would only of had half a day in Sapa before flying out, so I opted to spend a few days in Hanoi. Not a bad choice as I always enjoy returning. I think hanoi is the most interesting capital city in Southeast Asia. I haven’t been to Naypyidaw but I’m going to call this one and say Hanoi is the better option.
When I arrived at Hanoi I still had mobile credit on my Vietnamese sim card. The natural reaction for me is to break out my mobile phone and scroll through my social media. Instead of doing that I made a point to observe the journey into the city from the airport. I think that is good for any city you are unfamiliar with, and to notice any landmarks or potential things to see. In this case we drove by a restaurant that looked busy so I noted it down. It turned out to be Bun Bo Nam Bo, which I had never had before and it was amazing.
There are about a dozen flights a day from Hanoi to Seoul, most of which are overnight (especially the cheap flights). My flight was from 1.45am to 7.55am. A four hour flight with no chance of sleep, so I resigned myself to being a zombie upon arrival. (Speaking of zombies and South Korea, check out Train to Busan, which is a zombie movie set on a train from Seoul to Busan.)
I arrived at Incheon at 8am and found myself in awe of the magnificent infrastructure of the airport and the railway station. It’s a vast difference between Southeast and East Asian infrastructure.
There are 25 million people living in Greater Seoul, making it the 16th biggest city in the world. It’s an enormous city and I didn’t really know where to stay for the first time. I lucked out though and booked a guesthouse near the Cheonggyecheon Stream. This stream was paved over and had an elevated freeway built over it in the 1960’s. The freeway has since been demolished and the stream reinstated as an urban walkway in 2005. This urban renewal project is over 10km long, and walking along it was an ideal introduction to this modern city.
I’m staying in three different neighbourhoods over eight nights to give myself a taste of different areas.
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ICYMI – Last months posts
Thao Dien – the coolest neighbourhood in Saigon – Thao Dien is a neighbourhood by the Saigon River that could be the “Seminyak of Saigon”.
While I was in Hanoi I visit Bun Cha Obama – the restaurant that Obama and Bourdain ate at in Hanoi.
I’ve updated the Kuala Lumpur Cafes list, incase you are looking for good places to work.