You can read about how our trip began here.
Our first day began with a quick breakfast and a brief walk to Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Staying in Myeong-dong meant that we were close to two different subway stations, surrounded by countless boutiques, restaurants, and my favourite - skin care and cosmetics stores! Being surrounded with such variety also meant we came across plenty of different people from all walks of life.
Our walk took us past the Cheonggyecheon River, which seemed to be holding a small function.
You could immediately see the palace and mountainous backdrop once we'd crossed the busy junction and made it to Gwanghwamun Plaza.
The vast open area was very peaceful and high in security - there were plenty of policemen dotted along the path up towards Gwanghwamun Gate. The '12.23 Fountain' honours the achievements of Admiral Yi Sun-sin who led Korea to victory during Japanese invasions in 1592-1598. '12.23' represents the 23 battles fought with 12 warships.
Further towards Gwanghwamun Gate, we came across a huge bronze statue of King Sejong the Great. This statue was placed here on Hangeul Day in 2009 to celebrate the 563rd anniversary of the King's invention of the Korean alphabet.
We were in awe of the detail that went into creating both of these statues!
Gwanghwamun Gate reminded me a lot of Tiananmen Gate and the Forbidden City - from the style of building, to the way that there was a large road separating the open, public square from the entrance to the palace.
Directly outside the gates of the palace, we saw several 'statues' surrounded by people eager for photographs. It wasn't until we were closer that we realised that these were real, living Korean guards of the palace, dressed in traditional Korean dress and unmoving or responsive to those around them. Kind of like the British Royal Guards.
I managed to jump in for a photo opportunity with the guard below. At one point, the flag blew in front of his face and remained there. He made no move to shift it, and I did not dare touch it in case it was an offence of some sort. Luckily, it moved soon enough, and I got my photo with the guard before thanking him in my broken and newly learnt Korean 'Thank You'.
Spot Sarah and Kabe!
It was so strange seeing the modern buildings behind the traditional palace! I love how several hundreds of years later, we can still explore the buildings that our ancestors might have walked past or even roamed through. One of my favourite things about history is how culture and tradition lives through even if physical buildings and material things have long disintegrated.
YES, I finally made it to highest rank of amongst the senior officials (正一品)! The higher ranked you are, the closer you get to stand to the King during daily meetings! :)
Not entirely sure what I'm doing with my face here...
I love how everyone respected the buildings and took off their shoes as instructed, even though they weren't policed to. Also not sure who wears heels to explore the huge grounds within the palace...
Kin and HJ oppa seemed to be getting on very well at one point... I remember the three of us trailing behind them and wondering what they were discussing so intently :P
Eventually, we made it into the more nature-filled parts of the palace.
It was so peaceful out in the palace gardens. I could imagine myself in one of those olden day dramas :P I'd be out here sipping tea and playing chess all the time!!
Once we left the palace, we came across The Blue House; the executive office and official residence of the President of the Republic of Korea! We also saw several guards with guns pacing the streets outside the House which we attempted to take photos of. Obviously, we were told that photos were strictly forbidden.
By this time, we were extremely hungry... so off to lunch we walked in the scorching sun.
On our way, we strolled past a fashion blogger getting photos taken for her blog (I'm guessing :P). We seemed to come across quite a bit of this in South Korea!
Unfortunately, I have no idea what the name of the restaurant was, but we had a small lunch consisting of kimchi, seafood pancake, and sujebi (수제비) - my new favourite!
Where there's food... There's a camera :D
That sly glance... :P
There was even makgeolli (Korean rice wine)!
Having satisfied our stomachs, we set off for the Bukchon Hanok Village... which was up a massive hill and felt like a terrible workout for my super unfit self. My poor, poor, legs and lungs D:
It was definitely worth the walk, though.
An hour later, we were deeply in need of a pit stop and power up. What better than eating 'snow' on a super hot day?
Mango snow, red bean snow.. with a side of red bean and tteok (rice cake)! We also had a deliciously refreshing cinnamon ice drink :)
And again, the camera always 'eats' first :P
Our next stop was Insa-dong, where we found the famous poo bread and plenty of quirky, artsy shops and installations!
We came across our first Korean Starbucks...
...and also got to try the famous foot-long ice cream!
Eventually, we made our way back to the hotel via the subway. It was kind of worrying seeing these cabinets dotted around every station we went into. It was easy to forget that the war with North Korea never really ended.
Once we got back to the hotel, we decided to get started on the birthday cake that I received the evening before. I never expected that I would receive a birthday cake in Seoul; I was so surprised when Kabe brought in the cake a short while after we'd arrived at the hotel!
I'm so thankful for Sarah and Kabe :)
Myeong-dong in the evening was truly bustling - perhaps even more than in the day!
#Followmeto have some dinner? :P
HJ oppa found us a place for some yummy Korean barbecue!
'Derp face' mode on...
If you look closely at the tables below, each one had a small space for the barbecue fire - this was in the form of stone pot filled with hot, glowing coal! This got me really curious about how the health and safety worked in these restaurants! I guess I'll never know, but it was pretty impressive.
To aid digestion and view the city in a different light (ha!), we strolled gently back to the hotel.
We even managed to fit in some shopping before the shops closed! The beauty of staying in Myeong-dong :) Ahh, I really miss it now :(
Here's a sneaky shot in Skin Food - remember what I said about variety? :) I'd never dare to wear her skirt since its more unconventional, but I like that she just does Her, and wears whatever she wants :) Perhaps that's something I should work towards this year? Confidence in myself? :)
And finally, you couldn't call me a make up addict if I didn't leave you with a picture of my haul from that evening!
We tried to sleep earlier that evening, in preparation for our early wake up the next day, for our tour of the Demilitarised Zone despite our friends encouraging us not to go! ><
It had been an extremely busy day, but I really enjoyed seeing so many different parts of Seoul - especially getting to see the different types of buildings and designs! At no point did I feel as if we were wasting our time. Sometimes, I arrive in a country and after the first day I am already a bit weary or anxious about what is to come during the rest of the holiday. With South Korea, I was so excited for the rest of our time there, I was already dreading leaving!
Thank you for reading so far - I am aware that my posts are always on the longer side. I have considered following the footsteps of other bloggers, who post a couple of photos from their holiday, annotate with a few words, and end things there, but I have decided against that - I am someone who loves reliving their holiday fully, and I love to share things in depth with you :) It also makes me smile when I find time to re-read my past travel posts. It serves as a second memory for the goldfish that I am :) I hope you won't mind, and I can't wait to share more of South Korea with you!
Disclaimer: The amazingly beautiful and professional shots featured in this blog post are not my own. They have been used with kind permission from Kin :) A few of my own photos do appear, but the majority do not belong to me.