Last Stop: Seoul (Asian Honeymoon, Pt. 7)

You know a city is impressive when I can get sick in it — my first time getting sick while on vacation! — and still have a good time. I blame my sickness on the packaged ramen I had at the airport on our way to Seoul. After all the unbelievably fresh ramen I had throughout Japan, my body probably couldn’t handle all that processed sodium.

Our trip started out well. Our Asiana flight to Seoul served us bibimbap (yes, seriously!), and then we landed at Incheon International Airport, which has been ranked Best Airport Worldwide for eleven consecutive years, breaking all records.

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Bibimbap on a plane!

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Everything was so efficient. We had an easy time finding the airport express train (A’REX), which quickly led us to the center of Seoul and even offered free WiFi. Japan, you need to catch up!

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Riding the A’REX to Seoul

Meticulous efficiency was also evident in the emails I’d received from our hotel, Hotel Shin Shin. Months in advance, hotel staff had sent me pages of detailed instructions on how to get to the hotel, so we found our way effortlessly. When we arrived, we passed two pairs of hotel guests, and they all greeted us cheerfully — it’s always a good sign when other hotel guests are that friendly toward each other. The front desk congratulated us on our honeymoon and upgraded us to the King Suite. This was the first time a hotel on our entire honeymoon upgraded us! Our room was impeccable — tasteful furniture that reminded me of a spa, a huge bathroom with the fanciest toilet I’ve ever seen, temperature-controlled floors, and touchscreen buttons for everything. Even the “Do Not Disturb” sign was technologically-advanced — none of those primitive things you hang on the doorknob. We almost didn’t want to leave.

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How many buttons does a toilet need?
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Just half of our bathroom, where I spent most of my first night

Unfortunately, not too long after we settled into our room, my abdomen started to feel incredibly intense pain. I’d never felt anything like it! And so began one of the most painful nights of my life (as someone who clearly has never given birth). I spent the next 12 hours hunched over our luxurious bidet, alternating between vomiting and defecating. I thought it would never stop! Eventually, I didn’t have anything left to vomit or defecate, so only liquid came out, which I’ve heard is even worse for your body. I couldn’t fall asleep because I kept waking up throughout the night to use the bathroom. I was grateful that I had such a nice bathroom to camp out in.

Poor Anthony had to put up with this on our honeymoon! If there’s anything that was confirmed on our honeymoon, it’s that I definitely married the right man. Anthony went out to buy us dinner from a convenience store around the corner, only to have me refuse to eat anything since I had no appetite. He spoke to the front desk, who told him what time pharmacies open tomorrow. Early the next morning, he set out on a pharmacy adventure, accepting help from a nearby Sheraton concierge who even offered to accompany him to the pharmacy. When Anthony returned, our hotel helped him translate the Korean prescription directions. He then reiterated these instructions to me: Swallow a sinister packet of brown powder, take a swig of water to wash it down, then ingest a small white pill. Guess what? The medicine worked immediately, and my abdominal pain disappeared. Korean medicine, folks!

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Anthony made a friend on his pharmacy journey
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Korean medicine

Eventually, I was able to do some sightseeing. Our hotel was convenient enough to walk to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, a royal palace built in 1395 for the Joseon dynasty. We passed Seoul Plaza and City Hall on our way to the palace. While the undeniable efficiency of the city is laudable, I couldn’t help but miss Tokyo. Seoul’s economy has long surpassed Tokyo’s; you can see it in the architecture, the abundant free WiFi, and the cleanliness of the streets. But, just as I preferred the gritty cities of Italy far more than pretty Paris, I missed the density of Tokyo. Seoul felt quiet and oddly spacious.

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Due to my abdominal pain, I was instructed to avoid caffeine and chocolate for the next few days. What a punishment in Seoul, which has an incredible cafe culture. We passed so many enticing bakeries and adorable coffee shops, and my inability to try any of them may have been the worst part of my sickness. I’ll definitely have to return to Seoul when I can consume everything I want.

After we watched the changing of the guards, we left the palace in search of lunch and settled on a no-frills bibimbap joint nearby. Then we sat at Cheonggyecheon, a massive urban renewal project surrounding a long stream that flows west to east through downtown Seoul. In the ’60s, an elevated highway was built over the stream, but a few years ago, the highway was removed and the stream restored. This beckoned a new movement to re-introduce nature into the city and revitalize Seoul’s economy.

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That night, we wandered to Myeongdong, a commercial area in Seoul that contains the 9th most expensive shopping street in the world. The orderly crowds, neon lights, and overload of shops and restaurants reminded me of Osaka’s Dotonbori. We had dinner at the highly-rated Myeongdong Kyoja and finally had our first mind-blowing meal in Seoul. The restaurant only offers four dishes, so we were able to try half the menu: mandu and hand-pulled noodle soup. Guests pay when they order, and dishes come with kimchi. Utensils are hidden in pull-out drawers within the table, and by each table is a wastebasket on the floor. Everything was delicious and incredibly cheap.

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Mandu and hand-pulled noodle soup

13700139_10209345502651107_2475814672048734371_nWe spent the rest of the night gawking at ridiculous street food options and peeking into all the skin care stores.

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It took some time, but we finished it!

Seoul is superb, modern city with pockets of history, surrounded by gorgeous mountains that I wished we could have hiked since hiking is a crucial part of Seoul culture. But our time there was short, and it was cut short even more by my sickness. Regardless, I was still very much impressed. It’s no surprise that South Korea is cool now, and the time to visit Seoul has never been better.

We finally reached the end of our Asian honeymoon. Ready to return to New York!

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Tips for future travelers:

  1. Maybe it’s just the impatient New York jaywalker in me, but the traffic lights in Seoul seem frustratingly slow. Fortunately, most major intersections have wonderful underground passageways, so you can get from one corner to another quickly!
  2. While Google Maps seemed made for Japan, it didn’t work at all while we were in Seoul, so make sure to figure out where you need to go without relying on it.
  3. The only downside about South Korea being super-cool right now is that Koreans don’t feel pressured to speak English. Good for them, bad for ignorant American tourists. Learn as much Korean as you can before you go! Signs won’t be in multiple languages like they are in Tokyo.
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