Saturday, August 8, 2009

Seoul, Tokyo, Home

It just so happened that the only day it rained on us in Korea was the day we took the bus from Gangneung to Seoul, our last full day there. We had made the trip back and forth by bus two times, now. I think our average transit time by bus between the two cities was about three hours. On this day, as our bus got closer to Seoul, the rain intensity increased from intermediate showers to a steady downpour. We were approaching Seoul at the afternoon rush hour, so traffic increased and slowed to a crawl. The traffic congestion was exacerbated by the downpour. The last few miles into the city center seemed to take forever. Finally, after a four and a half hour ride, we arrived at the express bus terminal in the City Center section of Seoul.

Before, I had seen a Westin Hotel attached to the complex of buildings that made up the City Center Metro Station, and the bus terminal. It would be perfect to overnight it here, so we could catch an early bus to the airport. We made our way up the series of escalators the the hotel lobby. I've been in a lot of hotels before, and one look told us that this was a "very nice place", translation: very expensive. We had some money left, so I figured we'd cough it up for the one night, just for the convenience of being next to the bus station. When we got to the desk, the hotel clerk told us that they had no rooms available for that night, but that she could put us up in a similar establishment nearby for about two hundred and fifty dollars American for the night. That was pretty far out of our price range, so we told her "no, thank you". We were going to try to find another hotel nearby when one of the concierges pulled me aside to confer. He said he could arrange a taxi for us to a nearby district known as "Hotel City", where there were many good hotels in the forty to fifty dollar range. A nice turn of events that we took advantage of. This nice young man ushered us out the front door, and into a waiting taxi. I tipped him twenty Korean wan, he refused, I insisted, and he took it, clearly embarrassed. I guess tipping is not really part of the culture in Korea. Oh, well, it made me feel better.

The ten minute ride over to the hotel district was a slow, rainy affair. We chose one of the many hotels based solely on the name, as they all looked about the same. The Hotel New York was a good, clean place, with a very nice room. It had a great queen sized bed, big screen TV, computer with internet connection, an excellent bathroom, and room for all our bags.

After settling in we went out for dinner. The rain had tapered off by this time to an intermittent drizzle. We walked down a couple blocks, and over a couple blocks, and found a "Hoff and Chicken" restaurant. I had seen a few of these in Gangneung and Incheon earlier. They are not so much a chain of restaurants, as a type of restaurant. They served many different types of fried chicken, and beer, just as the name implied. Ok Hwa had never seen a restaurant like this before, so she wasn't sure of what to order. We just picked something off the menu at random. When the food came, it was just a large platter of fried chicken, nothing else. This was the best fried chicken I had ever tasted! It seemed to be infused with honey and some other subtle spices. We felt like we could hold another helping, so we ordered a different selection at random. When this one came, like before, it was simply a platter of fried chicken, nothing else. We could smell the difference immediately, though. This one had a strong garlic flavor to it. We did not care for it nearly as much as the one before. Although we both like garlic in moderation, this was almost overpowering. We ate it though, because we were hungry, and didn't want to waste it, and washed it down with lots of water and beer.

We made our way back to the hotel through the damp streets, stopping at a little convenience store for more beer and snacks. Back in the room, we cleaned up, and relaxed in front of the big TV. She watched some Korean shows, while I hooked up my computer, and searched for a wireless internet connection. I was able to find an unsecured connection, and jumped on it. It was the first time I'd been on line for the whole trip. I spent the rest of the evening catching up on my e-mail.

Next morning we were up at 06:00, and started packing. We were cleaned up, packed up, dressed up, and out the door by 07:00. Outside we quickly flagged a taxi for the short ride back to the bus terminal. The terminal was crowded, but we were able to get our tickets, and get on the bus without too much trouble. The ride out to Incheon International took about forty-five minutes. This bus, like all the other ones we'd been on, had big, wide, comfortable reclining seats, so it was easy for me to catch a good nap on the way.

At the airport, as usual, it was a waiting game. They want you there two hours early to check in, and we were probably four hours early. We had time for breakfast, coffee, and lots of browsing through the duty-free shops on the secure side. We came away from the duty-free shops with several bags full of great, small gifts for everyone back home. What a deal!

The JAL flight over to Tokyo was an uneventful two hour hop. This time on our Tokyo stop we had a two and a half hour layover. We spent it eating lunch, and more great shopping in the excellent duty-free shops in Narita Airport. The last half hour before our flight we visited with a couple of middle aged American women on their way home from a month in back country China. They'd been doing volunteer work in some impoverished village way off the beaten path. Their story made ours seem like a trip over to Fort Worth for the weekend.

Finally it was time to board that American Airlines 777 for the long trip back across the Pacific. These are just mind and body numbing flights. Thirteen hours in a cramped seat gets old in a hurry. I think next time I'll just take a couple sleeping tablets and snooze the flight away.

Back on the ground in DFW was back to reality. The lines to get through customs were extremely long. It seemed like all the international flights for the day had arrived at the same time. Once through that, we still had to catch a taxi over to where my car was parked at work. I work at the airport, and my boss let me park my car in the employee parking there. These rip-off taxi drivers at DFW wanted to charge me thirty dollars to go the two and a half miles over to my car. I was able to talk one down to twenty, but he was not happy about it. We got in the car just in time for the afternoon rush hour traffic in Dallas. It was the final hurdle. By the time we got home we were just drained, physically, and emotionally. But, man, was it great to be home!

Here are some pictures of our room in the Hotel New York, and some street scenes on our evening walk to dinner in Seoul:
The official website of the Republic of Korea:


  1. What a wonderful vacation you two had. I throughly enjoyed reading your adventures, looking at your pictures and viewing your videos.

  2. Thanks for your kind words, MsBelinda. I'll look for you over at John Wells' place.

  3. You write very well. You should consider writing a daily blog. Don't know if you are planning on becoming John Wells neighbor in the future but it would be very interesting to follow your journey there.

  4. MsBelinda, I am trying to work up to the disipline to post daily. I have many more storys to tell. We're thinking about buying a parcel of land in Terlingua for retirement. I have ten more years to work, though. We continue to visit Terlingua at least once, and sometimes twice a year. We just love it out there.