PNGF and I spent a whole week in South Korea touring the current capital (Seoul) and the ancient capital (Gyeongju). Here are some summary statistics:
- Number of palaces visited: 3
- Number of temples visited: 3
- Number of ancient tombs visited: Many many
- Number of traditional ceremonies to celebrate the King's birthday: 1 (1 per year)
- Percentage of UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: ~90% (we skipped a castle near Seoul and that's about it)
- Number of North Koreans encountered: 6
- Number of North Koreans spoken to: Zero
- Number of South Korean soldiers encountered: ~8
- Number of South Korean soldiers who smiled: Zero
- Number of empty cabbies that drove past us in disgust: Many many
- Number of hours spent of subway per day: 2
- Percentage of people watching TV on their mobiles on the subway: ~20%...!!
- Number of Korean restaurants frequented: All the time
- Number of Korean restaurants with kimchi: all
- Number of Korean restaurants with more than 10 dishes to order: none
- Number of Italian restaurants frequented: 1 (Reminder: considering that PNGF doesn't like Italian, this is a huge breakthrough - more on this later)
- Number of Thai restaurants frequented: 1
- Number of Korean restaurants that masked itself as a Japanese restaurant: 1
- Number of man purses observed: Too traumatized to count
- Number of Nikon D3 cameras observed: Too envious to count
- Recommend to visit for 5 days with 2 days outside of Seoul
- If Korean food is your thing (it is mine), recommend to extend trip to 8-10 days
- If you speak Korean, 2 weeks would do you good.
- If you don't like spicy food, recommend to reduce stay to 2-3 days in Seoul
- Palace 1 is the same as palace 2 is the same as palace 3; All are same as Chinese/Japanese palaces
- Take a cab before 12am or after 2am (this is not negotiable)
Main building in Changdeokgung, Korea's best preserved palace - if you're visiting one palace only (I recommend that), this is the one to go to
Gyeongbokgun, the most famous palace is so because it is the first, holds ceremonies on the day we visited; it does have something the other palaces don't have: change of guards
Changgyeonggung is worth a visit, mostly because it is attached to an ancient templeDMZ is well worth a visit: use the USO tour as they have military personnel as your tour guides; here's one North Korea... he looked at us with binoculars sometimes
Anapji is the summer palace for the Silla kingdom... many sites are open till 10pm with good lighting
The gate to Seokguram Grotto, which was very difficult to get to but not all that impressive. Also, no pictures allowed of the Grotto... they should make it no flash.
Korean food - love the side dishes...!