Here’s a tip from us “expert travelers”: When you travel WEST from the U.S. over the Pacific, you are arriving 1-2 DAYS AFTER YOU DEPARTED! Hah! Yea… we should know this by now, right?? But somehow this “small” detail somehow slipped by both of us last week on our flight out to Seoul, South Korea.
We flew out of California on Tuesday, January 7th at 11:00am, and were scheduled to arrive in Seoul at 4:15pm. For SOME REASON, the flight itinerary only noted that we arrived at 4:15pm, but didn’t indicate the next day or anything. So we both just assumed—for some reason—that our arrival would be on the same day, assuming the difference in real time vs. a 12-hour flight time accounted for us arriving at 4:00pm-ish that day.
At some point in the weeks prior to the flight, I briefly thought to myself, “Aren’t my friends in Australia almost an entire day ahead of us??” but then didn’t ponder that thought any further and went upon my day. WELL—DUH!—South Korea is straight north of Australia, which means they should be near the same time zone.
Anyway, so we had PLANNED to arrive in Seoul on Tuesday, January 7th at 4:15pm, booked a hostel for the night, and booked our outgoing RTW flight from Seoul to Nairobi for the next day, Wednesday, January 8th, at 9:00pm… which would give us about a day or so to explore the city.
Imagine our surprise when we arrived at our hostel in Seoul and upon giving James’ name to the check-in guy, the man goes, “Uh ohhhh.”
“Uh oh, what?” we wondered. We were baffled: did he double book our room or something?? After about 60 seconds of discussion with the guy, James and I looked at each other with a blank stare. We were completely confused if it was January 7th or January 8th?? And then the realization hit us: “OH MY GOD!!! IT’S WEDNESDAY HERE!!”
Yes, folks. We’ve been traveling for almost a whole year and made a total rookie mistake when it comes to traveling: we failed to note the actual DATE we were arriving on was the next day. Still a bit bewildered, we both looked at our printed travel itinerary once again and I exclaimed, “SEE! It doesn’t say we arrive on January 8th!!” and then we looked down below at the starred comment in TINY writing: “This is an overnight flight, which will arrive one day later.”
OK, so it’s Wednesday, January 8th here… fine. So what’s next? James was focused on talking with the hostel guy to see if he would honor our reservation from last night for tonight instead, but I suddenly switched into PANIC MODE, as I realized: “If it’s Wednesday, January 8th, that means OUR OUTGOING FLIGHT TO NAIROBI LEAVES IN ONE HOUR!!!” Yikes. And if we missed this next flight (which is part of our RTW ticket) without calling the airline beforehand, the rest of our flights for our RTW ticket would no longer be valid!! Ugh.
Obviously, there was NO WAY we would make it all the way back to the airport on time, so we would need to change the tickets ASAP through the airline. But how?? We’re in South Korea! I quickly got out my netbook and connected to the hostel’s wifi, got on Skype, and called up Delta. Unfortunately, at the same time back in the U.S., there was a snow storm going through the eastern part of the country, and the hold time for the airline was OVER 30 MINUTES!! Wow… talk about panic time…
Just to make matters worse, ten minutes into my hold time on the phone THE INTERNET DROPPED AND MY CALL WAS LOST!! I looked at the time: 8:20pm. Only 40 minutes until the flight would take off and we were faced with the fact that we may not be able to reach Delta airlines on time.
FORTUNATELY, for some crazy and strange reason, this particular hostel was offering a free “International Skype phone” for just the month of January…. Not sure how that was different then us calling on Skype through the internet, but who cares—it was worth a shot! I got on the Skype phone and called Delta again, connected just fine, and maybe 20 minutes later I was on the phone with an agent, frantically explaining our predicament and telling her we needed to change our ticket ASAP before the flight took off!! I was passed to another person or two on the phone and was told it’s probably too late to do anything. By some MIRACLE, somehow in the end they were able to change our Seoul-to-Nairobi flight to January 10th (two days later) and it would only cost us the $150/each change fee to do so.
Phew! In addition, the hostel was able to accommodate us for the next two nights (and they didn’t charge us extra for us showing up on the wrong day), and the volunteer organization in Kenya that we planned to stay and volunteer with were understanding with us arriving two days later than planned. We got LUCKY with this all… we couldn’t believe we were SAVED and didn’t suffer too many consequences for such a foolish mistake!
AND—ironic enough— we had spent the loonnng 2-hour subway ride earlier that day from the Seoul airport to our hostel talking about how cool everything around us looked and how we wished we could spend more time in the city. Well… I guess we got our wish in the end! 🙂
Anyway, so the next day (January 9th), we set out to explore the cool city of Seoul. However, there was a slight downside of visiting the city this time of year: it’s winter, and it just so happened to be one of the COLDEST days there in weeks: a mere 20 degrees Fahrenheit! Yea… not so pleasant to be out sight-seeing in such cold weather.
Oh well… we still managed to have a very lovely time. Overall, we really liked Seoul; it reminded us a lot of Japan (which we loved) and the city seemed very modern, clean, and busy with lots of technology, buildings, and lights! On our first day, we explored Changkyung-Gung Palace and then popped in and out of art galleries, pottery shops, and souvenir stores along Insadong Traditional Culture Street. Since we had layered our clothing and wrapped our faces up in hats and scarves, we were holding up decently “OK” in the freezing weather, but had to stop in a café or shop once every 10-20 minutes to warm up a bit before pressing on.
We paused briefly that afternoon for a very authentic lunch at a small Korean restaurant. As we walked into the restaurant we took our shoes off at the door, sat on the floor with tiny tables, and ate very spicy and strange foods while the Korean girls next to us constantly giggled and glanced over at James and I… apparently I think we weren’t eating the dishes the “proper” way you’re supposed to. Oh well… it was cheap food and a unique and fun experience, although it left me feeling a bit unsatisfied since I didn’t eat too much of my dish (too spicy for me!). Oh yea, and might I mention: food in Seoul was SO expensive compared to other places we’ve visited. It was almost impossible to find any food (even fast food) for less than $5/person, and most restaurants were around $15+ per meal… yikes! That came as a surprise to us, since the cost of our hostel and for the subway were on the lower side, price-wise.
We finished up day one with a trip up the Namsan Seoul Tower, even though we were pretty exhausted, cold, and suffering from a bit of jet lag. The views from the top of the tower were pretty amazing, though, and we sat at a little table in front of the windows and just enjoyed the city view.
Our second day (January 10th), we set out to visit the largest palace in Seoul: Changgyeonggung Palace. Thankfully, the weather increased a bit today to a balmy 29 degrees, but surprisingly this small difference felt a LOT better to us as we walked the streets than on the prior day. On the way over to the palace, we took time to explore a cute little village called Bukchon Hanok Village that had narrow roads and authentic Korean-style houses. When we got into the village area, we looked around for the information office that was listed on our map. However, we didn’t see an actual office… but then spotted two cute
Korean girls standing on one of the street blocks, all bundled up in bright red, furry, winter coats with giant “i” symbols (the universal symbol for “information”) on their hoods. Sure enough, they were the mobile “information office” for this area and they supplied us with maps and loads of information of where to go in the village and how to get to our next stop. Haha… we really found these girls quite funny and cute, and once again were reminded of Japan, as most cities in that country also had an abundance of information available everywhere to make it easy for tourists to get around.
After wandering the cute little streets in the village and stopping to grab some Udon soup and yummy tempura, we continued on to Changgyeonggung Palace. As we approached the front gate, we once again had LUCKY TIMING: we arrived right during the ceremony of the changing of the guards! We watched as the soldiers in very colorful costumes marched in and out of the gate, holding flags, spears, and instruments. It was pretty cool to watch and photograph the whole procession! [Click here to see a video of the changing of the guards.] When they were finished, we entered the grounds and spent the next hour or so exploring the massive amount of buildings that encompassed the palace. We found the whole palace quarters to be very impressive and extremely well preserved, especially compared to places like the Forbidden City in Beijing (which was pretty run down, horribly preserved, and actually pretty boring in comparison). At this point, the sun was disappearing behind clouds and the wind was picking up, so we decided we were pretty much DONE sight-seeing… we just wanted to be somewhere WARM and comfortable and rest our tired feet. We jumped on a subway back to our hostel, rested for an hour or two, and then gathered up all our gear to once again jet off on another plane.
Overall, we really enjoyed Seoul… James and I both agreed that South Korea seems a bit like a cross between Japan and China, which makes sense since it is geographically situated between the two countries. Someday, we would be interested to come back to visit South Korea again when the weather is warmer…
But for now: on to KENYA!!
To see photos from our adventures in Seoul, South Korea, click here.
To see all of our videos from Seoul, South Korea, click here.