Today is the first day of Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving. For foreigners, this means a 5-day weekend. For Koreans, it's the busiest travel day of the year. According to Arrirang News, 400,000 cars departed Seoul today. Highways are parking lots, and every train and plane ticket is sold out. Bad news for travelers, but great news for those of us opting for a stay-cation in Seoul. This city of 10.5 million is practically a ghost town now!
Today, the Two Crabs took a day trip to N Tower, better known as Seoul Tower, the most prominent landmark in South Korea's capital city, located atop Namsan mountain. The tower is some 777 feet tall and features several restaurants and bars at the top and base, and even a teddy bear museum (??).
Leave the station at Exit 3, and turn left down the road with the CU convenience store. You'll see Pacific Hotel. Go up the steep road to the right of Pacific Hotel for about 15 minutes until you reach the Gondola station. A one-way ride is 6,000W, and roundtrip ride is 8,000W.
Then the sucky part: apparently every Seoulite and tourist decided to visit Seoul Tower today.
We managed to get there at a decent time that we only had to wait about 20 minutes for the gondola. But soon after we arrived, the line grew until it stretched twice as long as when we started. The ride itself was only about 3 minutes long.
When you come out of the gondola, you have two options: turn left to go up to Seoul tower, or turn right to head to a library and Namdaemun (more on that later). Turn left and walk up the stairs to the base station, featuring a gazebo, kitschy souvenir shops, kids games, and a few snack shops and a few bars.
By far the most popular attraction at the base station are padlocks. Yes, padlocks. It is a tradition for lovers to place padlocks on the fence around Seoul Tower, as a symbol of enduring love for each other. There are so many locks that some have been removed and used to create sculptures.
To actually go up to the top of Seoul Tower, you'll need to shell out 9,000W per person. Or 20,000W for packages that include admission to the Teddy Bear Museum (why??). We opted not to go up this time, because the thought of waiting in another long line was not our idea of a good time. But we did make an obligatory stop at the base station bar for a tasty beverage!
Afterward, we walked back toward the gondola station and followed the stairs down, following the signs for "library." The trail down this path is shady, and we noticed there are lights along the trail so presumably you can hike up & down even at night. There were only a handful of people on the trail, as most visitors opted to ride the gondola up & down. The trail runs alongside the old city walls, part of which have been reconstructed since the were originally built in the 14th century.
TIP: When you get to the Y intersection, go LEFT toward "library" to reach Hoehyeon metro station / Namdaemun market. The right trail returns to the parking lot.
At the bottom of the left library trail, you'll emerge at a little park and main road. Turn RIGHT, you'll pass said library, and walk about 200 yards until you get to a road tunel. Don't go through the tunel. Instead, cross the street at the crosswalk to reach another park, where you'll find a large section of the old city wall.
We continued down the stairs until we reached the Hilton Hotel, turned right and continued walking until we reached Namdaemun, one of the largest traditional markets in Seoul. By the time we got there, it was after 7pm so most of the market stalls and shops were closed, but the food stalls were just getting started. This was the reason we came to Namdaemun: Street Food!
The Crabs have always been huge fans of street food, and Asia has some of the best in the world. We dined on bbq chicken, steak, and stir-fried octopus with glass noodles, washed down with way too many bottles of cheap Cass beer. Our total bill for food & booze was about $30 USD.
For desert, don't miss eating a "hoteok" (호떡), a Korean doughy pancake filled with honey & peanuts and covered in cinnamon. A perfect ending to the night!