Five hours after my first plane took off from Calgary and this crazy adventure began, I found myself on a plane much larger than I usually take. I walked past the First Class and Business Class sections, and then past one full section of Economy to get to my seat, which was moved forward in the aircraft 10 rows from my original location. And there were two aisles; 9 seats across in Economy.
It was all becoming very real that I was heading to the other side of the world.
Dear Korean Air, You had me at “Here are three seats to yourself on this almost-full 13 hour flight”.
This girl was feeling very lucky on this New Year’s Eve’s Eve!!!
Not only that, but there were piles of things on every seat to make our flight more enjoyable: a pillow, a blanket, some headphones, a bottle of water, a pair of slippers, and a mini toothbrush and tube of toothpaste.
This would be the longest flight I have ever been on, the longest travel ‘day’ I have ever taken, and will be the furthest trip I have ever made from home.
I was headed to Bali, Indonesia for the first time ever, for one entire month on another solo adventure.
And a bonus to the extremely long journey there: I was stopping in Seoul, South Korea for a 12-hour layover.
Remembering how much I loved my 5 hour layover in Belgium a few years ago, I knew it was the perfect excuse to speed-explore another new-to-me city on the other side of the world!
There were screens on the back of every seat with attached remotes. You could watch tv or movies or news, play games, or watch the flight path (including the live video of the on-board camera as we landed!)
They served us dinner as soon as we were up in the air. It started with distribution of warm hand towels, and then they gave us the option of two American dishes or Bibimbap!!
I have heard all about bibimbap from friends who lived in Korea and I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity. Steamed sticky rice with sautéed vegetables like oyster mushrooms and shallots, along with sesame oil and some spicy chilli sauce. It was delicious, and possibly the best airline food I have ever had.
Who gets giddy over airline food? This girl, apparently.
After dinner, for the first time ever: I took a sleeping pill on a plane. We were leaving at midnight and the flight was going to be plenty long enough to sleep and still have hours to be awake on the flight.
Side note, this airline has the best dressed flight attendants I have ever seen. i wish I had thought to snag a photo.
Having three seats to myself made me feel like I hit the economy ticket jackpot. I sat in the window seat and leaned against the window, and my feet could stretch without even sticking out in the aisle. Armed with a neck pillow, three pillows (from the three seats!) and my Korean Air blanket, I put in my earbuds and played a white-noise type app that sounded like rain on a tarp, and I was out to the world for about 8 hours.
When I woke up I decided to watch a movie and Crazy Rich Asians was one of the options. I had been wanting to see it for a while and it did not disappoint!
And before I knew it, breakfast was served – after warm hand towels again (an omelet, hash browns, and sausage with fruit and orange juice on the side).
We arrived at 6:30am in Seoul and I was off to the city centre for my walking tour with Ben. It turned out to be a private tour as no one else signed up, which was actually amazing.
Ben first took me up to a viewing deck in the governement building next to the Changdeokgung Palace. Because it was a Tuesday, he told me that the main/primary palace that was promised on the tour would be closed.
We could see many world embassies in the downtown core surrounding this ‘secondary’ palace. The juxtaposition of the modern buildings, Korean style traditional building, Russian influence, and mountain backdrop was amazing.
Symmetry is extremely important to Koreans and the four directions of the city of Seoul were repeated in many ways. There are four gates into the city; North, South, East, and West. And Ben told me that Seoul has a wall surrounding it, which I had not known before.
After giving me a fascinating and thorough history of Seoul and Korea, we went back down and through the main gate to explore the grounds.
The heatch is an imaginary animal- created out of the strongest parts of other animals, like the lion, the pig, the dragon, etc. It is the symbolic animal of Korea that sits on either side of the gates of all the palaces as well as in front of the government buildings.
The Korean architecture is designed after nature, so roofs are curved like the mountains, and even the colour of tile and building material is considered.
Ben emphasized that the number three is considered to be perfect in the eyes of Koreans. Like a triangle, there is balance and stability to the number 3.
Balance + blending + harmony are the three most important concepts to Korean design. Even the flag is white with three colours: black, red, blue.
Black and white/red and blue represent yin and yang, light and dark, fire and water. The solid lines in the flag represent yang and the broken lines, yin.
Odd numbers like 5 and 7 are very powerful too, and in the main palace Ben pointed out that the dragons on the ceiling had seven prongs to their tails so they were the most powerful dragons ever.
As we headed to the village, then realized that the primary palace gates were actually open. It turns out, they open them especially for the holiday. So Ben told me that I got “a bonus palace”.
The grounds of the Geongbokgung Palace were exceptionally larger than the other palace and we explored every corner.
I couldn’t get over the lines in the roofs, the detail to the building and bricks and tiles.
Balance of the materials is important too. Stone, brick, and wood/paper.
Ben told me how Koreans were the first to design a heated (stone) floor, where the chimneys are outside the home and tunnels run throughout the home, and the fire burns so long and so cleanly, there is almost no smoke whatsoever.
Paper screens kept out cold air but were also breathable so people didn’t feel like they were suffocating inside.
Some of the chimneys were incredibly ornate. This main chimney to the Queen’s quarters is actually the 810th national treasure of Korea.
(The first one is the South Gate.)
I also learned that the King and Queen has separate living quarters. The Queen’s residence was closer to the mountain and the earth was brought in and built up around the back side of her buildings to connect her to the mountains’ energy.
After exploring practically every square foot of the grounds we went to look at the architecture of traditional Korean homes.
It was a good thing I ended up bringing my winter jacket and toque and scarf and mittens and boots to Seoul. It was cold!
Ben suggested we end the tour with lunch, and brought me to a Michelin-star-awarded restaurant for noodle soup.
The line up outside was long but it moved quickly. We were seated on the floor in a traditional room and served two kinds of kimchee and two steaming bowls of delicious soup with hand cut noodles, mushrooms, veggies, and beef.
It was the perfect way to warm up. And I couldn’t resist ordering some handmade jumbo dumplings to go- to have as my dinner when I got to the airport before my last flight of the journey!
Ben went above and beyond and brought me to a traditional Korean Sauna by the Seoul Station where I would head back to the airport. This was recommended to me by my friend Heidi, and it was the perfect way to relax and warm up on this chilly winter afternoon before another two hours at an airport and a 7 hour flight.
First of all, this place has a restaurant in it, a games room, bathing pools, sauna rooms, a nail salon, hair salon, and even sleeping rooms. Entire families must spend the day there!
I was given a clean pair of shorts and T-shirt to wear in all the common areas. Women wore orange shirts and maroon shorts and men had grey shirts and brown shorts. (Signs informed me that the (women-only) showers and bathing pools are garment free.)
Each floor had different offerings (and there were 6 floors, including the basement pool.) Strangely, every floor has a smoking room. This must still be a very common habit in Korea…
I had just enough time to try four of the sauna rooms for about 15 minutes each, which was just a sampler amount of time. I started in the salt room, where you could lie on/in and bury yourself in chunks of rock salt. It was a medium heat sauna room.
Next I tried a red clay room, which had balls of red clay that felt like rough marbles cascading over your toes as you stepped into the space. Again, people were mostly lying on their backs or sides, piling the balls over their legs and arms. These were hot!
After that I went into a charcoal room which was another medium temperature sauna room. There were mats on the floor and the sloped ceiling and walls were black with sheets of applied charcoal. There was a man next to me in there completely asleep and snoring.
It was in the charcoal room that I noticed people on their cell phones, which I would not have thought to bring into a sauna with me…
Lastly I went into an oxygen sauna that was cool extra-oxygenated air. After all the heated rooms it was quite refreshing, and I stayed there a few minutes extra.
Before I left I had to check out the 5th floor, as it was labelled “clay caves, and sleeping and snoring rooms”.
There I found a long room with all these almost tunnel-like bunks made out of red clay, and people were under blankets inside these dark low caves. There were also a couple of large rooms with mats on the floor and dim lighting where people were sound asleep. The snoring room was at the end and had a door to keep the sound inside, I guess!! On this floor there were locker charging stations for cell phones so you could boost your phone’s battery while you napped and re-charged yourself!
This place was unlike anywhere I have ever been, and I’m tempted to come back on my way home and spend a bit more time here!
Back to the airport in time to get a Starbucks (they have toasted chestnut lattes and toasted rice lattes in South Korea!), and catch a jazz band perform near this beautiful indoor garden still decorated for the holidays. Have you ever seen a jazz xylophone player? Well neither had I, until this day!
See you in one month, Seoul…
Bibimbap breakfast snack!!!
A seven hour flight, one meal, and half a sleeping pill later, I arrived in the much anticipated Bali!! I walked past the dozens of taxi drivers holding up name cards or calling out “miss! Taxi? Ride? Miss, you need a taxi?” … to find my driver Purna, with my name neatly printed on a card.
40 hours (almost to the minute) after I walked into the airport at home in Calgary, I arrived at my hotel in Seminyak.
I couldn’t have had better timing getting to my room just before 2am, folding myself into bed, and waking up at 9am the next morning. No jet lag for this girl. 😎
Another win for the Indonesia trip 2019!!