KIA BUZZ: SO-KO ROAD TRIP BLOG #5 – Guest Post by journalist Jonathan Thompson January 6th, 2017
The SO-KO Road Trip Blog series is a 5-part guest posting series by UK travel and lifestyle journalist Jonathan Thompson on his 9 day trip through South Korea. Jonathan regularly writes for leading UK media and was recently honored with the ‘Travel Writer of the Year Award’ by the British Guild of Travel Writers. Connect with Jonathan on his social media accounts: Instagram, Twitter
All photography was done by London-based photographer Mark Chilvers. Visit his website!
An old Korean proverb goes “even if you have to crawl on your knees, get to Seoul!” Fortunately for us, we have a brand new Kia Niro to get us there instead.
Leaving the California-esque beaches of South Korea’s east coast behind us, we drive west on the three hour route into the capital. As with the countryside beforehand, the Niro underlines its worth in urban surrounds too, proving nippy and maneuverable as Seoul grows around us. Its quiver of electronic driver assist features, including Blind Spot and Rear Cross Traffic Warning systems are very useful for peace of mind when driving in busy, unfamiliar surrounds like this.
Seoul is more than just a city. With 24.5 million people living in the greater metro area and 10.5 million in the city centre alone, it’s a cosmopolitan behemoth, full of noise and colour. From the streets around Apgujeong’s chic boutiques to the hip bars and restaurants of Hongdae and Edae, it’s a pulsing neon ocean of activity – and we’re eager to dive into it.
Our first stop is the National Museum of Korea – a grand, marble-lined building showcasing Korea’s ancient riches in an amazing warren of light-filled corridors and atriums.
Next, after fuelling up on traditional bowls of bubbling bibimbap (a delicious, hot rice stew for the uninitiated), we move onto Mok-dong market, where we explore the lively stalls before stumbling into an impromptu English-speaking taekwondo lesson at the International Kumgang Centre next door. This time (as opposed to Muju earlier this week) our tuition focuses more on basic combat moves – but there’s still time to smash wooden blocks with our worst vices scribbled on them. (Take that procrastination!)
Kimchi – the fermented vegetable side dish – has been a constant throughout our trip, and we spend an enjoyable hour at the quirky museum dedicated to it, Kimchican. (Although sadly there’s no time to take up the option to tour the museum in traditional Korean dress, as many of our fellow visitors do).
Fittingly our final meal – at a family-run restaurant called Gun Ja Ne near the south bank of the Han River – is a steaming, home cooked kimchi stew. And it’s one of the most delicious of our entire journey.
Our road trip has encompassed the entire length of South Korea, from the bottom of tropical Jeju island in the south to the heart of Seoul in the north. It’s taken us a little over a week and during our four-wheeled adventure we’ve been bowled by everything we’ve experienced and everybody we’ve met. This is an incredibly warm, vibrant country that has so much to offer, and so many different towns and destinations to explore.
My advice? Everybody should crawl to Seoul at some point in their lives, however they see fit. And as soon as they arrive, they should hire a car. Not only is this fascinating mega-city considerably more accessible with your own wheels, it is also the gateway to an extraordinary country beyond.
This story is the fifth and final part of the series. Don’t forget to check out the previous stories in this series!
▶ Read Part 1: KIA BUZZ: SO-KO ROAD TRIP BLOG #1: INTO THE SOUL OF JEJU
▶ Read Part 2: KIA BUZZ: SO-KO ROAD TRIP BLOG #2: KOREA’S FORGOTTEN CAPITAL
▶ Read Part 3: KIA BUZZ: SO-KO ROAD TRIP BLOG #3: TAEKWONDO TOWN
▶ Read Part 4: KIA BUZZ: SO-KO ROAD TRIP BLOG #4: SLEEP IN HEAVENLY PEACE