Travel Diary: Seoul
I've just taken off from Incheon airport, now flying 40,000 miles in the air, Melbourne-bound, after my first visit to Korea. I've been to a lot of airports over the years and a few have impressed me, but I must say that Incheon Airport blew me away. I was a little reluctant to head to the airport five hours early for my flight, however when I discovered last-minute that many places closed on Monday in Seoul, particularly my destination of choice for my free day -- Dungdaemun Market (a collection of 26 malls, housing over 30,000 retail stores, mostly catering to women's fashion. Also known as heaven on earth, and also known as the place I never got to visit), I decided to give in and join the rest of the team on the early bus to the airport.
I couldn't be more thankful that I did, because I actually ran out of time after exploring everything this place had to offer! From the endless shopping, to the lounges, to the public toilets, massage and nail salons, Incheon Airport is nothing short of awesome.
Anyhow, the appreciation for Seoul certainly doesn't stop the airport. Seoul is a fantastic city, and quite a beautiful one too. The APPT was held at the Paradise Casino Walkerhill, which is set on the edge of a riverside mountain, surrounded by trees, opening up to a stunning view of the intense city.
I did venture out twice during the week, however it was always on a bus headed downtown, so on our last day, fellow PokerNews-er Donnie Peters and I went for a walk down the hill to check out the area that we had been living in for the past six days. We walked in the freezing cold along the eight-lane highway, which every road seemed to be, passing giant building after giant building. Despite being 10km outside of downtown Seoul, a distance that you would usually assume to find yourself in a quiet residential neighborhood, everywhere in sight was still full of skyscrapers. Seoul, like many other big-cities in Asia, is a totally different world to what I'm used to, one where everyone seems to live in the sky.
This was Angel Guillen's first time to ever visit Asia, and my only other city of comparison from personal experience was Macau, which really is a world of its own. So despite the minimal expectations that we had, we were amazed within the first 30 minutes of touching down. Koreans are not only technological geniuses as one would expect, but their warm and gentle natures really make you feel welcome.
At the airport we stopped by a stand that was renting out portable WIFI routers and found the Olleh Egg. This was one of the best finds of the trip, allowing for seven devices to connect at the bargain price of around $8 USD per day. For the first-time ever I was able to tweet to my heart's content while touring around the city.
The city tour began on the subway. If you thought London's Tube was intense, you're in for a shock when you see the underground system Seoul has got going on. Not only was it ginormous, it was outstandingly efficient. Just like the city bus tour that we took - not once was anything ever late. Everything here works on time, to the exact minute.
The city bus tour offered over 30 stops at landmarks throughout the city. With just one afternoon to play, we had to limit our choices. We started at the moving Korean War Memorial where the struggles of the divided country were evident, along with so much hope of reconciliation.
Next was the romantic N Seoul Tower. The tower is positioned on top of Namsan Mountain, a huge mountain in central Seoul. At first, it just looks like any other city tower that has an observation desk, but once you reach the top of the hill, and the base of the tower, you're faced with nothing but love. Hundreds of thousands of couples have declared their everlasting love here, by securing padlocks, together with love notes, to the fences surrounding the tower.
We then went to the quaint, preserved town known as Bukchon Village, for a taste of the true local culture. We sat in a teahouse where I had the most amazing Pumpkin Rice Punch tea. You can see all of these places, plus more, in the following PokerNews video.
Seoul really is a beautiful city. It meshes the bright lights and skyscrapers with the natural beauty of the river and forests so well.
Our second night was spent at Ark Lounge in downtown Seoul for the PokerStars player party. Every table had it's own VIP bottle service with Absolut Vodka flowing freely. As you could imagine it didn't take long to get the dance floor started, which was then overtaken by some serious breakdancing. Let me tell you, Koreans sure can dance!
Our second to last night in Seoul was quite a long one, with Day 2 of the APPT Main Event not finishing until after 1am. On dinner break only around 30 players were left in the Main Event, and one of them was Angel's friend from Panama, Jose Severino. So a few of us whisked Jose away for some Korean BBQ on dinner break to Myongwolgwan, a restaurant next door to the casino. It felt like a sauna inside the restaurant with all of the tables each having stoves built into them, but once we adjusted to the heat, we then indulged in one of the best meals I think I've ever had. I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone looking to splurge on some of the finest Korean BBQ in the country with one of the best views in the city.
It was then back to work at the APPT Main Event, where Jose went on to make it to the final table the following day. He ended up taking sixth place and it was American Andrew Kim who eventually took the title.