Arriving into Incheon Airport, I was greeted by an intense humid heat; but with the smell of a hot summers evening, which I really liked.
After you get off the plane, you take the transit train to arrivals, baggage and immigration
In my planning stages, I initially researched getting a train from the airport, direct to Hongdae where I was staying, as it was cheaper 3,500 Won Versus 10,000 Won. However, for this you were unable to get a train ticket, that I could find, or be directed to. Instead you needed to buy a T-money card, which are similar to London’s Oyster cards. Only available in convenience stores (flaw in the system?). So I toddled off and found the bus I needed. Paid the driver and away we went.
First impressions of Korea at that point was apart from being hot, was that there are a lot of bridges. We drove along the motorway towards Seoul (a 50 minute journey), along by the river; I stopped counting in the end, but they were very pretty.
A lit up bridge blurred, taken from the bus into Seoul
The bus itself was called the airport Limousine bus, but there was nothing overly fancy about it, apart from being quite well air conditioned, which I was thankful for. The other thing about this bus was that it there were no announcements in advance as to where we were or were the next stop was. So I tried to keep an eye out. I recognised a few names of areas that I had looked at in the guidebook. Suddenly my stop came up and I jumped up, I indicated to the driver that I was getting off and had a bag. I went to take it from the luggage storage under the bus, but got shouted at in Korean and was made to give over my luggage ticket. Makes sense I suppose, but my first thoughts were ‘thanks mate, a nice welcome to Korea.’
The bus pulled away and I was stood in the middle of a busy and colourful metropolis. There were oeople everywhere, which coming from small town NZ, I wasn’t used to. I put my 15kg rucksack on my back and started walking, hoping to see signs of a name I recognised. I didn’t. I didn’t even have a map with me, nut I knew that the hostel was a 3 minute walk from Hongik University station, up a few streets and near a mini roundabout. Well, that was super organised wasn’t it Abbi!
So I walked up a street for about 5 minutes and decided that I was going the wrong direction, so I backed on myself. I initially turned up the street towards the university, but later turned back.
I attempted to get some free wifi from anywhere, with no luck. My phone battery was flat and my ipod touch wasn’t too well charged either. I then began to ask for help.
The first person I asked was a girl selling special offers outside a pharmacy, her English was poor, but I had the address of the hostel written down. She sent me back up the road I came from which inhad a feeling was very wrong. I considered getting a taxi but I dint know what the system for getting one was.
I took a second go at walking up the hill towards the university. I felt as though I’d collapse at the top, due to the heat and the fact I didn’t eat much on the plane. Across the road from where I was I spotted a little tourist information centre, which was open. I went in, looked red, sweaty and tired. Chucked my bag on the floor, at which point the kind lady at the desk looked at me which shock, but sympathy in her face.
The lady was so helpful. I told her the name of my hostel and within 2 seconds, she had it marked on a map for me. She asked if I could read Korean, and I laughed at her, so she drew me some instructions. I thanked her, and told her she needed to visit Ireland one day (in the midst of me trying to cool down from the heat, the lady talked about her desire to travel).
the map given to me at Hongik University tourist information
So I followed the map and instructions given up to a certain point, but turned down the wrong street. I was meant to go right past a CU Convenience store. There were two on the same road it turned out.
So I wandered a bit more and asked for directions again from a lady selling street food on the corner, who in turn went and asked the owners of a Mexican restaurant, and they sent me on my way.
Still clueless as to where I was or needed to be, I sat down on a step to relieve my back from tne strain that my rucksack was causing me. I studied the map and tried to figure of my general direction, when a couple of young Korean students asked I was lost. I could have hugged the. At this point, as they gave me really clear directions and I found my hostel … after one hour.
I was so thankful for a shower and a comfy bed after all of that.
So what did I learn from this experience.
1. That I have no sense of direction
2. I am extremely disorganised and should have printed directions
3. There are helpful, friendly people in Korea
4. In daylight the route from the train station to the hostel was so simple
Did I actually learn from this? NO! I went on to getting lost again in Seoul and when back in the UK.