Landing at Incheon International Airport [ICN] around 6:00 AM, my wife and I were ready to begin the day in Seoul. We had a several-hour layover to make the most of, and faith that a visit to the Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market [노량진수산시장] would make the lengthy and expensive taxi ride (>1 hour, >$70) into town worthwhile.
It was a very cold February morning and the market was dotted with small stoves heating meals, tea kettles, and of course the vendors.
We walked up and down each aisle, observing the variety of sea life represented – some familiar, some unfamiliar, and some of it mounting an escape attempt.
We exited to the south and refueled with pretzels and coffee (lattes were about $4.50) at Tom N Tom’s Coffee, a chain with several locations throughout Seoul in the red hot – some say overheated– café culture, before hailing a taxi.
The warmth of the taxi and the enclosed space revealed to us that we smelled bad. BAD. Like seafood restaurant dumpster bad. We had spent the earlier part of the morning tramping through blood and puddles of runoff. In the cold, open air of the market, it didn’t seem like much, but all the while it was wicking up into our jeans, and now it was decomposing. Our driver was polite and cracked a window without saying a word. I made a mental note to stay outside until we dried off.
Arriving at Deoksugung [덕수궁], I couldn’t help but notice the juxtaposition of the new and the old. The ancient palace was across a very busy street and an open square from the very modern Seoul City Hall [서울특별시청] building. The traditional palace guards face down a Dunkin’ Donuts.
We weren’t quite sure what we’d find inside, but the entrance fee was only ₩1,000 (about $1).
Inside, the ancient nestled among the modern, with a heavy dose of surveillance technology.
But gradually the distractions melted away into palatial grandeur.
The gift shop was stocked with tasteful merchandise, with attention to traditional Korean motifs and supporting local artisans.
Our pant legs dry, we hailed another taxi back to the airport and bid Seoul goodbye.
Follow this itinerary:
Wherever you’re going in Korea, be sure your smartphone will reproduce Korean characters or that you bring a printed version of the name of your destination in Korean characters. The proportion of English-speakers is lower than you might expect and in some cases Romanized names (e.g. Deoksugung instead of 덕수궁) can be of no help.
Expect to pay about $70 each way for a taxi from and back to the airport. It’s a long ride.
Buses are about a quarter of the cost, but take a little more time. Seek help at the bus information desk. You’ll likely find an English-speaker there to write out your destination in Korean. The experience feels a little like when the teacher pinned a note to your shirt in grade school.
An exchange rate in the ballpark of ₩1,000 = $1 means that currency conversion is easy. Just chop off three decimal places. That alarming ₩15,000 bus ticket is about $15.
Incheon International Airport [ICN] to Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market [노량진수산시장 – free to enter]:
Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market [노량진수산시장] to Deoksugung [덕수궁 – ₩1,000 (about $1) to enter]:
And Deoksugung [덕수궁] to Incheon International Airport [ICN]: