My mom and I have this unspoken tradition of traveling to one international destination every year. In 2018, we decided to go to South Korea again — primarily because she was in the midst of a busy travel year with my dad. We figured South Korea was a lot more accessible to Hawaii than Europe and we also enjoyed our tour with KJ International Tours a few years prior.
We chose the “Lights and Paradise Korea” guided tour with KJ International Tours that would take us from Seoul to Busan to Jeju Island. The guided tour essentially meant that, rather than being on a group tour, the company would make plans and arrangements for a tour with just me and my mom.
We departed on a direct flight from the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport to Incheon International Airport via Asiana Airlines on Oct. 3, 2018.
Since we arrived at our hotel in Seoul in the evening and were wiped out from the 10-hour flight, we called it a night and rested up before our first full day in the city.
Little did I know that South Korea was about to be pummeled by a large typhoon. I awoke the next morning to a message from a Facebook friend, warning me about the storm and urging me to be careful. Luckily, the storm was to make a direct hit south of us (in Busan), but the forecast still called for heavy rain and strong winds in Seoul. My heart sank as I realized that what was supposed to be a flawless first day in South Korea would be thwarted by icky weather.
Thankfully, the outer bands of the Typhoon Kong-Rey brought only rain to Seoul and not the kind of winds that are usually associated with cyclones. Still, it made for a sticky and unpleasant experience as we bolted through the rain from site to site.
That morning, we met with our local guide, a young college student named CJ, who would be taking us to all the sites on our itinerary for the day.
Our first stop of the day was Changdeok Palace — a palace built in the 1400s, housing many kings of the Joseon dynasty. One of its most notable features is its stunning verdant garden. Our itinerary included a tour of that garden — the Secret Garden tour.
Despite sloshing through puddles for what felt like miles, the rain set a somber and melancholy tone, oddly creating an appropriate setting for a walk through a garden like this one.
After our walk, we jetted for a cab to our next destination: Insadong Market for lunch!
CJ guided us into a cozy restaurant, where we sat on a table low to the ground and feasted on seolleontang — a milky beef bone soup — and kimchi pancakes, a perfect meal for this rainy day.
Since the next itinerary item — a Royal Guards ceremony at Deoksugung Palace — was pretty much scrapped due to the weather, CJ offered to give us an hour or so to peruse Insadong, a famous shopping district that features cute shops that sell a lot of traditional Korean gifts (a must-visit when you visit Seoul!).
We ended the day at the Lotte Tower, a 123-story skyscraper with sweeping views of Seoul. Unfortunately for us, the view was shrouded by rain covering practically the entire city. I can’t say it was terrible, though. I was still grateful to see it all from above.