Adventure Namsan! Seoul Tower Sights at Night

During my first jaunt through Korea in 2004, one of the things on my to-do list was to see Seoul’s Namsan Tower. It’s not the tallest tower in the world (or even the tallest tower in Asia), but when it first opened in 1980, it was quite the attraction and remains the #1 tourist destination in Seoul to this day. Sadly, I didn’t make it to Namsan Tower and shortly after I left Korea in 2005, the tower underwent huge renovations and was renamed “N Seoul Tower,” the “N” being for “new.” Fast forward to 2014 and I finally made it to N Seoul Tower, still often called Namsan Tower as it sits at the base of Namsan mountain.


The tower sits at 236 meters tall, less than half the size of Taiwan’s Taipei 101 (508 meters) and almost half the height of Toronto’s CN Tower (553 meters). Despite it’s lack of skyward reach, it’s still a beautiful beacon in the city of Seoul with lots to see and do at the base of the tower too. Many people recommended we go at night to see the city lights of Seoul, so we did. The observatory hours are Sunday-Thursday 10am-11pm and Friday and Saturday 10am-midnight.

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At the base of the tower, you can check out the teddy bear shop...

At the base of the tower, you can check out the teddy bear shop…

...and buy you and your sweetheart a lock.

…and buy you and your sweetheart a love lock.

As for getting there, my friends and I got off at Myeongdong station (line 4) and walked up the hill to the cable car building to hitch a ride. You can walk all the way up to the observatory admission desk if you like, but we opted for the cable car view as night was falling and we wanted a bird’s eye view of the city at dusk. For more details on how to get there, click here.

Admission is 9,000 won (approx. $9.50 CAD) to take the elevator up to the observation deck. For a lift up in the cable cars, a round-trip ticket is 8,500 won (approx. $9 CAD).  One of the things that makes Namsan Tower cooler than the CN Tower (sorry Toronto! I still love you) is that there is a convenience store right next to where the cable car line up begins so you can grab some popcorn, snacks, drinks and even  a beer if you felt so inclined and they are priced like they would be at any outside convenience store. This is very cool because it breaks up the monotony of waiting in a giant snaking line for almost an hour and they don’t gouge you for a bottle of water as many tourist attractions tend to do.


Waiting for our turn to go up in the elevator.

Waiting for our turn to go up in the elevator.

Once you get to the observatory there is a 360 degree viewing deck, (much like that of the CN Tower) where you can take in the full view of Seoul. The night view was beautiful but unfortunately none of our cameras really did it justice so I will keep those shots to a minimum.


Fun fact: In 1975, five years before it was open to the public, Namsan Tower was actually South Korea’s first general radio wave tower, emitting TV and radio waves to most of the metropolitan area of Seoul.


Anyway, once you’re up in the tower, there is a big Korean buffet-style restaurant called HanCook Restaurant on the 1st level, 2 levels below the observation deck. Above the observation deck on the 5th floor is a high-class French restaurant called n.GRILL that boasts a view from “the highest point in all of Seoul.” There is also a sky lounge on the 5th floor called NTerrace with 360 degrees of windowed walls for optimal viewing.


Namsan Tower is an extremely popular destination for couples and date-goers. The sky lounge is one of the most famous places for a unique night out and the 5th floor rotates all the way around every hour and 40 minutes so if you’re looking to impress, you’ll have to check it out.

Locks of love. Couples buy locks and write their names on them, then throw away the key as a testament to their undying love *gag*.

Locks of love. Couples buy locks and write their names on them, then throw away the key as a testament to their undying love *gag*.


Couples can also buy tile squares and write their messages of love and stick it on the wall with the others *barf*.

Couples can also buy tile squares and write their messages of love and stick it on the wall with the others *barf*.

There are also postcards you can buy in the observation deck and post them via this mailbox, currently engulfed in metal attributes of affection.

There are also postcards you can buy at the observation deck and post them via this mailbox, currently engulfed in metal offerings of affection on the outer observation deck.

And so it was, with love in our hearts and pain in our legs, we left the tower in search of warm subway seats and something cold to drink. For more information on NSeoul Tower/Namsan Tower in English, click here.

Desolation in Springtime

There is an old children’s amusement park in Seoul called Yongma Land that has been closed and abandoned for years now. Legend has it that wanderers can still amble in to poke around the park and I had been wanting to check it out for some time.

Springtime in South Korea is a beautiful time of year. Cherry blossoms line the streets and sprinkle the roads with pink and white petals. I could imagine the contrast of trees full of life, surrounding a park left for dead. With that in mind, I made it my mission to find my way to Yongma Land during cherry blossom season for optimal picture taking. Below are the results of my voyage.

For those who want to go, take the subway to Mangu station (on the jungang and gyeongchun line) and head out of exit 1. You could walk there but the road gets a little winding and difficult to explain, or you can just hail a cab for 3,000 won (approx. $3 CAD). Just say “Yongma Land” and they will know. They get lots of tourists going there and it’s at the base of Yongma mountain so the area is well-documented.

If you take a cab, he will let you off in an area that looks like this:


Walk to the left of the toll booth you see in the center and head up the staircase. This will lead you to the mouth of the park. The gates will be closed but you will see a sign that says, “to enter, call this number.” Call that number and tell the man who answers that you would like to come inside. He will take you around to the side entrance and for 5,000 won (approx. $5 CAD) you will be set loose in the park to do as you wish.

The gates in the center is where you will come up to when you climb the stairs.

The gates in the center is where you will come up to when you first approach.

Many people come here to take photos professionally, as I saw in two seperate areas of the park that day. K-Pop videos and dramas have also been filmed here over the years. If you look closely at the carousel picture below, you will see some ladies in white. There was a photo shoot going on with about 6 grooms and 6 brides. Shoes and accessories were all over the ground by their vans and photographers were crawling all over.


Moving on, I will let the pictures tell the story from here.

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The ghost of Mickey approves this ride.

The ghost of Mickey Mouse approves this ride.


An old "viking" boat sits in decay under a beautiful cherry blossom tree.

An old “viking” boat sits in decay under a beautiful cherry blossom tree.

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Times are tough for pirates these days.

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A view from the roof of an old office building on site. The dragon and other artifacts lay scattered on the rooftop. Step lightly!


Back on the ground…

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Notice the photo shoot going on behind Mr. Creepy Pig. Right across from the brides was a staircase that wound up and towards the back of the park. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to go up there but no one was telling me not to, so off I went. It was silent up there, away from the tiny models and shiny shoes. It looked like a graveyard of childhood memories, but since those memories were not mine, I  jumped right in.

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Where clowns go to die.

Where clowns go to die.

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Finally the photo shoot was finished and I had a chance to get close to the carousel.


Back towards the old main entrance, this scene was a true sign of the times. Old video arcade machines stood near the bushes, guarded by a lonely viking detached from his ship, limbless and left to nature.


Being at the base of Yongma mountain, this old children’s park is mostly on an incline. After about an hour of hiking and climbing, I felt the burn of a good workout. Quite an interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon! The park is rumoured to be scheduled for complete demolition anytime now, so for those who want to check it out, I suggest you make haste.

A City Not Seoul

Greetings Dear Readers,

I hope this posting finds you well and on your way to a lovely spring weekend (sorry to those in Canada, where spring is a bit delayed). As promised in my article “My Apartment in Korea,” here is the second part of the series, where I will showcase my humble town of Deokso.

I live in Gyeonggi province, which is right next to Seoul. It actually hugs Seoul from the east side and goes almost all the way around. Within Gyeonggi province is a huge and sprawling city called Namyangju. Most of my friends live scattered throughout this city. Within the walls of Namyangju are many towns and counties, some more developed than others and some more country than city. I live in one of those towns, which is on the border of the “rural” area but not quite farmland territory.

In Deokso we have a subway station all our own, fast food joints, great Korean restaurants and lots of places to go exploring. I would like to show you my town to give you a better idea of what a regular, no-frills town in Korea looks like, in a city that is not Seoul.

Let us begin our tour as if you were getting off at Deokso subway station, as seen below:

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The main intersection if you were leaving the station and heading towards my apartment.


Local produce sold by old ajjumas.

A shop selling traditional Korean sweets. Rice cakes filled with honey or red bean and brown sugar.

A shop selling traditional Korean sweets. Rice cakes filled with honey or red bean and sugar.

We also have a Baskin-Robbins which is always busy, a Domino’s Pizza which is really expensive compared to what we are used to in the west and a Dunkin Donuts. I’ve never been in the Dunkin Donuts but I hear they have some odd, Korean style donut flavours that are quite popular with the curious at heart.

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Can you find the Dunkin Donuts shop in the second picture? It’s on the bottom-left, buried under a pile of other signs and text. This kind of building labeling is quite common all over Korea. Buildings are stacked with business logos and shop signs that often have nothing to do with each other. It makes finding places a little difficult, especially if your Korean reading isn’t very good.

Convenience stores are also everywhere and sell everything from toilet paper to beer. Many shops even supply plastic tables and chairs outside where you can crack a beer or an instant coffee right there and relax with friends.


Diaso! Everyone's favourite dollar store!

Daiso! Everyone’s favourite dollar store!

Apartments and houses:

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My hapkido gym, on the third floor of the building below, one above the poolhall, labeled with blue and red circles on their signage.

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The view of the main road leading towards my building, taken from inside my hapkido gym.

A chicken shop with delivery bikes. Very common in Korea. Even McDonalds delivers!

A fried chicken shop with delivery bikes. Very common in Korea. Even McDonalds delivers!

Buses on the main street towards my apartment.

Buses on the main street towards my apartment.

And now we enter down a side street that will take me peacefully to my humble abode. I like to walk this path to get away from the busy roads and no-existant sidewalks. (We do have sidewalks but if you look at the picture of the buses, to the left you will notice a silver car that is parked half-on and half-off the sidewalk. Lack of parking space is a problem all over Korea and as a result, they use the sidewalk – making walking a delicate game of not dying on your way home.)

On my way up my little side street I always notice this couple's home. They make traditional sauces and pastes and store them in these huge clay jars.

On my way up my little side street I always admire this couple’s home. They make traditional sauces and pastes and store them in these traditional pottery containers called Onggi.

Further up the side street, on my way home.

Further up the side street, on my way home.

And here we are at my apartment. My building (called a villa) is on the left, in green, with my neighbour’s home on the right. My unit is up top on the 4th floor so I get the balcony :)


The view from my balcony looking straight ahead.

The view from my balcony looking straight ahead.

The view looking left.

The view looking left.

Thus concludes our tour of Deokso. Please forgive the cloudy skies that were looming overhead while I shot these photos. Stay tuned next week for my trip to Yongma Land, an abandoned amusement park that’s still open for wanderers like me.



Interview with an Expat in Dubai

Last week I had the opportunity to interview my friend from back home in Toronto, who has recently embarked on an expatriate adventure in the city of Dubai.  Dubai lies within the United Arab Emirates, a Middle Eastern country sharing borders with Oman, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Almost a month after his move, our gracious interviewee took the time to peel back some layers on expat life in Dubai and also took some beautiful pictures which you will see below. Let us begin.

Q: What has your experience been living the expatriate life so far? Do you feel welcomed overall?

A: I do feel welcomed, mainly because the country is full of expats from all over the world. Most expats I’ve run into are from the UK, Canada and the US. Because the country is somewhat dependent on these people for their knowledge and skills, they have made Dubai a very expat-friendly place to live. Dubai has everything a westerner is used to enjoying (night life, American chain restaurants, fast-food and every retail store you could imagine). Side note: alcohol is only available in clubs and hotels; if you want to purchase it for personal use at home you need to apply for a “license” which is easy to get as long as you’re not muslim.

Q: This is not your first trip to the UAE, but when you first visited, do you remember your biggest surprise?

A: When I first visited back in 2003, Dubai was still a fairly young country. The only major well-known landmarks at the time were the Burj Arab (the world’s first 7 star hotel-a rating they gave themselves) and they were just in the beginning stages of starting the Palm Islands (man made palm tree-shaped islands). The biggest surprise was the speed at which the city was growing and how everything seemed possible as long as you threw money at it; there was nothing that couldn’t be bought.

The Burj Al Arab Hotel: 4th tallest in the world.

The Burj Al Arab Hotel: 4th tallest hotel in the world.

The Burj Al Arab at night.

The Burj Al Arab at night.

Q: Now that you’re there as an expat and not just a visitor, what do you feel is the biggest difference?

A: Once you start living here you stop being in awe of the architecture, sights and sounds and start taking notice of things. As a resident I notice that compared to Canada, Dubai has no soul. Dubai’s identity has been purchased. Dubai is like a teenager trying to impress its older friends around the world and it thinks that can be done by spending excessively. Canada, (Toronto specifically) has so much culture and character. You can find little stores in Toronto full of cool things and amazing out-of-the-way restaurants with great food but in Dubai it’s all tourist orientated restaurants and shopping. I’m sure Dubai has its own identity but it’s not very apparent. Also you’ll notice and very quickly get used to the call to prayer being broadcasted in the mall’s PA system and just continue shopping like nothing’s happening. That’s one thing I really like: they maintain their religion and let it be known but never force it upon anyone or inconvenience anyone with it. They do their thing and the expats and tourists do their thing too.

The driveway leading into the Dubai Mall, the world's largest largest mall (based on total area).

The driveway leading into the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest largest mall (based on total area).

Q: What is the cost of living like?

A: The cost of living is strange here. Things like rent for example, (compared to Canada) is high. Expo 2020 is coming to Dubai and because of that, real estate prices have already gone up. If you’re looking to rent or purchase something reasonably comfortable you are going to be paying a lot. Groceries like fresh fruits and veggies are also expensive because it all has to be imported from surrounding countries like Australia, Iran and India. However fast-food like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s etc., are fairly cheap compared to Canada.

Fast food combo, for around $6 CAD.

Fast food combo, for around $6 CAD.

Public transit is affordable and reliable unlike the shitty TTC that services Toronto.

Subway station.

Subway station in Dubai.

Expect to spend roughly 2,000 AED (approx. $600 CAD/month) on food, clothes, transportation, cell phone and activities (movies, sight seeing, restaurants and clubs). Add another 8,000 AED (approx. $2,500 CAD) for rent (for a fully furnished clean apartment that includes water, hydro and wifi). If you buy an apartment/house your monthly fees will be less but add the cost of furniture and monthly water, hydro, wifi and cable TV if desired.

Q: What is the food like?

 A: Fast-food and chain restaurants dominate. There are some hidden ethnic places but I have yet to find any except for the one that I was taken to.

Authentic cuisine: Lamb on a bed of hummus, sprinkled with pine nuts.

Authentic cuisine: Lamb on a bed of hummus, sprinkled with pine nuts.

Dinner for two: Lamb and rice with half a chicken.

Dinner for two: Lamb and rice with half a chicken.

Q: What do you think is the best selling point for expats to live and work in Dubai?

A: Being an expat in Dubai can be very profitable and enjoyable. Most companies that hire you supply you with accommodations, transportation to and from work, one month vacation pay plus airfare to wherever you are going on said vacation and health care too. Some even give you a cell phone, food allowance and your own personal car. Also there is no tax in Dubai so everything you make you keep.

Being a citizen from the UK, Canada or the States is a benefit because you are more likely to get paid more than someone from a “lesser respected” country. For example myself (a Canadian) and a person from India could be doing the same job and be equally qualified but I will get paid more because of the country I am from.

As for living in Dubai, although you might find yourself making a lot of money you will also spend a lot. The age range for expats working here are from late 20s to late 30s and they all love to go out at night and spend money. Everyone here wants to live an excessive lifestyle mainly because you’ll find yourself surrounded with excess and luxury. High-end sports cars, clubs and clothes, you find yourself always trying to keep up and spend. A lot of “peacocking” goes on; who has the best this and the latest that. So if you find yourself moving here make sure you have lots of discipline and self control. Don’t get sucked into that lifestyle, as tempting as it may be.

Excess at it's finest: The aquarium in the Dubai Mall.

An example of excess: The aquarium in the Dubai Mall.

Ice rink inside the Dubai Mall.

The ice rink inside the Dubai Mall.

Q: What would you say is the downside to living and working in Dubai?

A: One downside would be the excessive spending. Also get use to the heat! It gets bloody hot here; at the peak in the summer it can go up to as high as +40, but everything is air conditioned here. Just make sure you have a car because even though the bus stops are air conditioned it’s just not gonna cut it.

Sweet rides on the streets of Dubai.

Sweet rides on the streets of Dubai.

Q: What are some things from back home that are not available or hard to find in Dubai? 

A: Other than bacon, which is hard to find but still available (I still haven’t found it but have been told it’s here) there isn’t a single thing you can’t find here. You want it, they have it. They want to make sure they keep their expat workforce happy!

Q:What do you think is the biggest misconception about Dubai?

A: I think perhaps people think that everyone is rich here but it’s not the case at all. In Dubai you’re either rich or dirt poor. Tons of Indian, Pakistani, Filipino and South-East Asian labourers hardly make enough to live; they are essentially living to work. Most of their pay is about 1,500 AED (approx. $450 CAD/month) and that’s it. However, as I mentioned before if you are employed here you will be given accommodations, health care, vacation pay and transportation to and from work. It doesn’t matter who you are, you will get it. That being said, the accommodations for a labourer are not all they’re cracked up to be. Most times it’s 4-6 people living in one single room. They basically go there to sleep, eat and rest. Most of the laborers I’ve met are working just to send money back home to their families. The situation is a tough one to swallow; living in excess knowing there are people living in the same city making 1/10th the money you are and are not being respected at all.

Downtown Dubai at night.

Downtown Dubai at night.


Both pics taken from the top of the Burj Khalifa.

Q: How long can expats stay in Dubai without a visa?

A: Citizens from most countries can stay for  30 days. But you can take a quick drive to Oman and turn right back around and return for another 30 days if desired.

Q: Do you think it would be easy for a traveler to arrive in Dubai on a travel visa and start looking for work?

 A: They can as long as they can afford to pay out of pocket while they stay here looking for work. You basically have to make looking for work your full-time job. Wake up at 9am and start e-mailing companies everyday until you get interviews. Try not to get distracted by the sights and sounds and focus and you can find a job in 30 days. You’ll just have to be tenacious and not give up.

Q: How long did it take you to find work?

A: I found it fairly quickly only because I knew someone that knew somebody. For others, from what I’ve heard its not too hard to find work. As long as you have a degree or a ton of experience in your field it’s all a matter of sending out a bunch of e-mails to companies until one bites.

The Burj Khalifa: The tallest building in the world.

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai: The tallest building in the world.

The Burj Khalifa at night.

The Burj Khalifa at night.

Q:  If you could tell a newly arriving expat something you wish you were told, what would it be?

A: It’s not as easy as everyone makes it out to be and it’s expensive. Make sure you are ready to spend out of your own pocket for the first little bit and don’t give up. Make contacts whenever possible and network as much as you can. Find websites with fellow expats and start talking. Make friends asap.

Q: What are the main languages spoken there?

A: There are many dialects of Arabic, Hindi, Pakistani spoken and everyone speaks English (either broken or proper).

Q: Is there any sort of expat community where you are?

A: There are a few, mainly on facebook like the group “Canadians living in Dubai.” I haven’t had a chance to get involved yet but I’d like to.

This concludes our interview with Amir, an expat in Dubai. If you are thinking of moving to Dubai and have any further questions, feel free to leave a comment and let me know! Be well Dear Readers, until next time.