Seoul is a lot like being in LA, but with a convenient metro system. Everyone is really stylish and it sort of makes you embarrassed to not look your best. It was such a different feel from Vietnam, where we flew in from, which was raw and grungy. Seoul is hip, fresh, and modern…not to mention, the traffic-laws seem more up to date!
The first thing I noticed when we got off the place in Seoul was the temperature. It was cold! Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam were all hot and humid, and that was the type of weather we had packed for. Fortunately, we had our new custom-tailored jackets that we had just bought in Hanoi. We planned our trip here to match up at a good time to visit his Uncle, and we also got to catch up with my friend, Zoe, whom I hadn’t seen since I met her…6 or 7 years ago? Crazy. As always, I love meeting up with friends in new places; actually, I’ve come to realize that I generally like going out to eat with more people than just Will and I, because that means we can order a wider variety of food 😀
As with every trip that’s under a week, I regretted not being able to stay in Seoul longer. We stumbled upon a lot of random street fairs and festivals, so there’s always something going on and always something to see. There are so many other parts of Korea that I want to visit, and things to see/do/eat, but I can safely say that I had a good first-round this time. I ate all my favorite foods, bought enough skincare products for a whole year, and got to spend time with some of the best people.
Our Airbnb was located right in front of a metro station! Actually, the elevator for handicap and elderly was placed almost right outside the building’s front door, and we eventually learned to walk half a block to access the metro stairs, since Will and I are neither handicapped nor eldery. Our apartment was also conveniently located a block away from Insa-dong, and walking distance from Bukchon Hanok Village.
Looking for hotels in Seoul is sort of like looking at hotels in any major modern city – it’s all pretty expensive. Not only was our Airbnb a lot less expensive than a hotel room, but it had a small kitchen (that we didn’t use), a laundry machine (that we did use), and it was still a private apartment, meaning freedom to walk around the apartment with no pants. Oh! A pocket wifi was also included with the room, which made it super convenient to use our phones throughout the city, despite not getting a SIM card. Just make sure to carry around a battery bank since having the wifi on depletes the battery pretty quickly.
Even though we never came face to face with our host, Jeremy, he was super helpful when we needed through the LINE app, and gave us clear instructions on how to find our way from the airport to the apartment. Definitely check out his apartment when visiting Seoul!
Things to consider when looking for accommodation: being walking distance of metro.
Mugyodong Bugeokukjib (Pollack Soup): They only serve one dish here, so no menus needed. It’s simple, yet comforting, and delicious in the brisk weather. It also doesn’t break the bank at around $7 per bowl! There were three or four types of kimchi sides at the table to eat with your bowl of rice, but my favorite was the shrimp paste to add into your soup! Yum yum yum! 38, Eulji-ro 1-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul 04522, South Korea
Jaedong Sundubu (Soft Tofu Stew): Sundubu is probably one of my favorite Korean foods because it’s flavorful and usually arrives still boiling in its clay pot. Jaedong seems like it’s a local favorite. You can tell this place is special; well dressed business men and women were coming in by the crowds on their lunch break, and the restaurant owners were efficiently delivering hot clay pots of soup fast and furiously to everyone. Sundubu can come in spicy or not, so make sure to specify 🙂 I personally like mine mild, but Will likes it flaming hot! 6, Bukchon-ro 2-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul 03059, South Korea
BAKE Cheese Tart: Will and I stumbled across this stall in the food court of one of the Lotte Department stores, and saw what we thought were egg tarts. I love egg tarts, so I bought one for each of us, and oh. my. goodness. BAKE does not sell egg tarts – they sell freaking cheese tarts! That first bite was amazing! I still have dreams about those cheese tarts, and regret not going back for another one during our trip. BAKE Cheese Tart is actually a Japanese chain, so you can find it throughout Japan, as well as overseas in Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc. Korea has multiple locations, so be on the look out! B1 LOTTE MAIN, Sogongdong, Junggu, SeoulKorean Bingsu: There are plenty of chains and stores for shaved ice, which is one of my favorite Asian desserts. My favorite type of bingsu is snow-like shaved ice, but you can also find versions with crunchier textures. There were a lot of chains that served really elaborately decorated bingsu’s, and you can find them in all different kinds of flavors, from chocolate and matcha to fruity melon and mango.
Korean BBQ: One of the best parts of Korean BBQ is leaving the restaurant and smelling like smoked meat for the rest of the day. We went to a really great BBQ place for grilled duck with Will’s extended family that was actually outside of Seoul. On another day, we visited a different BBQ place with our friends Zoe and Ariel, who are currently expats in Korea. Both were delicious and over-filling, and we the company made it all the more enjoyable. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the names or addresses of either place, but there are plenty of Korean BBQ places to choose from! Just look at the crowds and compare the prices; you really can’t go wrong.
My favorite street foods to look out for: kimbap (korean style “sushi” rolls), ddeokbokki (spicy cylinder rice cakes), eomuk tang (skewered fish cake in broth), hotteok (fried donuts with scalding but delicious sugar filling), sundae (korean blood sausage), hot bar/eomuk bar (fried fish paste on a stick, can have various fillings like crab, sausage, glass noodles, etc…my favorite filling is rice cake!)
Deoksugung Palace: There are five Grand Palaces to visit in Seoul, but we only visited one of them. We were originally going to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, which is the main royal palace that also has a few museums located within, but Deoksugung was conveniently close-by when we were visiting near the City Hall area. There’s a neat mix of Eastern and Western style architecture here, and we were able to witness the changing of the guards! We happened to visit during a Korean Royal Culture Festival, so we were also able to see a reenactment of a diplomatic reception and some Korean cultural dances and performances.Bukchon Hanok Village: This is near Insadong, and I would recommend visiting both in a day, starting in Bukchon Hanok Village and making your way down to Insadong during the day. You can visit the Bukchon Cultural Center to learn a little more about this historic village, but I think there’s a fee. Will and I just walked in and out of the alleys ourselves, exploring and admiring the architecture of the traditional homes. Gyeongbokgung Palace is actually also closeby, so you could get a day’s worth of sights in by starting at the Palace, working your way to Insa-dong, and making your way back to Bukchon Hanok Village.
Hanbok’s in Insadong: Insa-dong is a great neighborhood to visit for window shopping. There’s a lot of stores that sell traditional goods, clothes, and souvenirs. I hadn’t planned on renting and wearing a hanbok while in korea, although I knew it was available to do, but my friend Zoe convinced me and we wore them around Insa-dong together. Hanboks are traditional Korean dresses that are usually worn as semi-formal or formal wear for celebrations and festivals. The Korean tourism board encourages hanbok rentals to tourists who want to experience it, and you can find hanbok rentals all over Korea. I believe there are a few museums where you can get free admission when wearing the traditional wear, although Zoe and I just hung out, strolling around Insa-dong and visiting shops until our two hour rental was over.Lotte World Tower/Mall: I’m not a huge fan of “observatory” experiences; I like looking at buildings, but I’m not as big of a fan as taking the elevator to the top of them. If you’re into that, though, go to the Lotte Tower! Lotte is the big brand in Korea, and you’ll be able to find several Lotte department stores in the city, but Lotte World Tower is special because it’s the fifth tallest building in the world! The World Mall has a variety of stores that range from affordable to luxury, and of course don’t forget your passport to get that duty-free!
Meerkat Cafe: Seoul has a ton of animal cafes for you to visit, from owls to bunnies to raccoons to meerkats! Will and I visited two animal cafes, but the animals didn’t seem that happy in one of them. Our favorite was the Meerkat cafe, where there were also baby raccoons, wallabies, wolves, and a beautiful cat. The admission/drink was kind of pricey, and you can only hang out in the Meerkat pen for 10-15 minutes (one of the visitors kept asking to go back in, even when it was busy, but they wouldn’t let her). I’ve never seen wallabies or meerkats before, so I still felt like it was a cool experience to hang out with the animals, feed them, and pet them.
- Get cash from the airport via Global ATMS: You can get by using a credit card at most places in South Korea, but it’s still nice to have cash on hand when going to street markets or getting food from vendors on the street. Will and I get our currencies by withdrawing from ATMs when we arrive in a country, but that proved a little difficult in Seoul! We first saw a global ATM at the airport, but mistook it for the TravelEx booth, which was right next door. Little did we know, global ATM’s are the only way to withdraw cash using a foreign bank/debit card. In a pinch, you can still get cash advances via a credit card at regular ATMs, but this may cost more in fees than a debit card withdrawal.
- Download Kakao Map/Kakao Metro: There are a few apps you can use for navigating around the metro, but I loved using Kakao maps, recommended by my friend, Zoe! Through the app, you can plug in the station you’re at and the station you’re trying to get to, and it will tell you how to transfer and stuff. The apps could probably do with some improvements and be more English-user-friendly, but it proved to be a lot better than using Google maps (which ended up being pretty useless!)