Sunday, April 26, 2015

What to do in Seoul? A travel guide to South Korea’s Capital

With Kpop making waves nowadays in the international scene, it’s no wonder why more and more people are drawn to visit South Korea. But it’s not just music and fashion which draws people to travel to this country. It’s delicious food, bustling city life, rich culture and unique people also makes it a wonderful tourist destination. South Koreans are known to be one of the most polite and friendliest nationals in the world.

What’s more amazing is that you can experience these many facets of South Korea just by staying at its capital, Seoul. While it may be highly advisable to visit many cities and other places, it’s best to always start your exploration at the country’s capital.  I remember saying few months back that I’m in love with Phuket, until Seoul started courting me.

I almost thought I couldn’t make it to Seoul to experience winter festival. My Visa was delayed and was released only the afternoon before my flight. When it was confirmed that I could fly, I immediately booked a hotel in Seoul’s central area near Seoul’s City Hall. It was still freezing when I got there. Temperature was at 4-6 degrees in the high noon and would drop to negative 12-15 from night til early morning and I didn’t have any winter clothes with me. Good thing at almost every subway station, there are stalls that would sell cheap winter clothes good enough for me to use during my 1 week stay there. 

The list of things that you can do in this huge and fascinating city is endless, but below, you’ll find my most recommended when in Seoul, South Korea:

1.Pay a royal visit to Gyeongbokgung or Gyeongbok Palace.

Gyeongbokgung, Korea’s most famous palace is the seat of the last Korean dynasty, the Joseon dynasty. The place is an authentic picturesque, with Mt. Bugak in the background. The palace, being conveniently located in the capital, has long been the symbol of national sovereignty. You can watch the changing of the guards every hour at its main gate, Gwanghwamun, stroll towards its outer and inner court and wander through Donggung which is the palace of the crown prince. This attraction is open from 9:00 to 18:00 and will cost you 1,500 to 3,000 won to enter.

Getting there:
Take the subway train from Jongno 3-ga to Gyeongbokgung (Exit 5). The ride takes about 10 minutes and costs 1,500 to 1,600 Won.

2.Learn more about Korean history by visiting its museums.

Korean history is rich, vibrant and colorful. To learn more about their history, you can make the most of your time in Gyeongbokgung by visiting the two museums located inside the palace grounds – The National Palace Museum of Korea and The National Folk Musem of Korea. The museums have thousands of artifacts and historical objects which depicts the traditional life of the Korean people. There is no fee to enter the museums.

3.Let the panoramic view of Namsan Park and Seoul Tower take your breath away.

Namsan Park is located at the heart of the city, offers both locals and tourists alike a change of scenery and a momentary escape from the metropolis. This park, aside from having a scenic view of Seoul, also boasts of housing 600 animal and plant species. 

It also holds one of Korea’s most popular attractions, the Seoul Tower. If you’re a fan of Korean dramas, then you’re no stranger to its fence which is covered by thousands of love locks (like Paris’s bridges: Pont des Arts and Pont de l'Archevêché.) However, its main appeal is the four observation decks which give a panoramic view of Seoul, especially at night. The tower also features a gift shop, a revolving restaurant located at the top, a Teddy Bear Museum, a Wishing Pond and a posh French restaurant called N Grill. Admission to observatory will cost you 9,000 won.

Getting There:
Go out at exit 2 or 3 at Myeongdong Station on Seoul Subway Line 4. Walk towards Lila Elementary School for approximately 10 minutes to Palgakjeong Pavilion (N Seoul Tower) and take a Cable Car. The fare is 8,500 Won.

4.Time travel in Namsangol Hanok Village.

If you don’t want to climb up Namsan Mountain, you can always settle at its base and travel back in time in this little neighborhood. The village has traditional style hanok homes, which are mostly the residences of the upper-class during the Joseon era. The village depicts the traditional Korean way of life. They have artisans who practice their trades, a theater which specializes in traditional Korean music and a time capsule. This attraction is closed during Tuesdays. Admission is free.

Getting there:
Take a train from Myeongdong Station, take line 3 and 4 and get off to Chungmuro Station Exit 4. The ride is approximately 5 minutes and costs 1,500 to 1,600 Won.

5.Shop at Seoul’s Shopping Districts.

Korea is noted for their fashion style and shopping districts. Dongdaedum and Myeongdong are the major shopping centers. Dongdaedum has the largest market and offers all sorts of fashionable goods. Myeongdong on the other hand is trendier and contains Seoul’s top stores and premier fashion boutiques. Other shopping districts include Itaewon (which caters mostly foreigners’ tastes), Hongdae (for vintage stuffs), Namdaemun (for Korean souvenirs), Insadong (for traditional Korean arts and crafts), Gyeongdong Market (for traditional medicine) and many more. 

6.Dine and check the must-eats.

It’s not just Kimchi and Korean BBQ which made people love Korean cuisine. So while in Seoul, take time to discover other Korean must-eats and fall in love with their rich and flavorful dishes. Some of the dishes that are worth checking out include Bibimbap (Korean mixed rice), Sannakji (fresh baby octopus), Ddeokbokki (Korean spicy rice cakes), Samgyupsal (grilled pork belly bbq), Chi-maek (fried chicken and beer), foot-long ice cream cone, and the well-loved Patbingsu (red bean shaved ice).

7.Indulge in the Korean street food culture.

If you’re feeling hungry after the late night partying or just want to stroll the streets at dawn, the best course to take is toward those crowded tents which offer a variety of (mostly spicy) street food. The most common finds include Tokkebi hotdog (hotdog coated with deep-fried potatoes), Odeng (fish cakes), Kimbap (rice rolls), Soondae (blood sausage), Bongeobbang (fish shaped bread with red bean paste) and Cup Chicken.

8.Try their amazing Korean drinks.

Whether it’s alcoholic or not, Koreans are also known for their hearty drinks. Koreans are said to have a long-standing love affair with alcohol that’s why it’s not surprising that their national liquor is Soju. They’re best known for this alcohol – the one in bright green bottles which characters from Korean movies drink to get hammered. Other alcoholic drinks work checking for are Makgeolli, Cheongju, Sansachun and Bokbunja.

If you’re not up for any alcohol, you can always try their non-alcoholic drinks like their tea and milktea. Highly recommended also are Milkis (soft drink), Aloe Vera juice, banana milk, Omija tea, Sungnyung and Sujeonggwa. Try them out; you may even end up craving for more. 

9.Try Café-hopping in different themed cafes.

The Café hype in Seoul is impressive. Unlike the regular cafes, you’ll not only get good coffee, but also lovely interiors, unique concepts and one of a kind menu. Some of the themed cafes worth visiting include the The Coffee Project in Anam (coffee theme), Hoho Myoll in Hongdae (Volkswagen), The Nature Café near Hongik University (Sheep), Bau House Dog Café and Toms Cat Café in Hongdae, Hello Kitty Café, Book/Study Café in Gangnam and Miss Lee Café in Myeongdong (wishes).

10.Winter in Korea

While a lot of people may choose to visit Korea during the spring or autumn, visiting the country during winter should also be included in your Korean bucket list. The beauty of Korea in the winter must also be appreciated in its own merit. Aside from the winter wonderland atmosphere, Korea also offers a lot of activities in winter like hot spring tours, skiing and snowboarding, Korean winter fashion, romantic Christmas date in different café, eating winter street food, sledding, ice fishing festivals, watching the Nutcracker ballet and outdoor ice skating.  I recommend going to Everland Park. You can take the bus from the Seoul’s City Hall to bring you straight you to the park. Just look at these photos and they will tell you why you should go here.

Why not take a side-trip to Nami Island?

Taking a side trip to Nami Island is another activity I would suggest only if you have more days to still explore South Korea. Just 90 minutes away from Seoul. The island is said to be a haven for lovers and romantics and has become very popular to locals and tourists because of the Korean drama Winter Sonata. The indescribable beauty of Nami Island would charm you captivate your heart during Winter and Autumn. 

Traveling to South Korea and taking in all the beauty and wonders that it has to offer will surely turn out to be a memorable experience for anyone. You will love not just the amazing country, not just the organized city, not just the delicious food but most importantly the friendliest and most respectful people in the world. Anywhere I go, people would smile at you, wave their hand and say Annyeonghaseyo. If ever you ask them about directions and they can’t say it well in English, they’ll be more than apologetic that you would wanna hug them and say it’s okay.  There was also an instance in a coffee shop in Everland Park when I accidentally spilled my coffee, they came to me and replaced my coffee with a new one for free.  How would you like having a special treatment like that? That’s why I made a promise to go back there during autumn. 

So what are you waiting for? Visit Seoul and let the wonderful Korean culture enrich your soul.