Mike and I made our first trip together to South Korea in early November – me to see my grandma, and Mike to work! It was a short one-week trip, but I managed to see a lot during the day either solo or with my mom (she also went for a few weeks) and had a great time spending time with my grandma and getting to know her a little better. There’s so much we can learn from the older generation, and many of them lived in interesting times. Here’s a few things I did on the trip:
1. Toured the palaces
Korea has some beautiful palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910); I visited Gyeonbokgung with my mom one day and Changdeokgung with Mike another day. Both palaces require a small admission fee and offers tours for no additional fee in multiple languages every day.
I had intended to run outside, but the pollution is pretty bad in Seoul. Lots of people wear masks to deal with the air quality. Thankfully, I was able to stay with Mike at the Sheraton, which had a great gym.
3. Shopping in Insadong and Myeongdong
Korea is known for its shopping scene – from high-end clothing and bags to unique cultural items to makeup/ skincare (have you heard of K-beauty?). I spent a morning browsing in Insadong, which is known for cultural items (I bought a pair of wedding ducks) and Myeongdong, known for K-beauty and tiny cute things. I’ll post some of my favorite skincare/ makeup products on a Friday Faves.
4. Hiked Bukhansan
Korea has some beautiful mountains nearby, which are absolutely stunning in the fall. My mom and I took a bus out to Bukhansan, which is one of the mountains in Seoul. We thought we could do a hike to the top, but apparently it’s a six hour round-trip, and we weren’t prepared for how steep it was! We hiked up about an hour and then came back down. I’d love to finish the hike on a future trip!
5. Explored the street food scene…and ate lots of other food
Another thing Korea is known for is its interesting street food scene, which pops up in several areas around the city around late afternoon. One of the BEST things I ate this trip was bung-geo-bbang, which is a fish-shaped red-bean filled pastry and costs about $1 for 2. I ate them almost every night for dessert :)Some other top eats:
- Korean BBQ at Cha Iyagi (the meat was just okay, but the rice and side dishes were really good)
- Viennese coffee at Hakrim Dabang, one of the oldest coffee shops in Korea
- Snowbowl (Korean shaved ice)
- Fresh sashimi at Noryangjin (korean fish market)
- Samgyetang (korean ginseng chicken soup) at Tosokchun
- mung bean pancakes at Kwangjang outdoor market
- Soft serve ice cream from Baekmidang
Some travel notes:
- It’s really easy to get around Seoul – there’s a robust and easy-to-navigate subway system with English signs, and taxis are cheap
- Not everyone speaks English, but many people in service industries (hotels, restaurants, shops) speak enough to communicate
- Koreans wake up late and party at night – most shops/ restaurants/ attractions don’t open till 10 AM or later, and you’ll see plenty of people out and about at 9 PM or later even on weekdays
- Wi-fi is widely available in most public places, but if you need to stay connected, you can rent a portable “wi-fi egg” at the airport or many other locations for less than $4/ day
- The city is very safe! South Korea is ranked as one of safest cities in the world in terms of crime
I really enjoyed my time in Seoul and felt like a week was a good amount of time to get acquainted with the city once again (I’ve visited a few times in my life, most recently in 2009). I’m planning to go back a little more frequently from now on to spend time with my grandma as she gets older, and am already looking forward to my trip next year :)