There’s a little bit of Korean influence on many of the everyday things we use. It’s possible that your car, cellphone, television set, watch and clothes are all from Korea. Heck… you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of this song.
While it’s surprising how much influence Korea has on our daily life, I realized I personally didn’t know much about them or their culture. It’s about time I learned a little bit more about Korea. With that in mind, we took a four day trip to Seoul, South Korea.
It was wonderful.
Below you will read a guide to Seoul with plenty of helpful links. We only stayed four days. Don’t expect this to be a detailed comprehensive guide. It’s basically the stuff we liked about our experience. If you want to learn more about a particular place, there will be links to sites with more information. This article would be incredibly long if we included all the location details and contacts. Think of this guide as a jumping point for your research.
Let’s get to it!
Most of our stay centered in the Myeongdong area. Most people in that area knew how to converse in basic English. Asking for directions or clarifications wasn’t a problem. But this changed once we ventured further out of the typical tourist areas. That’s when the language barrier became more apparent.
Here’s our lost in translation episode – We ate in a random chicken and beer restaurant. Asked the waiter if the chicken was very spicy. He answered, “No. Not so spicy.” You can guess what happened next. It took two pieces of chicken to realize that we weren’t going to be able to finish this without sweating our asses off and ordering ten more beers. It was soooo spicy that we finished our 500ml beers before we could even finish a chicken wing.
Otherwise, people seemed to be able to converse in basic English. You shouldn’t have trouble asking simple shopping questions, getting directions and ordering food.
HINT: Look for the tourist assistance personal. See the photo above. They are generally very helpful.
How to go to Seoul, South Korea?
We stayed in the Hotel ibis Ambassador Seoul Myeongdong. The location was fantastic. Two minutes away from a train station (Euljiro 1-ga). Literally, right next to the Myeongdong area. The rooms were a bit small, but since there were only two of us, the hotel was perfect.
What’s the weather like?
We went during the month of April. The temperature was anywhere between 10 to 20 degrees Celsius. For some, it can get a bit chilly. Bring a sweater or a jacket. If you get cold easily, you might want to bring gloves and a cap too. The flip-side to the comfortably cool temperature was the cloudy weather. It was cloudy and grey for most of our stay.
What to do?
Korean Food Galore
As you probably know by now, we love trying new food. Here’s a caveat about Korean food though. Based on our lost in translation story, when they say spicy, they really mean delicious food that feels like burning coal inside your mouth. You’ve been warned.
That being said. Their food is delicious and if you like spicy food, you should really give it a shot. Try it at least once. What’s the worst that can happen?
On to the food!
Not only did we see raving reviews of this restaurant online. When we first walked by for lunch, we noticed a line outside. Whenever people are willing to do that, it’s a good sign. So we went back in the middle of the afternoon to try it out. Less people.
Basically they serve only four dishes, but when you serve them THAT good. That’s all you need. We ordered Kalguksu (thick chicken broth, soft noodle and garnish) and Mandu (stuffing made of female pork, vegetables, leek and fresh sesame oil).
It was early morning when we first arrived in Seoul, we read about a place with famous toast. It was called Isaac’s. When we finally found them in Myeongdong, it didn’t look like much. No tables and chairs. Just a small window with three ladies cooking the food in front of you. There was a short line (Of course). Also people were having their photo taken in front of the food stall. Some were even taking a video of the ladies cooking the sandwiches.
Our sandwiches were simple enough. Ham, egg, shredded cabbage and extra goodness of who-knows-what between two pieces of warm bread. Perfect for the early morning chill.
We were surprised to see plenty of coffee shops in the streets of Seoul. It seemed like there was one in every corner. But if you want to try something that stands out, visit the O’sulloc Tea House. Basically, they have green tea everything. Green Tea Ice Cream, Green Tea Tiramisu, Green Tea Latte and of course… Green Tea Green Tea. Great place and the interiors were predominantly green. Duh..
Even though it was starting to get cold when we visited the tea house, we still ordered the Green Tea Ice Cream. It was heavenly.
Yoogane was a place we passed frequently (it was near H&M – go figure). We noticed it was always full of people. Obviously, we decided to give it a try. While inside, we looked around and just followed what everyone else in the restaurant ordered. The waiter then visited our table. Put vegetables on a hot plate, got rice with herbs and spices then proceeded to mix them all together on the hot plate. It was basically some sort of rice cooked on a hot plate. It almost felt like Korean Paella, but tasted nothing like Paella. It was delicious!
As I write this, I noticed they have a branch in Manila. Will check that out next time we visit the Capital.
This is by far our favorite Korean style of eating. We were thrilled to find that our tour guide opted to bring us to the Born Family restaurant. According to him, he’s been eating here for years. They serve simple Korean food, but done the right way. Simple yet good.
Of course, this wasn’t too exotic to us. It felt like being back in Cebu and eating in Pearl Meatshop. You choose a raw meat then they serve all sort of greens, sauces, kimchi and spices. You cook the meat in the hot plate in front of you. Then once cooked you grab a piece of lettuce, mix it with whatever ingredients are available in front you. Fold neatly into a small bite sized chunk. Then place everything in your mouth. So you need to be careful not to make the chunk too big. Ideally, you eat everything in one bite.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much about it online. The link above only shows the Foursquare site with the map.
As mentioned, there are coffee shops all over Seoul. We just happened to go inside this one (near H&M – see the pattern here?). Interestingly, after the trip we realized that this was the only place we saw that sold cupcakes. We tried it. Coffee was good. Cupcakes were good and lovely looking, but just a little dry. All in all, a solid spot to sit down and relax after a long day of walking. What more can you ask for?
One thing everyone raved about and insisted we should try was the Korean street food. Since we were around the Myeongdong area, that’s where we tried most of it. All you need to do is walk around that area at night. You’ll be sure to come across several people selling all sorts of street food. There were plenty to choose from. To be honest, I don’t even know what most them were called.
We ate Korean Barbecue (spicy is REALLY REALLYLLELALLY Spicy!), an egg muffin thingie (like clouds in your mouth), organic ice cream with honey chunks (delish!) and much much more. I’m sure we missed out on a lot of other stuff. But you get the idea.
Shop Till You Drop
Guys… the ladies will love it here. There is shopping galore. Don’t worry. If shopping is not your thing, there’s usually a really nice coffee shop in most areas in Seoul. That means you’ll have a place to sit.
Below you’ll find the areas where we went shopping and brief description of each area. I won’t get into each store we visited. There were plenty!
This area is known as a main shopping district in Seoul. When we went, there were plenty of big name brands like H&M, Uniqlo, Forever 21, etc. But there were plenty of local stores as well. Literally thousands you can choose from.
This is one of the college districts in Seoul. There’s a good selection of affordable items and even cool underground indie brands. Expect to have a super nice tiannge experience without the tiannge.
Midnight hours and wholesale prices. In the beginning, we thought Dongdaemun was a building or a small area. It turned out to be the whole district. It seemed like every building was offering some sort of midnight shopping.
Get a Little Culture
If you have the time, you should always try to immerse yourself in other cultures. That being said, a few days were not nearly enough to get to know everything about Korea. Here’s what we were able to do:
A huge part of Korean history is war. You can feel the remnants of that today. There’s a reason all South Korean males are required to join the army. Visit the War Memorial of Korea. Not only will you get a glimpse of their history, but you’ll see awesome weapons of war; Actual fighter planes, tanks, artillery, guns and even a battle boat with actual bullet holes. The best part? All this is free.
This, to me, was the highlight of the trip. The Demilitarized Zone is a 4km border between North and South Korea. Tour itineraries differ, but ours brought us to one of the North Korean infiltration tunnels (the North dug deep tunnels across the DMZ to invade South Korea), an outpost where you could see North Korea (if it weren’t cloudy), Dorasan Station (the train station that was supposed to connect North and South Korea) and a convenience store (to buy products from North Korea or the DMZ – North Korean liquor anyone?).
The tour was very safe, but you couldn’t help but feel the tense situation of being in a possible war zone. You can also take an optional tour of Panmunjeom or Joint Security Area (JSA). This will bring you inside the heart of the DMZ.
We booked our tour via Destination Specialists.
Random notes about the tour: you’ll need to bring a passport, the tour guide was uber helpful and you won’t be able to take photos on certain portions of the trip.
The best view of the city has to be from N Seoul Tower. Up there, you will see all of Seoul. Definitely, a good place to stop by. When we visited, we went in the middle of the afternoon. It turned out to be the best time to go. Hardly any people meant no lines. There are also lots of other things to do.
Plenty of souvenir shops for your pasalubongs. Lots of places to eat. And for couples, they shouldn’t miss out on leaving a named padlock on the tower fence. Just make sure you stay together longer than the padlock stays on the fence.
As part of our day tour, we visited the Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was interesting to see how the Korean royals used to live. Most of the original palace was burned down many years ago by the Japanese, but they’ve been slowly reconstructed. By now, roughly half of the original buildings are back in their former glory.
Who knew that Nanta, a musical comedy show about three chefs, would be one of the highlights of our trip. It’s the longest running show in Korean history. When we sat down, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it. But I came out laughing and had a thoroughly good time. It was a great mix of musical drumming, comedy and good old fun. The show is centered around four chefs who have to cook for a wedding. You don’t need to know how to speak Korean. It was well worth the watch. If you get the chance, you should catch the show in Myeongdong.
This is located in Hongdae. When we did our research about the place, we knew there was a trick eye museum there. What we didn’t know was there were two choices. One that was more family friendly and the other was fun for couples. You can guess which one we went to. We can’t post most of the R rated pictures here, but it was worth going for couples.
This place is HUGE. We were walking around for almost 3 hours and we still weren’t able to cover the whole place. Everland is South Korea’s biggest theme park. They’ve got something for everyone.
For kids, there are plenty of small rides, sweet treats, animal shows and a zoo. We saw all sorts of animals like a polar bear, tigers, monkeys and much more.
For the teens, there are plenty of thrilling rides – notably the T Express. That’s South Korea’s first wooden rollercoaster. It’s one of the world’s steepest wooden coasters.
For the older folk who just want to stroll around, the park has one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. I’ve literally never seen that many colorful flowers all in one place. If you get tired, you can always sit down and relax in many of the eateries. Which by the way, most likely also serve beer.
Hopefully this little guide of ours was helpful to you. If you think we left something out, feel free to let us know in the comments.
Ahn Nyeong Hee Ga Se Yo!!!
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