Sarang Hanguk! Oh how I love thee! â™¡.â™¡
Friends, I am officially in love with South Korea! Can you imagine I used to dislike this country? Wae? Blame it on my bad experience when I first set foot on the land many years ago.
But thanks to the cute K-artistes whom I’ve taken to ogling in recent months, I decided to give the country a second chance. That–has to be the best decision I’ve ever made. ^o^
Just for clarifications, Koreans refer to South Korea as Hanguk and North Korea as ChosÅn. Obviously, South Korea has much more to offer as a travel destination than their northern counterpart. And I’m not just talking about Kpop, cosmetics, plastic surgery and kimchi.
To begin with, Korea has very rich cultural heritage. It has an impressive history. But what really brought South Korea to the global forefront is its technology and the whole Hallyu wave.
Come on, who hasn’t heard of Samsung? And let’s face it: it’s a lot easier to get foreign interest via the pop culture route. I mean, can you get enough of your favorite Korean actor or actress? Or your favorite Kdrama?
Once you get the people captivated via Kpop, getting them to experience the other aspects of Korea is just a matter of time. No wonder South Korea is one of the top tour destinations in Asia! Already, I’m making plans to head back there soon.
So what’s so enticing about South Korea that I can’t get enough of? Well, come away with me as I share with you 10 interesting ways to experience South Korea, specifically Seoul, other than just shopping for cosmetics at Myeongdong for first-time visitors.
1. Hopping around hanok cafes
The cafe scene in Seoul is highly interesting. The eclectic mix of settings combining the medley of old and new Korean cultures is one-of-a-kind.
Like when we were touring Bukchon Village, we chanced upon Café LN, which is housed in an elegant hanok with a modern interior. Apart from the charming decor, I was totally taken in by their glutinous rice cake waffle. It was simply delish and not something you can easily find outside the country.
I also relish the tea houses at Isadong, also known as Insadong Chatjip. These are hanok teahouses that serve homemade traditional tea and pastries. The hot teas are actually served in rice bowls, which means you get quite a sizable portion to drink! Daebak!
The reason I’m not leaving you any address is because the cafes are easy to locate. Just stroll around Bukchon and Isadong and you’re bound to find one of interest to you.
If you prefer the American- or European-style cafes, check them out at Myeongdong. A cozy cafe we ate at was Kinfolk Kitchen, located at 32, Myeongdong 4-gil Jung-gu, Seoul. But I really urge you to give the hanbok cafes a try. You will love them!
2. Taking thrill rides in theme parks
Seoul offers quite a number of theme parks and we headed to three during this trip. Crazy? I know right?
The first was Everland Amusement Park, the second was Lotte World Indoor Theme Park and the last was Seoul Land Theme Park.
The theme parks in Seoul aren’t as great as those in Japan or Hong Kong but they still rank high in fun and thrills. We were blessed with glorious weather during our trip so we enjoyed many rides. But perhaps winter isn’t the best time to visit them as the weather may still be unpredictable or some sections of the theme parks could be closed.
Of the three, Lotte World is the least enjoyable because the queues were horrendous and the magic pass (equivalent of quick pass) was useless. I don’t understand why the lanes for the quick pass were always closed. What’s the point?
But Lotte World houses a large skating ice rink, which is made famous by some K-Pop dramas and has an outdoor adventure park. In addition, the folk museum is well worth a visit.
Seoul Land is recommended because it is located just 30 minutes away from Myeongdong at the Seoul Grand Park Station. Although the theme park is quite small, the location has a lot to offer. You can visit the zoo or take a hike around the park. The best part is that it’s not crowded so you can get to take the rides without long waiting time.
3. Unfolding sageuks through museums
Do you know there are over 100 museums in Seoul? What’s great about them is that many of their museums allow visitors to learn a lot more of Korea’s culture and history.
We had originally wanted to visit a few museums like the war museum and the kimchi museum. In the end, we only had time to visit the Lotte World Folk Museum.
For someone like me who is not keen on museums, I have to say Korean museums are an eye opener. I literally swoon over them! How come?
Well, their exhibits are very illustrative and some of them uses animation and smaller scale models to better illustrate various aspects of Korea’s past. This makes learning much more enjoyable for visitors.
If you are someone who enjoy watching Korean sageuks, you most definitely have to get to a museum. Just google museums in Seoul and you would be spoiled for choices.
4. Feasting on street food
Street food are hard to miss if you’re shopping at Myeongdong. With the mobile stalls lining up the streets, the scene is very colorful with a plethora of food selection from whirl potatoes, fried fish cakes, BBQ squids to banana fritters and many more.
Okay, I admit the selection are not all healthy but heck, it’s not like you’re gonna eat them every day. The most important thing is that they’re clean–at least we did not have any tummy issues after eating them.
Oh, a must-try is their 32cm long ice cream. We couldn’t resist it even though eating ice cream out in the winter cold weather defies logic. But trust me, fighting the cold from eating the long ice cream is part of the fun and definitely something unique you’ll remember for a long time.
5. Watching comic non-verbal live shows
Okay, forget Kdramas for a while. South Korea offers some of the finest non-verbal live performances with a combination of martial arts, gymnastics, break-dancing, exciting music, and comedy all in one show.
We watched two of the highly acclaimed performances while there. One was Korea’s most famous show, Cookin’ Nanta. Nanta features the garak (rhythms) of Samulnori (traditional Korean percussion quartet). The performance introduces five characters: a manager, head chef, a female chef, the sexy guy, and the manager’s nephew. These five characters constantly beat rhythms on pots, pans and all kinds of kitchen implements, as they race against time to prepare food for a wedding banquet.
The other we watched was the musical, Jump, which incorporates many oriental martial arts, including Korea’s traditional military martial arts of Taekwondo and Taekkyeon, as well as high-flying acrobatics and hysterical comedy. The show has practically has no dialogue, but still presents a compelling story of a house robbery that everyone is able to easily understand and enjoy.
Of the two, Cookin’ Nanta was brilliant and well worth the time and money. Jump on the other hand, is quite a slapstick and even my son didn’t enjoy as much.
Each show takes around two hours. All tickets must be purchased in advance. Watch Cookin’ Nanta at Nanta Theatre and Jump at Myungbo Arthall. I purchased my tickets through Funko Fantastic Korea but you can also check this page for more information.
6. Indulging in delicious Korean fare
Seoul has no shortage of scrumptious Korean cuisine. If you’re short of time, there are two you must try. One is the Korean ginseng soup or Samgyetang.
Samgyetang is made from a whole young chicken stuffed with glutinous rice and boiled in a broth of Korean ginseng, dried seeded jujube fruits, garlic, ginger and various herbs and condiments. The best Samgyetang is served in Tosokchon located at 5, Jahamun-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul (nearest train station: Gyeongbuk-gung Station).
The other is Korean BBQ. Up until this trip, I never like Korean BBQ. I thought they were tasteless and a complete waste of money. However, I was so wrong. Authentic Korean BBQ is daebak! But it’s expensive though.
We had our BBQ experience at a restaurant located at the base of cable car station to N Seoul Tower (I forgot the name). We were very well fed and well served. I even drank a bit of soju, an alcoholic beverage which compliments the BBQ meat really well.
And oh, we ate while sitting on the floor so be prepared to take your shoes off. Make sure you don’t have smelly feet and your socks are clean. >ã…<
7. Sightseeing in Pedicab rickshaw
One of the highlights during our trip was touring Bukchon in an Artee Pedicab rickshaw. We spotted some tourists touring the area in them and were wondering how to get into one, not knowing that such service requires advance booking.
But as favor was upon us, we managed to hop on one that happened to be available and were charged 30,000 won lower than the designated price of 80,000 won per hour.
It’s an expensive ride no doubt but if you know the uphill slopes at Bukchon, you wouldn’t really quibble about the price that much. Also, the rickshaw rider served as a tour guide, bringing passengers to touristy spots and explaining the history and significance of the spots.
So if you get a chance, book an Artee Pedicab tour. It’s truly a special way to tour Seoul for some fresh perspective, leaving you an unforgettable memory.
For information on Artee Pedicab, check their website.
8. Photo taking in Hanbok
There are various studios at Bukchon that’ll dress you in hanbok and take your photo for a fee.
I’d original toyed with the idea of going through the experience but gave up the idea after realizing that I’ll probably not look good in hanbok with my short hair.
But if you think you’ll look good in hanbok like these girls whom we chanced upon at Chungdeokgung, why not try to be a Korean for an hour or so? The girls looked like they had fun.
9. Strolling in Myeongdong
This is one of the primary shopping districts in Seoul where you can find lots of beauty products, clothes, shoes, accessories, and lots of food. There are lots to see and engaged especially if you’re into shopping and eating. You can even find the Myeongdong Catholic Church right smack in the district.
Even if you’re not intending to shop, you must take a stroll to soak up the atmosphere at Myeongdong. The place is brimming with excitement and the night scene is particularly vibrant with lots of street vendors hawking their food stuff.
10. Traveling around with Seoul Metro Subway
Finally, Seoul is easy to get around because of their efficient Seoul Metro Subway, which has been described as the world’s longest multi-operator metro system by route length.
The subway culture is quite refine in Seoul. At least I don’t find the people that pushy even during peak hours. I also like that both the stations and the trains are clean (but you’ll see quite a number of homeless campers in the stations at night). Not only that, many stations are connected to underground shopping malls like Goto Mall at Express Bus Terminal or Yeongdeungpo Underground Mall at Yeongdeungpo station.
But while convenient, the metro can be a little overwhelming for the first-time traveler. It took me around two days to figure out the whole works before I could travel with ease. Before that, I was pulling out my hair trying to figure out the connections and lines.
So it’s best to give yourself a bit of time to familiarize with their subway route before embarking on your first ride. I would also recommend you to download the Subway Korea app.
Plan using Korea Tourism Website
A lot of people I know went to Seoul for shopping and food. But as you can see, the city has a lot more to offer. One week is much too short for us! Next round, we’ll definitely plan a longer holiday when we return.
Oh, I referred to the official Korea Tourism website here while planning for the trip. I love how informative and useful this resource is, complete with descriptions on the destination as well as details on the directions.
So any of you a fan of South Korea? What do you like about the country and is there a must-try you’ll recommend for first-time visitors?