Achieving my dream of visiting Korea was almost a decade in the making. When my family had a five-day vacation in the Land of the Morning Calm, I was beyond ecstatic! Finally, I could step foot in my dream country! It was the best five days of my fangirl life, and how I feel about it can’t be put into words. Heck, it has been a year since, and I’ve written countless of posts already. But I still have more to stay. It’s a trip to remember, that’s why I’m always going back to that five days just reminiscing.
It’s difficult to summarize in one post everything I loved about Korea. There are countless things to see and do in Seoul and around Korea. To pick just five things of all the things I loved about it is difficult. But I only had five days and I did have to make a choice. We were in a limited budget and limited time. We had no choice but to make the life-changing decisions!
However, despite of having countless of things to do in Seoul, there are definitely things I would love to do over and over again. They say that traveling in Seoul is expensive, but there are tons of things you can enjoy and love without burning a hole in your pocket!
Try hanbok fitting for free.
Walking around Insadong, I saw many studios who will lend you a hanbok and take professional photos of you for a fee. But if you look really closely, there are tourist centers who’ll let you try on hanboks and traditional costumes for free! Yes, dear friends. The intricate and lovely gowns you see in sageuk dramas are free to try if you only know where to go.
In Seoul, there are many places that can lend you a hanbok for a limited time. My family tried the one at Insadong Tourist Information Center, and we were assisted by really nice staff. They were kind enough to lend us the hanbok for as long as we wanted! But I think they’re stricter if many people are waiting to have their turn.
There’s also one in Myeongdong and another at Gyeongbokgung! As another bonus, you can even try on King’s Costume which we did at Gwanghwamun Square. Try other tourist information centers, too!
Visit the palaces around Seoul.
One of many things I love about Korea is how it actively preserves and promotes its culture. You can see it in the way they try to rehabilitate hanok houses, and more significantly, how it preserves their palaces. It’s a delight to be walking in the middle of the city and suddenly discover a palace. Well, it didn’t really come as a surprise since we were looking for the palaces. It’s just amazing how you can be surrounded by skyscrapers one minute then be absorbed in a palace the next.
We visited two palaces: Changgyeonggung and Gyeongbokgung. It’s difficult to choose which one is prettier because both of them are! For one, we went to Korea during spring so the abundance of flowers was mesmerizing to say the least. Changgyeonggun is smaller, and has a smaller crowd, too. Gyeongbokgung has a more grander appeal to it, but you must prepare yourself to huge crowds. There are other palaces, too, but I can only comment on the two.
What’s surprising is that you can see the palaces for just a small fee. You can even avail the 10,000W ticket and visit three palaces in a day! It’s definitely worth it in my opinion. You’ll enjoy the palaces with or without tour guides. We tried without one and had a rather leisurely time visiting one structure after another.
Go on a street food adventure.
One way to get yourself acquainted with a culture is by trying out their food. What better way to do that than to try the street food? Yes, it’s probably safer to go to restaurants for meals, but t’s the street food that will feel the most authentic. It’s also common knowledge that street food vendors are the ones who know best how authentic local food should taste like!
The first Korean food I tried in Korea was odeng (or fish cake on sticks!), and with just 1000W per stick, it’s really a steal! It’s best eaten during cold weather since they’ll give you free soup to eat with your odeng. But of course, a glutton like me actually think it’s best eaten anytime, anywhere. During the trip, I ate odeng a few more times. It’s so good! See how many sticks you can eat!
It’s not just odeng, too! Korea has one of the most diverse varieties of street food there is. From sweets to bread to spicy chicken pops to intestine-looking food on sticks! There’s a lot to choose from, so don’t just limit yourself to one.
Haggle at Myeongdong (or in any shopping district).
When it comes to shopping, Myeongdong may not be the cheapest choice. It has high-end stores that can definitely deplete your savings, but it’s heaven for anyone thinking of buying a lifetime supply of makeup! There are Etude House, Nature Republic, Tony Moly, and every other makeup branches in every street corner. It can get pretty disconcerting, because you’d swear you just passed by an Etude House store but look there’s another one. It’s also important to note that you’ll go home with a bag of freebies just by entering makeup stores. So do it!
There are also tons of street stalls that sell all kinds of things! The items for sale range from dresses to shoes to shades and even dog accessories! It’s crazy. Just learn how to haggle for a much lower price. Coming from a third world country that’s home to tons of street markets, haggling is an expertise. Hee.
Other famous shopping districts in Seoul are Namdaemun, Insadong and Dongdaemun! But you just have to drop by Myeongdong because half of Korean dramas probably has a scene in Myeongdong. I swear. So if you want a taste of a heroine’s life, drop by Myeongdong and walk around for a day (or half day).
Ride the subway.
People-watching is one of my favorite activities in Seoul, and riding the subway is the best way to do it! But it’s not the only reason why you should try the subways in Seoul. You see, Seoul has one of the best public transportation in the world! Be it by bus or by subway, you can get in any point in Seoul if you just try to understand the system. In our case, learning the subway routes came in pretty handy (and not that difficult!). It’s pretty much the only transportation we needed during our entire stay.
The trains are never late, and even during rush hours, the crowds were tolerable! It may be scary since what if you get lost, right? But there are English signs everywhere, and signs leading to landmarks. Yes, you might get lost, but you’ll eventually find your way!
(Tip: You can use T-money cards when riding the subway and the bus. We bought ours at a convenience store.)
They say that once you have achieved your dream, it’s time to find another one. Since I’ve achieved my dream of going to Korea, I have another: going back! It’s not as easy as I hope, though.
I only had five days back then, and there’s so much more that I have yet to experience. I only made a dent on my Korean bucket list! I have yet to experience other seasons. Seeing the palaces during autumn must be nice. Walking around in Myeongdong during in winter is probably spellbinding. Hongdae is another place that’s just begging to be visited. I also cannot wait to use the smidgen of Korean I learned in my language class!
Korea, I can’t wait to go back!
(***This post is my entry for Korean Air Southeast Asia‘s contest Asian On Air Program 2013. You can also join the contest by writing a travel post on your blog! Just make sure that you’re from Southeast Asia. You can learn about the contest by reading the mechanics on their events page. ^^***)
Anna Joleen says
Thank you for sharing this post! I had to write the bit down about the tourist center. I am so excited to visit Seoul in July this year. Do you have any other tips on what to see?
Hi! This list isn’t that updated though. Hanbok Fitting in Insadong is no longer free, but the ones in Myeongdong and the main KTO office are still free. 🙂
I’m not sure how Nami Island looks in July, but it’s pretty amazing in autumn. It’s quite far from the city, but still worth the trip. Also try Ihwa Mural Village in Naksan Mountain (still in Seoul!) if you like arts and culture, and a pretty awesome view of Seoul. 🙂