had been hearing from other expats about how amazing Seoul, South Korea is. In my mind I have created this image of Seoul being this futuristic, uncensored, and forward thinking country. Everything would be completely opposite of China in terms of cleanliness and efficiency. It was a country where I wouldn’t need to use translation apps, bring my face mask, or figure out how to tell someone not to touch my hair. My hopes for Seoul were high but with 72 hours in country, I wasn’t sure if I would be able see and do everything I wanted.
I decided to stay at a hostel in a part of the city called Hongdae. Hongdae is known for its hipster style, college town atmosphere with a plethora of shopping streets, and diverse food scene. Where I stayed was 3 minutes from the metro station which is the quickest way to get around city cheaply and efficiently. A one way ticket at the metro was no more than 1,416KRW one way (about $1.20 USD). It can be confusing doing money conversion at first, but I used the conversion app on my phone to help me.
My first day, I decided to visit the beautiful Gyeongbokgung Palace which was the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. It’s hard not to find as it is at the end of the Main Boulevard in Seoul and behind a golden statue of the famous King Sejon. The palace was hard to miss during the bright spring day. What I loved about it was the opportunity to dress up in traditional Hanbok attire and walk around the palace. I also was fascinated by the changing of the guards in the front of the palace. It was impressive that the guards could stand in that beating sun for hours and not be bothered by pictures taken by tourists. If you are looking for a relaxing stroll while learning a bit of the history of S. Korea, this is a great place to go.
After meandering around the palace, I went to a popular local Korean food market. I knew that it would have souvenirs that I could buy for friends and family, but also some great local eats. I walked into the market and was immediately overwhelmed by all the hustle and bustle. Old men shouting to bring attention to their food stand. Women were prepping radish to make kimchi, fresh fish were still flopping around on the ice, and bystanders weighed their options of food choices. It was chaos in a way I had not experienced. I followed the crowd that eventually led me to three old women cooking Bindaetteok for crowds of people. Bindaetteok is mashed mung bean with green onions, kimchi, or peppers cooked in a frying pan. I managed to be the 10th person at a 6 person table and stuffed my face with the famous dish. In that moment, I had no idea what I was eating, but let my inner Andrew Zimmern come out.
The next day, I managed to get a spot on a DMZ tour. The time of my visit in Seoul was the week after the North Koreans had deported the South Korean workers out of the country. Tensions were extremely high and no one was allowed to visit the Demarcation Zone. Although I was extremely nervous, I decided to go on the tour anyways. The tour group was very well known, well regarded, and we were guaranteed safety. The tour guides did a very thorough and informative presentation throughout the tour. Both of the tour guides had family members still in N. Korea and were very open about the current situation. The tour took us to five different locations including the Dorasan Station. Dorasan Station is the last train stop on the Gyeongui Line, connecting North Korea and South Korea. This station is now a museum as it is the last stop before heading into North Korea. Being the corny traveler that I am, I took the opportunity to get a train ticket and stamp to Pyeonggong.
That night, I spent shopping through the streets of Hongdae. My ears filled with K-Pop music and echoes of loud street vendors, my eyes spotted attractive shopping discounts, and the alluring smell of Korean street food made my senses run wile. For five blocks, the streets were full of name brand stores we love from home and Korean store brands I’ve never heard of. I ended up buying tons of clothing and goodies for cheap prices. I wish I had brought a bigger suitcase!
My last day in Seoul was spent drinking bubble tea in museums and making impulsive shopping stops. I was highly intrigued at the National Museum of Korean History as it was informative and a great way to learn history. I spent the evening meeting up for Korean BBQ with friends from the hostel. Korean BBQ means sitting around a table with your own grill, surrounded by friends, an array of meats and complimentary kimchi and veggies. Korean BBQs are filled with the sound laughter, clanking of soju glasses (Korean liquor), and the sizzling of meats. Korean BBQs are practically on every corner all with their specialty menus. It is the perfect way to end my trip in Seoul.
Seoul exceeded all of my hopes and expectations. My only wish was that I had a week instead of three days. It’s a country I often miss and a place I would highly recommend to others.