Fast-moving and progressive in fields like technology and fashion, yet remaining true to tradition and heritage – Seoul, South Korea’s capital and urban heartbeat is a must-visit for your next city getaway. Home to the world’s speediest internet and some of the most diverse ethnic enclaves, only do you find enormous skyscrapers – like the Lotte World Tower – soaring over ancient temples – such as the Gyeongbokgung palace – in a city like Seoul. Dr. Rebecca Desiderio lived in Seoul for a year with her family, while her husband worked for an airline based in Korea. Having the privilege for R&R and time to travel as a stay at home working-mom, she shares her tips for enjoying in the 600-year-old cosmopolitan city.
Before you go
Lose weight before coming to Korea! The food is so good; it is impossible not to eat a lot! Your clothes will depend on the season of course, though for me the best season to travel is during Autumn. The colors are so vibrant, the wind is cold but not freezing, and the sun is always up. Plus, the OOTD you get to wear during Autumn is superb against the flashes of orange, yellow, red, green and brown!
Must do’s and must see’s
There are so many places to see and things to do in Korea. Here are some attractions worth checking out.
Gyeongbokgung Palace. Getting to tour the place while also wearing the lovely and dainty Hanbok is a fun experience! You will feel transported to the era of Korean Dynasties.
Myeongdong Shopping District is a must. Try to book your hotel near this area because it will be more convenient. Most tour pick-ups and drop-offs are in Myeongdong. One day is not enough to have a shopping spree in this area. Here, there are thousands of shops, especially those that sell beauty products. You just might go crazy over facial masks and CC creams! They also have food market stalls that open from 4 pm.
Trick Eye Museum is fun and insta perfect.
DMZ or the Demilitarized Zone – this site gives you a glimpse into one of the longest wars in the world that divided a country. You can see North Korea just behind the fence.
Nami Island, Garden of the Morning Calm – this tour is famous because its seen in a lot of Korean Dramas. Perhaps a little overrated for me – though in Autumn, it would be nice to see. Not in the wintertime, however.
What to avoid
Korea is very safe, and the people here are very helpful. Although speaking English is difficult for most, people try their very best to assist.
One thing to take note of is that they are very strict about health declarations here. Thus, if you are not feeling well and have the flu, I advise you to postpone your travel. Customs officers at the airport might stop you at the quarantine area in immigration. Moreover, they are also very particular with trash segregation all throughout the country. Be very aware of which waste basket you put your trash in. Littering and not segregating trash properly is frowned upon. You may even be reprimanded.
On public transport, seats are allotted to pregnant women and the elderly. Do not take these seats.
Traveling on a budget
Haha, no saving tips in travel, and not in Korea. Go all out, shop, eat, and enjoy your matcha tea! If I would say one thing, take the train not taxis. The train is genuinely the best way to travel, and it doesn’t cost that much. They are efficient, on time, and very clean.
Best foods and places to eat
Korean food is very distinct. Ranging from spicy to sweet, the food presentation is also insta perfect! Try their cakes and breads; they are to die for!
Soft Tofu Stew or Soondubu Jigae – usually cooked in an earthen pot, with soft tofu much like taho in a delicious fish stock base with little beef. Then you get to add shellfish, hot pepper, eggs, beef strips.
Ox Bone soup or Seolleongtang is extremely popular in Korea. They boil the beef bones for hours on end to release the calcium, which gives the soup a very distinct white color. This is the beefiest tasting soup you can ever have (our nilaga/bulalo version but with a white non-clear soup base).
Tteokbokki – streets of Korea are filled with this white cylindrical rice cake. It comes with a variety of sauces – spicy, sweet, etc. It’s like the Philippines’ galapong with sauces – Koreans are crazy about this!
Chicken Porridge or the Dakjuk – very similar to our arrozcaldo, however, they serve it with a whole chicken and the rice is inside the chicken. The soup base bursts with garlic flavor.
Korean Fried Chicken – forget about KFC! When you bite into the chicken, you will be surprised by the amount of flavor it has. The chicken is coated in a sticky, sweet, and spicy red sauce, while the batter is unbelievably crispy. This is a must-try.
Bibimbap – bibim means mixed, and bap means rice, thus the name. This is served with a spicy red Korean sauce called gochujang, rice with lots of veggies, beef, and an egg on top. It is impossible not to be addicted to this.
Check out the lovely parks in Seoul. There are no entrance fees, and they’re clean as well as insta perfect. Moreover, eat at restaurants along the streets, rather than at fancy restaurants because they truly serve the best. Street food is clean and so fun as well. Visit the little local shops you see along the road, including the traditional tea houses – they serve many types of teas – both cold and hot. Another shopping destination to visit is the Terminal Bus Station (take the train from Myeongdong, or any other train station). The whole underground section is full of clothing stores.
I don’t get to see a lot of kabayans, but they do have communities at the churches. They usually have picnics as well as a Filipino market every Sunday near the Catholic Church in downtown Seoul. There they sell a lot of Filipino food and products as well.
Other essential info
If you come in winter, try the Ski camps. There are ski camps near Seoul and mountains you can drive to for fantastic views in autumn or spring. For skiing, travelers can experience the hugely popular resort culture. Resorts are equipped with everything you can dream of (even an indoor swimming pool for winter). They offer basic and advanced ski lessons.
If you choose to visit the mountain ranges during spring and cherry blossom season, this time of the year is also breathtakingly beautiful. It usually lasts just for a week or two so better watch out in advance for predicted bloom time. You will also get to taste, cherry blossom tea, cherry blossom flavored coffee, red bean cake with lovely cherry blossom decor.
It’s very important to remember that on your trip, emphasis should be placed on having fun and experiencing the culture. Try not to overbook your day with so many things to the point that you don’t have enough time to enjoy the place. Sit under a tree, feel the breeze, close your eyes, and look at the dainty flowers on the green grass. Try to have friendly conversations with the locals. Who knows, you might even get an extra discount (I always get away with freebies and discounts just by smiling and saying kamsahamnida).
Lastly, learn one or two basic Korean greetings like “annyeong” and “kamsahamnida.” It is just nice and polite for a foreigner to know the basic way of saying thank you and hello in the local language.
Dr. Rebecca Desiderio lived in Seoul for a year with her family, while her husband worked for an airline based in Korea. Having the privilege for R&R and time to travel as a stay at home working-mom, she was able to experience life in Seoul to the fullest through her many adventures and experiences.
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