Seoul exceeded expectations with flying colours, if you must know before you read on. So I went on an 8-day trip to Seoul (11 Sept-18 Sept) with my parents and my younger sister, Amanda, without following a tour/ travel agency. Since I had nothing much to do, obviously I was in charge of planning the whole trip, and surprisingly the planning process was almost as fun as the trip itself. If you’re travelling without a tour guide, the most important thing is knowing your way around/ how to get to places. I find travel blogs the most helpful in terms of that, in addition to the informative Korean tourism websites and efficient public transportation system there, which makes for a very pleasant travel experience.
Since putting everything from the 8-day trip into one blog post would be very long, I shall spare you the details and compile a top 10 highlights from the trip!
We stayed in Hotel Aropa, which is within walking distance of the Myeong-dong shopping street, a must-visit according to articles, and very aptly so. Besides the fashion outlets lined up, stalls open up along the street every evening, making it the place to go for street food excursions. Our favourite dinner place was Myeongdong Kyoja, an amazing place if you’re a fan of dumplings – but who isn’t, really? And you can tell that it’s a good restaurant if they serve only 4 items on their menu but locals and tourists still crowd the place everyday. We went there twice ’cause it was that good.
2. Digital Media City (DMC)
The DMC was actually a massive landfill for Seoul’s garbage on an island, before transforming into a high-tech modern city in the 21st century (a fact that very much amused my dad, the information junkie). The city had a futuristic feel to it, with huge TV screens plastered across artistically-shaped buildings. If you watch the Korean variety show, Infinite Challenge, this particular spot will be familiar to you as the MBC Broadcasting Station HQ, home to the famous variety show and also many K-dramas. Even if you’re not that into Korean entertainment programs you would enjoy the MBC World Theme Park, an interactive tour where you can experience BigBang’s performance (!!) in a hologram theater, virtual reality, being an anchorman/woman, dance experience studio (not so much my thing but it was okay lol), etc. They actually request for your email right there and then after taking trick art photos for you so that was cool. You can also get a signature of a celebrity of your choice haha. My parents really enjoyed it so I guarantee it’s worth your money.
3. Ewha Woman’s University
The place is so beautiful, it’s no wonder they open up for tourists to visit the university quarters. It would be a shame not to. There is a huge cathedral located in the middle of this one and the campus’s architectural concept is sort of old meets new so it was modern yet classic. Forgive me if I speak as though I know a lot about architecture because I don’t, I’m just trying to explain, lol. It was also swarming with pretty Korean girls so guys would either shy away feeling very out of place or be very much in heaven. The area is also filled with street food for a cheaper price than Myeongdong and so we bought a huge Gye-ran Bbang (or egg bread) for 1,000 won (around RM 3) to try. Also located nearby is Bulbap (translated as fiery rice), a restaurant famous for its affordable spicy dishes. It was soooooo good. Please believe me when I say my family would do another trip to Seoul just to eat here again. They make this huge sizzling wok of spicy noodle with Tteokbokki, then when you’re done they use the same wok to cook fried rice with the leftover spicy soup right in front of you. We basically ate the scraps out of it.
4. Itaewon/ Gyeongnidan-gil Street
If you’re a café-hopping person, this would be the place for you. This particular street has a very hipster vibe with street arts and quaint cafés. Grab a Street Churros located at the beginning of the street!
Yeouido is a large island in the Han River, where situated is the Yeouido Park, Yeouido Hangang Park (yes they’re two different parks), 63 Building (a gold-clad skyscraper with 63 floors), KBS Studio, and lots of financial building. I was a bit ambitious with the planning thinking we could walk from KBS to the Hangang Park but Yeouido is much bigger than I thought lol. Nonetheless, we got a free tour of KBS On, an exhibition hall for all things KBS and took a picture with a full-sized panel of Song Joong Ki. #betterthannothing. Took a subway to the Hangang Park (which was swarming with couples on bicycles, couples on Segways, couples on hover-boards, couples on a picnic, …you get the picture.) and took a ride aboard the Hangang River Cruise! This is totally great when your legs are giving out and the sun is setting. The view is amazing, the wind in your hair is amazing, and taking a break from walking is amazing.
6. Nami Island (Namiseom)
Nami Island is away from Seoul and is actually to the further west of Korea in Chuncheon, Gangwon-do, which required a bit more of a planning for transportation. The recommended route (from all the travel blogs) is to take the ITX-Chuncheon (from Cheongyangni Station in Seoul) to Gapyeong Station, and then take the tour bus to Nami Island. You can actually hop on and off the tour bus which takes you to not only Nami Island but also Petite France, Garden of the Morning Calm, and other tourist destinations in the area provided that you allocated your time of the day wisely. If you only wanna go to Nami Island though, you can take a taxi from Gapyeong Station instead of a tour bus which will be cheaper.
Nami Island is more than just a Winter Sonata experience, in my opinion. The whole island is really scenic and picturesque because of its beautiful trees and ponds, with points of attractions at various parts such as wooden cafés, performance stages, exhibition halls, etc. There are snack bars, restaurants, and cute shops as you walk along which really appeals to me. Even if it’s not winter, I bet the experience is as pleasant with greenery and blooming flowers during autumn.
7. Petite France
This was actually more of a French experience lol but it’s famous as the filming site of ‘My Love from the Star’ and also Running Man. It’s more of a photoshoot experience around the place, with a few cafés and souvenir shops. Most of the buildings are actually open to visitors for exhibitions (such as a creepy space full with Annabelle-like dolls in glass cases) and tower views. There are also puppet shows scheduled at the amphitheater, which was a bit creepy but interesting… if you like those sort of thing. A must-do is buying a small cloth from the ticketing counter at the entrance for 500 won (around RM1.50) to fill up with stamps located around the place and redeem free postcards from the counter once you’re done collecting at least 6 different stamps. Then you get a stamped cloth and postcards as souvenirs plus a Running Man-like mission experience. Pretty worth it.
8. Royal Palaces + Hanbok Experience
My very adorbs sister.
Palace hopping was, as expected, a really fun, albeit tiring, and culturally enriching experience. You can actually get an integrated pass for access to 5 royal sites in Seoul (Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Jongmyo Shrine) for a price of 10,000 won per person, valid for a month. For some divine reason, the day I planned for palace-hopping, Chuseok, happened to be a day where they announced that everyone is allowed to enter all palaces for free. I didn’t actually planned for us to visit all the 5 places and entrance fees are actually quite cheap for one or two palaces, but still – thank You, Jesus! We didn’t get to visit all of them in a day, so it was spread out over two days, the second day where entrance fees are charged, but if you wear a hanbok it’s free… so we rented hanboks like all other tourists. Yep.
Forgive me for the long and confusing explanation. I do realize that we should’ve quickly hopped all the palaces in one day for free but considering the operating hours, it was really more feasible to spread out over two days to have a full appreciation of the palaces. And the wearing the hanbok was fun… until I spent half an hour of walking in it. If I were to plan again, visiting Deoksugung and Gyeongbokgung would suffice, unless you want to see the Secret Garden (which is charged a different fee) in Changdeokgung. Forgive me if I sound less than enthusiastic, but they pretty much look almost the same after awhile lol. But still worthwhile lah.
9. Bukchon Hanok Village
So we actually visited the Bukchon Hanok Village on Chuseok as well because it was between two palaces, which led to the insufficient time for a complete hop of all the palaces for free… we could’ve visited the village another day because it’s free all year long, I know, I’m dumb. But you can learn from my mistake so… you’re welcome. Apparently this was one of the must-visits due to its historically-rich architecture. I pity the residents there, though. Even with all the warning signs to not be noisy, tourists are just tourists. Besides the village itself, the shops surrounding the area was awesome and filled with food destinations. From there I ticked off macaron ice-cream sandwich, hot-teok, and others off my list of snacks to try. Tongin Market was near Gyeongbokgung, but still we weren’t willing to walk that distance so… please let me know of your experience if you happen to successfully visit it.
10. N Seoul Tower (Namsan Tower)
I have to warn you beforehand to not visit the tower during public holidays. Just don’t do it. Especially at night. Not if you want to take line up for hours for the cable car and then another hour for the tower itself. Please also note that there are other cheaper and less time-consuming ways to go up the tower like a bus or a taxi, rather than the cable car ride which is likely to force you to cram together like a human sardine can anyways. No matter how romantically it is portrayed, DON’T FALL FOR IT.
Now that you’re warned, I’m pretty sure visiting the tower during off-peak hours would be pleasant (I did not post this to give a bad review, anyway).The love-lock area was actually not atop the tower, so if you just want to visit that you can skip paying for the tower’s entrance fee. But since you’re already there so why not, right. Anyhow, it did provide a nice panoramic view of Seoul.
So that sums up the top 10 highlights from our Seoul trip. We actually visited other places such as Cheongyecheon Stream, Dongdaemun, the World Cup Stadium, Hongdae, the National Museum of Seoul, Gangnam, and Some Sevit (Hangang Floating Island), and they weren’t listed here not because they weren’t interesting, but because those visits were either just one of the stops in a very packed day or we made a brief visit and did not do much there. But it was all-in-all a very fun-filled trip, thank God for the good weather and mostly smooth travels!