Field Guide: South Korea

Field Guide: South Korea

South Korea was surprisingly an easy destination. There were a lot of cheap and great options for accommodation, the food was good and inexpensive, and the places and the entrance fees were not unreasonably priced. Word of advice though, properly time your visit during spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. You can check the cherry blossom forecast here. They’re so pretty! Trust me, you won’t regret it.

SEE:

I sort of categorized the places you can visit. In our own itinerary we set at least 1 or 1 and 1/2 day for each category so we have enough time exploring the places. I hate rushing when I’m traveling. I like lingering, watching people, observing the world and just take it all in. But I don’t know why I’m still dead tired at the end of each day.

1. Historical Places

Changdeokgung Palace

Getting there: Get off at Anguk station (line 3), exit 3. Walk straight for about 5 mins and you’ll see the palace on your left.

We were here pretty early so we were able to enjoy the palace and the secret garden without the crowd. We saw some people wearing Hanbok (traditional dress) which is so adorable, when we were on our way out of the palace. You can rent these dresses from the shops outside the palace.

Travel Guide South Korea

 

Bukchon Hanok Village

Getting there: Get off at Anguk station (line 3), exit 2. There’s a tourist center nearby, you can stop by and get a map there.

It’s a quaint neighborhood just outside the palace. The people serving the royal family used to live in these hanok houses. Presently, there are still people actually living in these houses. It’s a real neighborhood of old traditional houses. There are also a lot of shops and cute cafes nearby selling all sorts of unique Korean crafts and delightful snacks. Word of advice though, wear a comfortable footwear because there will be a lot of walking here.

Travel Guide South Korea

 

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Getting there: Get off at Gwanghwamun station (line 5), exit 2. Walk straight for about 5 mins.

I had my expectations vs. reality moment here. This palace was beautiful but it was ridiculously crowded. The main attraction here was the changing of the guards ceremony (you can check the schedule here). It felt like I was in the movie set of those dynasty period Korean TV series, it was amazing. The guards don’t smile and you can’t touch them. They will just stand there with their expressionless face and you can have a photo with them. Aside from the guards, there also some areas in this palace that are just so picturesque. I especially loved the view near the lake with the cherry blossom trees.

Travel Guide South Korea

Travel Guide South Korea Travel Guide South Korea

 

2. Adventure

Nami Island

Getting there: Get off at Sangbong Station (line 7), change to ITX going to Gapyeong station. From Gapyeong station, get on a tour bus and alight at Namiseom. Get on a ferry from Namiseom going to Nami Island. You will instantly see the ferry station and where to purchase the ferry tickets after you alight from the bus.

Nami Island is the location of a popular Korean TV series Winter Sonata. It’s a big island and the views are spectacular albeit crowded. I can only imagine the lined Gingko Trees when it’s winter and the whole place is covered in white snow, it must be magical. But it was spring when we went there. It doesn’t make the place any less beautiful, in fact I particularly enjoyed the abundance of cherry blossom trees in this island. Unlike the ones in the city, the cherry blossom trees in this island are huge and its the weeping version, the ones with drooping branches. It looked like one of the scenes from a fairy tale book.

Travel Guide South Korea

Travel Guide South Korea

 Petite France

Getting there: You can get on the tour bus again from Namiseom going to Petite France.

This place is like a theme park dedicated to Le Petit Prince. I don’t usually like spending time in theme parks but Petite France was surprisingly pleasant and different from all the theme parks I’ve been to. There were no rides and no long queues although its still crowded. People come here to marvel at the place and see the collection of all things related to the story The Little Prince. Plus the view is just jaw dropping because the location of the park is uphill.  It’s a very charming theme park with a lot of beautiful European houses, you’ll forget that you’re in Asia.

Additional Tip: The tour bus tickets for 6000 KRW is equivalent to a 1 day pass. Keep your tickets because you can hop on and off the bus for the whole day without paying again. The bus route includes different attractions but we only chose to go to Nami Island and Petite France because 1 day is not enough to visit everything. Choose a window seat on the bus if you can (it’s always full), it’s a long ride from one place to another but its a very scenic one.

Travel Guide South Korea

Travel Guide South Korea

3. Architecture and Arts

National Museum of Korea

Getting There: Ichon Station (Seoul Subway Line 4 & Gyeongui-Jungang Line), Exit 2.

The museum guide told us that Korean art is distinctly minimalist and it clearly shows in their architectures with the wide empty spaces. When you go this museum, you can really tell that they have so much space to waste. It’s one of the largest museums in Asia. We didn’t even check each exhibit because we were already starving. The best part is that the admission is free. Yep, we were pleasantly surprised too.

Ewha Womans University

Getting There: Ewha Womans University Station (Subway Line 2)

This was not on our itinerary but we had a bit of time to wander on our last day. I saw a photo posted on instagram and I got intrigued by the architectural design, so we decided to visit. It was seriously so impressive. We sat there on one of the stairs for a good half an hour, just people watching and observing the students rushing in and out of their classes, daydreaming what its like to study in that school. Me and my cousin kept discussing that if this was our school, we’d probably always be inspired to go to class.

Additional Tip: We didn’t get to do this but my cousin’s office mate who studied here said that there are a lot of good and cheap (because its a university area) salons here where you can have your hair done. We honestly regret that we didn’t get our hair done in Korea. Koreans are rather popular when it comes to hair cuts, color, perm, rebond and whatever hair treatment there is. And Korean salons are expensive outside of Korea. So this is one of the things that I honestly truly regret that I didn’t do.

Travel Guide South Korea

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), Seoul, South Korea

Getting There: Get off at Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (Seoul Subway Line 2, 4 ,5) and Exit 1

This is definitely worth a visit. If you’re not impressed yet with Korean architecture, you will be when you come here. I love both the exterior and interiors of this building. It’s like an art and design gallery but it feels more like a futuristic science lab. It’s so cool and very instagrammable.

Travel Guide South Korea

N Seoul Tower’s 360

Our visit here was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect that it would be very scenic. I thought it will be just another touristy spot. Well somehow, it is still touristy but the views definitely compensated for it. From the scenic bus ride going up, to the breathtaking views of lined cherry blossom trees everywhere, to the sublime sunset overlooking the skyscrapers of Seoul, I’m really glad we didn’t skip this spot.

Travel Guide South Korea

Travel Guide South Korea

4. Parks – I think these parks are only worth visiting if its spring or autumn.

Yeouido Park

Getting there: Take subway Line 5 and get off at Yeouinaru Station, Exit 1

I noticed that Koreans are fond of wide empty spaces which I love. This park has a lot of food trucks which we enjoyed, since we haven’t had our breakfast when we came here. We bought our coffee and tea from one of the food trucks and we also tried their popular egg bun which is actually good and filling.

Travel Guide South Korea

Seokchon Lake Cherry Blossom

Getting there: Take Seoul Subway (Line 2) to Jamsil Station, Exit 2

This place is really crowded, especially because we went there on a weekend, but nonetheless I still enjoyed myself very much. It’s one of the best places to go to, to enjoy the cherry blossoms.

Travel Guide South Korea

 

Seoul Forest 서울숲 (Seongdong-gu)in Seoul

Getting there: Seoul Forest Station (Subway Bundang Line), Exit 3. (5min-walk)

This park is not too crowded as compared to the Seokchon Lake. We even took a lot of shots here, running around the cherry blossom trees because we had it all to ourselves.

Travel Guide South Korea

5. Markets

Myeongdong

Getting there: Get off at Myeong-dong station (line 4), exits 5, 6, 7, or 8.

The vibrant streets of Myeongdong will never cease to amaze you. You can find all sorts of Korean knick knacks here. There are also a lot of well known brands that has shops in this area. If you want to shop for the usual clothes, bags or shoes, this is the place to be. There’s also a lot of delicious street food stalls at night. The remarkable ones that we tried are the steak and the giant scallops loaded with cheese. You will see it in my video here. So good! There’s also a gothic catholic church nearby that’s worth a visit. Its beautiful.

Travel Guide South Korea

Travel Guide South Korea

Insadong

Getting there: Get off at Anguk Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 6. Go 100m straight, then turn left.

Insadong is quieter compared to Myeongdong, its more for souvenirs and crafts. If you want to buy those key chains and souvenir shirts then this is the place to be.

Noryangjin Fish Market, Seoul, South Korea

Getting there: Get off at Noryangjin station (line 1 or 9), exit 1. Walk 100m over the bridge to the fish market.

This is a real market where you can buy fresh sea food and have it cooked. There are restaurants on the second floor and they can cook it for you. To be honest, we were a little annoyed that the cooking fee is more expensive than the sea food we bought from the market. Their cooking was not that remarkable by the way. The main highlight of this place is I guess the market itself. If you’re curious enough to see what its like and what they sell, then its worth a visit. You can see it in my video here.

SLEEP:

There are a lot of cheap options for accommodation in Korea. I personally love using Airbnb for my travel accommodations. We found this Airbnb guesthouse that’s cheap, cozy, spacious and provides all the basics that we need. If you don’t have an Airbnb account, you can sign up here to get $20 off from your first trip.

It’s located in a vibrant University area which is Hongdae, and its great because there’s a lot of restaurants that are open even in the wee hours in the morning. Our flight arrived super late at night but we were still able to eat at a proper restaurant near our guesthouse even at 1 am. I can’t forget that first meal, it was divine, or maybe we were just really hungry.

Tip: When you get to the airport, you can buy the MRT card called T-money (equivalent to EZlink in Singapore and Octopus in Hongkong) at 7/11 stores. You can then take the AREX (Airport Railroad) and switch lines depending on your destination. In our case, we stayed at Hongik University area and it’s on the same line as the AREX.

In case you missed it, I wrote about my first impressions of South Korea here and I also posted some of my best photos in the gallery section of this site here.

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