Seoul is a place that has always been on my “go-to” list, but flights to Seoul are always more expensive than anywhere in Asia. However, since I booked this trip on miles, it was very cost-effective to add Seoul to my itinerary and I was glad I did. Seoul was everything I was expecting and I would definitely come back. All the food I ate was very good, but I felt like it was not as English-friendly. That doesn’t matter too much though. Next time I visit, I would want to go to other parts of Korea, like Jeju or Busan or maybe stay in Seoul a little more and take my time. I would definitely recommend coming to Seoul!
An important thing to note is that only the transit directions for Google Maps works in Seoul. However, if your directions require you to walk somewhere and then take the bus/subway, then the specific walking direction won’t appear (it will show as a “least distance, connecting point A and B line"). Therefore, you have to look on your phone’s GPS pointer to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. On the other hand, Apple Maps only has walking directions. There is an app called Naver Maps, which is the app to use for navigation in Korea, but I found the interface to be a little clunky. Therefore, I used a mix of all three apps when I was there. It's a good ideal to download Naver Maps beforehand just in case!
After I got off the plane, I started to make my way towards the Airport Railroad to get into the city. There are two kinds of trains - the express train and the all-stop train. Essentially, the differences are self explanatory. I would go with the all-stop train because it’s cheaper and the time difference is marginal. There are also other methods to get to the city via a network of limousine buses, but these are more expensive. It really just depends on where you’re exactly heading, since the trains all stop at Seoul Station.
I was able to get the Tmoney card at the airport, which is what Seoul uses as their public transportation card. I made my way to my Airbnb, where I left my bags to check-in later. Then, I made my way towards Gyeongbokgung Palace. Around that area, there were a lot of girls dressed in hanoks, which is the “thing” to do while you’re at the palace! A hanok is part of traditional Korean clothing, and the outfits are simply beautiful. You’ll see a lot of people having mini photo shoots inside the palace wearing the traditional clothing. When I got there, it was around noon and it had started drizzling a little. Also, there were a lot of people! If you don’t want or like the crowds, you shouldn’t go during midday.
The palace is absolutely stunning - there’s a lot of history behind it, and each little “building” is unique. There’s a big “palace” in the center, and then a bunch of cool little things in the surroundings. You could easily spend half the day here just getting lost in the palace. I was getting quite hungry, so I went to Tosokchon Samgyetang to eat to try the ginseng chicken soup, which is a stuffed chicken filled with rice and other things!
This spot is pretty popular, so there was a sizable line when I got there. I couldn’t seem to avoid the lines when I was in Korea, but hey that’s life. However, I was able to jump a small part of the queue because I was by myself! It’s the little things. They seated me right away and I got the original tosokchon ginseng chicken soup which was very hearty and filling. Part of the menu is dedicated to teaching you on how to eat the chicken. I ended up doing some experimenting, and decided I liked it best when you put the chicken with salt and pepper. The chicken is decently sized, and then drinking the soup was the perfect way to finish the meal. Overall, I would definitely come here again and I hopefully could find a place like this in California!
After eating, I made my way towards Bukchon Hanok Village, which is an area where they’ve preserved the traditional housing style. It’s a residential area with actual people living there, so there are a lot of signs saying talk quietly, don’t randomly go into other people’s homes, etc. There was even a sign that said “no urination”, which I wonder why they had to put that there. Overall, when you’re here, just be respectful and you’ll be fine! However, the houses were really pretty - it makes for a good photo opp. They clearly lay out on where you can and can’t go to.
After making a loop through the area, I made my way towards Iowa Mural Village. When I was walking through it, I was expecting a little more so it was somewhat disappointing. Maybe it was because I came on a rainy day. However, it was still cool to see some of the murals.
Then, I made my way towards Lotte Department Store in order to escape the rain. I had brought an umbrella, but it wasn’t doing a lot of good. I went to the department store mainly to sit down, rest my feet and dry off. My shoes were absolutely soaked and it felt like there was a lake in my socks. However, the department store is pretty big by itself - if you like to shop, this is a nice place to do it but most of the shops are higher end.
When I decided to get going again, I saw a huge crowd of people waiting for someone to appear. My curiosity got the best of me, so I waited to find out. It turned out to be Ji Chang-wook , who apparently has appeared in a lot of Korean dramas! I didn’t know who he was at all so I didn’t get why everyone was going crazy over him. However, my friends told me that it was him and that he’s a pretty big deal. That was all quite exciting because it was the first time I’ve ever ran into a celebrity anywhere!
After seeing him, I made my way towards Myeongdong, where I stopped to eat the noodles at Myeongdong Kyoja. The service at the resturaunt was really fast - from walking into the resturant to finishing up was probably only around 30 minutes! Plus, the noodles were fantastic.
When I finished eating, I explored the area, which has a LOT of shopping, especially for skin care and cosmetic products. I didn’t buy a whole lot, but if you brought an empty suitcase just dedicated to buying things, then you would love it! After walking around for a bit, I made my way back to my Airbnb.
At this point in my trip, I’ve been waking up pretty early every day, so I decided to let myself sleep in. I actually ended up waking up at noon, which was later than I would have liked! To start off the day, I went to Gwangjang Market to get some food.
There’s definitely a bit of everything here, but the food is what made me really excited. Once you got to the main food area, there are just stalls and stalls of various foods being served. I definitely ate a little too much for my own good, as I got a seafood pancake, bibimbap, chicken feet, and a mixed fruit drink. When I was at the chicken feet stall, it was quite spicy so I was alternating taking bites of the chicken feet and sipping water. The lady next to me was trying to get my attention, but I didn’t really get what she wanted from me. Then, she said something to the person running the stall and she gave me a little cup of soup from another pot (kind of like.the broth from hot pot). When I started drinking that instead of the water, it was way more effective at diluting the spiciness! I thought that was a very nice touch and will be using this tip in the future.
After stuffing my face, I made my way towards Namsan Park and N Seoul Tower. I didn’t really do too much research when it came to those two landmarks, so I wasn’t sure if I was heading the right way. However, it doesn’t really matter where you start, as there’s a lot of hiking trails that you could take within the park. If you want to see the tower, then you’ll want to set your GPS towards the Namsan Cable Car, where you could either take the cable car up, or walk up a lot of stairs. I opted to walk the stairs, hoping to see nature on the way up.
At first, I was walking on a trail that was in the opposite direction of the tower. I had to backtrack, but the trail was very pretty in itself! I used the various signposts to reorient myself towards the right way. There were a lot of steps on the way up, but I was pretty confident that walking up was quicker than the cable car, as that had a long line. At the area around the tower, you’ll see a big open area where you could see the tower and buy tickets. However, there’s an area that provides a really good viewpoint of Seoul and a lot of locks on the fences - it’s similar to how couples buy a lock and then lock it onto the fence. I got there right at sunset, so I got a really nice view of the sun going down along with the Seoul city skyline.
After taking in the view, I made my way down towards the bus stop. I wish I had known this earlier because taking the bus would had been a lot easier. But alas, what can you do. Anyways, I took the bus to Hongdae Shopping Street to see what was there. Hongdae is a cool area with a lot of food and places to shop at. I was still kind of full from lunch, so I didn’t really get anything to eat. It seems like a great place to come with a bunch of friends. One thing I noticed that a lot of the KBBQ places were priced for multiple people, which made me sad because I was traveling by myself and couldn't take advantage of it.
When I was walking around, a girl randomly approached me and just started asking me questions on where I was from, why I was in Korea, etc. To me, this raised massive red flags as no one randomly approaches me when I’m traveling. However, I’ve read that some university students randomly approach foreigners to practice their English. In that case, I wouldn’t had minded. But, the whole situation was fishy as there was a guy standing near here that seemed like they knew each other. Then, she asked me if I was busy, and I just made up an excuse really fast to get away - I didn’t like how it was going. Maybe i was being overly paranoid, but better safe than sorry. After walking around for a little bit, I made my way back to my Airbnb.
I woke up, did some packing, and then checked out of my Airbnb. My flight was early in the evening so I took all of my things with me. I went to Nandaemun Market on the way to Seoul Station to head towards the airport. In my opinion, the market felt more like a clothing market. I would have wanted to take a deeper look but I had my flight to catch and I was lugging around a 30 pound backpack! However, what I thought was most interesting was that they had a section dedicated to military clothing - I even saw a sweater that said United States Navy.
After walking around the market, I got to Seoul Station and went to the food court to eat. It took me a little while to see how everything worked, but I eventually figured it out and it was one of the most unique setups I’ve ever seen. How it works is that there’s around 15 storefronts making different types of foods, but you don’t see the menus. That’s because you go to a central desk that has a small billboard of every item each stall serves and its cost. Then, you go to the central desk and tell them which dish you want from which stall. You get a receipt and then wait for your number to be called as your order is sent to that stall automatically. I thought that was quite clever! I ended up getting a bulgogi dish, which was very tasty. Once I finished that, I started to make my way towards the airport to catch my flight.
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