A couple weeks ago I wrote an overview about my trip to Seoul back in January. And now as promised, here are my top five highlights from the trip! These include activities and places that left the most impression on me, with personal commentaries and opinions 😀
Hongdae at Night
Travelling for me is about immersing myself in a place and its atmosphere. I’d walk aimlessly around a city just to soak in the surrounding, the sights and sounds, the feel and vibe. And this is exactly why I love Hongdae, especially at night and on weekends when it truly comes alive. The area has such a lively atmosphere, with all the lights, the vibrant crowd, the street performers… And there is no shortage of good-looking Korean guys around.
I really loved exploring the area – stopping at a Korean BBQ joint for dinner, commenting at the street performers and wondering if they weren’t cold in their skimpy clothes, laughing at the different quirky clubs, bars and so-called entertainment agencies offering to shoot you up to stardom, and then huddling around the warm street-snack trucks eating steaming odeng (fish cakes) and waffles.
To get the best of the Hongdae experience, stay in the area! Read about my experience at UWA Guesthouse, the BEST guesthouse in Seoul, here. ;D
Insadong is my other favourite Seoul neighbourhood. I can’t decide between this and Hongdae, but in my opinion Insadong is better explored during the day while Hongdae at night 😀
Two main reasons why I love Insadong: it’s artsy craftsy, and it has a lot of traditional Korean tea houses. HA. Two of my favorite things right there.
To be completely honest, I have not developed a palate for Korean teas, but it was still a nice experience to sit in a tea house and immerse myself in the local tea culture.
The area is also artsy in that it is full of quirky crafts shops selling handmade trinkets, caricature booths, local artisan brands and goodies, and art galleries. Make sure to explore the side alleys off Insadong main street for hidden gems!
There is also Ssamziegil, a shopping mall of sorts (housing more local artisan shops) with no stairs, so the floor just slopes up in a rectangular spiral from the first storey all the way to the rooftop. Not unlike the Guggenheim in New York City.
T-Express (and Fireworks!) at Everland
Technically, Everland is not in Seoul. But everyone does a day trip there from the city all the time, so I’m just going to include this point in.
The T-Express is a wooden roller coaster at Everland theme park. After the roller coaster does its initial (surprisingly fast!) climb, there is this moment whereby it takes a slow U-turn before going on its first 77-degrees plunge. In that brief span of time, the view you get of the park, splayed out far below you, is simply breathtaking. It was after dusk when I went on this coaster, and all the lights in the park were on. I’m glad I ignored my nerves for a while and took the time to look around and drink in the view. There was just something magical about all the twinkling lights and tiny discernible movements of all the other rides seen from way up. This lasted for about 4 seconds, after which the screaming began.
Seriously the ride was no joke – I think I screamed myself hoarse for the whole two minutes of it. There are no inversions or corkscrew turns, but trust me the thrill is there alright. If you love roller coasters, or basically just an adrenaline junkie, this one is a must try!
For the winter holidays, Everland also has this Romantic Illumination festival. The park stays open until 10pm and the gardens are lit up in pretty fairy lights after dark, with the weekends boasting an additional fireworks show. We went on a Saturday, which also happened to be the very last day of the festival for the 2014/2015 season, and caught the full glory of it.
The lights were really, really pretty, and the fireworks show was s p e c t a c u l a r. If you happen to visit Everland during winter, make sure to catch this festival and stay on for the fireworks – totally worth it!
I used to be very sure that I did not like Samgyetang – Korean ginseng chicken soup with rice stuffed inside. All the ones I had had were meh – the soup weird, the chicken dry and tasted like cardboard, and the rice was always swimming around in the soup (ew!). But that was all before I met Tosokchon Samgyetang.
There is a reason why this particular ginseng chicken joint is super popular, with queues extending up to two hours during busy periods. The soup – even though it tasted of ginseng – was surprisingly good, the chicken tender and juicy, and the sticky rice stuffed inside the chicken was so flavourful. I particularly don’t like my rice wet, so when I ate mine I rescued my ball of rice from inside the chicken to a separate plate. And I added teeny tiny dabs of the accompanying salt and pepper to every spoonful. It was SO. GOOD.
And the best part, we went on a Thursday night at around 8pm and there was no queue at all! If you plan to pay them a visit, try this timing and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get to skip the notorious queues too 😀
Gwanghwamun is the main gate to Gyeongbok Palace, the biggest of the five royal palaces in Seoul, dating back to imperial Korea and the Joseon dynasty.
The highlight for me was not the gate per se, but the area around it. So as the story went, we were on our way to Tosokchon Samgyetang when our taxi passed along this stretch of road – on our right was this massive traditional fortified wall with a gate spanning the entire block, and on our left an open air plaza surrounded by modern buildings and office towers (notably a big Microsoft tower! heh). The sight was so awesome we really went bonkers in the car, going all “Oooooooh what’s this!!“.
So after dinner we decided to walk back to the area and it was just so pretty. Loved the atmosphere and the juxtaposition of old and new, of tradition and modernity. I didn’t manage to take any pictures that night but here’s another photo to help illustrate what I meant.
So there you have it – my highlights. Drop a comment to share some of the things you love about Seoul, or visit the next page for a directory of all the places I mentioned in this post, complete with addresses in Hangul!
Getting there: Hongik University Station, subway line 2. Go out exit 1 or 9, and just walk towards the crowds!
Ssamziegil & Insadong
쌈지길 // Ssamziegil
서울특별시 종로구 관훈동 38 // Seoul Jongno-gu Gwanhun-dong 38
Opening hours: 10am to 830pm daily.
Opening hours: 10am to 8pm daily.
Tickets: Original adult 1-day ticket price is KRW 46,000 (~SGD 56), but there are often discounted Everland tickets for foreign tourists. I got mine from Cosmojin for KRW 33000.
Getting there: The official Everland website also has transportation information here. My advice is DO NOT EVER TAKE THE TRAIN. We took the subway on our way back from Everland (because we missed our shuttle bus – long story) and the journey to Hongdae took 2.5 hours. I think it’s best to take the shuttle bus for KRW 12000 (~SGD 15).
Deals: Best one I’ve seen so far is this one from Daesung Tours. Everland 1-day adult ticket + round-trip shuttle bus for KRW 40000 (~SGD 49)
토속촌삼계탕 // Tosokchon Samgyetang
서울특별시 종로구 체부동 85-1 // Seoul Jongno-gu Chebu-dong 85-1
Opening hours: 10am to 10pm daily.
Getting there: Gyeongbokgung Station, subway line 3, exit 4 or 6.
Or if you want to walk and explore the open air plaza more, you can also go to Gwanghwamun Station, subway line 5, exit 2.