Travel Diaries: South Korea

I love to travel and I was recently lucky enough to travel to South Korea for a holiday for Cherry Blossom season. And I had a blast, experiencing the food, culture, city, fashion and beauty made one of the best trips I have been on.

I had the most incredible time and I thought I should share my thoughts on it.

The South Korea Bucket List

  • Shopping in Hongdae: If you want a unique shopping experience, go to Hongdae, theres plenty of unique bars and pubs, street performers and dances and some fantastic cheap clothes. The only caveat is that the clothes tend to be on the small side.
  • Eat all the food in the world: Seoul has amazing food… like some of the best I have ever had. We ate so much Korean BBQ, and every soup we could get our hands on, this white soup is a Seoul specialty and is great if you have a tummy ache.
  • Cafe hopping: Seoul is full of really cute cafes, with good coffee, great food and some really unique themes. Its a great afternoon just exploring whats out there.
  • Beauty treatments and facials: South Korea is the plastic surgery capital of the world, and oppressive beauty standard aside, the beauty treatments are readily available and much cheaper than they would be in Australia. There are also many foreigner friendly places.
  • Namsan Tower: You can see the Namsan tower from most of Seoul, and not only is it a great view in itself, the love locks are really cool to see. If you have time and capacity, I would recomend walking up the hill, because it’s really beautiful, especially in cherry blossom season, and you might see little friends on the way.
  • Starfeild Library One of the most instagrammed places in Seoul, I was ready to be dissappointed, but it was truly beautiful, and its a real library.
  • Changdeokgung Palace: One of the five Seoul palaces, it has beautiful gardens and everywhere you look its gorgeous ****
  • Myeong-dong: In the middle of the city, it has great food, great shopping and plenty of beautiful sites
  • Bukchon Hanok Villiage: Located in the middle of the city, its a gorgeous blend of traditional Korean houses (called Hanoks), framed by the modern sky scrapers in Seoul. Obviously it is someones neighbourhood so you have to be respectful, but a great experiance.
  • The city walls: I can not believe that this beautiful wall, which has been standing since the 14th century, is not heritage listed. Its a beautiful glimpse into the past
  • The Namdaemun market: Hustling, bustling and you can find anything you need. Its one of the busiest places i have ever been and you could spend days here.
  • Gyeongbokgung palace: The ‘main’ palace in Seoul, and the heart of the Jeosan empire, the changing of the guards and the walking through history was fantastic.
  • National Folk Museum of Korea: This museum, focusing on the everyday lives of Korean people, and going through the lifecycle was unexpectedly delighful.
  • Deoksugung Palace: Another gorgeous palace!
  • Look at all the beautiful architecture: Seoul is full of gorgeous modern archtecture, like the Seoul City Hall or the Coex Mall, its great just to walk and explore
  • Seodaemun Prison History Hall This museum is an old imperial japanese prison that housed (and tortured and murdered) Korean freedom fighters during occupation. It’s really informative and deeply upsetting.
  • Kwangjang Market: This is a tradtional food market which is bustling and vibrant and full of some delicious and unexpected food.
  • Demilitarised zone: This is a whole day experience, but totally worth it.

What to Pack

  • Korean cash – even though lots of places take card, its hard to get cash out and theres lots of places like markets
  • dust mask – the air quality is not great, and I noticed a lot of locals were wearing dustmasks, and we adopted the practice pretty quickly. Also, you should wear a mask on the metro, otherwise you will get side eyed
  • Deodorant and toothpaste – toothpaste tastes funny and deoderant is hard to find
  • comfy shoes – you’re going to be walking a lot, we averaged about 20 thousand steps a day.
  • Nice clothes- Koreans are sharp dressers, and I saw so many fashionable people on the streets. But obviously you can go shopping
  • coats and warm clothes- We travelled in April, and it was still pretty chilly

The Shopping List

  • Make up and beauty: Make up and beauty are really fabulous in South Korea, its also really affordable. I spend so much money
  • Skincare
  • Clothes (Only if you’re slim): There is so many really cute clothes stores in Korea, and they are affordable and super cute- but its not really size inclusive.
  • E-sim- Everything on Korea runs on wifi, and you can buy virtual sims online, my partner bought one and he hot spotted me while we travelled which was really convienent.

The Tasting Menu

  • Strawberrry juice
  • Korean BBQ
  • Bibimbap
  • Cold Buckwheat noodles
  • Kimchi street food

The Reading List

  • I Went to See my Father by Shin Kyung-sook
  • I want to die but I want to eat Tteokbokki by Baek Se-Hee
  • Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee- A look Inside North Korea by Jang Jin-Sung
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

The Lessons

  1. Cash is King: Obviously, there are plenty of places, particularly in the more touristy places like Seoul that take Mastercard, but in smaller areas or in markets, cash is king, and if you have a foreign card it’s really hard to get cash out. Even most banks didn’t let us take cash out. Be safe and get cash out. You need to look for ‘global’ or go to certain bank branches
  2. Learn At least some Korean: Even if it is just ‘thank you’ (example) or ‘Hello’ (add a graph with examples) or a bit of Hangul would be really helpful in Korea. Most Korean people we spoke to did have some English, but I did feel really bad not understanding the language of the country. And all the signs are in Hangul, which can make travel difficult.
  3. Basic forms of Korean respect and confucianism: Like many countries, South Korea has been greatly influenced by Confucianism, and these values permeate culture. That includes respect for elders, respect in general (add in here)
  4. there is no personal space: This one took a bit of getting used to, but people will get right in your grill in public, and coming out of a pandemic, I found this really jarring. In shops, on transport and in general- people will get REALLY close to you.
  5. its very hard to be gluten free in Korea: I am a celiac, and being gluten free, or even vegetarian or any kind of dietary was really challenging. For me, I ate A LOT of Korean BBQ and Kimchi but I definitely got contaminated. If you’re travelling and you have dietary needs I would pack some power bars or something.
  6. Google maps is not helpful in South Korea: South Korean google maps is terrible, download Naver Maps- which is much better.
  7. Pass things with two hands- In Australia, it’s no problem to pass things with one hand, it’s considered rude in Korea. Take and pass things with two hands and slightly bow your head. It became such a habit in Korea that it was really jarring that to not do it in Australia.
  8. You will be stared at: It’s not necessarily rude, but if you look different- you’re going to be stared at. My partner, a 6’4 bearded man who is quite big, got star
  9. all the clothing is ‘free size’ which is only really worth it if you’re petite
  10. dress smartly- beauty is taken seriously in south Korea
  11. not too many public rubbish bins
  12. public transport is excellent- but peak hour is awful
  13. The apps you need: Download Papago and Naver maps, and Kakao taxis- they were lifesavers

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