Korea, Korea, Korea. When I hear about this country, the first thing that comes to mind is K-Pop. The Korean Pop culture or simply “K-Pop” has taken the world by storm and I’m not surprised to hear stories about K-Pop fans (students even!) in the Philippines spending thousands of money just to get a glimpse of their K-Pop idol. From 2NE1 to BLACKPINK, from BIGBANG to BTS, these K-Pop stars can be seen and heard all over Metro Manila with customized merch being sold in thousands for a month. Not only that, Filipinos’ fascination with K-Pop have brought about rise in demand of K-Beauty products and Korean food (e.g. samgyupsal)! If there’s any country we should pattern our soft power strategies’ to, it should definitely be Korea. Lol.
It’s very unfortunate though, that with the influx of tourists in Seoul, South Korea, the Korean Embassy has announced an increase in the number of days of processing a Korean Tourist Visa from 15 working days to 45-60 working days! Lucky for me, I was able to apply for a tourist visa before all these changes. I got mine within 25 days. Thus, for those longing to visit the home country of their oppas, it is advisable to submit their visa application requirements at least 2.5 months before their preferred travel date. (If you want to know how to apply for a tourist visa, please read my blog here for the step-by-step procedure).
Two weeks ago, I came to Korea to finally complete the four-season experience. For some reason, when I travel during October – which is my birth month, I book for countries that only experience two seasons. But for this year, I made sure to experience fall in a city that captured so many of Filipinos’ heart. I made the right choice.
For today’s blog, I’ll be sharing some of the things we did in the capital of beauty and pop culture. Are you excited? I AM!!! Here we go:
Travel Guide: What to do in Seoul, South Korea?
1. GO SHOPPING!
If you were to ask me what I love about Korea the most — it’s not their food ‘cos I’m biased towards Japanese cuisine…it’s also not K-Pop or K-Drama, because I have only been recently addicted to listening to songs of famous K-Pop groups; namely TWICE and BLACKPINK…and I only got the luxury of time to watch K-dramas in Netflix now, so it’s not that.
Even before coming to Korea, I have already adopted a Korean Fashion sense of style and it definitely was a major factor why I booked a flight to Seoul.
Seoul is a haven for K-Fashion lovers out there! I spent a day shopping around Dongdaemun and every day at Myeong-dong. If I only had bigger check-in baggage allowance, I had probably spent more for clothes. (This is noted for my next visit!) But to be honest, much of my pocket money went for shopping and I do.not.regret.anything. In fact, on my flight from Manila to Seoul, I had only about two set of clothes. When I got back, I had 6. Hahahahaha. And it’s not only because I love the design. It’s more because it’s cheap yet quality!!! The clothes I wore to Nami Island??? I got that for $60 or around KRW 70,000!
2. Visit the major tourist spots outside the Seoul city-center.
I learned from our tourist guide that mountains cover about 70% of the Korean peninsula and so if you are planning a visit to this country, it is definitely recommended to go on a daytrip tour to one of their mountains (Mt. Seoraksan is one good example) and or visit one of their islands, specifically the famous Nami Island, after the Winter Sonata K-Drama. It’s one thing to experience South Korea’s country-side, it’s another to stay at the metropolis.
The best season to visit Nami Island is during winter – if you want to have Winter Sonata major feels! – and autumn…Just look how beautiful the ginko trees are in my background.
Please, please try their sausage and pretzel with cream cheese!!! I’D GO BACK FOR THIS!
Make sure to also book a quick-stop to Petite France! I’m a huge fan of Paris, Italy…hence, a trip to Petite France was definitely a must! Here you’ll find small houses and boutiques with cutesy french and victorian vibes perfect for that instagram photo…you might also chance upon your real-life Little Prince. (Lucky me, I’m with my real-life Prince during this trip.)
4. Learn more about Korea’s history by visiting palaces and museums.
Much of what I know about Korea’s history was from my Asian studies classes back in graduate school. But it is definitely a different learning experience when you actually get to visit places you have only read in books/magazines. This is one of the reasons why I really love traveling!
You might also want to try wearing “hanbok” or the traditional Korean dress for a fun experience. Not only that, you’ll get to enter the Seoul’s palaces (Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung Palace and Deoksugung Palace) for FREE!
For your convenience, you can rent a Hanbok using Klook. I got mine from HanbokThatDay. Usually, shops charge an extra for accessories and shoes, but with HanbokThatDay, I got mine for FREE! To book, just click the link below:
5. Enjoy the sight of Seoul’s skyline at N-Seoul Tower.
There are two ways to go to N-Seoul Tower: (1) Ride the N-Tower Shuttle [Bus No. 2/5] from Namsan and (2) Ride a cable-car going to the top. Please, before coming here, search your way to! Unfortunately for us, our spontaneity led us to miss the cable-car ride to the peak. It would have been a nice sunset ride. Instead, we got lost in our way and were forced to wait for the N-Tower shuttle service to take a full round trip to the city back to the tower.
Still, when we got there at around 5PM, it was such a beautiful sight. We even had the cutest photo souvenir ever! But don’t expect much! N-Seoul Tower is quite small compared to other towers I have visited in other countries. Upon descent, don’t forget to take photos at their famous love-lock bridge.
6. Visit the COEX Mall in Gangnam (COEX Stafield Library + Aquarium)
Gangnam district is where the rich populace of South Korea lives. This is also where you will find the talent agencies of some of the biggest K-Pop groups. Which is why, when you get to this part of South Korea, you’ll easily recognize the difference in demographics, the types of car found on the streets, fashion, food, etc.
Like most business districts, fun is found inside the malls, arcade shops, etc. Tourist-y activities are usually done outside Gangnam but if you are around the area, might as well check the Starfield Library and the Aquarium inside the COEX Mall.
I highly recommend a visit to the aquarium – it’s fun and interactive for all ages! We got to see sharks being fed, as well as stingrays, beaver, etc. and the cutest — penguins!
7. GO ON A FOOD TRIP!
When my boyfriend and I are talking about going to Korea together, he made this assumption that I’m not going to eat anything in Korea except fried chicken. I thought that was going to happen. We tried several restaurants here in Manila, and I’m not saying that they do not serve delicious Korean food…it’s just that it does not fit my taste buds – probably because of the level of spiciness that we have in our local adaptations. But holy sh*t, when I got there, I was surprised as to how delicious authentic Korean dishes are!!! For the “bibimbap‘, for instance, the sweetness of the pork and/or beef is just enough to balance or level off the spiciness of “kimchi” almost always served in all types of meal. The same goes for “chicken galbi“, which despite its red appearance, is not spicy at all. (If it’s not obvious, I am not a fan of spicy food…) Fortunately, Koreans are fond of cheese! And manju! And bingsu! And that I got to enjoy a lot. Oh no, sounds like I’m pre-empting my food guide below. Let’s get started!!!
FOOD GUIDE: What to Eat? (A Beginner's Guide)
As previously mentioned, Korean food is a mixture of savory and spicy which makes it different from it’s East Asian neighbor – Japan – whose type of food tips more toward the savory scale.
In our trip to Korea, we got to try food from the Gangnam district, Nami Island, Myeong-dong, Insadong, and Jongno-gu. Said districts are arranged from the most expensive ones (found in the business district of Gangnam), to the cheapest (offered in Insadong/Jongno-gu). It is said that it is not ideal to go on a food trip in Myeong-dong as rates are relatively higher than those in Insadong. But for the sake of experience and convenience, especially for beginners out there, I recommend going on a food trip at Myeong-dong.
What to try in Myeong-dong?
My favorite is the Melon bingsu! It has strawberies, vanilla ice cream and cream cheese bites inside while it’s outer shell is a gigantic melon. It’s quite expensive though, but it is so far the best!
Meanwhile, if you’re tight on a budget but still want a taste of authentic KBBQ or samgyupsal, I recommend ARIRANG PORK BELLY KBBQ RESTAURANT. We chanced upon this restaurant while searching over the internet for the best KBBQ resto near our area. All leads pointed to this. Their egg soup and pig skin is superb!
INSADONG/JONGNO-GU Food Adventure
If you’re up for an adventure, then try different restaurants and food at Insadong and Jongno-Gu! Order their raw beef and octopus bibimbap. Don’t forget to have dimsum!!! And jjajangmyeon!
When in Gangnam
When in Gangnam, order where most of the locals line up inside the COEX Mall. Then pick their best-seller. You’ll never regret it.
Then of course, Korea wouldn’t be Korea without its chicken. End a long day of trip with their best-selling chicken and a bottle of soju. We had to walk 3km to search for this chicken cafe in Jongno-gu, called VON’S CHICKEN. It was all worth it.
Just by looking at these photos, it makes me want to book for a trip back to Korea asap! This is quite a lengthy blog post, hope I was able to keep you ’til the end.
Let me know if you have further questions in the comment section below!