Ah, Seoul. I was not prepared for you. I had no idea how big, how packed and how dense you would be. And no clue that Google Maps would be so useless there.
A week in Seoul felt like forever, so let’s ease into the trip with a cup of coffee…
Seoul’s cafe culture puts Taipei to shame. And the prices will make you want to cry. Even an iced coffee from ubiquitous bakery chain, Paris Baguette, was US$4. Luckily it was so damn adorable. I’ll always be grateful we have Cama and 7-11 here in Taipei.
I really needed to spend quality time at the flagship Line Friends store in Itaewon. It was three storeys high, and full of merchandise I would have bought if it weren’t for our tiny carry-on suitcase.
Seoul also has a flagship Kakao Friends store in Gangnam. Their hero is a bear named Ryan, and he’s also pretty cute. I don’t know him as well as Brown, but I’m guessing they’d be buddies in real life if they didn’t represent competing chat apps.
Maybe one day when Brown and Ryan retire, they’ll go grab a beer together accompanied by their respective entourages.
Time to get serious. There are five palaces in Seoul, but we picked just one — Changdeokgung — and poked around the grounds, looking at all the details of the traditional architecture.
Then we headed to the nearby Sool Gallery, a little government-run gallery in the shopping district of Insadong. At Sool Gallery, you can learn about the origins of traditional Korean alcohol. You need to email them to book ahead.
That’s right, Korean alcohol isn’t just about cheap beer and cheap green bottles of soju. And it turns out real soju tastes nothing like the stuff in the green bottles.
We walked out with this DIY soju-making kit for home. The souvenir that keeps on giving, am I right?
We also killed an afternoon touring the National Museum of Korea. It’s the second most popular museum in Asia in attendance, after the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
There are heaps of other kookier museums we could have visited too — like the Lock Museum, the Kimchi Field Museum the Seodaemun Prison, and maybe the Furniture Museum to see some of the traditional Hanok buildings.
Instead, we skipped town for a night and went “camping” at this luxury campsite two hours east of Seoul. You can read about our stay at Banu here, if you’d like.
We also spent a whole day visiting sites of the DMZ — or Demilitarized Zone — and even stepped into the North Korea side of Conference Row. It was one of the most interesting things I’ve done in a very long time. You can read all about our tour here.
Back from the DMZ tour, we went to Myeongdong for a nighttime walk through the alleys. Doing this is almost mandatory. We passed by so many interesting looking food stalls, and somehow, I managed not to buy dozens upon dozens of Korean face masks. (I only bought, like, eight.)
If you’re into seafood, the Noryangjin Fish Market is definitely worth dropping by — if only to compare with Tsukiji in Tokyo. Noryangjin is actually open 24 hours, which is insane. We strolled up and down the endless aisles, wondering where the heck does all this seafood come from?
Be warned, if you buy a live fish, the fishmonger uses a wooden bat to bash the fish head right in front of you. It’s jarring and very in-your-face. Oh, and obviously, don’t wear open-toe shoes. Wear sneakers. I beg of you.
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) by Zaha Hadid was like stepping into the future. Everything is grey, curved and cool. I heard it’s even more impressive at night when the lights all come on.
Across the street from DDP is APM Place, a wholesale fashion market for all the Korean clothes you see in boutiques around Taipei. It was seven floors choc-a-block of women’s clothing, accessories and shoes.
I walked up and down four floors before I gave up from fashion overload. If you have an extra suitcase or two to fill up, this is the place to go.
Last but definitely not least, we ate a lot of really good Korean food…
Everything from marinated raw crabs (a favorite), to barbecue and tartare of Korean beef.
We had take-out Korean fried chicken in the hotel room. I could eat this iteration of KFC every day for the rest of my life.
And also cold noodles. So good.
Here’s the separate post I put together with info about all the restaurants we loved, as well as two craft beer places we visited. Because yes, the craft beer virus hit Seoul hard too.
I honestly have no idea if we did Seoul justice. There are endless things to see and do.
Next time, I might put together a tighter itinerary so we get to visit the prison, tour a couple more museums, and of course, eat fried chicken every night.