Annyeonghaseyo! Kamsamnahida! The phrases that sum a newcomers experience in Korea perfectly. Effervescent hospitality from various retail and service industry workers excited to pull you into their stores, clubs, and restaurants coming from nearly every direction. This is Seoul.
Seoul was our first foray into Asia. Actually I lie. Shanghai was but that was on layover and I messed up what was supposed to be a quick run through downtown and dinner. So I guess we’ll start there.
We had about 12 hours in Shanghai from the time we landed in the evening. I sort of took for granted that the ATM would work so didn’t bother withdrawing cash. This is a habit I have gotten into, arriving in a new country and just using the ATM to withdraw the local currency.
As the inverse of luck would have it, my card did not work at any of the ATMs in Pudong Airport. Fantastic. Add that to the fact that my accent is so poor in broken Mandarin, that I am unable to convey the idea of dropping us off anywhere but our hotel so we can actually see the city, means we end up going across the entire metro Shanghai in a taxi to arrive at our hotel in Hongqiao. That was basically our first day in Asia.
As soon as we landed things got more cutesy. Example? A stuffed bear greeting us upon arrival in our Airbnb in Yongsan-gu near Sookmyung Women’s University. We even spotted a couple of Totoro’s imported from Japan.
The Hello Kitty Cafe in Myeongdong was one of the first places we went. This place is adorned with Hello Kitty everything and is a dream for anybody into that. As Ash is like obsessed with her we had to go here. Above is my latte with Hello Kitty’s face emblazoned atop my cream!
This place is pretty easy to get to, a short walk from Hongdae station, which, for us was the easiest way to get there.
After grabbing a coffee and relaxing in a pink vacuum for about an hour we took a walk over to a restaurant nearby that offers a good menu called 나물 먹는 곰 (Veggie Eating Bear). It has good options for vegetarians which can be somewhat difficult to track down if you don’t know where you’re going.
Fun fact: this is the first place to presume Ashley is local and offer her the Korean language menu and me the English menu. (She is not Korean). This was an amusing trend we noticed throughout.
Sights Around Seoul
It’s pretty cool to just wander around the city and see where it takes you. You just have to have a rough idea of the neighborhoods you want to go to. Luckily there are plenty dotted throughout so it’s hard to go wrong.
We happened upon the Gyeongbokgung Palace while doing this which we learned is a popular spot for people to adorn the traditional hanbok and have photos taken in front of.
Close by the palace is a place called Bukchon Hanok Village, which is a traditional village in Seoul. There are windy roads higher up the hills from the bottom roads with a ton of really interesting houses.
You could easily spend a day at least between the palace and the village just reading, walking and exploring. There are tons of restaurants and bars nearby as well to refuel at.
Eating and Drinking Around
There are a ton of cafes in Seoul. The Style Nanda Pink Hotel in Myeongdong was an interesting one as well. I had a matcha latte with a cloud of cotton candy floating above it. How do I eat it? I’m not sure. I just started chomping into the cloud after a couple of sips.
There is also a really good place to get Bibimbap in the same area called Gogung which I was hyped to eat at as a big fan of Bibbimbap. It’s very much a traditional restaurant and the food is great!
I couldn’t leave without trying Korean Fried Chicken. I’ve had amazing “KFC” in London at Jinjuu in Kingly Court and while different, this is really good. Paired with beer, this is a favorite.
It never ceased to amaze just how hard it seemed Koreans go on a nightly basis. It seemed no matter what day it was, the night was alive with business people and students staying out until the sun was close to rising just drinking and eating casually! Very fun atmosphere.
The place at the end of the street by us was open all night and morning it seemed. We always stopped by there at the end of the night for a drink and snack before going to bed. I was partial to the fried squid that you cut up with scissors combined with a beer.
There are hundreds of things to do in Seoul and my photos don’t do the city justice.
From the early morning fish markets, to the dizzying area of cosmetic and makeup shops, to the fine dining and late night karaoke bars, Seoul is an electrifying city.