Friday, September 29, 2023

Tips for Visiting South Korea

We recently visited South Korea for 2 weeks. I was very impressed with this country and would highly recommend it. 

We went at the end of July into August and were fortunate that the monsoon season just ended as there was flooding a week before we went. Unfortunately, it was very hot and this hindered our ability to visit many places. I would suggest visiting in the Spring for the Cherry blossoms or the fall for the best weather. 

We started our trip with 4 days in Seoul the capital we stayed in a Hanok which is a traditional Korean home with a courtyard in the center. This was in Jegi Dong, a neighborhood far from popular places like Gangnam. It has a subway and buses though. I enjoyed the market around the train station and the feel of an older local neighborhood. 
In the morning, a little shop sold fresh Gimbap pictured below. This looks like sushi but has a different taste, it is stuffed with sausage, egg, fish stick, carrot, radish, cucumber and seaweed. Later on the trip in Busan me and our daughter took a cooking class and we made this. It looks easy but it's actually quite a process to make. The Teacher Yegene said they mostly make for picnics or they buy them. 

Here are a few pictures of the market around the Metro Station. 

The first tip I would give would be to get travel cards that are rechargeable and can be used on both buses and the metro. Convenience stores sell them or the train stations. We found people to be very helpful and the girl at the station was lovely in helping us get these, learning how to use them, and giving us tips for taking the bus to Gangnam. Yes, the Gangnam from the famous song!

One of the special things we did was visit the Kukkiwon Taekwondo Center, both my Husband and the kids do TaeKwondo and are all black belts. My husband is testing for third degree soon and my son is second degree. We got to meet one of the demo teams and a friend of Master Kim in Clemmons such a lovely experience. 
Then we saw the demo team showing their skills outside Gangnam station! 

Of Course you must visit the palaces when in Seoul we went to Gyeongbokgung Palace, it's wonderful to see Koreans dressed in traditional Hanbok and taking pictures. South Koreans are very proud of their culture and one thing really stuck with me as we toured the country and visited historic sites is just how resilient they are. At various points throughout history and most recently 1910-1945 Japan invaded and ruled Korea. Often destroying palaces and temples and trying to take Korean culture away from the people. 

This Palace was later restored under the leadership of Heungseondaewongun during the reign of King Gojong (1852-1919). 

Close to the Palace is a lovely Hanok village with a traditional tearoom I highly recommend this it features Korean teas and deserts, you sit on the floor with lovely views of the mountains, and its in an old Hanok. 
Cha Seul Tea House 

Address: 26 Bukchon-ro 11na-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

This desert was fresh fruit, with red bean paste wrapped in rice flour like Mochi. 

This was shaved ice with a slightly sour syrup and condensed milk so good. 

Magical place

Of Course you must also visit a traditional food market in South Korea in Seoul be sure to check out Gwangjang Market -Address88 Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea, opened in 1905. This bustling market is vibrant and so fun and the food was delicious. 

Here is a link to see the market on You Tube.

There are a lot of churches in Korea and Christianity has been around for a few hundred years, along with Buddhism and ancient temples. 

The local buses are wonderful. Google Maps worked well for this, although it must be noted that Google Maps or Apple didn't work all the time Kakao is better. 

Another important tip is that Uber doesn't work so download Kakeo T to get local taxis. It is useful to have a phone on roaming to be able to use Google Translate there. Also, many older folks can't often read in English so show the text in Korean to them. 

We visited a fair few malls as it was so hot this is the Starfield COEX Mall and its amazing library, blame TikTok for bringing us here!

How cute are these kids with their shoes off.  It also made me smile seeing folks with their shoes off in restaurants relaxed and enjoying their meals.

This was a tasty barley salad I had in the mall. 

Gangnam a hip area for shopping and cool cafes. 
I also really enjoyed the hilly neighborhood leading up to Naksan Park, this park has wonderful views over the city especially at night. You can walk along the old city wall. 

41 Naksan-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea. 

It has pretty homes and nice boutiques and cafes and places to eat. Another tip I would give is to eat early. Restaurants seem to close by 9 pm and there doesn't seem to be a late-night eating culture. We were in Greece this summer and it's different there. 

the inside of the Hanok house. 

After Seoul, we had planned to hire a car and had a whole itinerary planned driving from place to place but we made the mistake of not getting an international license. So were unable to hire a car. Apparently, all you need to do is go to AAA and get one in the States. So we changed plans got rail passes and headed to our next destination which was Jeonju. 

We stayed in a Hanok again this one was even more traditional in a village surrounded by countryside and no chairs, sleeping on the floor with a rice pillow. The lady was lovely and again we used Airbnb to message as it translates or Google Translate. At this point, we couldn't get the Kakao T app to work as there was a function you could scroll to pay in the cab but we couldn't figure this out!

The kind Airbnb host often drove us to the store or the Hanok village! 

Isn't this stunning!

The bed wasn't the most comfortable, to be honest but a good experience. 
Jeonju is an ancient city with an old Hanok village and museums like Old Salem to my NC readers. The village had stores and restaurants, it was a little too touristy for me. 

If you walk out of the Hanok village towards the local town you will come across another amazing local market and there's a fab Chinese restaurant inside also. Of course you will see plenty of chilis as Korean food is spicy. In fact the food was so good. 

Jeonju also has a beautiful park with a lotus pond and a stunning library pictured below only built a couple of years ago. 

Deokjin Park

Address: 390 Gwonsamdeuk-ro, Deokjin-dong 1(il)-ga, Deokjin-gu, Jeonju-si, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea 

The lotus were in bloom in July. 
I will be honest the area around this park was so so restaurant wise. 

the pictures below are of the village where the Hanok was and the first one is a nursing home. 

Here is a link to book the Hanok in the village 

Daeseong-dong, Wansan-gu, Jeonju-si, North Jeolla Province, South Korea 

The next place we visited was Busan for 3 nights, another easy train ride. The KTX bullet trains are fast and fun to ride with great train stations with food and coffee. 

We stayed in an apartment in Haeundae Beach just a few stops from places in Busan on train or bus. We could walk to the beach sadly it was so very hot even at 9 am so didn't really spend much time outside. 

It gave Miami vibes, with lots of modern high rises, great coffee, and places to eat. It really is a cool place and one of the places to be in the Busan area.

My daughter and myself took a cooking class here it was really fun again here is a link. It was lovely to chat in English with the host as many in Korea don't speak English which is fair enough, but it was nice to hear about growing up in Korea and views from a young person. 

The young kids go to academys in the summer to learn English and study and get very little time off, its a competitive and hard education system for young folks and sadly as a country also has a high suicide rate. Definitely needs to find more of a work, life balance...

Another amazing mall apparently it was the biggest department store in Asia. My favorite thing about the malls is the food courts just wow especially the cakes!

A tasty meal in Busan I loved the pancakes with scallions and fresh seafood. 

A temple close to Busan to visit is Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, it's an easy bus ride and sits along the coast the sound of the waves is so soothing. 

86 Yonggung-gil, Gijang-gun, Busan, South Korea

This temple was also restored in the 1920s. 

While in Busan a visit to Gamcheon Culture Village is a good idea, it's a great enterprise using the skills of residents of the area to create art. Here is a little more information - 

"Gamcheon was one of many declining neighborhoods in Busan. However, the Gamcheon Culture Village Project took the unique elements of the town and turned them to valuable tourism assets. Gamcheon eventually was transformed into a vibrant village that attracts tourists all year round. The living environment has been improved for residents and jobs were created. As the local economy has been reinvigorated, the village has now become a livable neighborhood. The whole process engaged residents, which in turn led to the natural formation of a true residents’ community. " and a link.

I think places in Columbia and Brazil have done similar projects. I enjoyed this village and its street art also it gives a glimpse of a neighborhood of the past as now most of Busan and many South Korean cities are high rises. 

This BBQ restaurant in Busan was amazing with friendly staff who taught us how to grill the meats and vegetables and how to eat it. 

안가 숯불구이 해운대구 좌동순환로 494-1 Jwadongsunhwan-Ro Haeundae. 

The next place we visited was Gyeongju, this beautiful and ancient city is only 25 min by Train from Busan. It has old temples and amazing tombs (the little green hills) it is the home of the Silla Kingdom, which ruled Korea from the 7th to the 9th Century.

This is an ancient observatory. 

I truly loved this city, it has a bigger Hanok Village than Jeonju and it was less touristy feeling. The town had fields of flowers, lots of sunflowers, and lotus ponds that were lit up at night. It also had great botanical gardens, we accidentally visited here as the taxi driver didn't understand where we asked to go and we got dropped off there. Using Google Translate with the ladies in the gardens they recommended local places to eat I can remember trying to match up the Korean text on the piece of paper they wrote on with the front of the restaurants. Hot pots were popular in this town. 

I confess I am not really into Starbucks in the US but in Korea they are wonderful, and each area has cakes and drinks that reflect that area. 

This amazing dessert was modeled off the tombs it even came with a shovel!

Because we didn't have a car we changed plans and decided to take a flight to Jeju Island from Busan for a few days. We stayed in Hyeopjae Beach a lovely little town with a great beach, gift shops and restaurants. The Airbnb was a cute coastal cottage literally across the street from the beach. 

Here is the link.  It has the best coffee shop next door with an amazing view. 

It fascinated me how cautious folks were of the ocean there were lifeguards and everyone was kept in pretty shallow waters and they also truly respect the sun very much. It's also a fairly conservative society so dress modestly in my humble opinion. 

This was another stella restaurant just love all the many side dishes in Korea. 


22 Hyeopjae 1-gil, Hallim-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea

Jeju is a Volcanic island with mountains the highest being Mount Hallasan in the center, one day by luck my husband found a taxi driver who listed a WhatsApp number and spoke some English he drove us here and a lovely waterfall in the South of the Island. Jeju is also famous for growing oranges and has an ancient breed of Horses brought to the Island 100's of years ago by Genghis Khan!

Sadly the day we hiked up the mountain it was foggy and we couldn't enjoy the view it was beautiful nonetheless. 

The sunsets were particularly beautiful here with the black lava and the turquoise waters. 

All in all, I would highly recommend a visit to South Korea, it's fairly easy to navigate especially using Google Translate it is super clean and I mean you won't see litter. You feel safe and people are friendly and helpful. It's a small country so you can see a lot between the big, modern cities of Seoul in the North and Busan in the south. It has lovely countryside, mountains and nature and ancient cities rich in history. Jeju Island is also a fun visit with lovely countryside and affordable very frequent flights. 

I would love to go back someday and also visit many more East Asian countries. 

I leave you will a cute picture of a robot you could take a picture with at the airport. I miss the food so much, from great cafes, bakeries, and just high-quality foods in airports, malls, and everywhere. 

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