My first trip to Asia: Part One -South Korea!
Updated: Oct 31
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After months of planning and daydreaming, we arrived in South Korea at the beginning of May. As soon as we landed on Incheon International Airport we picked up from there the 4G sim cards we pre-ordered from Klook. Wanting to see and enjoy as many things as possible definitely requires access to the internet at all times. The Wi-Fi there is, as you may know, the best in the world, but we were on the go and wanted to be sure we could find an answer to our travelling questions at all times. We used Naver (South Korea's version of Google Maps) to find our way through wonderful Seoul and Klook to book quite a few tickets and passes.
Before you start your journey I would highly recommend installing some very useful apps for booking activities and travel: Naver, Subway Korea, Kakao Metro, and Klook, just to name a few and a currency converter of your choice if you're on a budget and want to know how much you actually spend.
From Incheon, we took the AREX, an express train that gets you to Seoul Station in less than an hour, and from there we walked to our accommodation. From the airport, we also bought our T-money cards which can be topped up for metro and bus travel.
Luckily, most signs are written in both Korean and English so you can find your way quite easily. If you can't spot the signs, there are a lot of people willing to help you figure out where you need to be or where you can find what you're looking for.
So, the first part of our South Korean trip looked a bit like this:
Food shopping and watching local TV without subtitles (just because). I don't like flying that much and after a 13-hour flight, I need rest. I suffer from quite severe motion sickness so sometimes I need more rest than your average traveller. I also discovered what jet lag feels like. It was my first long-haul flight and although I felt fine while on the plane, a few hours after landing and the following day it really hit me.
We needed to get our energy back and luckily the Lotte Mart in Seoul Station was close to us. We found quite a few varieties of Kimchi, Soju and all the noodles you can imagine - my only points of interest for that day.
First visit to the National Museum of Korea. If you're travelling by metro, you need to get to Ichon Station (exit 2) - then walk about 2 minutes to Yongsan Family Park. The admission is free for the Main Hall and Children's Museum but there are fees for the Special Exhibitions. You could spend days in there, analysing every single item and you could not possibly get bored. Tired? Yes! Hungry? Definitely! - So I would suggest our approach - go again on a different day if you're really passionate about the subject and try all the food you can from the local shops, restaurants and supermarkets.
Perfume making class (because why not), Kimchi + Tteokbokki + Hanbok experience and went to Seoullo 7017 - an elevated park built on a former highway overpass. We went there quite a few times since it was close to our accommodation. It was the first time I created my own perfume and I will definitely try it again. I still have the bottle you can see below and it's still pretty full as I don't dare use it all up. Making kimchi in South Korea was a dream come true and I was glad to see I've been following a good recipe and method all these years.
Days 4/ 5
More shopping, another stroll on Seoullo and stamp engraving. The latter isn't something I would usually go for, but I'm very glad we tried it as it was a lot of fun and I now have a wonderful souvenir - a little stamp which I made with my name written in Korean - not for narcissistic purposes, that's just what the person teaching us suggested and we had no greater ideas.
Nami Island. To get there we took a bus from Gapyeong Station. That bus ride was memorable, to say the least. Picture this: a fully packed bus on a bumpy road (some road work was ongoing), driven by a guy who maybe thought he was an F1 driver and who couldn't help but break suddenly every chance he had. The island was worth the ride, and I would recommend leaving early in the morning so you have enough time to explore. If you want to see other places nearby you can also take a tour bus from a few major locations in Seoul, such as Myeongdong, but we prefer the adventurous way.
Got a 48h Discover Seoul Pass to a ton of attractions and ran like crazy to see as many as possible: Kimchikan Museum, Alive Museum, the Royal Palaces, Grevin Museum, COEX Aquarium and the list goes on. There are more than 100 attractions you can see, so there is more than plenty to choose from. We explored the history of kimchi (and tried a few different types - cucumber kimchi being our new favourite), we posed next to famous artists at the wax museum (Grevin) and had a wonderful time playing and interacting with trick art. Would I do it all over again? You bet!
Visiting Royal Palaces (Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Deoksugung) and Namdaemun and trying amazing food. The Joseon dynasty lasted for over 500 years, so while you feast your eyes on the beautifully constructed buildings, there is a lot of information to take in, so I would suggest taking your time, not rushing through them, and again, coming back in the following days if you feel there would have been more you wanted to see there.
Lotus Lantern Festival - an absolutely mesmerizing experience.
We planned our trip for the whole month of May after a lot of research suggested it was a good time to visit both countries, so we went to the Festival by accident. I will try my best to plan around this next time I'm in Korea. Jogyesa temple, where the lantern parade ends, is a must-see in Seoul.
Travelled by train to Busan so we could go from there to Japan. Didn't see much of Busan as we got there late and we had an early morning ferry to catch, so Busan is on our list for next time. We did find some lovely sangak-gimbap (triangle-shaped rice 'sandwich') at the corner shop close to our hotel - don't know about you guys, but great-tasting food plays an important part in my life.
As we're boarding the ferry, part one of our South Korea - Japan adventure ends, and part two begins!
I hope life is treating you well.