“You know, I’m glad you want to do a lot of touristy stuff because when [my last friend] visited, all we did was drink excessively and party.”
This is what you hear when you visit one of your best guy friends halfway across the world.
My buddy Christian moved to Seoul, South Korea in spring 2017 to teach English. Like most friends do when they move far away, he told everybody to “Come visit!” But because of work schedules and budget, it’s rare that people our age actually get to “go visit.” So I am extremely fortunate to have been able to include Seoul as part of my six-week Asia adventure. Even better, Christian was game for anything and had already planned out some of his favorite eateries so I could get an authentic dining experience everywhere we went.
I arrived at 6am on Saturday and told Christian that I’d be ready to hit the ground running with activity, so he’d better be prepared! We went to Changdeokgung Palace first, which is a World Heritage Site and supposedly one of the best palaces to visit while in Seoul (there are five historic grand palaces in the city). It was quite beautiful, especially with the backdrop of fall foliage (a welcome sight after having spent so much time in non-seasonal locales!). After a few hours exploring the palace, Christian took me to an awesome Korean lunch called dak galbi. You choose your protein or meat, then it’s served and cooked on your table with a selection of veggies and cheese.
In the evening we went out with Christian’s friends for a birthday party and went bar hopping throughout a largely Western neighborhood near an American military base in Seoul. I felt particularly welcome because each of Christian’s friends (whether intentionally or not) made a point to chat with me and make me feel like part of the group. By the end of the night, I think I’d had a one-on-one conversation with everyone (around 10+ people) and felt like I’d known these people for weeks.
The next morning we found a brunch spot with some of the folks from the night prior. Western brunch isn’t popular in Korea needless to say, so Christian and his friends were impressed and surprised to have found this gem. After brunch Christian and I did more sightseeing, including the Bukchon Hanok Village – over 900 traditional Korean-style homes in the heart of the city – Lotte Tower, and Aori Ramen for dinner.
The next few days were weekdays, so Christian went to work and I was on my own. I visited Achasan Mountain to go hiking, which was easily a highlight of Seoul for me. The crisp fall was so beautiful and fresh, there were hardly any other hikers, and those whom I did see were all smiling and friendly. I was reminded withe very step that hiking is my happy place.
Having only spent a few days in Korea, I was hooked on everything it offered: food, activity, history, sights. The culture was a complete 180-degree difference from what I’d grown used to in Southeast Asia, however. The dichotomy was apparent between developed and developing countries, and South Korea was exactly what you might expect with regard to Asian technology and efficiency.
South Korea Breakdown:
Traveling: Arrived and departed solo, stayed with a local friend
Highlights: Changdeokgung Palace, Achasan Mountain, Bukchon Hanok Village, KPop performances (local street performers)
Food: All of it. Try everything. Go everywhere. Aori Ramen (“The best Japanese ramen outside of Japan,” there is always a 45min+ line to get in this place), Dak Galbi style food, Paris Baguette for breakfast or sweets… There are coffeeshops everywhere, every corner. Hang out in one for an afternoon and enjoy the people-watching!
Tips: Utilize the public transportation here. The Seoul subway system is terrific, but don’t be discouraged by how complex it is. Take a deep breathe, grab a map, and you can get anywhere in the city. Enjoy all the food. Get to know some of the locals, they’re so friendly and welcoming! I felt most comfortable here throughout my whole trip (Bali was probably tied for most comfortable or a close second).
Want to see more? Check out my photo album on Facebook.