5. Stay in a Korean traditional house in the backdrop of the ancient Korean capital
If you venture outside of Seoul during your time in Korea (as you should), Gyeongju is the place to go. Korea used to be divided into three major kingdoms (Silla, Baekje, and Goguryeo) until the Silla kingdom conquered the other kingdoms and made Gyeongju the capital. Gyeongju remained the capital of this region for approximately 1000 years, leading to the creation of a number of archaeological treasures that are well worth your time.
When visiting Gyeongju, there is no better place to stay than Sarangchae. It is conveniently located a 5 minute walk from a beautiful royal tomb park and also nearby Cheomseongdae, the oldest observatory in Asia, which has impressive stonework (imagine a Coca-Cola shaped stone bottle). Amidst the scenery of ancient Korean kings, try your hand at sleeping on the floor of an ancient traditional Korean house just like Koreans did back in the day. Share the experience with others by listening through the paper thin walls or better yet, by meeting them in the courtyard where you can share stories over a nighttime campfire.
For more information: http://www.kjstay.com/content_eng/iboard.cgi
238-1 Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju, Telephone: +82 54-773-4868
경주시 황남동 238-1번지 (손효자 3길 63호)
6. Visit the only kimchi museum in the world
Where else in the world will you be able to go to a museum solely dedicated to the Korean staple, kimchi? This is a foodie’s dream. Kimchi, or seasoned fermented vegetables, is at the heart of Korean culture and its food and is usually eaten with every meal. Few people also know that there is not only 1 type of kimchi but 187 different documented types, ranging from kimchi of different ripeness levels to water kimchi, cucumber kimchi, and radish kimchi varieties. In addition, it is not uncommon for Korean households to have refrigerators solely dedicated for the storage of kimchi.
Here, you can taste 7-8 different types of kimchi, view bacteria found in kimchi under a microscope and even learn how to make kimchi in the education room. Also, don’t forget to learn about the scientific research showing the health benefits of kimchi, from which Koreans attribute their health and safety levels from the 2003 SARS outbreak.
Located on the B2 level of the Coex mall, the museum can be a little difficult to find. It is small but a great place to try different types of kimchi and not feel ignorant!
For more information: http://www.kimchimuseum.co.kr/foreigner/english/intro.asp
Coex Mall Floor B2, 159 Samsung-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Telephone: +82 2-6002-6456
서울시 강남구 삼성동 159번지 코엑스몰 지하 2층
Closest subway stop: Samsung Station (삼성역), Line 2, Exit 6
7. Mud wrestle while enhancing your skin
It is no surprise that a country known for its beauty and cosmetics is also the one with a mud festival started by a local cosmetic company. The Boryeong Mud Festival was started in 1998 to promote the local therapeutic mud, this annual festival has become extremely popular among both locals and expats, drawing more than 2 million people. Held in Boryeong, a town on the western coast of Korea, the Boryeong Mud Festival is a great way to celebrate the summer at the beach before the monsoon season, all while enhancing the nutrients in your skin.
Cover yourself in a thick, gray mud (or even colored mud, which is artificially made) as well as partake in mud wrestling pits, slides, and lots of activities throwing you back to your childhood days. There are also performances from musicians to keep you entertained while you’re there.
While the festival goes on for the last two weeks of July, you probably don’t need to go for more than one or two days. Try to go for the final weekend if you can.
For more information: http://www.mudfestival.or.kr/english/festival/festival1.php
Boryeong, Annually held in the last half of July, Telephone: +82 41-930-3820
8. Declare everlasting love from Seoul’s most scenic point
If you have ever seen a Korean soap opera before, you know that Koreans are extremely sentimental. It is also no surprise that a pilgrimage of love to go to Seoul’s Namsan Tower gained popularity due to the actions of two television stars. In order to declare everlasting love, the couple wrote a message on a lock, attached it to the fence on Namsan Tower and threw away the key. Now, you can not only see thousands and thousands of locks and love messages here, but you can also create your own. Feel free to purchase your lock or phone case ahead of time or buy them at the gift shop upon arrival.
You can even see small trees that consist entirely of love locks. Try to read a few of the messages to see promises fulfilled (unfulfilled) and to remind yourself of young love. You can’t help but wonder what happened to the future of all these couples.
Solidify your love or make a declaration for a future love. What better way to celebrate a visit to Seoul than by soaking in the beautiful skyline views of Seoul and also by experiencing the sentimental thoughts of love?
Be sure to come close to sunset to get the full experience.
For more information: http://www.nseoultower.co.kr/eng/index.asp
Seoul, Yongsan-Gu, Yongsan-dong 2, Mountains 1-3, Telephone: +82 2-3455-9277
서울시 용산구 용산동2가 산1-3
Closest subway stop: Myeongdong Station (명동역), Line 4, Exit 3, then take Namsan shuttle bus No. 2, which runs every 15 minutes
9. Eat Korean street food with drunk locals under a packed tent at 4am
Koreans not only like to go out to a lot of different spots when they go out, but they also stay out really late. After going to a bar or a club for a few hours, it’s inevitable that you get hungry. What better place to go to eat than underneath an orange, outdoor tent? These street food tents with plastic tables and chairs are called pojangmachas (포장마차), literally meaning “covered wagon.” Here, you can feel some of the emotions of Koreans as they discuss the events of a long work or school week. Though not a huge area, one of my favorite spots to go is on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night in Itaewon near the subway station. Come by after visiting some of the Itaewon bars or clubs. Even at 4 in the morning, this area is hopping.
While having green onion pancakes (pajeon, 파전) , tempura (튀김), Korean style sushi (gimbap, 김밥) are good choices, I recommend trying some lovely chicken gizzard (dalkddongjip, 닭똥집), spicy rice cakes (tteokbokki, 떡볶이), or Korean style intestines filled with noodles (sundae, 순대). This is also a perfect spot to grab some more cheap beer and soju to keep the night running.
For more information: http://travel.cnn.com/seoul/drink/pojangmacha-guide-039741
Walk outside of Itaewon Station onto Itaewon Road (이태원로) from Exit 2. If you’re coming from a taxi, just get off near the station and you’ll see a few pojangmachas after midnight.
Closest subway stop: Itaewon Station (이태원역), Line 6, Exit 2
10. Eat the trendiest food in Seoul at the food court of one of the most luxurious department stores
Ever been to a luxurious food court? Well, here’s your chance. The Gourmet 494 food court is found in the basement of the high end department store, Galleria, in the richest neighborhood in Seoul, Cheomdangdong (청담동). We’re not talking Panda Express and Sbarro here (not that there’s anything wrong with either), but we’re talking about 23 of the trendiest, most elite, and popular restaurants and chefs who have a spot at Gourmet 494. Recently opened in October 2012, this is already a popular spot.
Do you want sushi from Chef Matsumoto? Then check out Sushi Matsumoto. What about a phenomenal burger from Brooklyn Burger or perhaps a kalbi (Korean sweet short ribs) taco from the hottest Mexican restaurant in Seoul, Vatos? And we haven’t even mentioned Buzza Pizza, excellent artisanal, coal oven pizza, or the hot brunch restaurant Café Mama’s. I would highly recommend trying a smoothie or a Korean traditional dessert, patbingsoo (팥빙수) to finish off your meal.
It’s a pretty simple process. Just pick your food of interest and you’ll be given a buzzer with a number on it. Place it on the radio frequency location on the table and 5-10 minutes later, voila, someone will deliver your food straight to you!
Trust me, this is a good spot. Be sure to hover for seats. Try the bakery end for more seats. And after you’re done eating, why not do some window shopping for high end jewelry?
For more information: http://dept.galleria.co.kr/en/west/only/fnb/gourmet/main.jsp
Galleria Department Store – Basement, Gangnam-Gu, Apgujeong-dong, Seoul,
Telephone: +82 2-410-7114
갤러리아백화점 지하 서울시 강남구 압구정동
-Visit the largest underground mall in Asia (Coex Mall, Seoul)
-Attend the chicken and beer festival in Daegu (Mid-July)
-Surround yourself with cherry blossoms at the Kimhae Cherry blossom festival (late March to early April)
-See the hottest new Asian films at the Busan Film Festival, the largest of its kind in Asia (early October)
-Go to the world’s largest indoor theme park, Lotte World (Seoul)
-Shop in the largest department store in the world at Shinsegae in Busan
(Have your own? Share with us in the comments!)
Ed has previously lived in Korea and enjoys learning, thinking, traveling, and eating.