South Korea Travel Guides for Backpackers

Coastal Culture: The Best of South Korea’s Islands & Beach Towns

The small nation of South Korea is often characterized by its heavily militarized northern border and high-tech, neon-charged cities. However we can’t forget this east Asian peninsula also has about 2,400 kilometers of coastline and 3,000 islands within its territory. This makes for unique mixed landscape of sandy beaches, lush forests, mountainous peaks, and volcanic rocks. Whether you’re wanting to try out a new water-sport, eat freshly caught seafood, go to a festival, or just bond with nature – these five locations have vibrant cultures with something to offer every traveler. 1. South Chungcheong-do, Anmyeondo / ????, ??? Located on the west coast of Korea south of Incheon, Anmyeondo is the sixth largest island in Korea characterized by rocky coastlines and several busy beaches. The island is also home to Anmyeondo NationalForest which during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392 B.C.) was managed by the royal family. Now visitors mostly come to stroll through the forest and see the beautiful vegetation and fauna. Two must see beaches on the island are Kkotji Beach and Anmyeon Beach, both of which offer clean sand, clear water, as well as views of the stunning rock formations that dot the horizon. During peak swim season, you can also rent innertubes, water toys, tents, and umbrellas. Camping is available for those who want to barbeque on the beach and wake up to the sound of the sea. Generally you can find a seaside hotel during the off season for around 50,000 KRW, though there are many great resorts and pensions to choose from. 2. Jeollanam-do, Mokpo & Jindo / ????, ?? & ?? In the southwest corner of Korea you’ll find Jeollanamdo, a province that contains a large portion of the 3,300 islands in Korea. Here you can find Mokpo, a small port city of about 250,000 people. When the Japanese occupied this territory, it served as an important location for commercial trade and public transportation. Nowadays, tourists flock here for the unique seafood and indigenous products found in the vibrant fish markets. If you’re looking for something romantic, try taking a sunset sailboat ride near the marina. You can hire a private captain for an hour tour for around 25,000 KRW per person. A short drive out of the city is Jindo, the third largest island and the southwestern most tip of the Korean peninsula. Jindo is most famous for its annual sea parting festival where the extremely low tides allow visitors to walk to the neighboring island of Modo. The Korean Jindo is a breed of hunting dog that originated on this island and their national cultural legacy live on today in the many dog sculptures you will see around the area. 3. Gangwon-do, Gangneung, Yang-Yang, and Sokcho / ???, ??, ??, & ?? Gangneung may be small in population but it is rich in spectacular mountain views and tranquil nature. Located on the east coast of Korea, this town is also known as a literature and arts hub. The sm all coastal village is a thriving hub […]

Shopping Places at Seoul, South Korea

With the rising of the Hallyu wave around the world, many are interested in visiting the homeland of all the handsome oppas and beautiful unnies – South Korea!! As much as we might be doing some Seoul(soul) searching there, shopping is often listed in our itinerary for every trip. So here are the shopping areas you should stop by when you are visiting Seoul.   1. Hongdae Street During my trip, I happened to reside nearby the HOT Hongdae Street. I visited this area almost every night for the street food and the entertainment by the amazing performers. There are many things you can find here; be it facial products, clothing, women’s accessories, phone accessories and many more. I got myself a pretty tote bag and to me, it is worth it. Plus, you can find Korea’s cosmetic brands and they are quite affordable. Be sure to look out for the discounts or offers! It is located close to Hongik University. So you can use the subway and stop at Hongik Station or Sangsu Station. I highly recommend visiting this street in the evening and at night to fully experience the nightlife here. You will be able to catch many talented performers along the street or drop by the clubs and pubs. There are also other activities you can enjoy such as Noraebang (karaoke), VR (e.g. shooting, archery) and many more while taking a break from shopping. P.S. If you happen to visit this street in the afternoon, you might want to consider doing some cafe hopping. You can check out a Meerkat Cafe in the area. I went there and I love that I could interact with meerkats, racoon, wallaby and cats.   2. Myeongdong Underground Shopping Center If you are a big K-POP fan, I highly suggest you come down here. If you are not, then you should still visit here and get some souvenirs for your friends. You can find a selection of albums and drama OSTs and merchandises of your favourite idols and celebrities at a cheaper price. There are posters, keychains, stickers and others that you can name. Besides that, you can find cute and cheap socks as souvenirs in a bundle for your loved ones or maybe just for yourself. They sell clothing at affordable prices. The nearest subway station is Myeongdong Station (I mean the name of the place says it all). Please remember to prepare your heart and breath before tapping out of the subway gantry!   3. Myeongdong Street After exiting the Myeongdong Underground Shopping Center, you should drop by Myeongdong Street. Over there, you can find facial products, packeted snacks, clothing and many many facial products. Along the way, you can even get your hands on plenty of free samples. There are offers for most of the stores so you might want to walk around the area first before deciding on which store to get your shopping treats from. The prices of the items there are quite cheap and affordable. […]

Seoul, South Korea: A Beginner's Guide

With the rise in popularity of the Hallyu or more commonly known as the Korean Wave, South Korea has been a popular destination among tourists coming from different parts of the world, most especially in what has been deemed as the city of infinite possibilities – Seoul. For someone like me who had been a fan of anything Korean since 2010 – may it be gushing about the latest K-drama, bopping to the latest K-pop songs and dance moves; or following the latest trends in K-fashion – I find myself coming back to the Land of the Morning Calm again and again. Since my first visit back in 2013, I’ve been to South Korea for 7 times already, making me quite familiar with the roundabouts of the place, especially in Seoul since I spent most of my visits there. I wouldn’t exactly call myself an expert but I know a few things I would love to share with all of you, especially if you are a first-time visitor. Hotel Accommodations Finding affordable and cozy accommodation is already quite common in Seoul. When you browse various travel portals and apps for options, you might even find yourself overwhelmed by the number of selection to choose from! One important thing to consider when booking accommodation would be its accessibility to the transportation system. In my experience, all of the hotels that I have stayed at were situated nearby subway stations and bus stops, which makes sightseeing more convenient. I will be delving more about how to use the transportation system in the next point, but for now, here is a consolidated list of recommended accommodations I’ve stayed at in no particular order: Hotel First Stay Wons Ville Myeongdong Hotel M Cherville Hotel Manu Most of these hotels are also nearby local restaurants, convenience stores (e.g. GS25 and CU) and even shopping districts like Namdaemun Market and Myeongdong Shopping Street; where various food stalls are stationed all over the area. Those are also good things to take note of before locking down that booking. Transportation Guide As mentioned earlier, navigating the transportation system in Seoul, or South Korea, in general, is quite convenient as it is designed to be very tourist-friendly. The railway systems and buses are the most common types of transportation. From the Incheon International Airport Going to Your Hotel Upon your arrival at the Incheon International Airport, there are a number of budget-friendly and convenient options available to take you to your hotel accommodation: Taking the Airport Limousine Bus Taking the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) Booking a Taxi Service Several transportation maps are available in the airport and it is highly recommended for you to take one especially if you are planning to take the AREX or the Limousine Bus. It will be helpful for you in taking note of the designated stops. You may also want to consider the number of baggage and company you have. If you and your companion are feeling a bit more adventurous and don’t […]

5 Reasons Why South Korea Should Be Your Next Destination

Why Korea? Why is this country in East Asia the next one you should visit if you want to be splashed in Asian culture? When I found out that I would experience my exchange semester in South Korea a bunch of questions came into my mind and I realized that, in fact, I had no idea about Korean culture. After all, I made it. I went there and fell in love with every single thing I saw in Korea. That’s why I always tell people looking for a 180-degree change that South Korea is the best option for changing their lifestyles, and here are the main 5 reasons you should visit it at least once in your life. Perfect Balance Between Korean Tradition / Futuristic Modernity Korean history is quite thrilling, and one of the most iconic vestiges of this is the number of tombs, palaces, and temples that you can visit there and that are considered as World Heritage Sites for UNESCO. Mixed in perfect balance, the other face of Korea is the technological architecture their buildings have, Dongdaemun Design Plaza is one of the many proofs of this futuristic modernity Korea has to offer. It’s not uncommon to see girls wearing Hanbok (traditional dress) while taking selfies with the newest Samsung mobile near Seoul’s City Hall. If you are there, don’t hesitate in being part of the many festivals that you can find in South Korea throughout the year. From Cherry Blossom season, when people go to the streets to enjoy this pink natural show, to the amazing lantern parade that celebrates Buddha's Birthday. There is always fun across the little alleys of the Hanok Villages that coexist harmoniously with the contrast of futurism in Korea. Pop Culture Whether you are a fan or not of K-POP, personally I am not, the impact of Korean popular culture is worldwide recognized. The fashion trends that rule the world today have their origins in Korean streetwear, that you can buy in street markets as Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, and Gangnam for a good price. Also, the innovations that K-POP stars have when setting up a show is something we all MUST witness once in a lifetime. That leads us to… Storytime! When I arrived in Korea, I was not very enthusiastic about K-POP and I was not familiar with the music that was made in that Asian country. Even with this skepticism I must say that one of the best moments of my stay there was when I had the opportunity to see PSY performing totally for free as part of the festival of my university and I must say that I was surprised by the quality of the show and I stayed clear why the interpreter of “Gangnam Style” is the greatest musical exponent of South Korea. Not everything is fashion, also make-up and skin care routines which are already part of the trends we see on social networks have all their origins guess where: in Korea, of course. Food When I first […]

South Korea – Culture Shock

Introduction South Korea is a country vastly different from England, that much goes without saying. The east in itself is compared often to the west in cultural, political and historical differences. It was these differences however that drew me to Korea and are the reason that I find myself here now. Differences don’t always have to be negative and as I am about to explain in this article, they are something that should be celebrated appropriately and seen as a positive way to understand each other and move forward as a united world. Although the things I am about to describe may be ‘shocking’ as the title says, they should also be credited for the culture they bring to this incredible, beautiful and highly underrated country. Honorifics And Formal Speech South Korean culture seems to be one that is built on the thoughtfulness, respect and consideration of others. This even starts with the basis of language. Honorifics are widely used in South Korea not only between say a teacher and pupil like in western countries but between friends and family too. There is an unspoken rule of respect for those older than yourself and this is reflected heavily within the language. Even amongst friends, it is expected to some extent to use honorifics and formal speech to address older members of the group. It may seem strange at first but in my experience, it makes for positive affections and mutual respect. Food Sharing South Korea is abundant with incredible and unique foods, from kimchi to bibimbap and bulgogi, there is so much to try. The food itself, however, is not so much the cause of culture shock as to how it is enjoyed. Sharing really is considered caring here and this isn’t even confined to original Korean restaurants but also extends to Western-style establishments too, something that I learnt the hard way. When ordering your food be aware that if the waiter looks at you like you’re crazy for how much you have ordered, then they are probably right. A range of traditional dishes are usually selected for all participants of the meal to enjoy. Smaller plates or bowls are then provided to share out the food between everyone. Even at western-style restaurants, this can be the case. Always check how big that pizza’s going to be before you order, trust me. Like the use of honorifics this can take some getting used too but often it creates an incredible dinner atmosphere and there is always something to talk about, since all flavours and dishes are enjoyed by everyone. Pedestrian Crossings And Roads This may seem like something quite small and insignificant, but it is also something that I really wish I had been aware of before arriving in South Korea because it can be confusing at first. Pedestrian crossings and rules of the road are really quite different here, compared to the likes of England. Firstly, just because there is a zebra crossing does not mean that it is […]

Facts about South Korea: First time at Seoul

So here we are, South Korea, another language, another culture and another world of what we may be used to, especially talking about manners and politeness. South Korea is known for a society which has a hierarchy and depending on which level you are is the grade of politeness you must use. So first things first.   Korean politeness First of all, since we are talking about an Asian country I guess is implicit that manners and politeness is a must to know when we are traveling to South Korea. The first thing you will notice besides everyone looking at you because of your obvious difference is that many Koreans are very polite and warm when interacting with foreigners, they have this thing about being a good host and they will do everything to help you even if both have the language barrier. Words should be picked wisely, you don’t want to make angry or insult the other person, but Koreans appreciate that foreigners are interested in their culture and that we try to get into it, so my advice is to greet everytime you arrive at a place or if you want to ask for something, the word for say hello at any time of the day is, ????? or Annyeonghaseyo, it is pronounced “anion-sio”, and for thanking you will use ????? or Gamsahabnida, and it’s pronounced as “kam-sam-nida”, now you can go to a convenience store and say Annyeonghaseyo and then ask for the thing you want and say thank you with Gamsahabnida and do not forget to do the little bow when thanking, that’s the korean way, so there you go, now you shouldn’t struggle when arriving in Korea. Korean manners This is an important topic, cause not doing the things properly may be a cause for offending a Korean, especially the elders and those with higher hierarchy than you, so it is important to keep your manners when saluting and thanking people, Koreans know that as a foreigner you won’t know everything about their manners and culture but it is important that you don’t miss this tips because is a sign of  respect to their culture and also because they are open and patient with us when we are in their home country. So these are some tips about manners: Do the bow when saluting or thanking anyone, they will appreciate it When receiving things, as money, some products, cards, etc, you should receive them with both hands When giving money, cards, etc, you should give it either with both hands or your left hand holding your wrist When using public transportation, DON’T sit on the red seats, those are reserved for elderly People in public transportation don’t ask for a chance to pass through, they will push you, so don’t get mad if you get pushed, better watch out And this one is very important too: when entering a house, apartment or some buildings is a must to take off your shoes and go barefoot, so be sure to wear clean socks and put some […]

Jeju Island Solo Backpacking: A small person on a big island

Seogwipo City Jeju Island, also known as South Korea's Hawaii, is the dream destination for all South Koreans. Located in the South of South Korea, Jeju Island is furtherer away from Busan, South Korea's second biggest city, than it is from Japan's city of Fukuoka. Jeju Island itself is also a lot bigger than it appears on map. As a solo backpacker, I found that it was simply impossible to backpack Jeju Island solo whilst sticking to my USD 40/day budget. Unless you are willing to spend more money and exceed your budget, you will probably miss out certain attractions particularly the more remote places. That will be a shame, but being aware of this can help you gather a crew to visit Jeju together with. Getting to Jeju Island The easiest method to get to Jeju Island from Mainland South Korea is to travel by air. Jeju Airline, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines operate flights on an hourly basis from Seoul to Jeju for as low as USD 30 one way. Since Jeju Airport is an international airport, there are direct flights from neighbouring countries like Japan and China. Additionally, it is possible to catch overnight ferries from Busan to Jeju. After speaking to backpackers who tried this option, I decided not to give this a go as I wanted to save time and thought a beauty sleep was worth the additional USD 10 to fly. Mt Hallasan above the clouds Getting Around Jeju In general, getting around the main parts of the island is easy and cheap. There are numerous public buses operating on the island and the routes are straightforward. For instance, you can take bus 701 from Jeju City all the way to the other side of the island to Seogwipo town down the West Coast or you can take bus 702 from Jeju City to Seogwipo down the West Coast. The journey down the East Coast will be slightly longer. Even though the public bus system is relatively extensive, some tourist spots cannot be reached without a renting motorbike/car or a taxi. Even though it is possible to hire motorbikes from the airport for around USD 30 a day, I would not recommend renting a motorbike as Jeju Island is a very windy island. Although there are locals riding bikes, they do so within towns and cities rather than cover long distances. In fact, since the island is so large, it will take at least three hours to go down any coast. However, the roads are clean and flat rendering it very easy to ride motorbikes. Taxis in South Korea are affordable but if you are backpacking on a budget, it is better to share a cab with others. The main difficulty I felt was the large size of the island and how challenging it was to get to places without relying on taxis. For example, Seopjikoji is supposedly one of the most beautiful areas on Jeju and is also […]

Seoul: The Fusion of Old and New in the Heart of South Korea

From a global traveler's perspective, Seoul — South Korea’s capital city — is fast becoming a go-to destination. It brims with character, offering both first-time and more frequent visitors an extraordinarily kaleidoscopic and culinary experience without your ever having to leave its gates — some of them impressively real and still standing today. If you want the whole nine yards, you'll need at least five days to squeeze in architecture, culture, food, heritage, and natural beauty. When is the best time to visit South Korea? Timing is an important factor in travel. By knowing which seasonal festivals to attend, you can broaden and deepen your experience. By planning your trip based on the climate, you can pack the right clothes. Proper attire makes a huge difference when you are trying to explore as well as appreciate an unfamiliar city. Most people are likely to suggest that the best time to visit Seoul is during fall due to the cool and crisp atmosphere that prevails between September and November. It's the time to witness the incredible foliage and the country’s bountiful harvest at that time of year. Spring, however, is also mesmerizing as it sizzles and pops with colors and just the right amount of chill in the air. Winter in Seoul is particularly cold — more so than other destinations like Busan, the country's second most populous city. Pestered by extreme heat and occasional typhoons, summer is the least recommended season during which to visit. For your home base, it's best to pick a guesthouse or a hotel in downtown Seoul, which is at least 40 minutes away from Incheon Airport via the Airport Railroad Express (A’REX). Somewhere near Seoul Station or Hongik University Station is a good place to start. Transport Options Around Seoul Seoul’s subway network is one of the most complex yet organized in the world, making it easy for you to go from one tourist attraction to another. Download the Subway Korea App to monitor your train’s arrival and departure schedule. To skip the queues at ticketing booths, buy and top up your T-Money Card at the airport or any convenience store. You can also use the card for bus and cab rides. If you need to place calls while you’re in South Korea, you can rent a basic phone at Incheon Airport. This option is easy and inexpensive. Prepare to shell out somewhat more bucks if you want to rent a smartphone with a data plan or a WiFi hotspot egg. You'll need to present your passport and credit card on each occasion. From the customary to the unusual, there are different routes of discovery to take: Discover Seoul's Ancient Sites Spend a half-day exploring the residences of ancient royal families. For 10,000 won, you can get a ticket that admits you to the Jongmyo Shrine and the four palaces: Changgyeongung, Changdeokgung (including Huwon and the Secret Garden), Deoksugung, and Gyeongbokgung. All areas are closed on Mondays, except for Jongmyo Shrine and Gyeongbokgung, which are […]

The Four Seasons of Seoul

Every year for the past five years living in Seoul, we have lived through four seasons, the summer, fall, winter, and spring.  Like a wheel of nature cycling through the four corners of the times, our experiences grew and shaped in a mold toward being great travelers.  The following are great suggestions to go throughout the seasons.  Along the way, you will find many interesting experiences that will be unfolded through your adventures. Summer Cheonggyecheon Stream (???) Map: Cheonggyecheong Stream “Jamkanmanyo, Cheonggyecheon odiyeyo?” — “Just a moment please, where is Cheonggyecheong Stream?” — “????, ??? ?????” Be sure to dip your feet helping you cool your whole body during the summer spells.  You can do it anywhere, but a popular place where friends and families get together is at the bridges that houses from the heat. Throughout Seoul, you will see amazing structures, just be in the moment to fully take in the artistry.  It's actually quite beautiful and all throughout a special meaning from the artists is shared for all of us.  Within the metropolis city you can find the Cheonggyecheon Stream that can be enjoyed all year around.  It can start from a tall spiral painted with blue and pink.  It is actually an amazing structure to see and a great photography moment to remember. From the awesome spiral, you can follow up the stream.  It begins with a beautiful waterfall with side blocks within the stream. Along the way, off and on throughout the day, you may see musical artists trying to share a sentiment of beauty.  Along the path up the stream, it is a great venue for entrepreneurs of the many arts to get out and fill your moments with warmth as you walk up the stream. During the mid Autumn seasons, there is the Seoul Lantern Festival placed from the beginning of Cheonggye Plaza all the way to Supyogyo Bridge.  Over 3 million people visit the stream where the lanterns take you back in time to revisit the stories of themes regarding the history, culture, and arts.  The lit lanterns are wonderful and toward the end you could make your very own paper lantern with a candle light to sail across the stream. Beingsu (??) “Beingsu Jusayo!” —  “Can you please give me Beingsu?” — “?? ???!” Beingsu is a popular treat among the summer times.  It is usually composed of red beans mixed with snow like ice.  Many times when you order, you get a huge dish with an assortment of flavors.  It can be like a dessert of a small mountain of summer fun…  If your cup of tea is not well digestive with red beans, you can opt for fruits and mochi balls.  A very popular flavor is Mango Beingsu.  It primarily focuses on Mangos, which is a great fruit and taste wonderful.  Even though, there are many choices, just go with the flow and pick a flavor that suites you.  Beingsu is great for couples as well as a group of friends.  You can make […]

Experience the creative side of South Korea in 5 days

I've been to 6 international destinations this year – Kota Kinabalu, Taipei, Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh, South Korea, and this trip is by far one for the books, not only because I'm a Korean Drama lover, or a Bigbang fan, but it's the whole cultural and art experience that South Korea gave me during my trip. If you're a person who loves shopping, art, culture, food and the night life, then Seoul is a must-visit for you! My friends and I started planning our trip back in January where flights were still cheap and there were seat sales in budget airlines here and there. We got ours for Php 8,000 round trip via Air Asia. This is actually the first time my friends and I are travelling together so we really took our time researching on what the top tourists spots in Seoul were, where to eat, and what to do. TOURIST VISA First things first, Tourist Visa. The Korean tourist visa is actually free, if you plan to stay 59 days or less. All you have to do is submit the needed requirements along with the visa application form at the South Korean Embassy, wait for 3-5 days for approval then you're good to go. The visa application processing in the embassy only takes about 30 minutes, and is only open from 8:00 am until 11:00 am, so make sure to make it on time. ACCOMMODATIONS Second important thing is choosing your accommodations. My friends and I were on a budget trip so we instead of staying in a hotel, we used AirBnb. The most important thing in choosing for a place to stay, in my opinion, is the location and it has to be near a train station or bus station. We stayed at Hongdae District, just a minute away from Hongik University Station (Airport Line, Line 2). Not only was the place nice and clean, but it was also very convenient. We had a very smooth transaction with our host, Park, and I really recommend his place. Bingo Studio – H5 Address: #1118, 155-27 Donggyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea, 121-816 (connected to #3 exit of Hongik University station) 5-DAY ITINERARY Since there were 3 of us travelling together, I took each of our individual interests into consideration when I made our itinerary. Our trip was a combination of top tourist spots, shopping, art and food. Day 1: N Tower and Myeong-dong Disctrict We arrived in Seoul just in time for our check-in which was 3:00 pm. We literally just placed our bags in the room and started our first adventure to Myeong-dong Disctrict, where N Tower is located. N Tower is one of the must-sees when you're in Seoul. How to get there: From Hongik University Station (Airport Line), go down at Seoul Station and transfer to Line 4. From Seoul Station (Line 4) go down at Myeong-Dong Station Exit 4. Walk straight until the main intersection, then turn left. Walk up the slope until you see the […]

36 Hours in Seoul

Seoul has an undeniable energy.  You can feel its ebb and flow instantly on arrival.  It’s the kind of place that leads you down a seemingly normal, dank alley and just when you think you’re lost, find yourself in the middle of a vibrant nightlife scene.  It’s one of the few places I’ve visited where you can stroll for hours through ancient palaces and temples by day and dine in a 5-star restaurant in a posh shopping district by night.  The juxtaposition of old world Korea and new is a medal worth pinning to its chest — Seoul’s jambalaya of culture isn’t overwhelming or stark, but comforting and always just right. If you’re bored in Seoul, it's your own darn fault.  With twenty-five different districts, there's no shortage of activities to keep yourself occupied. Each part of town offers its own unique selection of shops, pubs, hotels, and attractions– just grab a seat on the subway. I recently had 36 hours to spare, and since I’m currently living in a Korean city 2 hours south of Seoul, I decided to take advantage of the country’s excellent bus service and feel the buzz for myself. WHERE TO STAY A few days before departure, I did some research on where I could sleep for two nights without breaking the bank.  Staying in a hostel is a natural choice for more go-with-the-flow travelers, but deciding on a location can be a bit challenging.  I decided to narrow my search to Iteawon, an eclectic hodgepodge of a neighborhood that caters to expats and international visitors from all over the globe; and Hongdae — land of college students, hipsters, and anyone else just looking for some no-pressure vibes.     I settled on Hongdae, and one of its highly praised hostels.  Mr. Comma is a quaint guesthouse located in between Hongdae’s nightlife scene and a more subdued residential district.  Reserving the “family suite” was definitely a good choice, and for $17/night, it paid to have my own bathroom and bed to sleep off the evenings festivities.  If you don’t mind a more communal experience, Mr. Comma has larger dorm rooms for the proverbial crashers.  You have access to the rooftop patio (a great place to enjoy a cold one before venturing out for the night), cozy common room, full kitchen, and breakfast every morning.  The staff is friendly and helpful.   WHAT TO EAT You can’t turn your head anywhere in the city without glancing at 360 degrees worth of restaurants, coffee shops, bistros, and street food vendor carts.  Again, the problem here isn’t finding something to eat, it’s deciding what to eat.  When I find myself in the midst of a food conundrum anywhere in South Korea, I head to the nearest pocha, or Korean bar/pub.  Mandatory side dishes, known as anju, are served with soju (Korean rice, barley, or wheat wine) and/or beer.  While you’ll find traditional Korean dishes like dried squid, nuts, and fish cake in abundance at these places, often times […]

Korea: visting the demilitarized zone

A little history Before and during world war two. Korea was colonized by Japan for 35 years. After the war was finally over so was the Japenese rule over Korea. The country was left with no government until the united states and the soviet union agreed to occupy and take care of the country until a government was elected. However disputes happened and a decision was never made on who should be the goverment of Korea as a whole. The elections only took place in the south where it became known at the republic of korea and the democratic people's republic in the North. Tensions rose over a unified country and arguements over the countries political status. As they couldnt come to an agreement the country remained divided. These high tensions led to North Korea invading the South on June which led to the Korean war which lasted for just over 3 years. Nothing good came from this war except death so a permanent divide was made between the country. Families were ripped apart and nothing came but fear of the unknow. My trip was to visit the DMZ ( demilitarized zone ). The DMZ If you visit or live in South Korea then you must visit here. We headed to a place called imjingak where we would start our journey. First stop was the DMZ sign to get a picture. The place is heavily guarded as you would expect. to be honest I couldn't help but feel nervous, unaware of what I would see or feel here. The Border is actually 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide so don't worry you cant just step over into the North thankfully. Landmines There are still unfound landmines in the area so you will see alot of these signs. The south koreans have claimed that the North had set up these landmines to stop any people trying to cross to their side. There have been many incidents of soldiers setting of explosions ending in tradegy. The North Korean government have denied any involvement in the planting of the mines. So if you see any of these signs, don't get too close. 3rd infiltration tunnel This was probably the most intense part of the trip. We were heading to the tunnel that the North Koreans had built to invade the South. Its a pretty scary thought to think that they had actually gotten into the South, and even more scary that I was putting a hard hat on with a flashlight and was going down there. It was such an eerie feeling down there. Everyone was pretty quiet, probably all lost in our own thoughts, walking in the very same steps as North korean soldiers digging their way to get through. The tunnel was really small and you had to scoot down to walk through without bumping your head. We suddenly came to a big steel door. There was a small window near the top. As you looked through you could see […]

Layover at Incheon Airport: Best idea ever.

A year ago I traveled with my boyfriend to Japan. Since we were very far away from home, we decided to take advantage of the situation and travel a little bit through Asia. After looking through many different options, we decided to go to the ancient and beautiful country of Cambodia. When we booked the flight, we found out that the best fare was making a 10 hour layover at the South- Korean airport of Incheon. We thought I was going to be a total waste of time but it turned to be the best idea it ever occurred to us. After a 2 and a half hour flight with Asiana we arrived to the Incheon Airport (ICN) in South Korea. It was a smooth flight with a tasty meal. Once we arrived we were surprised by how well-planned this airport is. No wonder why this airport is listed on the top ten World’s Best Airport for the past 5 years or more. I mean that this is a great airport because it is very logical. After you get out of the plane it is very easy to know where do you have to go next there are signs every way and the path is easy to follow. . Connection flight? This way. Final destination? This other way. Surprise #1: The Tour. When you take the connection flight way, you’ll be asked if it is a short or a long connection. If it is a long one like we did (I believe they require you to have at least 3 or 4 hours layover time) you will be asked if you would like to take part of the FREE Transit Tour Program. They have several tours, from 1 hour to 5 hours long. So we took the Incheon City Tour which was about 3 hour long. They take a look on your boarding pass to double-check that you will have enough time for the Tour. Most of the tours are completely free, since the Korean government sponsors them but the one we took had a small fee of $10,000 Won (about $9- $10 USD) to cover a buffet meal and the entrance to the Changdeokgung Palace. It is ABSOLUTELY worth it! Shortly after we signed in to the tour, we gathered with the rest of the group and departed. The guide spoke all the time in english so we didn’t had any language problem. First we stopped at the Palace. It is really interesting to find such a large and traditional piece of architecture in the middle of such a cosmopolitan city (Seoul). It was a hot and shinny day. And the people on the bus was as excited as we were. During the tour you travel by bus and must remain with the group at all times, following the guide. They will explain you everything about the ancient and violent history behind those marvelous walls. One of the most interesting stories talked about the the little animal-shaped gargoyles that […]

One Way Among Seoul’s Thousands of Cafes

Walking the streets of Seoul, South Korea, people are bombarded with option after option if they want a cup of coffee. The hardest thing to find, actually, would be a standard cup o’ joe, but with a bubbling cafe culture diverse in different ways, you won’t miss percolator coffee all that much. Among all those options, there is a lovely cafe called One Way. One Way to Taste Seoul's Cafe Culture I found myself in One Way after scrolling the latte art hashtag on Instagram and finding some of the most beautiful work I had ever seen. Naturally, I wanted to drink this art, not just see it on my phone. A quick search about the cafe led me to three important facts: It was in Seoul, where I live. It was super affordable – a latte is less than 3 bucks! The baristas are top-ranked in Korea for their amazing latte art!!!! The owner of the cafe, Elly, showcases her latte art work on her Instagram. She is absolutely amazing at pouring designs! Just check out her Instagram if you don’t believe me. Her flying heart pour is absolutely stunning! Even if you don’t live in Seoul, her account is worth following just to see what she’ll come up with next. If you’re sheepish about going to small cafes because you can’t speak Korean, don’t be. I overheard Elly having a lengthy conversation with some English-speaking Hong Kongites – you’ll be just fine. She's attentive, sweet & nice every time I visit.  Dash is another one of the baristas at the cafe. He, too, is super talented! My favorite of all of his work is his flower pour.  If you, like me, follow a lot of baristas on Instagram, you might see Dash hanging out with some of them – he often pops up in pictures from various coffee competitions all around the world. Cool, right? I'm not one to get too starstruck, but I'm so happy I stumbled upon these baristas & their hidden away cafe. One Way: The Cafe for Latte Art When I have ordered hot lattes, I’ve usually ended up with a heart design or, on a lucky day, a beautiful swan design. You can get a hot latte plain, or with hazelnut or vanilla syrup if you’re craving something a bit sweeter. And none of them will cost you more than about three dollars – so feel free to get more than one if you plan to spend the day there like I usually do! I’ve heard that the cafe also offers classes for aspiring baristas, but I’m not sure of the cost so you’ll have to ask Elly or Dash on their Instagrams! One Way: The Cafe for Relaxing This place isn’t just great for the latte art, though I will happily admit that’s the main draw. It’s also set back in the middle of, well, nowhere in Seoul terms. From the subway station, you’ll have to walk 10-15 minutes to find One Way, but it’s […]

South Korea : Cats and Green Tea

South Korea: Cats and Green Tea When you think about South Korea, what comes to mind? For most people it’s the notoriously pungent kimchi, or it could be the new wave of Kpop music that has hit the charts. Gangnam Style being the prime (and most annoying) example. For girls it could be Hello Kitty, which is Japanese in origin but has exploded all over South Korea. But for me it was cats. Cat cafes to be exact. What’s a cat cafe? Firstly it is NOT a restaurant where people eat cats. People do not eat cats in South Korea. Notice the bold NOT as I am hoping to break the bizarre stereotype that Asian people eat cats and dogs.  I feel that the best way to describe a cat cafe would be to give you a literal tour of the wonders that lurk behind the fur-fuzzed doors of Asia’s feline trend. Step 1: Find said cat cafe. Seoul : Most university areas or shopping districts have cat cafes. They are usually on the second or third floor and can be distinguished but the huge cartoon cat on the windows. Often they have cat mascots which entails a university student (I presume) in a dirty Garfield costume standing in the street outside the cat cafe and trying to hug randoms walking past. They are really not trying to rob you but merely entice you to go upstairs and get your feline on. Step 2: Going inside. While entering usually needs no instructions, this is not the case with cat cafes. Firstly you’ll enter an incredibly small entryway filled with pink or grey slippers. There will be no one to help you here and all the signs will be in Korean but the general idea is to take off your shoes and put the slippers on. You place your shoes on the shelves and when you are done inside the cafe, your shoes will still be there. No one will steal or accidentally take them. My only conclusion to the change of shoes is that obviously cats don’t want you to wear your shoes and bring all the human dirt into the cafe. Step 3: Paying and ordering a beverage. Once you are inside, and wearing your slippers, you head over to the front counter and pay. It’s about 10,000 won ($9) for an unlimited time and one beverage. South Korean cafes generally have a similar menu but I recommend the dangerously delicious green tea latte. Made with frothy Korean milk, a few spoons of green tea powder, a couple of swizzles of sugar syrup ( granules are for grannies) and topped off with a bit of flat-foam shaped in a cat. It will have you meowing for more. Yay. More humans. Step 4 : When do I get to see cats? After ordering your drink you will be escorted to a table and then asked to hand sanitize your hands; cats don’t like it dirty. Then, […]

South Korea: A Kaleidoscope of Country, Concrete, Cool and Kimchi

Ripe Red Pepper Kimchi! “Annyaenghaseyo!”: Your first introductions to Daegu, South Korea The bus comes to a stop at the Daegu bus terminal, the doors open and   you are greeted by the mixed sound of Western and K-POP songs echoing in a valley of high rise apartment blocks, low laying restaurants, kooky coffee shops and countless convenience stores.You step forward, into a reality unlike anything you have experience before, a reality where innovative cutting edge technology, industrious sleep deprived work ethic and progress prioritized city life is beautifully contrasted with respectful rural farming tradition, music obsessed teenagers and majestic temple filled mountains. This is the quirky, cool and some-what cray cray country of South Korea. The Sense Stirring Streets of South Korea and the Plethora of People that walk them. As you leave the bus stop brimming with Korean travelers of all ages waiting patiently for their transport to come and whisk them away, the South Korean atmosphere boots up your senses. An array of artificial advertising sprouting from all sides of the buildings confuses your brain with its mixture of Korean “Hangul” and English signs and posters. ” NEW” , “CAFE”, “BEAUTY”, “NATURE”, “LOVE”, “FUN” all appear paired with Korean characters that look like some form of computer code. Beneath the signs are cafes with English, French and Italian names, lined up side by side with traditional looking Korean restaurants that have something being fried, steamed or chopped in their windows. You begin walking along the people packed pavements. Trendy men in business suits and fashion forward women in designer dresses pass you by, couples in matching mickey mouse shirts walk their petite pups led by pink leashes, kids play in city parks and the occasional Segway and bicycle zooms and whizzes through the crowds. Suddenly! you collide with an old short Korean woman with a perm peaking out the top of her sun visor, wearing a garment garden of floral colored clothing and pushing a small shopping basket filled with root vegetables. She is as sturdy and strong as the largest Korean mountain, and almost bulldozes you off your feet ! You apologize profusely but she keeps walking as if nothing even happened. Its your first official introduction to an “Ajima”; an old Korean woman of a specific look and demeanor, who is my favorite personality of Korea. They are fierce, not to be messed with and do not care what anybody thinks of them. But they will always help out in emergency situations and once you get on the good side of an Ajima she will garnish you with gestures of generosity that include traditional candies, zip locked vegetable snacks and boiled eggs. “Sikjangs”: The South Korean restaurant experience. After walking through the high rise apartment  buildings and low lurking convenience stores for a while,  your nose will start to twitch in response to the sensational spicy smell wafting from the “Sikjangs” / food houses that sprout up on every street and in every alley of the city. […]

Seoul: Cafés, Coffee shops and Tea houses

Who lived off coffee as a student? Everyone, right? Well, actually I didn't. Give me a cup of earl grey, hot chocolate, or a smoothie! But fact remains that everyone has ducked into a café or coffee shop at some point (probably Starbucks), looking for a temporary fix. Or enough caffeine to not-sleep the next 72-hours. Whatever gets you through the current project. In South Korea, Seoul It’s a little different. I’m sure there are coffee enthusiasts out there who disagree. But the question to be asking is not: Is the coffee good? More likely, someone will say: Hey, I heard the desserts are good there! The questions being asked are: Want to have tea? Want to hang out with your friends somewhere? Want to study outside of home? Want an after dinner dessert? A cute date location? Meeting spot? To cool off in the summer, or warm up in the winter? Seoul's answer = cafés. coffee shops. and if you're feeling fancy, tea houses. If I had to choose one thing to bring home from Seoul, it would be the abundance of cafés and coffee shops. They are just conveniently everywhere. The sheer number shocked me when I first arrived as a lost freshman in a new country. As a sophomore, I really appreciated the places to study. As a senior, I had a lot of fun discovering the hidden (and absolutely delightful) cafés near campus. The difficulty wasn't in finding places to go, it was choosing which one to go to. And the best thing is that you can find something that suits you exactly. If you’re a big name fan No worries, Starbucks is here! I’m not sure what Starbucks is like in other countries, but in Japan and Korea, you could always look forward to season specials. (and someone please tell me if secret menus exist for Seoul stores)      
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