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.
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.
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)
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 inclined glass elevator.
If you've watched the famous Korean drama, Boys over Flowers, then I'm sure you're familiar with the N Tower. Here you will get to see a 360 degree view of Seoul, and is also where the famous Love Lock of Korea is located. If you're not up to hiking your way up to the tower, you may opt to ride the cable car going there (which was what we did!). A round trip cable car ticket costs KRW 8,500 and the observatory ticket costs KRW 9,000. Love Lock Tip: Bring your own lock because the lock's being sold there is expensive. View from the N Tower Observatory
So what do people really do in Myeong-dong? I only have one answer for you, and that would be SHOPPING! So from N Tower, walk back to where the station is, cross the main strait and voila! You have now reached Myeong-Dong Shopping District, home to endless make-up stores and street food stalls.
DAY 2: Nami Island, Petite France and Garden of Morning Calm
All of three tourist spots are located in Gapyeong, and became famous 'cause of Korean dramas like Winter Sonata which was shot in Nami Island, My Love from Another Star which was shot in Petite France and Secret Garden which was shot in Garden of Morning Calm. You will have to board the Gapyeong Tour Bus, which stops at all three locations. How to get there:
Hongik University (Line 2) to Sangbon Station (Line 2) then transfer to Sangbong Station (Gyeonchun Line) then go down at Gapyeong Station (Gyeochun Line). Exit Gapyeong station and wait for Gapyeong Tour Bus at bus station. Gapyeong Tour Bus ticket price:
KRW 6,000 for 1-day pass
This is the first stop in the Gapyeong Tour bus. It is a little island outside of Gapyeong and you would need to ride a ferry going there. There are a lot of things to do in Nami Island, you can go biking, you can go on a picnic, there's also an ostrich farm inside the island and a lot of restaurants to choose from. Admission fee with round trip ferry ride: KRW 9,000 Bike rental for 30 minutes: KRW 4,000
This is the second stop of the Gapyeong Tour Bus. This quaint little village inspired by The Little Prince is composed of colorful houses and inside each house are quirky finds. This place is actually very cute and picturesque. Admission Fee:
GARDEN OF MORNING CALM
This is the last stop of the Gapyeong Tour Bus. This place is a big (and I mean BIG) garden composed of different kinds of garden. You will find different types and kinds of flowers and trees that you will only see in Korea. Admission Fee:
DAY 3: Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Garden, Insadong Street, and Gwangjang Market
CHANGDEOKGUNG PALACE AND SECRET GARDEN
This is the only palace we went to in our whole trip. You would need to reserve a tour online for this because you would need a tour guide in order to go inside the Secret Garden. Online reservations don't require payment yet, you just have to pick the date of your tour, language and time. There are about 3-5 English tours per day, what we got was the English tour scheduled at 11:30 am. How to get there:
Hongik University Station (Line 2) to Jongno 3lsamj-ga (Line 3) to Anguk Station (Line 3) Exit 3. Go straight until you see the Palace Gate. Admission Fee:
Insadong is also a shopping district but compared to Myeong-dong and Hongdae, Insadong offers a more traditional vibe. Here you will find different designs of hanboks, key chains, and other souvenirs. How to get there:
Anguk Station Exit 2
If you're a fan of Korean street food, there's no better place than to go to Gwangjang Market. Here you will find a variety of street food from Tteokbokki to Japchae. How to get there:
88, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu
DAY 4: Heyri Art Village
HEYRI ART VILLAGE
If you're a fan of unique architecture and coffee, then Heyri Art Village is a must-visit for you! I loved every corner of this place. Heyri Art Village is located in Pajong, and offers a different kind of art experience. The entrance to Heyri is free, and inside are different kinds of museums and galleries (which are also free entrance, btw) How to get there:
Hongik University Station (Line 2) to Hapjeong Station (Line 2) Go out Exit 2. Then, take bus number 2200. It takes about 40 minutes to get there and announcements for bus stops are in English.
DAY 5: Explore Hongdae
This is our last day in Seoul, and all we wanted to do was to have our free time exploring the district where we are staying at, which is Hongdae. In my opinion, this is the best place to stay at especially for millennials like me. Hongdae is a very artsy district since this is where Hongik University is located (which is an arts school). If you love coffee, then here's some good news! There are a lot of cute cafe's around the area which serve good coffee, as well as a variety of hole-in-the-wall restaurants you can try. Hongdae is also famous for its street art. In almost every corner and every alley of this district, you will find street art and graffiti. Hongdae is also a shopping district like Myeong-dong but I think the shops in Hongdae close a little later compared to the ones in Myeong-dong. At night, you will see a lot of street performs (singers, dancers, painters) that is why the vibe in Hongdae is very hip and energetic. How to get there:
Hongik University Station (Airport Line or Line 2) So this basically sums up my first trip to Seoul. Seoul's hip and relaxed vibe really captured my heart that I wanted to extend my stay for another week. There are still a lot of must-see places that I wasn't able to include in my initial itinerary that's why I'm definitely coming back to explore more!