Hello friends, Sam here. In October 2020, my colleague & I had the opportunity to travel to South Korea for business for 2 weeks. We were fortunate to get to spend our weekends in Seoul for a total of six days in this amazing city & I’m here to share my experience with you all.
Before I get into my itinerary, I just want to take a moment and talk about traveling during the Coronavirus pandemic. Traveling during the pandemic is possible but difficult, as many countries have restrictions on Americans or are just not letting us in at all. We were able to get a special waiver to avoid South Korea’s mandatory 2 week quarantine, since we were were traveling for business. I also want to commend South Korea for their diligent response to the virus; they are very strict on travelers who land in Korea, which I believe helps them control their numbers in a big way. With that said, please read on to discover how we spent our time in Seoul.
The first week in Korea was spent in an industrial city named Gumi City, which is where we had our worksite. As mentioned earlier, we were able to go to Seoul on the weekends, when we were not working, so we were fortunate to be able to see many different areas of the country, not just one place. There was not really much sightseeing in Gumi City (& we were working anyway), however we did have some pretty good food. Here are only just a few snippets of some of the tasty stuff we were able to enjoy.
Korean BBQ (Samgyeopsal aka pork belly)
Korean BBQ (Sirloin)
LA Galbi (marinated short ribs)
Korean Side Dishes/Kimchi
Outback Steakhouse (a little taste of home!) 🙂
Seoul Day 1:
After our first week of work in Gumi, we arrived in Seoul on a Friday Night. The first place we checked out was a neighborhood called Myeongdong. Myeongdong is normally a lively place with a lot of interesting street food carts. Unfortunately, due to COVID, all the food carts were closed during the time we visited. We instead found a Chicken and Beer place, which is known to be very popular among young locals. It was something we really enjoyed and also something we like back here at home as well.
Seoul Day 2:
Gyeongbukgung Palace – Changing of the Guard
At Gyeongbukgung Palace, we were able to see Changing of The Guard. This was a really cool experience that we enjoyed and felt lucky to have gotten to see. The experience takes place twice a day in front of Gwanghwamun, the main gate of the palace @ 10am & 2pm (except on Tuesdays, when the palace is closed).
The palace itself is extremely breathtaking and mesmerizing. There is also an opportunity to rent some traditional Korean clothing, called Hanbok. The palace was built in 1395 and served as the home for many kings in the Joseon Dynasty until it was destroyed by a fire in the 1592. Having been restored in the 19th century, it was then destroyed again in the early 20th century by Imperial Japan. Currently today it’s in the process of being restored once more to the beautiful original palace it once was.
We definitely recommend checking this place out. It’s rated as one of the best & most beautiful things to see in all of Seoul.
Bukchon Hanok Village Walk
This is an old village with traditional houses surrounded by Gyeongbukgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace & Jongmyo Shrine. Called ‘Hanok’, these houses date back to the Joseon Dynasty. Today many of these hanoks operate as cultural centers, restaurants, tea houses & guesthouses where visitors can immerse themselves fully into the Korean culture. There are still family homes here as well, so it is important to please be respectful of the people living there. Something interesting to eat here is a rice cake snack called tteokbokki.
The best part of it, besides the obvious beauty & culture, is that it is free to visit (& come on, what’s better than free?!). We highly recommend checking it out, as it was definitely one of the highlights we saw in Seoul.
Jogyesa Buddhist Temple
This temple is the major Buddhist temple, located in the center of Seoul. Built in the late 14th century and originally called Gahkwangsa, it, like Gyeongbukgung, was destroyed by a fire. It was since rebuilt in 1910 with the help of monks and was renamed in 1954 as its name today. This temple is so important to Korean Buddhists because it is the head of the Jogye Order and serves as a venue for several Buddhist events, rituals, lectures, ceremonies and even the annual lantern festival, to celebrate Buddha’s birthday.
In 1954, a purification ritual took place, that rid the temple of all Japanese influence and turned it into the temple you see today.
This is a trendy Korean neighborhood featuring narrow alleyways, lined with teahouses, eateries, pottery shops, art shops and even a pagoda. There are over 100 galleries in the area, offering every kind of Korean fine art, including sculptures and paintings. On Saturdays & Sundays, the streets are closed to vehicles and the senses come alive with the tastes of candy, sounds of street performances and the excitement of people telling fortunes.
One of the traditional candies being sold at the various markets around the area is called Han (‘Dragon’s Beard’). Also called ‘Chinese Cotton Candy’, this sweet treat is a white sticky, stringy candy similar to cotton candy. It was initially created in China, but soon spread in popularity across other parts of Asia. We really enjoyed this candy and I ended up buying a few boxes to take home to my family. Not sure my dentist would approve, but my family and I thought it was delicious. 😉
We also ate many other things here including noodle soup, dumplings, and bulgogi beef patties … all of which we had for lunch.
As you can see below, the man in the mask is in the process of making the ‘Han’ candy. It was enjoyable and interesting to see it being made firsthand.
Noryangin Fish Market
We made our way to Noryangin Fish Market around dinner time. This is a multi-floor market serving many different and unique kinds of fish. On the first floor, you can choose fish, crab, shrimp, lobster, octopus tentacles etc. After you have your food, you can take it upstairs to the restaurant to have them cook for you. I had steamed crab, and octopus tentacles. The tentacles kept moving even after the octopus was dead, it was wild and felt tingly going down my throat. Not sure I would try it again, but it was certainly an interesting experience to say the least.
All in all, the fish market is a great spot to come for dinner, as there are so many types of fish and everything is so fresh.
After dinner we headed over to a trendy university area called Hongdae. Hongdae is a fun area filled with bars, clubs, arcades, street performers and many delicious street foods. A popular thing to do here is called Noraebang, which is similar to karaoke where you get a room with your friends (or alone) and sing your heart out. We did not do this, as our singing voices would have probably cleared out the entire country … so we’ll spare you ;), but it is regarded as a favorite pastime of many young locals.
This popular indoor food market boasts many Korean favorites such as Mungbean Pancakes, and Knife Cut noodle soup, which you may have seen from the ‘Asian Street Food’ documentary on Netflix. The lady who runs the Knife Cut noodle stand is one of the sweetest women ever and not only is her food delicious, she serves it with a smile. Even though we were so full, she kept filling our bowls with the yummy stuff, that we just couldn’t help ourselves! (She’s the woman in the pink apron below so be sure to check out the documentary if you want to see her!)
Mungbean Pancakes and Knife Cut noodles are not the only thing served here, so if that is not your jam, there should be a vast array of other things to tickle your fancy.
N. Seoul Tower
The Namsan Seoul Tower is definitely something to see as well while in Seoul. It is the second highest point in the city, standing at 774 feet. To get to the top, either choose to hike or take the cable car. Once up top, you can take the elevator even further for some incredible views of the city.
Built in 1971, this is essentially just a communications tower, providing TV & radio broadcasting signals for many popular Korean media outlets.
The second work week was spent in a city called Ansan. Like Gumi City, there was not really much sightseeing here either, but we did enjoy the food. Below are some photos of the area and more of the amazing food we ate:
Ansan Main Street
Mcdonalds (and they had mozzarella sticks!! Korean McDonalds > American McDonalds)
Traditional Japanese Sushi
Budae Jjigae (Army Stew)
Boiled Duck and Chicken
Pork Schnitzel Meal
Black Bean Noodles
Lamb Korean BBQ: Celebration with co-workers, Soju and Beer 🙂
Mom’s Touch: Bulgogi Burger
Namdaemun Market: 1st attempt
After working all week in Ansan we arrived back in Seoul Friday night. We walked to Namdaemun market. Unfortunately many of the shops were closed at that time of night. We decided to go and grab some chicken and beer near by and try again in the morning.
Namdaemun Market: 2nd attempt (success!)
The following morning we saw Namdaemun market the way we expected it to look. There were many shops selling clothes, food, souvenirs, and even knock-offs of many luxury items. While there, I decided to pick up a replica Omega watch. For a fraction (and I mean fraction) of the cost of a real Omega, I was able to get a great looking watch!
Lunch: Fugu (pufferfish)
For lunch we stopped by a restaurant specializing in Fugu. Fugu, if not prepared properly, is said to be poisonous and can kill you ( but hey, no pressure or anything!) We had this fish cooked three ways – Sushi, Fried, and my favorite, Fugu Soup … and best of all, we lived to tell about it!
Garosu-gil (Shopping Street)
After lunch and and a rest at our hotel, we headed to the Gangnam shopping area known as Garosu-gil. The area gets its name due to the gingko trees lined up along the streets. Garosu-gil is known for upscale boutiques, galleries, restaurants, cafes etc … similar to NYC’s 5th Ave or LA’s Rodeo Drive.
Lotte World Tower
Lotte World Tower is a 123-story skyscraper that is the tallest building in South Korea and 5th tallest in the world. It opened to the public in April 2017 and stands approximately 1,824 feet tall.
Gangnam Road/Party with locals
After Lotte World Tower, we headed to Gangnam Road for dinner. While eating at a Korean BBQ restaurant, a young local couple introduced themselves to us and we instantly connected. Our new friends offered to take us out on the town for a fun night, and we couldn’t pass up partying with locals. We had a great time with our new friends and hope to return the hospitality if they ever find them selves in New York.
Insa-dong Tea House
After a long night of partying, we got a late start to our day. When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, we made our way back to Insa-dong to experience a traditional Korean Tea House. There we tried various tea flavors and tea house snacks.
Korean War Museum
After Insa-dong, we made our way to the Korean War Museum. We really wanted to see the DMZ, but since it was closed, we thought the museum was a good alternate plan. The museum has an inside which tells of the history of the Korean war, as well as an outside which showed tanks, ships, aircraft, missiles etc. I normally am not a fan of museums but this one was quite interesting and informative.
Korean Jimjilbong (Sauna)
Our final stop in Korea on our last day was to go to a traditional Korean Sauna. We went to Siloam Sauna. The sauna had many floors which included a variety of rooms and activities. There was an herbal bath room which is completely nude so men and women are kept in separate areas. The bathroom had a variety of different baths, like a mud bath, a salt bath, a jade bath etc. On another floor there was a cafeteria. One floor had an arcade and even a ping pong table. Another floor had a bunch of different saunas and steam rooms. Some of the more interesting sauna rooms were a Salt Room and an Ice Room. We really enjoyed our time at the sauna. I wish they had more things like this here in the States.
I really enjoyed my time in South Korea and I hope to be back to Korea in the future with my family so I can show them what a great place it is.
Have you been to South Korea? if so, let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment.