here’s the final part of my trip to south korea! we’ve finally made it to the capital, seoul!
most of our time here was spent eating and shopping so let me apologise in advance if this post isn’t as culture/history-based as the other two! (having said that, couldn’t it be argued that food is the very essence of south korean culture?)
we started our stay with a rather emotionally heavy trip to the war and women’s human rights museum. this is dedicated to all the victims of sexual slavery during the asia-pacific war and you see first-hand accounts of their suffering at the hands of japanese soldiers.
the beginning of the museum is art-centric and conveys the emotional space of trauma and oppression but the first floor contains historical documentation and artefacts. one of the most shocking items was a condom marked with “assault no.1”.
this museum is honestly so important because the tragic stories of “comfort women”, as they’re euphemistically known, are often overlooked or eradicated in world history. even though your visit may be an emotionally exhausting experience, you’ll learn so much and develop such a profound level of respect and empathy for these brave halmonis.
after such an intense morning, we decided we’d take it easier for the afternoon so we made our way to the hongdae area to check out the shopping scene. we stumbled upon nunc (south korea’s answer to superdrug) where you can find a bunch of affordable skincare products. (i’m talking 10 sheet masks for £7!)
we went to café machimnae to refuel and had some iced coffee and patbingsu. although the patbingsu was nice and a great way to cool down in 30 degree heat, the one in gamcheon culture village in busan slightly edged it out for me.
we then went to the hongdae free market which is home to dozens of independent traders and artists. all the stalls had adorable wares and if only i had a little more disposable income, i would have definitely walked away with some of the jewellery. it’s only held on saturdays though so be sure to stop by if your schedule aligns!
after getting through shopping quicker than we’d anticipated, we found ourselves with oodles of time to spare so we decided to go to bukchon hanok village. i’d really recommend walking down as many of the side streets and alleyways as possible since it’s all the nooks and crannies that really make for perfect photographs.
the central street was teeming with people by the time we got there so we skipped it and headed to the viewpoint instead. we were informed later on that the best time to visit is early in the morning before the tourist rush but we decided against going back on another day in favour of exploring other parts of seoul instead.
before we left, we had some incredible fresh watermelon from a street vendor.
our next stop was gwangjang market and we had a little peruse through the vintage section before heading to the street food stalls. we decided to try some more traditional korean dishes, this time settling on jokbal (pig’s trotter), which i found disturbingly gelatinous, and japchae (stir fried glass noodles with veg) which was just so moreish!
we took an evening stroll by cheonggyecheon stream and walked over to dongdaemun design plaza where we took some photos of the interesting sculptural architecture.
we watched the sun set over the urban landscape and then started to make our way back to our hotel.
on our way, we stumbled upon a fashion show which made for a fun and unexpected end to our day!
we started off at the national museum of korea since it was fairly close to our hotel. as with most national museums, it’s a great way to take a whistle stop tour through all of the country’s history. the yongsan park area is actually a lovely place to spend a good half day as it also houses the national hangeul museum and is a stone’s throw away from the war memorial of korea but unfortunately we didn’t have time to check out those two.
our next destination was the shopping hotspot of gangnam underground shopping centre. it’s filled with clothing and accessory stores that are mainly geared towards young women but they weren’t really my style. think pastel blouses, cutesy dresses, pleated mini skirts, and alice bands. prices were reasonable though so if that is up your street, shop away to your heart’s content!
we found a restaurant in the area that serves samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) which my mum was really intent on trying since she’d heard rave reviews from both my auntie and chinese travel shows. the soup was amazing and in another instance of korean portions being absurd, soup for two contained two whole chickens!
our next stop was n seoul tower and we decided to take the walking trail up namsan to get to it. it was a fairly easy walk seeing as it was mainly stairs and paved pathways but it was a little longer than we’d expected it to be. the view at the top of the mountain, and thus the base of n seoul tower, was beautiful but we decided against going up to the observation deck as we thought the vantage point wouldn’t be much better and we’d also have reflections from the glass to contend with.
we took the bus back down the mountain and decided to go to hangang to watch the sunset. we ended up on the riverbank next to mapo bridge soaking in a stunning view – i really don’t think i’ve ever seen sunsets as dazzling as the ones i saw in seoul. the sky was awash with soft pinks and lilacs and when darkness set in and all the city lights turned on, the night skyline was mesmerising.
we decided on spending our morning at gyeongbokgung and we timed our visit to coincide with the ceremony for the changing of the royal guard. we gotta get in our cultural activities! the buildings within the palace complex were splendid but you can’t actually enter any of them and very few have anything by way of display items. the experience is more that of exploring the palace grounds so don’t expect an in-depth tour of its interior like you might get when visiting european palaces.
we then went to ikseon-dong hanok village which is a cute little neighbourhood with a range of independent businesses. there are boutiques selling artisanal souvenirs or high-end clothing and there are clusters of quaint cafés and modern restaurants. we stopped off in one of the cafés for some iced tea and pastries to recharge and cool down (it was absolutely roasting that day).
on our way out of the village, we picked up some purple berry ice cream from ikseon toro. it’s a flavour i’ve never tried before but it was divine! also extra brownie points for it being super aesthetically pleasing.
we headed to seoul plaza to take some photos by the city hall and the i seoul u sign before making our way to another photo hotspot, the deoksugung stonewall walkway.
if we had had more time, we would have paid a visit to deoksugung as well but we figured with our tight schedule, one palace would have to suffice.
we went back to hongdae for more shopping – i picked up a bucket hat to finish off the hypebeast fit of my dreams – and we revisited nunc to buy hundreds of sheet masks and yet more skincare products. (after one month of using various lotions and potions, i can now safely say that my skin is unreal levels of clear. it’s also just so smooth and soft??)
for dinner, we had chimaek (fried chicken and beer) at noo na hol dak and it was next level deliciousness. oh. my. god. you’d expect a whole plate of fried chicken to be greasy and heavy but it wasn’t? despite being generously coated in glaze and seasoning, the chicken was still crispy and yet also tender and juicy. magic, i tell you.
our evening was spent chasing yet another sunset and this time, we found ourselves at the banpo bridge rainbow fountain. it’s the world’s longest bridge fountain but what makes it truly spectacular is the light show that happens every night. if you find a good angle to sit at (i recommend as far to the right of the bridge as possible), you’ll experience the full majesty of a rainbow waterfall. it really is a breathtaking sight.
for our final day in seoul, we tied up all of our loose ends.
we went to seoullo 7017 which is a park built on a former highway overpass in the centre of seoul. it has over 24,000 plants ranging over 200 species and i imagine in milder weather, the greenery would look fantastic but whilst we were there, most of the flowers and foliage were completely fried by the heat so it was looking a little sparse.
we walked by sungnyemun (the great south gate) and namdaemun market on our way to our lunch spot, jeonju yuhalmeoni bibimbap! there isn’t much by way of choice on the menu but let’s face it, everyone goes there for one thing, the famous bibimbap!
it’s a traditional jeonju bibimbap (jeonju is widely known as the home of the bibimbap) and it honestly blew me away. i like to think i’m a bit of a bibimbap connoisseur as it’s my go-to dish in any non-bbq korean restaurant but this one was honestly incomparable!
we decided to go back to ikseon-dong to visit tteuran, a traditional teahouse, since it was closed when we tried to go the previous day. we passed by bosingak belfry and heunginjimun (the great east gate) on the way.
tteuran was absolutely delightful and fulfilled all of our korean teahouse fantasies with their wide array of aromatic teas and homemade confectionary. we also managed to nab one of their window seats so we had a lovely view of their garden as we enjoyed our teas. we chose omija tea and lemon tea, both taken cold with ice, which proved to be a gloriously refreshing summer treat.
on our way out of ikseon-dong, we got some pumpkin flavoured tofu ice cream from 순두부청년 which was exquisite! it had the silky smooth texture of tofu and a subtle but fragrant flavour.
we then went to the shopping alley in edae (near ewha woman’s university) since i felt like i hadn’t reached my full shopping potential in gangnam or hongdae and let me just say, it was an inspired choice. everything was cheaper than what we’d seen in the rest of seoul and most of the shops were right up my alley. there were a lot of cool streetwear items and most of the women’s clothing was cute oversized pieces. i ended up buying a bunch of blouses and t-shirts which will let me live out my soft korean girl aesthetic as well as my hypebeast flex aesthetic (i hate myself for saying that too, don’t worry). i also bought two lipsticks from la neige that i can’t wait to try out!
we went to lotte mart to get some foodie souvenirs and ended up with a huge box of korean snacks and multiple packs of tea that we had to haul back to our hotel.
we decided on getting dinner in our vicinity and managed to tick the last thing off our korean foods list, ramen! it was a delicious final meal and it felt like such a neat way to round off our trip.
so that’s the end of my south korean adventure!
i really did have the best time out there and this trip definitely solidified my desire to move there in the future. i can’t wait to go back and eat my way through more iconic food; buy more sick streetwear; and finally see all the art galleries and museums i didn’t have the chance to visit this time round. the future is bright, folks!
p.s. i’ve actually already started the process for finding/applying for jobs and have an interview for my teaching application next week! wish me luck!