Seoul, South Korea, is one of the most underrated places to visit. I highly recommend you visit this vibrant, animated “city of the future.”
Although I visited Seoul in November and froze the entirety of my trip, the charisma, food and action of the city confirmed my love of the city. I stayed in the Jongno District, more so known as the “palace district,” in a traditional hanuk. A hanuk is a type of wooden housing with heated flooring. It makes sleeping on the ground a sanctuary!
Located in Jongno is Insa-dong Street, where the casual tourist can find all sorts of knickknacks to bring home. Additionally, I visited the Changdeok-gung Palace just a skip away, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace’s architecture is similar to traditional architecture in China, and the grounds are huge, boasting a large garden and many, many ornate, colorful buildings.
Near the palace we stumbled into a small art gallery, featuring Warhols and other modern art. The owner graciously invited us in for coffee and fruit, and helped us learn a few Korean words.
I also went to the COEX mall in Samsung-dong. This mall is a huge maze with many shops and cute little restaurants – some well-hidden – as well as an interactive map and a stage for performances.
I couldn't believe how futuristic this mall is, and I imagined that every mall in every major city would eventually emulate this grand shopping center. I had some particularly delicious bim bop in the mall, which I could not stop eating in Seoul! For about $4 USD, you can enjoy a fresh, delicious meal. During my experience, restaurant owners were particularly friendly, and even offered us complimentary soju.
The subway system in Seoul is relatively navigable. Although I don’t speak a word of Korean, I was able to traverse a majority of the city. Most Koreans do not speak English, especially taxi drivers.
Finally, if you go to Seoul, you must go to the DMZ. You can arrange this through the USO, but it must be planned in advance. The tour includes the bus ride, a gander within the DMZ museum, and finally, the chilling North Korean border.
Although there is nothing in particular to see, except the museum and the hardened North Korean soldiers, it is a memorable experience and provides quite the context of North Korean-South Korean relations. We even had the opportunity to crawl in the underground tunnels North Korean soldiers dug that supposedly end up in the heart of Seoul for a planned ambush.
Seoul is hands-down one of my favorite cities in the world. If I have the opportunity, I will definitely visit again.