My trip to Seoul, South Korea was a quick one. I had three nights and four full days to explore this beautiful city. Surprisingly, I left feeling like I knew it pretty well. Let me just say that nothing pleases me more than beginning a trip that is far away with a red eye direct flight. A lot of people can’t sleep on planes….I am not one of them. I flew Korean Air and it was totally awesome. The economy seats are so roomy and recline so much more than your average seat. So comfortable! I flew out of San Francisco at midnight, slept a solid nine hours, and arrived in South Korea very early in the morning. I felt so rested. I checked into the hotel, showered, and was immediately ready to begin exploring the Capital of South Korea!
What to pack?
I am from California, and women here tend to dress a bit on the sexy and casual side. I always research “proper attire” to wear before visiting a new country. What I found was Koreans cover up below their collar bone and their shoulders. It is ok to show your legs but your shoulders and chest should be covered. No cleavage. This is what is respectful to them. They dress to impress! I loved reading this and it was true. No flip flops and sweats. Everyone dresses to impress from sunrise to sunrise. Many of my photos on this trip seem to be breaking the rules. I packed additional outfits for photos or always had a sweater on me to cover up. I assure you guys, I followed the rules. Always good to be respectful when you are in another country.
What Neighborhood To Choose??
When you look at Seoul on a map, it is overwhelming to decide which area to stay in. It’s a huge city! I began to research “best neighborhoods to visit in Seoul”. What I found was a wide array of diverse neighborhoods offering everything from culture, history, shopping, food, and nightlife. I visited five different areas of the city in my four days spent here. I decided to book my hotel in the area of Itaewon. After visiting the different neighborhoods, I felt really happy that I chose this because it ended up being my favorite district. I decided on the Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel. I didn’t plan on staying at the hotel much, so I really wanted something inexpensive. The standards are so much higher in Seoul. If it says three stars, I can vouch that it is more like 4 compared to USA standards. I paid $88 per night for this room and the hotel was perfect! The ambiance and decor were very modern. The room was nice and the price was right. Yet what I found to be the best part was the location. It was located in the heart of Itaewon!
Right outside the hotel door were so many restaurants, bars, cafes, and nightclubs. Everything is walkable in this area, and having a car is just not necessary. It was the perfect area to be in after a day of sightseeing. It was lively and busy, yet somewhat smaller than the other areas I visited. It was difficult to get lost. Coming from someone who tends to loose direction in unknown places, this was a plus! This area felt very safe and I did not feel scared to walk around everywhere until the wee hours of the night. The Hamilton Hotel is also located in Itaewon, and the alley that is located behind it is filled with international cuisine. It has everything….Greek, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Pizza, and so on. In my opinion, the Korean food was the best. My favorite dinner in Itaweon at the Maple Tree House Restaurant, which served traditional Korean BBQ. Yummy! I also loved Thai Licious for when I wanted a break from traditional Korean food. The soup was seriously to die for! To be honest, I never had a bad meal in Seoul. I ate from hole in the walls to fine dining, and everything was delicious. The area of Itaewon is also filled with nightlife. This is one of the main reasons I actually chose it. I always like to choose my hotel in an area where I will like to end up spending my time at night. It really felt as though Seoul didn’t sleep. These nightclubs were thumping all night long and the streets were filled with party-goers. I only made it until 4:00am (one night), and I was blown away at how alive the city is until then. Even older people are out all night long.
Other Areas To Visit:
This trip was a business trip that I tagged along on. The first day was spent in Jongno District. This area has been the center of the city for over 600 years, and it is referred to as the face and heart of Korea, due to its important roles in politics, economics, culture, and history. The South Korean’s president resides here. I spent the day tagging along doing banking and hanging out in government buildings. Let me just say, it was a bit of an adjustment navigating around a city that doesn’t speak any English. Google Translator is an absolute must when traveling to Seoul. I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without it. It was cool to trek around this area but I was eager to explore more. The first evening was back at home in Itaewon for dinner and an early bed time. I was still a bit tired from traveling.
The “work” portion of the trip wasn’t done, and I really didn’t feel like spending another day in banks. I headed off to explore the city….all by myself. When I say this city is safe, I mean really safe. I felt completely comfortable exploring on my own. The most difficult thing was communication. So, I jumped in a cab with my camera, tripod, Google Translator App, and set off to explore a beautiful palace called Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was built in 1635, and is the largest of the five Grande Palaces. It was huge! Once upon a time it had more than 7,000 rooms. It was really cool to wander around this large property. So many visitors were dressed up to the nines in traditional Korean attire. I loved roaming around and people watching.
From there, I got back in a taxi to visit Bukchon Hanok Village. This was probably one of my favorite stops in seeing sights! It is a traditional Korean village, and sits on top of a hill. It has a beautiful view of modern Seoul, yet feels so peaceful and quiet even though you are right next to the hustle and bustle.
After two stops, I was getting hungry, so I headed over to the Myeongdong area for lunch. This area is a huge shopping district. Myeongdong was listed as the 9th most expensive shopping street in the world. The streets and alleys seemed endless, and ranged from mid to high priced retail stores. It is also filled with cosmetic shops. Korea is huge for beauty and skin care products. The one thing I loaded up on while shopping here was face masks. So many to choose from! I had lunch here and ate…what else??…Korean BBQ! I wish I knew the name of the place because it was so good! The truth is that it was a tiny hole in the wall down a random alley that lured me in with it’s loud Bob Marley tunes. Ha ha! I’m always a sucker for reggae music! The plus was my babe was done with work and we got to eat lunch together.
With a full belly, it was time to head back home to Itaewon. I had this brilliant idea to take the subway. I had read that the subway in South Korea was so easy and not intimidating at all. Well, what a sh*t show that ended up being for a first timer! I believe the subway is most likely not intimidating for those that can read and speak the Korean language. For those who don’t know the Korean alphabet, the language is incredibly intimidating. I tried the entire trip to master “please” and “thank you” with no success. Needless to say I got completely lost on the subway. Luckily we found the nicest man who spoke English and got us home. Always ask for directions. As long as you are kind to people, they are mostly likely kind in return. BTW, I feel like I would be way better at the subway on my second try. Just saying.
We headed home to rest up, as we wanted to enjoy the Itaewon nightlife this evening. It was so much fun! This area comes alive at night. There were soooooo many nightclubs and bars to choose from to do some hard core booty shaking all night long. What a blast! My favorite nightclub was Club Compton. Ha ha! You could hookah and listen to good hip hop that reminded me of home. Most places that I went to played all American music.
Today I got to spend the entire day sightseeing with my babe. He was stuck on exercising, and I was stuck on sightseeing. We decided to head up to the Namsan Seoul Tower. This a a place that is very special for couples, as you can lock a padlock of love onto the railing that overlooks the most beautiful view of Seoul It is actually the second highest view in Seoul! We got dropped off in a cab at the bottom of the hill. You have to walk literally straight up for about 20 mins to get to the tower. Exercise mixed with sightseeing. Winning! We had purchased a lock from a hardware store before heading up, but found there were stores selling them near the tower. Once at the top, you can eat, have cocktails, and soak in the most incredible views. After a little vino, we locked our love in at the Namsan Seoul Tower. It was super cute and romantic….an absolute must for couples or those who love photography. Definitely my favorite thing I did in Seoul!!!
For our last night out, we decided to go to the Hongdae District. This is the University area of Seoul. The nightlife here was crazy…in a good way! So many bars and nightclubs filled with college students partying the night away. It was like Itaewon, but felt 20 times as big. With all of this crazy nightlife, I never once saw anyone out of control. No one was acting stupid or overly drunk. Just such a good vibe everywhere you go. This was the night I stayed out until 4:00am, and you would have thought the night was just getting started when I headed back to the hotel for bed. People were still standing in line at 4:00am to get into clubs and the streets were absolutely packed! We ended our night (or began our morning I should say) with eating pizza with two Korean guys at 4:00am. We got lucky…they spoke English! They were so cool and it was an awesome ending to our trip to have a meal with locals….at 4:00am. LOL
Being I went to bed so late, I spent the final day sleeping and relaxing until it was time to go to the airport. I was fine with wasting the last day in bed, because partying in Seoul at night was just as much of an experience as seeing it in the day.
All in all, my write up of Seoul is that it is a clean, safe, beautiful, modern city that doesn’t sleep. Oh, and has amazing food, shopping, nightlife, and sweet people! I am always so focused on being next to a beach when I travel, that it really surprised me how much I enjoyed a “city” vacation. Two thumbs up!