Grand plans of spending two weeks exploring South Korea quickly became spending two weeks entirely in Seoul… for all the right reasons.
Things didn’t start off perfectly in Seoul. We were expecting Japanese efficiency and Taiwanese friendliness but we got quite the opposite. From the moment we entered the airport, every sign and map we looked at seemed to be mind-bogglingly confusing, instead of polite queuing we were met with elbowing and barging, and our first contact with locals was being greeted by an extremely sarcastic Korean woman shouting ‘Hello hello, America!’ (And, don’t get me started on the price of SIM cards!) Long story short, we almost had a melt-down before we even left the airport. However, once we hit the city centre, all was forgiven.
We stayed in Hongdae which is a popular student area wedged between a couple of universities. It’s full of young people, boutique shops and delicious street food. (And, for some unknown reason, it’s also full of shops selling socks, thousands and thousands of socks.) My favourite thing about the area, though, was the architecture. Mismatched buildings seem to be piled on top of each other with quirky outdoor staircases climbing onto the street. It’s by no means messy, if that’s the picture that I’m painting, it’s more like hipsters were set loose with life-sized lego bricks.
‘Stylish architecture and mountains of socks are not good enough reasons not to explore the rest of the country!’ I hear you say. That’s true. So, here are some other reasons for staying two whole weeks in Seoul:
1. Getting around the city is easy.
All you need is a ‘T-money card’ (which is all the better for the name) and you can hop on pretty much any bus or train. These can be bought in most convenience shops.
2. South Korea is really bloody cold.
Seoul is freezing, but everywhere else that we wanted to go in South Korea was frickin’ freezing. We decided to play it safe by staying in the lesser of two evils.
3. Under-floor heating.
Speaking of cold weather, the heating in Seoul was on point! This may well have been country-wide but we’ll never know…
4. All of the food, all of the food! (See: All of the Lights, Kanye West)
Among other things, Korean BBQ, a cheesy chicken dish called Dakgalbi, classic Kimchi, surprisingly spicy Bulgogi and handmade donut-type-things in markets were a firm favourite. And in terms of drinks, Soju (alcoholic) and Oeda (tea) were great.
5. The old people are feisty!
The old people in Seoul are like no others! They are tough, pushy and brutal. They will literally run you over with their granny trolleys and push you out of the way to get the best seat on the train. (I still don’t understand what the ‘best’ seat is but people are constantly shifting around to get it.) At first, this was a little overwhelming but after a few days, this became another quirky part of Seoul that amused both locals and foreigners.
6. The Koreans are entertaining.
One thing we found in Japan was that there was very little ‘people watching’, doors were closed, things were kept private. This is not the case in Seoul! People are loud and open with no real worries about what people think. This was incredible refreshing and even more entertaining. Every walk around the city or trip on a train came with unashamed people entertainment. For example, the man timing his train journey on two different wristwatches, the couple playfully fighting over a foot-tall ice-cream only to drop it, and the guy who only spoke English with rapping rhythm.
7. The fashion.
I am by no means fashionable. (You will see me repeatedly wearing a t-shirt covered in banana cartoons on my travels.) However, Seoul is filled with so many cool boutiques, as well as big fashion stores, that it’s difficult not to buy some nice clothing. Believe me, I tried.
As a dog-lover (dog-enthusiast, dog-obsessive, whatever you want to call it) I like places approximately 300% more if there are dogs there. There were a fair few doggie-owners in Seoul but the best places to make canine friends were the Dog Cafés. There were special rooms for small dogs, big dogs and occasionally raccoons (who seemed to think they were dogs). I don’t want to risk starting a fight but… they were better than the animal cafés in Japan!
9. Useless stuff that you need in your life.
I keep denying that I like shopping but maybe it’s time to admit defeat… I loved shopping in Seoul. There were so many shops full of amazing stuff: Art Box, Flying Tiger, Shoopen, etc. Christmas presents, sorted! (As well as many presents to myself…)
There really are thousands of socks in Seoul… it’s worth going just for that.