If Japan is the Land of the Rising Sun, then Korea was nicknamed as the Land of the Morning Calm. Seriously, these things are a mouthful.
Having been to Tokyo last April followed by a 10-day excursion around Seoul the following week, I can see the major differences between both cities.
For one, the latter is not as chaotic as Japan’s capital and has a thriving coffee shop scene.
Actually having wanted to go here since I was a kid, it was quite surprising to find myself exploring almost every inch of the city as much as I could. Although it was a little more difficult to get around without knowing the local language, plenty of Koreans do understand basic English and would still be willing to help you out.
Another thing you’ll notice between Tokyo and Seoul is the language barrier. Similarity? Willingness to help tourists.
If you go here around May, I can safely tell you it would be insanely hot around the earlier weeks. My relatives and I went here at the end April with our luggage full of coats before quickly discarding them only a few days later because the weather was around 30 degrees already (we stayed until mid-May).
So, I don’t want to delay you any longer — by 200 words, to be exact — and so, without any further (annoying) ado, here’s my bucket list!
#1. Have shaved ice flavoured Tiramisu with a cafe au lait by your side
If there’s anything that deserves the top spot of this bucket list, it’s one of Korea’s most beloved desserts! I recommend heading over to Gangnam and trying out a random coffee shop which advertises this. But if that isn’t your thing, here are 9 pretty cool places to get them.
Recommended Reads: Top 10 Korean dessert spots I’m dying to try! – Eat With Hop
#2. Eat Avocado salad (or toast) at Bad Farmers
It’s no secret that there are days when I actually crave for some healthy stuff in my system (Burger Kind would be ashamed). And so, after drowning myself in Korean food for the past week, I headed to Bad Farmers at the Gangnam-gu area to have a real taste of some pretty good greens.
Safe to say, a whole lot of people would agree with me when it comes to Bad Farmers.
#3. Try real, spicy, Korean kimchi
People will tell you how spicy kimchi can be when in South Korea. And yeah, okay, it might not be as spicy as Bangkok’s…But believe me when I say, it’s really spicy. Even when you order the non-spicy version.
So much spicy in one sentence. Oh my.
#4. Swallow the feet of a live Octopus at the Noryangjin Fish Market!
When you start to feel its small tentacles down your throat and actually laugh when the sensation slowly disappears, that’s when you know you’ve just eaten a live Octopus. Yep.
For many Koreans, it’s called “healthy” to eat a bit of live seafood because of the nutrients they provide and before contamination hits you in the face. And apparently, there’s no better place to start than the Noryangjin Fish Market.
#5. Give 35cm ice cream a go
If there’s one thing we can all regret in life, it’s not getting the chance to try Seoul’s immediate soft-serve, 35cm (in length), where people line up the small alleys in Myeong-dong to get a whiff of its vanilla chocolate smell.
#6. Have lobster and steak at Myeong-dong’s nightly street market
Having spent more than a week in Seoul and in particular, staying at the Myeong-dong area, I can now honestly tell you: the lines leading up to the lobster and the steak at its opposite stall, is totally worth it.
Be sure to get there at around 6:00PM as the line gets significantly longer around 7 or so.
#7. Make a day trip to Everland
Located at the outskirts of Seoul, Everland is a world and adventure filled theme park for young adults. No, really. For every section of the entire place, you’ll have areas which are European, African, Asian, and American-themed with each ride corresponding to said guide (see photo above).
We spent half a day here and felt like it wasn’t enough to go around! Certainly, you should get to try the mini-safari ride, rollercoasters, and petting zoo.
#8. Try all the rides at the Africa-section of the theme park
As I just told you, we didn’t get to spend an entire day in Everland. Which is why with my fake Sherlock-like skills of deduction, I pulled (okay, forced) my cousins to go with me and ride rollercoasters, electronic elephants, and ate my way through tons of sweets.
Another idea? Try the 3D rides in either the African-theme of the park or South America one. It’s beyond cool. And a bit scary.
#9. Watch the afternoon and night parade
Everyday between 10:30AM and 3:00PM, there’s a parade on all corners of the amusement park while each of the four different shows can be brought together in the centre. Okay, honestly…That might not make it so much sense.
But picture this: From whatever part you are in the park, you can walk all the way to the middle of everything where the final show stops and makes a quick exit.
#10. Bask in the beauty of the “countryside” along the way
If you’ve ever had the liberty of exploring the countryside of any country, you’d know you’ll be greeted with one of the most beautiful landscapes you’ll ever have. With Seoul, you’ll be greeted with mountains, a lake (or was it river?), and scenery made for Korean telenovelas.
#11. Buy real Ginseng tea or candy
My grandfather can be a little crazy but he was right when he started trusting the Korean’s national remedy: Ginseng. If you’re one of those people who has ever wondered why the people living here look insanely young, beautiful, and have a long life… Then, dude, Ginseng.
#12. Take a ferry to Nami Island
Absolutely one of the best moments of my trip here at Seoul involves Nami Island (also known as: Namiseom)! From the port of the city, you can take a bike ride around here, go on a short tour, and visit small museums – like the one for music, nature, and Korea.
#13. Watch the changing of guards ceremony at Gyeongbokgung Palace
Hey, if it’s any consolation, it would be an entertaining 10 minutes of your life. Plus points if you’re interested in watching tv show dramas spanning years and centuries across Asia.
#14. Check out all the historical (fiction or otherwise) Korean drama site locations
There are five palaces scattered all over Seoul and many more so around the country. As I mentioned above, if you’re seriously interested in Korean historical fiction series — which aren’t half bad, mind you — then going on site to these locations would be your cup of tea (sorry for the cliche).
Most of the shooting locations for their famous dramas are also within the city’s boundaries. Just sayin’
#15. Visit an exhibit at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
Going to DDP had been on top of my to-d0-list whilst in Seoul for some time now. Fortunately, during our first free day in the city, I decided to make the one-station metro stop to go here and visit the Pixar Exhibit.
Honestly, don’t go here if there isn’t any exhibition going on as there’s usually nothing else to see, save for the quirky designs brought to you by local artists displayed in one part of the plaza.
#16. Rent a traditional Hanbok and parade around the streets of Seoul
THIS. Jeezus, I can’t believe how fun this would actually be.
In fact, I was pretty skeptical about wearing a Hanbok around the city but when I saw women (and men) strutting their way around shopping centres near Gyeongbokgung Palace, I knew I had to at least try it.
Since this is a popular tourist stop in Seoul, you’d be surprised at the amount of shops containing free photo-ops and make-up sessions around whatever area you want to go to. True story, pal.
#17. Ask a few locals to take photos of you with the palace guards
Contrary to popular belief, the palace guards are extremely friendly and will smile in front of the camera (here’s looking at you, Buckingham).
#18. Visit Le Petite France and have coffee there
An hour and a half’s drive to the mountainous province, Gapyeong, you’ll be greeted with Le Petite France. A rendition between Colmar and Strasbourg, on top of a small mountain while overlooking plenty of lakes along the way back to the city.
#19. Attend a live recording of a televised Korean Pop Concert
For all my Korean-addicted, fun-loving music friends out there — you can actually watch your favourite boy or girl group get together and record their own concert before your very eyes. Although I’m not 100% positive of the price you have to shell out (still depends on the group), it’s fun to watch and get your eyes glued to the real thing instead of the TV.
#20. Get your adrenaline rush at the largest indoor amusement park, Lotte World
If you couldn’t squeeze time for the drive to Everland, Seoul’s got you covered. You can visit their (only) indoor amusement park called Lotte World right near the centre of the city. Have a blast trying on rides, experiencing snow indoors, and taking photos at the hundreds of booths along the way.
#21. Go crazy over skincare and beauty products at Myeong-Dong
For anyone who has ever wanted that Korean glow (you know the ones), Myeong-dong would be your best bet for all the crazy skincare and beauty products scattered everywhere on the streets.
Our tour guide explained how each brand would have their own distinctive level set or target market. So, everyone knows which company’s product would automatically work for them. Case in point, Etude is actually for girls aged 13-18 while Face Shop is for women between 24-32 years old.
#22. Have a Korean saleslady do your make-up for the day (or night)
Surprisingly, many of them actually do this for free. Yep, you read that right. Because competition is stiff out in the bid, bad world, many companies train their sales associates to teach you all about using their make-up and can actually put everything for you within a decent hour.
It honestly helped me when we decided to eat at some fancy restaurant. Ha.
#23. Book an appointment for an exclusive Korean massage
Okay, I admit to the crime — I booked myself a massage. A really good one too. On our last free day in the city, I decided the best way to spend it would be to relax.
Spoiler alert: I went with Lush Cosmetics’ special massage because I couldn’t resist. BUT to be fair, many other companies offer this especially when you live in Myeong-dong. They tend to insist you try it for a really good price.
#24. Spend a day of intense therapeutic body scrubs at a Korean sauna
When I was 14, I loved watching Korean telenovelas with my Mom late into the school night. In about 7 out of 10 in these shows, some guy would be ranting to his friend about his current love problems while inside the sauna.
It became such a common occurrence for me, to the point I was not fazed when our tour guide asked us if we wanted to try one of their famous saunas. And believe me, my friend, it’s one of the most relaxing things you’ll ever do. Plus, maybe get a chance to catch up on gossip.
Just don’t sleep while you’re in there, okay?
#25. Participate in a street performance at Hongdae
Every Spring or Autumn, Hongdae would host a festival of the masks where tourists and locals alike have the opportunity to participate in one of the dances. It’s equally amusing and scary to be on stage with your closest relatives cheering you on.
#26. Drink cheap soju in either a convenience store or karaoke bar
Okay, okay…This may or may not be one of your brightest ideas. But hear me out: cheap soju is delicious. In fact, I’ll raise you another and say, staring out of the convenience store window as cars pass you by, discussing about the philosophies of life….Yeah, that’s got to be in your bucket list.
Or, well ya know, you can always go karaoke.
#27. Get cultured with traditional dances and festivities during the year
Colour me surprised when I read on the Internet the different festivals all over Seoul in every of the four seasons. In fact, each area of the city would celebrate the festivities with you differently and would make you feel incredibly cheerful before you take the plane home.
#28. Participate in a kimchi making session
If you love food as much as I, trying your hand at a kimchi making session will be the highlight of your day. Or, well, afterwards.
During the class, they’ll explain to you why Koreans love their traditional dish so much, and how it can benefit your health. The teacher should be able to demonstrate how to create the different variety of kimchi and then later, have you taste them.
I expect nothing less.
#29. Go crazy over the shopping sale and arguably, cheaper prices
As a gadget freak (admittedly), I’ve been wanting to go to Seoul for the purpose of spoiling myself rotten. Unfortunately, because Samsung has become the powerhouse that it is, many of their electronics are more expensive than the clothes. And believe me, the beauty products are crazy cheap too!
If shopping is your thing, I can now say, you should head on over to this part of Asia.
#30. Explore the Gangnam area at night
And no, I do not mean Psy who danced to the beat of Gangnam style. Actually, the entire song was named after this popular area in Seoul where tons of students and young professionals like hanging out in. Here you’ll find a wide array of restaurants, coffee hunts, bars, shops, and even botox clinics (if that’s your thing).
At night, plenty of people flock to this side of town as there’s always street performers, shows, and concerts going on here. It also helps that you’re in this part of the Han River where many locals live.
Okay, let’s round it up buddy.
A lot of tourists and foreigners I’ve met always compare Seoul to Tokyo. Personally, I think they’re two completely different cities with people whom you either love or hate (both sides).
I loved hanging out here and found myself crazy over the shopping adventures — my wallet will disagree with you — whilst also having the chance to learn more about the Korean culture that’s so ebbed in Filipinos’ lives.
Most of what you’ll gather in Seoul are experiences for your skin, hair, and wellness. They’re very into figuring out how to stay healthy, live a very good life, and to continue learning about the different treatments. Maybe that’s why women from all over the world are envious of their skin. Hmmm.
What about you? Having read the whole bucket list (god, I hope you did), what’s your take on Seoul? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear back from you!