MY first trip to Korea was on my birthday in 2014. I stayed in a very affordable hostel in the Itaewon neighborhood, famed as the “international neighborhood” of Seoul. People and cuisine from all over the world can be found in this area and, as you would expect, prices of food and commodities in this place could be pricey considering it is quite touristy. I had a great time in Seoul travelling by myself as I usually do on my birthday month and when I left, I felt like I’ve seen, eaten, and done enough there. Or so I thought…
This year, I really didn’t get the chance to plan my birthday trip as I was busy planning for a trip to India on Holy Week. So as soon as I got back from that awesome trip, and with only barely a week before my birthday, I came across a seat sale to Incheon while looking at tickets for a trip to Manila. I checked the weather and when I saw it was still going to be cold, the choice was clear.
This time around, I chose to stay in Sinchon, a young, vibrant, artsy neighborhood of university students and young Korean locals where the food is good, the beer is cheap, and shopping is everywhere! Now this was my kind of place! I didn’t really plan to do anything in particular. I just wanted to hang out, wander, and chill all by my self.
I stayed in a hostel called Room in Korea. Although it wasn’t exactly super close to the subway (considering I was limping from a foot injury), I didn’t mind the 6-minute walk as stated in the booking website (15 minutes for me) since there’s so much to do and see along the way. I paid only P880 per night for a small private room with a fridge, a private bathroom, and a personal wifi router with speeds averaging 50mbps! Super fast internet speeds in Korea is not a myth by the way. It’s true!
Also, the hostel had pocket wifi for rent at about P200 per day (not bad!) with speeds averaging 25mbps so it was easy to navigate. And since it wasn’t my first time there, I felt like I somehow knew my way around already, going back to my favorite places like the Gwangjang Market and knowing exactly what to eat and buy this time around. And because I had internet, I got to take the bus more than the subway and got to see so much more of this beautiful and vibrant city this time around.
Here are a few tips on where to go and what to do on your first time in Seoul:
1. Shop (for cosmetics) and eat around Myeongdong, the most popular tourist destination in Seoul. While you’re there, go and visit the magnificent Myeongdong Cathedral.
2. Visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace and take the free tour from volunteer Korean students. They are just so adorable and probably as efficient as the adult tour guides. Go on a Sunday. Most Koreans come in their traditional dress and they don’t mind taking a selfie with you.
3. Get lost at the Gwangjang Market and eat to your heart’s content. Here you can also find Hanboks, the Korean’s traditional dress and some really comfortable blankets and comforters in a myriad of beautiful designs and really good quality fabric.
4. Try the authentic Bibimbap. Anywhere is good. I suggest getting the one with beef and wild mushrooms. TDF!
5. Try the many delicious Korean street food! The Teokbokki is their favorite, white rice cakes in spicy red sauce. I like snacking on the Odeng (fish cakes on long bamboo sticks) dipped in hot broth, perfect for the cold weather. Feel free to refill your cups with soup. It’s free.
6. Walk on the Chyeonggyecheon Stream towards sunset so you get to see it in daylight and at night. Take your time if you can. It’s a nice, scenic walk.
7. Go around Itaewon and have some delicious Halal food. I usually have lamb and chicken over rice. Some of the best clubs and bars are also in this area. If you like an international crowd, this place is for you.
8. Eat at least once at their McDonalds! I always do wherever I go. I love trying out their local menu.
9. Eat Korean chicken and drink some ice-cold beer with it. They have boneless thighs almost everywhere and they have many delicious flavors to choose from. Remember, you can get a combination plate, so ask!
10 Visit the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. There’s a lot of shopping around, too, mostly clothes. This is the place for night shopping.
11. Go crazy at the Namdaemun Market. They have just about everything. This is a daytime market so it closes at sundown.
12. Walk around Sinchon and immerse yourself in the young, energetic vibe of the area. Many street performances happen every night, bazaars on the weekends, and bars, clubs, and pubs are all over the place. Eat. Food is good and is cheaper in this area.
13. Take the DMZ tour and hear the true stories of Korean families separated by war. Have a glimpse of North Korea and literally find yourself at the very border of the two countries.
There are so many things to do, so many food to eat, and so many places to see in Seoul. It really depends on what you’d want to do. There’s Everland, Nami Island and Petit France, Lotte World, and so much more. And it’s a completely different experience to go in the winter with all the snow. Hmmm… I might actually consider that on my next trip.