We fell head-over-heels in love with Seoul.
We were so unprepared and without expectations.
The three main things that lead us to South Korea were:
1 – a Netflix documentary film called Twinsters about identical twins separated at birth who are reunited and travel to South Korea where they were born, in search of their birth mother.
2 – Two of the friendliest and sweetest girls who happened to pop into our guesthouse in Sikkim in India. They were Korean.
3 – Flights from Japan were £35 each
Of course these thing merely piqued our interest and lead us to research further into what seemed to be an interesting and very different place to visit.
The three weeks before arriving in South Korea had been spent in Japan. It had been amazing, but we were exhausted. Two days here, three days there. We did a lot of travelling and a lot of planning and aside from the fact that this left us with hardly any time to do much research for our trip to Korea, we were quite happy to just get there and go with the flow for a couple of weeks. We knew a few things we wanted to do and booked 5 nights in an air b’n’b in Seoul. Little did we know, we would end up extending that to the entire two weeks.
We had some trouble finding our apartment at first and google maps kept pointing us in the direction of a “Korean Traditional Exorcist”. After going round in circles for a while a helpful lady with incredible shoes confirmed that yes, we were staying in the exorcist place.
Our host and her partner spoke no English whatsoever, but were quite adorably lovely. Through the use of google translate (which can be hilarious) and the emojis that come with Line, we were just about able to communicate. Although we had just booked a private room, we had the entire apartment to ourselves most of the time. Our host, her mother and a few others came to the apartment regularly to use the prayer room and to prepare and set out offerings to Buddha. The gentle sounds of them chanting could be heard through the wall and on several occasions, our host and her partner went into the prayer room and emerged wearing traditional Korean dress which was a real treat!
Our first few days in Seoul were electric. We had arrived in time for the annual Seoul Street Art Festival (previously called Hi Seoul), which takes place in October and the streets were just bursting with culture, colour and sound. Live musical performances, art installations, circus performances. Everywhere we turned there was something to be amazed by.
By some unreal coincidence, we arrived the day before Seoul’s annual vegan festival. When we got there, we were just bowled over by not only how many stalls there were, but by how many people had turned up to eat delicious food and buy all manner of earth-friendly treats. We tried all kinds of scrumptious food, perused all sorts of recycled this and hand-made that. It was just a bloody great day.
By some other truly fantastic coincidence, we discovered that less than 30 seconds from where we were staying was a vegan bakery called Bread Blue. Not just any vegan bakery though. In our opinion, this is one of the best vegan bakeries IN THE WORLD. When we first walked in and laid our eyes upon the rows of breads, buns, pastries, cookies, cream cakes….oh my, I think we both started to shake.
We visited Bread Blue pretty much every day and as if our life had just become one big long dream, every time we bought something, we were given something else completely free. Occasionally if we were in there for a while, the owner would just bring us over something else to eat. A vegan ham and cheese toasty? Sure, I’ll take that! There are two branches of Bread Blue in Seoul and we pigged out at both. Highly recommend this.
By yet another coincidence, our friend Samer was gigging in Japan with Elle Exxe at Seoul’s Zandari Festival. Samer kindly got us some passes and we were able to watch a load of awesome live music.
We first met our wonderful friend Jen just outside of Hakone in Japan. We were all staying at the same super cool guesthouse at the top of a crazy steep hill. We kept in touch and planned to meet up in Seoul, where Jen lives. It was so lovely to spend the day together, seeing some of Jen’s favourite parts of the city and just getting to know her a little better.
Jen took us to some really cool bookshops and showed us around the infamous neighbourhood of Gangnam. She also took us to try some traditional Korean shaved ice dessert which was yummy. Jen also kindly put together a list of food for us to try that was vegan-friendly which was really useful for eating out. Her Korean translations came in particularly handy at what became our regular sushi joint.
There was a great supermarket round the corner from where we were staying and a nice little kitchen in our apartment, so we cooked almost every night. We did however eat some great meals out. I’ll stick our foodie finds in another blog post soon so this blog post doesn’t become too epic.
We spent the rest of our time exploring just some of Seoul’s incedible tourist attractions. There are plenty more we still need to see. Guess we’ll have to go back. OH WELL.
The Cultural Centre – Insadong
While out exploring Insadong one night, we were beckoned into a live performance of traditional Korean music inside the Insadong Cultural Centre. The performance was absolutely magnificent. Beautiful, delicate singing, unlike anything we’d ever really heard before and gorgeous costumes. Would definitely recommend popping in if you’re in the area to find out about performances.
King Sejong Museum
We stumbled upon The Story of King Sejong exhibition after we followed a set of stairs behind the King Sejong statue on Gwanghwamun Square. Up until this point we were totally ignorant about the feats of this great folk hero. However we left with a newfound knowledge on the subject!
King Sejong was and still is heavily revered by Koreans for his many achievements during his rule as king of the Joseon dynasty in the 15th century. His is particularly famous for his creation of the Korean alphabet, Han’gul which truly liberated the masses at the time. Up until the formation of this alphabet, reading and writing had been exclusively for noblemen as everything was written using the Chinese alphabet, which only they had the privilege of learning and understanding. King Sejong commissioned a phonetic alphabet based on the Korean spoken language to empower his people. He faced huge opposition, but was true to his word and in seeing this huge task through he was able to instil a great sense of Korean Sovereignty among Korean people. I’d highly recommend taking a wander around this exhibition as there’s a lot to learn and various engaging multimedia information points. It’s a good place to visit on the way to Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Gyeongbokgung Palace (aka Gyeongbok or Northern Palace)
This is Korea’s most famous royal palace. You can’t really miss it, as it’s right at the end of Seoul’s main Boulevard. Often listed as the no.1 thing to see in Seoul, this place is magnificent!
Since being built in 1300s, it’s been destroyed and restored a number of times. Wearing Hanbok (traditional Korean dress) gets you free entry, so you’ll get to see lots of people wandering around in fantastic outfits. Although we didn’t get round to doing one, you can also arrange to go on beautiful night tours around the palace.
The Studio Ghibli Shop
Sadly, we missed out on visiting the Ghibli museum in Tokyo. Who knew you had to buy tickets way in advance? Fortunately however, we were able to visit the Ghibli store in Seoul where we got to sit inside the Cat bus which was a total highlight for us.
We spent lots of time just mooching around some of the different shopping districts. Neither of us particularly likes shopping as such, but some of the areas like Insadong, Hongdae and Gangnam were just so colourful and interesting to walk around.
Hanhwa Seoul International Fireworks Festival
Another reason to visit Seoul in October is to experience this lively festival. Once again, we seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Thousands of people gathered on the grass by the river to watch live music, eat street food and of course go “ooh” and “aah” at the pretty lights in the sky.
We love free stuff to do, so this was right up our street. Seonyudo Park is an island in the middle of the Han river. You cross a big bridge to get to it, which has beautiful views of the city. The park itself is immaculate and there are rules to adhere to, such as not smoking or stepping on the grass. There are plenty of places to chill, admire nature and a little cafe if you need a snack. We really enjoyed this place
We did a lot of this. Grabbed a packed lunch from either Bread Blue or our local sushi place and just wandered the streets, because there was so much to take in and everywhere we went we seemed to stumble upon something awesome. Interesting buildings, street art, friendly people. We were never bored.
The War Memorial of Korea
Displaying over 10,000 artefacts, this museum is extremely big and requires several hours of your time. Due to its complex history, you’ll need to be prepared to take in a lot of information if you aren’t already knowledgable on the topic. We found it really interesting and of course pretty harrowing. Would highly recommend a visit.
We had such a wonderful time in Seoul that we’d love to visit again. We’d also like to head back to South Korea to see more of country as we’ve heard so many wonderful things about it!