INTRODUCTION – This is no secret - I do not like the cold. Rather comically, I also naïvely chose to visit to visit the home of K-Pop, Kimchi and Mr. Gangnam Style himself, Psy, smack bang in the middle of a cold front. With an average temperature of -10°C (-18°C the morning we travelled to the ski resort), most of my sight seeing in the awesome city of Seoul was done with icy cold tear drop shaped teardrop, frozen to my cheek.
WHERE I STAYED – Savoy Hotel, 10 Myeongdong 8na-gil, Jung-gu. When Craig and I planned our trip to Seoul, we researched the best districts to stay – and I have to say, we could not have picked a better location. We were literally in the heart of bustling Myeongdong, well known as being a busy shopping district that is filled with yummy street food vendors at night. The entrance walks right out into a busy street with pumping music, chatty shoppers and flashing lights, which is great for me – it meant an easy escape back into the warmth of the hotel room. As for Savoy as a hotel… it was okay. It had the bare necessities. No complaints, but nothing to write home about, either. We didn’t sample their breakfast, as it was super pricey – plus we were always a skip and a jump away from a restaurant or convenience store. The last two nights were spent at the Phoenix Park Ski Resort, 174, Taegi-ro, Bongpyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do. The hotel window overlooked the picturesque ski slopes whilst the rooms we super spacious. As for the ski resort as a whole, it would have scrapped by with a ‘C’ – sorry, Japan takes this round.
WHAT I DID – South Korea is definitely not as tourist friendly as Japan. Tokyo seemed to be equipped to deal with foreigners, with English versions of their menu on the ready. There is not a lot of English written about, so even being able to recall names of restaurants is quite difficult when English translations are so much less prominent. Tourist tip time: It is super important you have things such as the name of your hotel written down in Korean alphabet – especially for taxi drivers, as English is not their strong suit. In Seoul, we booked a guided tour – first visiting the Korean War Memorial Museum. Although I am not much of a museum-kinda-guy, this one was really interesting as it detailed the on going conflict with North Korea, a topic I knew barely anything about. We also shivered our way up to the N Seoul Tower, which had pretty spectacular 360 views and a cool look out point, decorated with colourful padlocks left by visitors before us. We then visited Namsangol Hanok Village and finished up at a Ginseng Factory. Of course, we had to stop by the namesake to Psy’s “Gangnam” style song – which, as a district, appeared rather uninteresting, at least during the day. Gyeongbokgung Palace too probably would have greater gravitas if I weren’t shaking like a leaf complete with accompanying chattering teeth sound effect. One lackluster experience of the trip had to be Lotte World Adventure Theme Park. It had all the potential to be a Korean-take-on-Disneyland, but there was not one single ride that less than a 45-minute wait before it. Queues for days: and don’t think the pre-booking app is going to help your cause.
MUST EAT – Korean food ranks right up there with some of my favourite cuisines. The restaurants, generally lining the upper levels of buildings above stores, tended to have their name (unsurprisingly) written in Korean. What this means is, now that I am back home and summarising our Korean adventure… I can’t even tell you where we ate! There are a few sporadic English words about, although I’m totally not convinced that “Chicken and Beer” was a legitimate name for a restaurant. Korean fried chicken is a beloved food trend here so you must find a chicken place immediately after arriving in Korea. The bimimbap has to be one of my favourite dishes, and I had an awesome one at “Golden Farm” (okay, managed to catch that name!) along with their tasty seafood pancakes and ginseng chicken soup. There are plenty of Korean BBQ options in Perth, but you won’t do better than the “real thing”. No one does side dishes better than the Koreans! We also took the opportunity to try Coco Curry House, which is a Japanese-born, international restaurant chain specializing in the Japanese version of curry, a sweeter take on the Indian curries you are probably thinking of.
THE VERDICT – First of all, I need to say this. When the heck did Koreans get so tall?! There must be an added hormone in the kimchi that makes you shoot up… Look, South Korea was definitely harder to navigate than Japan in terms of the language barrier but it was still totally worth the extra effort. We didn’t have any negative experiences with the people, with the exception of the frustrated, first taxi driver we encountered, and that had more to do with us not being about to tell him where the hell we wanted to go! If you’re planning to go, for the love of God, make sure you time your holidays around the seasons better than we did! Oh, and expect to be totally bombarded with K-Pop boy and girl band songs and merchandise – they are practically idolized as national treasures!