It’s 2018 and no modern-day blog would be complete without a good ‘listicle’. Last month, my mom braved the blazing summer heat for an 11-day visit to Korea. As you can imagine, there was a lot to see and do (and eat); but I’ve narrowed down the top-7 highlights of our trip!
1. Namsan Tower – Seoul
To give you an idea of Korea’s density, here’s a quick snapshot. Geographically, Korea is the size of Indiana, though it’s population (50-million) is roughly that of New York and Texas combined. Throw in the fact that 70% of Korea’s land is mountainous and thus uninhabitable and you see just how dense the country is in its urban-areas.
Chief among them is Seoul, Korea’s capital, with a population (9-million) greater than even New York City. Within Seoul, one of the main tourist attractions is Namsan Tower.
Situated high above the central city, the tower’s observation deck offers sweeping views of the sprawling urban landscape, all sandwiched by beautiful mountainous surroundings.
2. Dog Cafe – Seoul
One of Seoul’s more quirky aspects is its abundance of animal cafes, particularly in the university area of Hongdae. No matter your preference of furry friend, there’s sure to be something for you – dogs, cats, raccoons, meerkats, sheep – and each cafe specializes in a certain one.
The concept is simple – walk in, order a drink, and enjoy it with a bunch of animals who eagerly await your company. This dog cafe in particular, Bau House, had about 30 dogs split into two sections for large and small.
With an unfortunate lack of dogs in my life right now, this was the absolute perfect experience to escape the Korean heat. Not to mention, it didn’t take long for my mom to make some new friends…
3. Gwangjang Market – Seoul
In a country that has so quickly modernized over the past few decades, visiting a traditional market is a breathe of fresh air for glimpse into the more traditional aspects of Korean society. One of the oldest among them is Gwangjang Market.
Possibly my favorite spot in Seoul, the market is lined with endless streets of clothing, jewelry, and pretty much anything else you can think to buy. But the true star of the show is the food.
As you can imagine, all of this traveling builds up quite the appetite and we ate A LOT! Of the many options here, I showed my mom some of the more traditional Korean street food dishes including:
- Mayak Gimbap – almost a Korean sushi
- Kimchi Jeon – kimchi pancakes
- Japchae – stir-fried glass noodles
- Mandu – Korean dumplings
- Tteokbokki – rice-cakes in spicy sauce
Needless to say, all of this delicious food was followed by a pretty extensive nap.
4. Gyeongbokgung Palace – Seoul
Another must-see on the list of Seoul destinations is Gyeongbokgung, built in 1395 by the Joseon Dynasty. I’ve always loved visiting historical sites outside of the US because they show how old the world actually is compared to the recency of America.
Gyeongbokgung gives a walk back in time to a Korea before K-Pop, Gangnam Style, and eSports gaming. Visitors can be found sporting ‘Hanbok’, or elaborate dresses indigenous to Korea past – and of course in the Korean style, taking selfies. I chose to skip this part.
Even as of recently, the palace has an extensive history, having been torn down by the Imperial Japanese in the early 1900’s. Today, it continues to be restored to its original form with it’s many gardens, waterways, and royal buildings giving it an authentic feel unique to anywhere else.
5. Hanok Guesthouse – Gwangju
After 4 busy days in Seoul, we finally made our way down South to my home in Gwangju (a 1.5 hour train ride). Far less spectacular from a touristic perspective, it’s still a remarkable city in itself, with an interesting history and amazing food. In fact Gwangju’s province, Jeolla-do, is widely known for having the best food in Korea!
Given the constraints of the closet where I live, we decided to stay in an old Korean guesthouse, or a ‘Hanok’. Hanoks are characterized by their beautiful courtyards, wooden exteriors, and lack of beds making it typical to sleep on a ground mat. Despite the zen of my surroundings, I definitely needed a lot of coffee the following day.
6. Dreamers Temple Trip
As mentioned in a prior post, Dreamers is a Gwangju-based group that brings Koreans and foreigners alike together through the arts and cultural experiences. Fortunately while my mom was here, they hosted a day-trip to Seonwun Temple and its surrounding area.
We first visited the temple, about a 1.5 hour drive into the countryside from Gwangju. . We ate a delicious vegetarian bibimbap lunch, participated in a tea ceremony with a monk, and enjoyed the beauty of our simplistic surroundings.
We then all spent nearly two hours hanging out in a river, which provided for a perfect place to relax – and apparently for photo ops as well.
From there we visited a large sunflower field, a place well-known in this region. My friend Eden who literally brings her violin everywhere (check out her Instagram, Violin Everywhere) of course brought her violin and graciously let me mom play some songs amongst the flowers. Pretty awesome!
We ended the night watching the sunset at a nearby beach while eating chicken/pizza, drinking beer, and playing music. I’ve certainly had worse days.
7. Trip to Yeosu
Yeosu is a gorgeous port town located on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. A monk that I work with invited me and my mom to visit his temple and I quickly jumped at the opportunity.
The temple’s residents treated us like royalty as we were guided around the grounds. We found it funny that these monks, who sacrifice material possessions for a simple life of meditation, all had the latest smart phones as well as big TV’s and amazing air conditioning in their offices. I guess the whole vegetarian part of the gig is a big enough sacrifice in itself.
After the temple, we were showed around the city of Yeosu and the famed cable cars, which provide a beautiful view of the area.
Finally we were treated to an unbelievable seafood dinner at a place that supposedly Moon Jae-in, the Korean President, eats at. When I tell you that the meal didn’t stop, I mean it – sashimi, clams, crabs, shrimp….
For anyone traveling through Korea, I highly recommend visiting Yeosu, as I’ve found it to be one of the more underrated cities the country has to offer.
That about sums up the incredible 11 days that my mom and I had in Korean. For an old lady 😉 she kept up remarkably well with my incessant ways and I can’t wait for our next trip together! Seeing her definitely dampened the struggles of being so far away from home.
So, who’s coming to visit next?
Until next time,