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Seoul Searching

October 19, 2018

By Alexa L., Stonehill College, TBC Fall 2018 Student

 

In China, the first week of October is the National Holiday.  Many businesses and schools close for the week.  Given this free time, some of my friends and I planned a 6-day trip to Seoul, South Korea! 

Step 1: LOGISTICS 

Which airline do we take? 

We flew on a joint plane with China Southern and Korean Air.  The round trip total was $415.  Our Chinese friends told us the prices were high because this is a national holiday week.  We only purchased our tickets a month in advance.  The ticket price only 2 weeks prior was $350.  So, my advice to YOU is to buy your ticket sooner than later.  Do NOT wait.  It only gets more expensive.  If you know where you want to go, find some friends and plan early! 

Can we all sit together on the flight? 

We all bought our own plane tickets individually, so there was a concern that we would be separated on the flight.  Spoiler alert-when you fly international, you need to check in at the airport and provide your passport and visa.  My friends and I checked in all at once and got seats within the same proximity and without any problems! 

Where do we stay that is cheap and convenient? 

We looked at hotels, hostels and AirBnB’s.  Ultimately, we found a B&B (which was a 2-minute walk from the Seoul Subway) that was $90 a night; there were 6 beds to a room and 6 of us in the group and we stayed for 6 days.  SO, I only paid $90 for my housing the entire trip!  Our B&B had free wifi, 2 shared bathrooms, 1 shared kitchen, and 4 other guest rooms with who knows how many beds (our stay became very cramped very quickly, but we spend most of our time out having fun).  Not to mention our B&B owner also owned a bar close by. 

 

Step 2: PREPARING 

What do we pack? 

We found that the weather in Seoul is colder than in Beijing.  Also, the outlets are different than both China and the United States (while we prepared for this, our B&B had US accommodated power strips).  I made sure to pack first aid supplies in case someone got hurt.  I brought cards, a camera, a hat, sunglasses, walking shoes, shower shoes… I wish we had brought a little gift because we ended up befriending our B&B host and had nothing to offer him.  Besides this minor regret, our crew was well packed for South Korea! 

What do we do about our cell service? 

We made sure our B&B provided free wifi so we could reliably connect at home.  Two of our group members had International data which was EXTREMELY convenient when we were out-and-about.  Although, it was easy to find free wifi in shops or restaurants. 

What activities do we intend to do? 

We initially thought 6 days in Seoul would be more than enough.  Our cohort got together a week before leaving to form a loose itinerary so we could make the most of each day.  I would HIGHLY recommend doing this WHENEVER and WHEREVER you choose to go someplace.  We looked into several attractions in Seoul prior to leaving and found a variety of different sides of the city.  This helped keep our days organized and it gave us a brief foundation of what to expect when we arrived.   

In the end, our final agenda items were: Seoul Tower, Octagon club, Gyeongbokgung Palace Temple, night walking tour, mall visit, Lotte World, aquarium, zoo, and marketplace. 

 

Step 3: ACTION 

What did we do each day?  

Day 1:  We left TBC’s campus at 5 am, our flight took off at 9 am, we landed around 11:30 am, we found our B&B by 12:15 pm, and we took a group nap by 12:45 pm.   

When we all woke up, it was dinner time.  One of the guys in our group had a friend from South Korea named Monica.  She treated us to our first dinner which was Korean Barbeque.  I would like to disclaim that I came to China as a vegetarian and I quickly changed this when I was introduced to both Chinese and Korean food.  It was too tempting to resist trying! 

We followed up dinner with a 2-hour karaoke session!  We had a BLAST.  In Korea (and China), you get a private room for up to 12 people.  You can select a variety of songs and add it to the queue.  There were only a few uncommon songs that we couldn’t find.  Nonetheless, it was awesome!! 10/10, would recommend! It was a great bonding experience. 

All-in-all, our first day was quite relaxed which was exactly what we needed after traveling! 

Day 2: Our second day in Seoul was spent next to the than Han River.  This was one of the locations from the Avengers 2!  We took PLENTY of photos so that we would have bragging rights to our friends. 

We enjoyed a cute picnic with DELICIOUS street food.  Monica was there to tell us what food we had purchased.  It was such a lovely environment and we were in such great company.   

I knew at this moment that I was traveling with a great group of 6 people.  I would HIGHLY recommend traveling in even groups and picking people you enjoy the company of.  All 6 of us got along nicely one-on-one and we were all very cooperative to readjust to each other’s requests.   

Moving on! That night, the 3 guys did a bike tour around the river and discovered a night market very close by.  We moved as a unit to explore the tents and found food from all over the world.  I wish I could tell you what I ate, but you just need to trust that whatever it was, it was to die for.  

 

We migrated from the night market to the water bank and saw a light up-water show with a live performance.  The artist was a drummer playing to popular Western songs.  It felt like the 4th of July.  It made me feel nostalgic and slightly home-sick.   

We ended that night at Octagon which is ranked the 5th best club in the world.  It was 3 stories tall and had different genres of music on each floor.  There was a place for everyone!  

Day 3:  

Because we had stayed out so later the night before, our day started after 12.   

We spent that evening at Namsan Tower (N Tower).  This tower is a hike away, but once you climb to the top, you get an unbelievable view of the whole city.  It was such an incredible sight to see all of Seoul light up the night sky.  However, we did not discover the best part until we were getting ready to leave…  each stall in the bathroom includes a full-wall window; so even if you need a ‘break,’ you can still enjoy the view! 

The hike down was just as magical.  They had a chain-link wall covered in locks with love wishes written on them.  We quickly learned that N Tower is usually a destination for couples! 

That night, we ended at our B&B owner’s bar with a refreshing pint of beer.  We were among the only customers each visit, so we got to talk to our B&B owner and know him well.  We felt like the TV show, “How I Met Your Mother.” 

Day 4:  

We dedicated this day to being culturally focused.  Our first stop was Gyeongbokgung Palace!  We did not know much about ancient Korean history prior to Seoul.  It was challenging to retain the information because we had no basis to go off.  If I could go back, I would have done at LEAST a wiki search; this would have made our visit much more meaningful.   

Later, we explored a massive shopping district.  There were blocks lined with street vendors, markets, and shops.  We had a surprisingly hard time finding typical souvenirs.  The items being sold were fashionable clothing, practical goods, street food, accessories.  I did not end up purchasing anything, however, I was completely entertained just walking around for an hour and checking out the scene! We ended that night bar hopping in the Itaewon district.  There are ample restaurants, pubs, and bars with a lot of young people.  We got appetizers at every location and again had a great time in each other’s company! 

Day 5:  

We started off the day at the Korean War Memorial which had free entrance.  It was certainly a heavy way to begin our day, but it was well needed.  It was beyond humbling to be in the presence of something with such a deeply rooting history.  While there were minimal English descriptions throughout the memorial, we began to understand the mark the war left on the country.   

Wanting to lift our spirits from the emotionally intense morning, we ended our day at Lotte World which is an amusement park.  Inside the building looked like a mall with an ice-skating rink on the main floor and rides going every which way on the upper floors.  There was also an outside portion with larger rides and attractions.  Because we were approaching Halloween, the whole park was spooky.  At 11, the rides shut down and a “zombie parade” took place.  There were zombies with chainsaws and missing limbs of all shapes and sizes.  I have never had such an experience at the amusement park.   

Day 6:  

Our last day was very relaxed.  We did souvenir searching and the last hunt for Western food.  My birthday was coming up; so, my friends surprised me with Krispy Kreme for breakfast, strawberry cake for lunch and a DELICIOUS burger for dinner.   

We tried to go to sleep early that night because we would be leaving no later than 6 am, but no one could sleep.  We were all a little sad to say goodbye… 

Day 7:  

We woke up at 4 am, gathered our things, said goodbye to our B&B owner, and left.  We were back home with TBC by 12.  We slept for the next 3 days.   

We came back 4 days before the break was over which was actually essential for us to regain our energy.  I had time to readjust back into school mode.   

How was the food? 

I deeply enjoyed Korean food.  It was a beautiful blend of American and Asian cuisine.  There were several menu items that were very familiar (burgers, fries, pizza, milkshakes, chicken wings), and still many items that are traditional Korean foods (Korean barbeque, kimchi, bibimbap).  I tried MANY new things but had ample opportunities to eat dishes I was comfortable with.  I really enjoyed the balance. 

How was our communication? 

I was utterly shocked by how easy it was to navigate through Seoul.  I knew it was the capital and that it was a major city, but I knew NONE of the language coming in.  My group and I got around just fine speaking exclusively English.  It was extremely helpful to have Monica who is a native speaker.  When she was with us, everything ran incredibly smooth. Nonetheless, we were still able to navigate on our own.   

Alexa L