Current mood: Missing South Korea so badly 🙁 *ugly cry*
I’ve already mentioned that what I particularly love about South Korea is that it boasts of an old world charm with a vibrantly modern twist. But mind you, getting around this country is relatively easy, which makes it perfect for the millennials. (ehem, like me, LOL).
Well anyway, Seoul itself offers not just snazzy skyscrapers, historical villages and what not, but also has some attractions perfect for the snap-happy people.
Starfield COEX Mall Library
Starfield COEX Mall has a newly opened Starfield Library that is currently trending among your feeds in Instagram. This two-story library is the latest cultural attraction within Seoul and is open to the public with free of charge. The library consists of three 13m tall enormous bookshelves packed with approximately 50,000 books and has the largest collection of magazines with over 600 different titles from both local and international.
They also offer e-books just so you know 😀 And bookworms can enjoy reading with their pleasing environment and stylish amenities. Some cultural events and performances are also being held in this library. The Philippines needs a place like this, don’t you think?
Just within the vicinity of Coex Mall is the SMTOWN, a popular hub for the Hallyu fanatics.
This is SM Entertainment’s culture complex space that offers unique experiences such as visit to studios, hologram theater, virtual reality or augmented reality, a life-style shop, and more!
The 2nd floor of SMTOWN is a gift shop with items that artists actually wore or picked and a café wherein fans hang out together. There are also gachapon or vending machine-dispensed capsule toys of your favorite K-pop idol.
It also has the so-called SMTOWN Museum that is located on the third floor.
This is where they’ve displayed the memorabilia related to the birth and growth of SM Entertainment’s artists. It also includes various exhibitions, including SM ARCHIVE, SPECIAL EXHIBITION, and ARTIST GALLERY, all of which are related to music albums, stage photos, outfits and accessories, and behind the scenes stories.
On the 5th and 6th floors are the biggest hologram theater in Korea which showcases mostly SM artists’ concert videos.
After getting overwhelmed with SMTOWN, we had our lunch at a cafeteria just inside COEX Mall. Also, did some shopping at A.Land and looked for a BB air cushion from IOPE.
If you’re looking for a “hipster” vibe place to chill, shop and eat, then Garosu-gil is the place to be. This is probably my most favorite street in Seoul!
Garosu-gil which literally means tree-lined street has countless side alleyways and has a lot of interesting things to offer—with it being tagged as a trendy mecca for beauty and fashion aficionados. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to wander around that much because it was drizzling, but if you’d ask me, I would love to come back and explore more of this yeppeuda. (PS: I really have a knack of going to spots that has that hipster vibe. Haha! Oddly, I’m partly an old soul but is yearning for that modern vibe, too.)
Hailing all the way from San Francisco, California, we’ve visited the Mr. Holmes Bakehouse in Korea to try out its cruffiny and their pastry goodness.
I absolutely love the interior of this place! It has 2 floors of seating, each complete with walls of windows, pink neon signs, black and cream leather seats and gold accented marble tables. The overall vibe is clean yet very chic and cozy. Something I’d want to have in my future home, LOL.
Garosu-gil surely knows how to tease its visitors with its every corner that is simply snap-worthy!
If you haven’t heard about the eyewear brand Gentle Monster yet, then you’re totally missing out! With “Experimentation” as their motto for their creations, their interior for their flagship store in Garosu-gil screams an edgy and quirky design.
Next stop is the Dr. Jart Flagship Store which is just a few blocks away from Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. This South Korean cosmeceutical brand has won global recognition. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it but they’ve collaborated with The Face Shop in some of their product lines. Well, anyway, their store is called “Filter Space in Seoul”. Go see for yourself why!
What’s not to adore with its futuristic façade that would surely catch anyone’s attention?
Spotted right in Garosu-gil is the 3CE Cinema by Style Nanda. This movie-themed cosmetics store offers 3CE products in make-up booth setting with colorful lighting and props in cute baby pink colors. All ladies (including yours truly) inside are going gaga on trying out their range of beauty products. This is the 2nd branch of Style Nanda that I’ve been to.
Another lovely pink building we’ve spotted is the Lotte Elcube. This store surprisingly offers an array of cool stuff.
But the most striking one for me would probably be the beautiful rooftop café wherein you can have a good view of Garosu-gil. This is one of the best places to hang out in summer, for sure!
I’ve heard Garosu-gil is always changing, meaning every time you visit there would be new, trendy and innovative things to see. The best part for me is that they constantly “embrace their culture by offering local products crafted with their own creativity”. And that for me, makes South Korea extras epic and special! But just to give you some other recommendations, you may want to check out the Skin Food Café, Simone Handbag Museum, Gallery Yeh, Karl Lagerfeld Pop-Up Store and many more!
They say the coolest of the cool gather in Hongdae to experience life in fast lane. Just like Ewha, this place mostly consists of students, and the youth from Hongik University. Clothing selections here are as varied as the pubs in the area! Looking for unique cafes, cozy galleries, accessory stores, fashion shops, clubs, or art markets? Name it, they have it!
At night, most young fellas flock here to partake in the exhilarating nightlife and some even unleashes their freedom of self-expression by showcasing their talents in singing and dancing to the public. It’s just fascinating that at young age, they know how to do their thing—express themselves.
And mind you, haha! Didn’t pass the opportunity the branch on Style Nanda in Hongdae. It was swamped by people that night! Anyway, just like their other stores, it offers 3CE products, clothing and insta-worthy interior.
Right across Style Nanda is the Chuu store. Talk about taking the competition head on! 😛
The succulent pork ribs meet with the melting cheese and corn. Dug in at James Cheese Back Ribs that offers one of the most raved Korean signature dishes – Cheese deung galbi. This one’s quite expensive though, haha! We were shookt but it’s totally worth it!
Capped off the night by shopping for snacks and souvenirs at Lotte Mart in Seoul Station Branch.
Reminiscing about South Korea and trying to pinpoint what I miss most about this country, makes me want to book a flight already, LOL. Now, I wonder if in my past life, I was a Korean? Haha! Kidding aside, this country taught me a lot about their pulsating culture and tradition. But what struck me the most is how—with its multitude of options—it was able to keep me overwhelmed and awed, all at once.
I can hardly remember when the first time was when I got hooked into “anything Korean”, perhaps it was during the era of the earlier K-dramas, “Winter Sonata” and “Autumn in my Heart”. From there, I was then introduced to K-pop, and the rest is history. My fascination to all things Korean had become unrivaled up until now.
Never in my life and in my wildest dreams that I’ve considered going to South Korea, because I was quite anxious that my visa won’t get approved because I’m not earning a superlative salary, but God paved way for it to happen. (I guess, it’s really meant to be T_T). Okay, ‘nuff of my senti mode! :))
South Korea sounds like an expensive travel destination as most people would assume. Known for its increasingly prominent presence in the World and as one of the leading economies in Asia, its high cost of living and visa requirements, would often make anyone think twice to travel to this country. But trust me, you don’t have to be filthy rich to explore the Land of the Morning Calm.
Getting a Korean Visa
Applying for a Korean visa may sound intimidating especially for first-timers. While we may just choose to hire a travel agency to do this, we just did it on our own as the process was very simple! Yes, you’ve heard that right, getting a Korean visa is easy, fast, and absolutely FREE. The ordeal isn’t that long as well as you can get the result of your visa application after a week. But mind you, we failed at our first attempt because of the cut off! So, my sister came back again the other day and lined up at wee hour in the morning just to secure a slot.
Navigating your way through the city’s terrain could be stressful but most of the attractions in Korea are accessible via their Metro train. The train maps however, might look daunting because it’s so complicated! So, I highly suggest you download some useful apps. In our case, we used the Subway Korea app for iOS. Riding the train was a breeze because the latter provides real-time transit information, and a vector-based map that you can pinch in to zoom in or out.
Other than the Metro train, getting around Seoul is extremely convenient—be it via bus, taxi, biking and walking.
If you plan to use the public transportation consistently, I highly recommend getting the T-Money Card. It’s a transportation card that is similar to our Beep Card in Manila but also functions as a discount card and can be used in select convenience stores.
Spring in Seoul
We intentionally booked our flight on April to specifically catch the Cherry Blossom season in South Korea. This would be our first time to witness Cherry Blossoms in full bloom and immerse on the cold Spring weather.
It’s quite hard to have that perfect timing to be able to experience the magical feeling of being blanketed with the pastel pink blossoms but we were lucky enough to be able to do so! We were ecstatic to know that the Cherry Blossom Festival was scheduled on the days of our stay in Seoul.
Egg House Hostel
Since our flight was at midnight, we weren’t able to catch the last leg of trip of the train from Airport Railroad Express (AREX). Instead, we opted to take the Airport Limousine Bus 6002 going to the place we’ll be staying at Dongdaemun.
We chose Dongdaemun Egg House Hostel via Agoda because it’s the cheapest we could get on the peak season. (haha!). The room was cozy, bed was really comfy, they have aircon and heater as well, and the hostel is in a really good location just near the train station (Metro). You can actually get to some attractions, stores and restaurants by foot.
They also offer free breakfast, wherein you can cook your own egg, eat cereals, and toast your breads at their common area.
With all the attractions vying for their attention in Seoul, we started out our incredibly diverse range of experiences by checking out the Cherry Blossoms at Yeuido Park. (Better catch them before they wilt!)
There are two ways to get to Yeouido Park using the Metro:
Alight at Yeouinaru Station (Seoul Subway Line 5), Exit 1. Walk 10 minutes towards SBS TV Station, or
Alight at Yeouido Station (Seoul Subway Line 5), Exit 3. Walk 5 minutes towards the National Assembly building.
This beautiful recreational area is said to be one of the best places to see the breathtaking Cherry Blossoms for FREE. The park comes to life with trees laden with cherry blossom and other colorful flowers during Spring. I felt like I was transported in a Korean drama that time. (LOL)
Harking back, the park is actually divided into four different sections: The Traditional Korean Forest, Grass Square, Culture Square, and Nature’s Ecosystem Forest. Strolling around is totally relaxing.
The most memorable experience for me here was this exact moment: whenever the wind blows, the trees shed and it felt as if it was raining cherry blossoms!
We also ate Tteokbokki (spicy stir-fried rice cakes) along the streets as there are some vendors aligned at the seems like a never-ending path of cherry blossom trees!
Indeed, it was the most picturesque cherry blossom street in Seoul! <3 We apparently spent too much time there, haha!
Ewha Womans University
Our next stop was the Ewha Womans University. Yes, I certainly spelled that right! It was jam-packed that time maybe because we arrived there during their lunch break.
Anyway, this university was founded in 1886 by an American missionary and was Korea’s first educational institute for women. This school reminded me of my alma matter, Miriam College, because it’s an all-girls university.
The famous Ewha Campus Complex is tagged as Korea’s largest underground campus. The architecture is world class and as per research, “the lower levels contain a library, bookstore, gym, movie theater, cafes, and other cultural facilities, while on the first level visitors can find lecture rooms and an eco-park”. Whoa~!
But lo and behold, along the vicinity of the Ewha Womans University is one of the most popular shopping districts in Seoul. There were a lot of stalls selling super cheap yet stylish clothing for a low as KRW 5,000. Do the math! (Yes, it’s just around PHP 250!). Aside from that, there are also beauty stores, street food stalls, and various restaurants in the area. I could live in here!
You can also spot a Lotte Elcube compact mall here! This small store focuses specifically on young, fashion-conscious shoppers. The first floor houses the Line Friends merchandise, and it also has various shops that sell cute clothes, accessories and bags for both men and women. They also carry some beauty products like 3CE, Labiotte, and many others.
Shoe heaven! Name it, they have it!
Binggrae banana milk drink.
The alleys are worth checking out too! See those baby breath flowers? I want to buy one for myself! *u*
Since it’s already lunch time, we opted to eat at Popeye’s. We used to have this in the Philippines way back then, but it’s now closed! 🙁 Got to try this last time at the Hong Kong airport though.
In the past, the Cheonggyecheon Stream is a neglected waterway not until it was restored way back in 2005. Today, it is considered as an attraction amidst the hustle and bustle of Seoul.
It’s very serene in here with small waterfalls, and it has nearly two dozen overhead bridges.
Nothing fancy in here, but you can actually make a wish by tossing coins to the waters, and it’s quite a good spot to just stroll along the stream.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Considered as the most stunning landmark at the center of Dongdaemun, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza or DDP, is designed by Zaha Hadid, one of the world’s most renowned female architects. She’s also known in designing the New National Stadium of Japan for the 2020 Olympics in Shinjuku.
DDP is where the most anticipated exhibits and fashion shows (like the Seoul Fashion Week) in Korea are held. It might look like a UFO but is totally futuristic yet sort of fashion forward (for the lack of term). The coolest thing about it is its walkable roof which I failed to go to because it was too cold for my life!
There are 5 halls in this plaza including Art Hall, Design Market, Design Lab, Museum and Dongdaemun History and Culture Park. And if given a chance to come back, I’d like to check out some of their exhibits.
Also, we didn’t miss out on checking out the flower garden filled with LED flowers. I wasn’t able to catch it at night when the flowers are all lit because it took some time to get dark in Korea, but was able to return the other day and voila, got to witness the best of both worlds!
That’s it for the first part of my South Korea trip. More posts coming soon! 🙂