Flying over the Indian sky past midnight, sleep eludes me like a Manhattan bypasser on a Monday, and I find myself catching a glimpse of the horizon, a lingering bright cluster of clouds radiating morning sunshine meet my eyes and that's when I know I'm closer to the Incheon sky. Thereon, an hour's flying time, and I find myself in the land of K-Pop, South Korea. The land that gave the world idols like BTS, EXO, Big Bang among others. India too has been party of this culture.
Ticking a priority to-do of many netizens’ bucket list, the first thing I witness on day one in Seoul is the live taping of M Countdown, a leading South Korean music programme that airs once a week. Seeing the fandom up close featuring synchronised chants, squeals, fan merchandise and more, it’s safe to say that music pop culture is the definite “It” thing in Korea, and it’s no surprise that it has been the pioneer factor that brought the Korean wave to India.
If you’ve been alienated to this cultural wave, and would rather experience South Korea through things to see and eat, there’s plenty in store when in Seoul.
What To See
If you’re in Seoul for a quick trip, kick-starting it with marvel is my strongest recommendation and nothing quite like Lotte World Tower to do justice to the surprises the city has in store. The tallest building in South Korea with the fastest double-decker multimedia elevator takes you for an amusing ride but don’t drop your chin yet and wait for the view from the 118th floor make you gasp in bewilderment. Overlooking the beautifully planned establishments, picturesque landscape, streams of the significant Han River, the view through the window pane is a sight for the sore eyes. What’s the fuss all about you ask? Flutter your eyes downward to learn that it’s a mere glass floor separating you from the bird’s eye view atop! While you stand there dazed, the fast pacing life of the city continues literally at the edge of your feet. Though on most of your time in Korea, you may not be able to gauge the local language, the exclamations, and shrieks become a universal language echoing identical sentiments across the observatory. Going upwards 120th floor, an open top Sky Terrace graces you with an aerial view of Seoul and hair caressing breeze.
While the observatory deck’s view is a popular tourist must-see, a leisurely stroll down Hongdae Street to witness the ambient charisma is a local recommendation. Also popularly known as the Hongik University Street, this side of town is home to students and naturally, is a haven for style and fashion on a budget. Whether it’s the trendiest bags at pocket-friendly prices or artsy nails at prices that don’t pinch, this street is a college-goer’s cosmopolitan dream come true. In a country as high on music and talent, artists performing on streets are spotted in abundance. The music is enchanting to your ear’s and soul’s gratification.
Once you’ve encapsulated the contemporary vibe of the city, take a trip to the traditional roots of Korea with a visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Referred to as the Northern Palace, it replicates the popular guard changing ceremony of the Joeson Dynasty wherein the guards were responsible for the king’s safety as the palace was his place of residence. The royal palace guards, known as Wanggung Sumunjang would safeguard the palace gates. Their duties were shouldered equally, divided through the day and night. Experience the truest sense of belonging to the palace by renting a Hanbok, the traditional Korean attire and wear royalty on your sleeve. Wearing the outfit gives you free entry to the palace and many Instagrammable pictures.
If Seoul sounds like a great solo destination spot, don't fret, there's tons to do if you come with family and friends. A day out at Everland, one of the biggest amusement parks in the world, will tell you just why it’s an ideal destination for a trip with family. On one hand, this place caters to those with an adrenaline rush level over the sky, on the other hand, it embraces many like me who appreciate amusement from a safe distance. Home to T- Express, world’s largest wooden roller coaster and over 40 other odd heart-racing rides, this theme park also has a dedicated Zootopia zone featuring safari rides, a panda world and lost valley for those who fancy a rendezvous with the exotic beasts up and close in their mojo. If you’re here with family, there are a host of family and kids’ indoor and outdoor rides to up that vacation bonding time. While you walk through the gigantic park to get to the fascinating rides, the architecture will win your heart, the adorable details and robust of colours are bound to make you grin from side to side. In fact, as soon as you enter, a magical giant tree catches your attention and that’s all the insight you need on what to expect at this happy place.
The streets and other touristy spots sure reflect the culture, but if you’re keen on spotting the multi-dimensional side of Korean culture, this is your place to be. Smitten couples donning their affection through a fashionable twinning, parents pampering their little ones by adorning cute popcorn tubs around their necks, and school field trips full of gusto and fashion savvy students are some of the many sights offering a window into the local way of life.
If you’re hoping to wear off that fatigue after all the exhilaration, the many blissful spots like the Rose Garden, Romantic Tower Tree, Music Garden and Four Seasons Garden will help you literally smell the flowers and indulge in some 'me' time or an absolutely memorable evening with your significant other under the Seoul sky with a blanket of flowers and uninterrupted fragrant breeze as companions.
When a city has romanticism thriving in its nooks and crannies, it obviously devotes railings of the picturesque Seoul Tower to padlocks for those deciding on eternal love! An elevator ride upward and you’re in for a panoramic view of Seoul from the Centre of the city. The glass panned tower is designed in an interesting fashion to overlook the beautiful view from all angles, so much so that even the washroom windows here are view goals come true.
Concluding the chapter of things to see, your trip to South Korea would be incomplete without visiting skincare and beauty products capital street market, Myeong-Dong. A girl’s paradise and foodie’s living daydream, this busy street has a lot in store. Home-grown skincare brands, and multi-brand stores invite your presence with a complimentary face mask as an incentive to shop. This gets even better when they reward you with some more masks for shopping.
What To Eat
When pausing for a quick meal, the japchae, a side-dish serving stir fried noodles with sweet potato, thinly shredded vegetables, beef and some good old sauces is ideal. If you would rather treat your sweet tooth, South Korea has plenty of choices for you. The foot-long double soft serves, bingsu (consisting of shaved iced, milk, cream cheese, yoghurt etc), ice squashes, churros, fish-mould waffle ice-creams are among a few of the many mouth-watering desserts. Next up if you have an elaborate dinner in mind, start with kimchi like the Koreans do. A spicy and sour fermented vegetable preparation, it is enjoyed as a salad or side dish for meals. Bibimbap, one of the fewer Korean foods that can be equally enjoyed by vegetarians too, is a one-bowl meal consisting of seasoned rice, sautéed vegetables, mushrooms, soy sauce and an addition of beef and fried egg in case of meat eaters. Bulgogi, a marinated barbecued beef dish grilled with garlic and onions for flavour, is a must-have.
Speaking of barbecue, that’s a form of cooking that has extended beyond home kitchens, commercial restaurants or streets, and has now become a social event at campsites such as the Nanji Camp Ground, which offers countryside vibes by allowing visitors to cycle by the sundown and enjoy a barbecue by the tents. It's what is known as 'glamping'.
Indian travellers are in for comfort when traveling to Seoul because the city has multiple Indian restaurants serving authentic food, close enough to the homeland. Unlike the local restaurants, Indian restaurants serve plenty of dishes for vegetarians at an affordable price. On my trip, I visited a couple of them, and found a favourite in Ganga restaurant. Apart from its scrumptious food, the restaurant has a fine-dining ambience with an immersive view of the city best enjoyed at dinner.
Things To Know:
>In the case of funds, it’s best to carry US dollars or Korean Won. Dollars can be easily exchanged. Indian cards work too and can be beneficial when shopping. Many brand outlets offer immediate tax refund upon spending 30,000 Won (Approx. Rs 1,800 and above).
>An average meal for a person at an inexpensive restaurant can cost you 7,000 Won (Approx. Rs 420).
>The cheapest mode of transportation is the metro, followed by cabs. However, keep in mind that Black cabs in Seoul charge the most, whereas the other multi-coloured cabs (Orange, White, Grey, Yellow) charge by the base fare of 3,800 Won (Approx. Rs 228)
>As an Indian traveller going to South Korea, if you have questions, get in touch with the dedicated Korea Tourism Organization, Delhi.
The writer is a pop culture travel blogger, writer and curious entrepreneur. Her trails can be found on Instagram