What does Seoul have to offer for people who are not into the K-pop culture? This was the question I had in mind when I went to Seoul from late August to early September for the launch party of Booking.com's Ultimate K-pop Experience (which cost a whooping S$35 only, including flights, accommodations and exclusive experiences). Since it was such a waste to go there for merely two nights, I extended this short work trip into a week-long dive into the soul of Seoul.
Call me myopic, but I genuinely thought that I wouldn't enjoy Seoul the way it deserves to be enjoyed simply because I'm not into K-pop, K-dramas or their beauty culture. However, just the city Seoul itself is way bigger than I had imagined, and some research helped me narrow down the activities I could immerse myself in.
So, what do you do if you're like me, sitting on the fence about travelling to Seoul, especially as a solo traveller? Here are quickfire reviews of tried-and-tested experiences, accommodations and food in Seoul that have worked together to provide me with an enjoyable solo getaway.
What to do in Seoul
1. Stamp-making class
I went to the stamp-carving class right after checking into my hotel after a red-eye flight, and it was the perfect activity to ease one into the hustle and bustle of Seoul. I was the only one in the class on a Monday afternoon, and the instructor, while not fluent in English, had an iPad ready with clear instructions in various languages. Between the iPad, her live demonstration and correction, I left the stress-free class with a unique souvenir to bring home, all in under an hour. Highly recommended!
Bonus: The studio is also situated in the cultural heart of Seoul: Insa-dong, filled with delightful teahouses and Korean eateries worth exploring for a full day and more. Grab a bite at any of the eateries hidden in the many alleyways of the area!
2. Night tour covering Central Seoul Evening Tour
The tour guide was knowledgeable and engaging despite the gloomy evening rain, bringing us to five different destinations while giving a quick history. We're allowed plenty of time to take photos and explore the grounds, but let's be honest: a tour is a tour, and it's hard not to feel like lambs being shepherded around towards the end.
The upside is that, unlike some tours, there are no shopping stops, and you can get a quick download of the highlighted attractions. Make a mental note to revisit the destinations you're interested in at a more leisurely pace!
3. K-Pop Dance Lesson
Leave self-consciousness at the door and treat a K-Pop dance session like a fun workout (and workout it was indeed). Even if you don't know any songs in Korean, it's still a fun activity whether you're doing it solo or with friends. I like that the instructor was cognizant of the abilities of the group, and really dedicated time to make everyone feel comfortable.
4. Museum Kimchikan Admission
Love to eat kimchi? Here are all of the information you'll ever need about them, including tasting of the different types of kimchi. If you are so inclined, you can also take a kimchi-making class!
5. Bukhansan National Park
It's hard to imagine that you can get dramatic granite peaks and gentle waterfalls around an hour away from Seoul's city centre, but Bukhansan National Park provides just that. The park receives around five million visitors each year and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Visited National Park per Unit Area”. Depending on your fitness levels, there are multiple trails to choose from, and most importantly, entrance is free!
6. Myeong-dong Korea SPA & Massage Experience
After all that walking and shopping you'll undoubtedly do in Seoul, you might be wondering if a massage is worth the splurge in Seoul. While the price differences are not high compared to Singapore, what differed greatly was the amount of services rendered for the same price. In the 1.5 hours session (~S$141) I purchased from the above link, the following services were provided, including a massage touted to reduce the size of one's face.
The session felt slightly rushed and less relaxing because so many services needed to be checked off the list. However, I'm willing to overlook it for the value of the treatments received, plus it was located strategically in the middle of Myeong-dong, perfect for a relaxing break after a day of frenzied shopping.
Where to stay in Seoul
Seoul offers a generous amount of choices regarding accommodations – from hostels and delightful boutique residences to upscale hotels – so it's really about finding a hotel that vibes with you (and your wallet).
Hands down one of the most gorgeous suites I've stayed in, the Artist Suite in RYSE Hotel are specifically designed in collaboration with curated global creatives. The room I was assigned to is Suite 1501, designed by Chris Ro with a focus on the colour yellow, representing the feeling of being basked in the warmth of sunshine. It's a treat for the senses definitely.
Fraser Place Central Seoul
This family-friendly stay has one of the biggest rooms at a very reasonable price point, and includes a washing machine and stoves, a microwave and even a rice cooker.
Plus point, it's within distance to City Hall as well as Seoul station, with plenty of buses available right opposite the hotel that goes to other parts of Seoul.
What to eat in Seoul
Here are four places you have to put on your list.
Address: 130 Yanghwa-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Why check this out: Incredibly generous portions that are fresh and well-executed.
Ganjang Gejang (Hongik)
Address: 59 World Cup buk-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Why check this out: Buffet, raw crabs, need I say more?
Address: 42-5 Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Why check this out: Full of locals, so you know you're getting the true local experience.
Goryeo Samgyetang City Hall Branch
Address: 55-3 Seosomun-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Why check this out: It's awarded recommended by the Michelin Guide, it's a hearty and hangover-dispelling meal. Pro-tip: Go 10 minutes before opening time to get a seat.
Check airfare here: Skyscanner | Trip.com | Expedia
Book accommodations and activities here: Agoda | Booking.com | Klook | KKday | HotelsCombined | LuxuryEscapes
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General info here: Tripadvisor
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