Going to Korea has always been on my bucket list since I fell into the kpop trap in 2009. Ever since then I have been constantly listening to korean songs, watched a couple of korean dramas and variety shows and even took up korean classes in my university days. When I finally persuaded my parents to choose korea as the destination for our family vacation this year, my mum put me in charge of planning the itinerary, which I took super long to craft.
Finally, it was the start of our trip. It’s my first time on board Cathay Pacific so I was quite amused by the quality of the flight. They had blankets and pillows provided for passengers, and there was in-flight entertainment and new earphones and it was my first time having a meal on the plane too. Overall it was a comfortable flight experience even though I usually hate flying.
Our transit was at HongKong but it turned out to be quite a disappointment because all the shops were still closed when we arrived. There wasn’t anything much to do for the 2 hours.
After a few more hours, we finally arrived at Incheon International Airport where the temperature was -2deg at noon. We were like ‘How is that possible? It looks so bright outside’ but as soon as we got out of the stuffy plane, the cold air hit us and we immediately put on our thick jackets and layered on our clothes.
We arrived at the airport around noon and our first stop was at Busan, so we had to book tickets to take the train to Seoul first, then change to Train To Busan (legit). Booking of tickets was not much of a problem since I had already looked up the train timings in advance and the staff at ICN could speak English.
The train to busan was really comfortable. It was a long journey (about 4 hours) and I kept dozing off. By the time we reached Busan, it was already evening and the sun has already set (sun sets earlier in winter). We then took a taxi to our airbnb apartment, located near Seomyeon station. Can’t really remember what we did then but I think we walked around for a bit (the shops at the subway station were closed) and ate some tteokbokki and omuk (fish cakes) at a roadside stall (where the lady boss wasn’t very friendly cos my mum and I didnt know how to eat omuk, like how to order and stuff). Our airbnb apartment was bigger than I expected and it is probably a dorm for students cos we saw quite a few youngsters in the building. The owner also provided us with a a flat iron for us to do our hair.
We headed to Yongdusan Park around 10am in the morning. Korea’s skies are so beautiful for some reason, the sky was so blue and instagrammable.
Yongdusan Park is located at the top of a mountain (that’s why its called Yongdu-san) but fret not cos there are escalators to help you climb up to the top (but there were no down-riding ones so I guess you’ll have to climb down the stairs).
We then walked to BIFF where we bought some hotteoks, which are sweet pancakes filled with brown sugar and sunflower seeds and chopped nuts (busan version – which is different from seoul’s. Seoul’s one was mostly with brown sugar syrup). My dad ate at Lotteria, which is korea’s equivalent of Macs (and they had WannaOne as their ambassadors).
There wasn’t anything much at BIFF so we carried on walking to Jagalchi Market. It’s mainly a seafood marketplace where loads of fresh seafood are sold. We bought an octopus and some abalones (5 for 10,000won – quite a steal). These ingredients were then brought upstairs where there were restaurants to help us prepare and cook them.
My sis and I tried san-nakji which means raw octopus and also the cooked version as we requested for the octopus to be half-cooked and half-raw (just in case we didn’t dare to eat the raw version). My sis took a bite first and after she ate it, I followed. It was scary cos the tentacles continued to squirm in the sesame oil dressing and it was still squirming when I put it into my mouth. I just shut my eyes and chewed, but I think it tasted okay. It’s not that scary after you get past your first bite. As for the abalones, they had a distinctive BBQ smokey smell and it tasted like mushrooms.
After lunch, we headed to Gamcheon Culture Village. We had to take a bus from Toeseong station and it was a short but hilly ride. The village was quiet but apparently there are real people living there so it is better for tourists not to make so much noise while at the village.
There were many murals painted on the walls. How I wish Singapore had such a village with so many different artworks displayed proudly on our walls!
In the evening, we headed to Gwangalli Beach – honestly, its better to go to the beach during summer. It was so cold when we got there. (Little did we know that Seoul was going to be 10 times colder)
We then travelled back to our airbnb apartment and explored the vicinity. The street across us was covered with pretty golden yellow leaves and it felt like it was autumn.
Every country I go to, I will never fail to check out their convenience stores. Korea has quite a few such as 7-Eleven, GS25 etc. There was a GS25 outlet near our apartment so I would go there to grab some snacks for supper. Banana milk is one of the snacks that I would get almost every night, somehow it’s a very comforting drink and it helps me sleep well at night.
We tried to find a place for breakfast but there were none so we walked into a bakery to get some breakfast. I also ordered sweet potato latte which is quite common in Korea – tasted a little like Mr Bean’s yam drink, but very frothy and sweet and warm.
We took a train back to Seoul and checked into our hotel apartment (Ewha Hotel at Myeongdong).
My dad ordered mandu (dumplings) while my sis got Kimchi Ramen and I ate Kimchi stew. I love how everything is usually served in stone bowls because they keep the food warm.
As we had some time at night, we decided to head out to Han River (where many dramas were filmed at) – but since it was winter and it was freezing cold in Seoul, there was no one in sight.
IT WAS REALLY SOOOOO COLD. My hands were so numb that I had to use my nose to unlock my phone. And the wind was insane.
We got up early in the morning and had our simple breakfast at the hotel and headed out to Gyeongbukgung Palace.
Initially we wanted to rent the hanbok but it was too cold. The palace was really quite magnificent.
We didn’t get to see the guard-changing ceremony but we got to take photos with the guards.
After touring around the palace, we went to a restaurant called Tosokchon Samgyetang which is famous for its ginseng chicken – a dish popular during winter.
The broth was dense and the chicken was really soft. Just a slight touch using your chopsticks and you could easily get the meat off the bones. There was a whole ginseng inside the chicken, together with some glutinous rice and dates. There was also some ginseng liquor which was meant to be poured into the soup but I drank it on its own lol.
My mum started developing abdomen pains and she said her urine was bloody so we went to a pharmacy nearby and got some medicine for her suspected urinary tract infection.
After lunch, we went to Bukchon Hanok Village, which was a village featuring old korean houses. Tbh there wasn’t anything much to see here so we went to another palace nearby, which is Changdeokgung Palace.
Changdeokgung Palace was similar to Gyeongbukgung Palace but a little more magnificent. I guess if you don’t have much time to visit both, Changdeokgung would be a better place to visit. There was also a small garden area but the pond had already frozen when we arrived (but I think it will be very beautiful in spring or summer or even autumn).
At night, we walked around Myeongdong. My dad is quite fussy about food because he doesn’t eat fried food and he kept insisting on eating food with rice and warm soup (which was pretty difficult to find in korea). So my parents went to a restaurant to eat while my sis and I explored myeongdong and ate their street food.
It was later at night that we received a message from my dad saying that he brought my mum to the hospital. My mum hasn’t been feeling well for the past few days and she has complained of abdomen pain and apparently she had blood in her urine. But going to a hospital in korea???? with the language barrier????? Both my sis and I were quite shocked so we went to the hospital to visit my mum. (luckily there was a hospital near our hotel)
And we were really very lucky that a staff from the hotel accompanied my mum to the hospital and translated everything cos the doctors in korea don’t speak english (facepalm). They gave her IV drip (koreans kinda IV drip for everything, I’ve seen so many korean idols get IV drips that it becomes sort of like a mandatory treatment once you enter the hospital).
Heard from my dad that the doctors couldn’t find anything abnormal in the xrays nor blood tests so they discharged her that night.
While my mum rested at the hotel and my dad accompanied her, my sis and I continued with our itinerary. We headed out to Namsangol Hanok Village – way more splendid than Bukchon Hanok Village. But I remember we had quite a hard time finding our way there.
There were also Korean traditional games for visitors to play and my sis tried out one of them – some rope throwing game, and she scored one and the old folks watching applauded for her. LOL cute.
There were more things to see here at Namsangol as compared to Bukchon. The houses were well-furnished with quilts and furniture.
There is also a park outside, where we saw several old folks taking their morning brisk walks. Quite a nice weather too.
After that, we went to Gwangjang Market for lunch.
There were plenty of stalls selling the same type of food so eventually we went into one selling Kimchi Jeon (pancakes).
Maybe because I was famished, I really enjoyed the kimchi pancake. It tasted even better with the kimchi! Crispy, salty, sour, spicy – it was flavourful with every bite!
We had strawberry juice after the pancakes. Korea’s strawberries are really of a different level! The actual strawberries are even better than the juice.
We then headed off to another destination – Ihwa Mural Village. This is Seoul’s version of Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan. Colourful paintings on walls.
But it was a long and arduous journey! The slopes were so steep that my sis and I had to stop several times while climbing up. Apparently it is situated on Naksan (another mountain) which explains why the slopes are so steep.
Not really worth going too, unless you like cafes.
In the late afternoon, we went to Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). Cool architecture where Seoul’s fashion shows are often held at. But other than that, its just like a shopping centre / artsy place.
We bought some street food (chicken skewers and breaded hotdog) and headed to Cheonggyecheon Stream just to take photos lol.
The sun started to set around 4plus so we went back to Myeongdong.
We decided to check out the shortcut back to our hotel and chanced upon this cathedral which was breathtakingly beautiful. It felt like we were actually somewhere in London.
Can’t remember what we did next but I think we went out for some street food at myeongdong again.
‘Wah girl, see! It’s snowing leh! Wah 好美哦!’
My mum was so ecstatic about the snow outside our hotel. We got dressed hurriedly and went outdoors to play in the snow.
It was our first time experiencing snow so we were all really excited. The streets were covered in snow – so pretty!!
Following our itinerary for the day, we went to Jogyesa Temple.
We walked past a restaurant which sells reasonably priced food so we went in and ordered Omuk, Kimbap and Ramyeon.
On our way to Ewha womans university, we bought some bungeoppang from a road stall which was sooooo good. Crispy on the outside and filled with warm red bean/custard fillings inside.
In the late afternoon, we also went to a Coin Noraebang (Karaoke room). Korea has these coin noraebangs where you could pay by the number of songs you want to sing. It was 500won for 2 songs and 1000won for 5 songs. We sang a total of 7 songs (they had chinese songs as well).
In the evening, we went to Hongdae where we saw lots of young people busking and there was this guy who sang Crush’s Beautiful (very beautifully). I bought some fried cheese thingy and it was soooooo yummy!
At night, we went back to Myeongdong and it started snowing while I was having my hotteok lol.
We headed out early because we were planning to go to Nami Island which was about more than 2 hours away.
We took a train to Gapyeong Station and then a bus to Nami Island ferry terminal to take a ferry. It was especially cold this day but I read that it is best to go to Nami Island on a weekday to avoid the crowd and it was our 2nd last day in Korea so we had no choice.
It was probably around -9deg when we went to Nami Island and it was so cold and windy that I thought I had frostbite on my ear. We had to walk quite a distance before we found a place to have our lunch.
The Seafood Ramyeon was absolutely delicious! It’s like typical Ramyeon but bursting with seafood flavours from the mussels and crab. Also spicy enough to warm our stomaches.
I also saw this doll designed by Choi Siwon, named Ten like his character in She Was Pretty.
This place was so beautiful but so cold omg. Two of my fingers turned green – not sure if its because I’m too cold and I’ve been gripping on to my glove too tightly that it cut off my blood circulation. Anyway I immediately went to a warm place and bought an “army” heat pack (TN: BUY THIS BRAND OF HEAT PACKS IT CAN LAST MORE THAN 24 HOURS) to warm my fingers, hoping that it was not frostbite.
Day 8 (Last day)
We couldn’t really travel much on this day because our flight was at 2pm and we had to get to the airport early.
Seoul was getting colder and it was around -13deg that morning.
So that’s all for our Korea trip! (5th Dec – 12th Dec)
Here is my itinerary, we didn’t manage to cover all places but most of them were covered. Thanks to my friends who have contributed their itineraries for my reference too!
vontagelove Korea Itinerary (click to download)
- I can’t speak Korean, how can I communicate with Koreans?
Most Koreans have a basic understanding of English. Or you can try speaking Mandarin because there are actually lots of Chinese in Korea – so much so that there is a higher chance of meeting someone who speaks mandarin more than english. And if everything fails, you can always rely on body language!
2. Is it difficult to travel around in Korea?
Not really, if you travel by subway. I can’t say the same for buses because it can get quite confusing if you can’t read Hangeul.
3. Korean food is all the same.
Most korean restaurants provide korean side dishes for free as long as you order something. But I have to agree that they don’t have much variety when it comes to food.
My thoughts on Korean people:
Being a kpop fan, I often think that koreans are all good looking and have flawless skin but seeing the “normal people” in real life, they are actually not much different from us. You would think that koreans often have crazy hair colours but in contrary, we didn’t see many koreans having bleached hair, only one or two. BUT korean guys are really taller than SG guys, like any guy beside you on a subway could easily be 175cm and above. Most of them are about 180cm or even taller. And they groom themselves well and dress well at least (maybe its because they can’t just wear shorts and slippers in winter).
In terms of being helpful or approachable, I think the people in Taiwan are more friendly and helpful. Even though I was dragging my super heavy luggage up the stairs from the subway station (Korea has very few escalators or elevators), no one offered to help me ):
But generally I would say korea is quite clean (the toilets are clean – people use them responsibly) and safe.
I really want to go back to korea again, but maybe during the hotter seasons!