Travel Blogger. ESL Teacher. Optimistic Millennial Adventurer!
I'm sampling website themes. Please bear with me while I get it all together! #staytuned
Ah, South Korea—it’s the first place I landed after quitting my 1st teaching job in China of 4 years. I hit Seoul and Busan, Korea’s two largest and most popular cities, to be exact.
I had actually lived and worked as an ESL teacher in Seoul for a month back in 2010, and since I was living in China and a flight back to the booming metropolis was just a mere 2 hours away, I figured I’d drop everything I was doing, pack my bags, and make way for a weeklong solo adventure across the country. Here’s a recap:
Day 1. I had heard that Dongdaemun was one of the top places to stay in Seoul. That it was this massive shopping district that stretched across 10 blocks and stayed busy 24/7, so you know I had to explore it. In fact, I had to stay there, too.
It was my first stop in Seoul and I quickly found it to be true—Dongdaemun was active at all hours of the night. Not for its nightlife, but mainly for just about anything related to shopping.
From glitzy malls to back alley markets, I’d never seen so many people walking around with huge, garbage truck sized trash bags of goods ever in my life. Ever. Not to mention that there were piles of goody bags lining the streets and endless boxes being shoved on and off shipping trucks until the crack of dawn.
And aside from shopping, the best item at Dongdaemun was Heunginjimun Gate, or Dongdaemun East Gate, which was a fortress built in 1398. How cool is that to have such an ancient landmark smack dab in the middle of a bustling shopping district?
History, markets, crowds, street snacks, blinding neon lights—now this was South Korea. Dongdaemun was a great way to kick off my weeklong adventure.
Next up was a trip to Seoul Tower. I love hitting the observation decks of tall structures—towers, monuments, buildings, skyscrapers--anytime I travel, and at 236.7-meters high I’d say the 360-degree view of Seoul was just what I was looking for.
And Seoul just seemed like most regions in South Asia I had visited—massive, crammed, and teeming with those flashing neon lights at every turn.
And that view... That view. There’s just something about traveling across South Asia that felt more ‘majestic’ than any other region I've visited in the world. Have you ever been?
Day 2. Want to know what’s crazy? You ever actually been to anywhere even remotely resembling those ridiculously beautiful places on HD desktop wallpapers? I have, and it was Seoul’s Olympic Park.
It was Autumn and I kid you not, Olympic Park looked one of those Thanksgiving wallpapers you and I have probably seen a thousand times. You know, heaps of red, orange, and yellow leaves drifting off trees and scattered across the ground. Olympic Park was exactly that—no effects, no Photoshop, just 100% nature.
Plus there were just tons of cool things to see at the park, like an Olympic museum, some pretty neat sculptures, a rose garden, and a 24-meter tall iconic ‘peace’ gate.
Yeah, South Asia’s just killing the game when it comes to cool looking recreational spaces.
Afterwards I made a stop here and there, did a little sightseeing, and took photos of this and that. Seoul was awesome at every turn!
And then came time to party. I probably heard Psy’s “Gangnam Style” a billion times before arriving in Seoul. They played it everywhere in China—emphasis on the everywhere—and so you better believe that hitting Seoul’s most touted nightlife spot was a top priority.
And was it worth all the hype? Definitely! For one, heck, it was just cool to look at. This was Korea after all, so much like every major shopping center and party hub across the country, Gangnam’s main strip was stacked with all types of cool looking neon signs hanging off buildings.
And two? Bars, lounges, KTV’s, clubs, restaurants—they were everywhere, and in all directions.
K-pop, dubstep, electro, house, techno, hip-hop, rock, pop—there was a joint for whatever you fancied.
Young, old, local, expat, tourist—you just couldn’t have a better atmosphere to party and mingle.
Three? I kid you not, I saw the most beautiful Asian women I’d ever seen in my life walking down Gangnam, and top of that, she was only wearing her work clothes! Is Gangnam worth the visit? Hell yeah!
Gupo & Yangnyeong Traditional Markets
Day 3. I honestly don’t know why I made a stop at Seoul’s Gyeongdong and Yangnyeong Markets, but thank God I did. After all, hitting a traditional market was exactly the type of cultural stuff I like to do when traveling.
The markets were flooding with herbs, spices, medicines, fresh fruit and vegetables, raw meat and fish, nuts, flowers, kitchenware, and household items.
The 2 craziest looking items I came across were an active honeycomb bag containing live hornets and a bunch of large fish containing 2-3 smaller fish within their mouths. Who thought of that marketing plan?
At the end of the day exploring the markets was a great opportunity to stray away from the flashy, commercial tourism side of Seoul for a chance to hang out in a cultural setting with the locals. Hey, you can’t … shouldn’t be ‘on the scene’ all the time.
I landed at Gwanghwamun Square by mid-day and boy was it busy! It actually reminded me of parts of LA—endless traffic, lots of buildings, and crowds of tourists stopping to take photos in front of statues. And then it happened. I stumbled on the best travel surprise yet …
2nd Annual Kimchi Festival
Seoul’s 2nd Annual Kimchi Festival was being held right in Gwanghwamun Square. Boo-yah!
Ever tried kimchi? Better yet, ever heard of it? It’s a traditional dish of Korea, usually made from cabbage, radish, cucumbers, scallion, garlic, brine, ginger, shrimp sauce, and fish sauce.
I had never seen so many varieties of kimchi ever. The Kimchi Festival served it spicy, slimy, stewed, and even on top of fresh autumn leaves. They also provided tons of information about kimchi’s history, its role In Korea culture, nutritional value, and development from past to present.
I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of kimchi, but heck, I was in South Korea, so I made sure to snatch up a sample of whatever I could get my hands on. Eating authentic, homegrown kimchi at Seoul’s Annual Kimchi Festival wound up being one of the dopest things I could ever do in South Korea.
Seoul’s Gyeongbokgung Palace was plastered across every tourist website, travel blog, and brochure I saw. So how goes it?
There’s the entrance—one of Korea’s most iconic landmarks by the way—that was home to these gigantic royal guards that “protected” its gate. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to pick a fight with them!
On the inside? Your typical collection of temples, shrines, and halls. It was a great way to observe Korea’s traditional architecture up-close, and it was even better spotting its contrast to the city’s modern skyscrapers sitting right across the street.
At the backend sat a large pond enclosing a shrine.
If you’ve got a good camera you might just take some of the best pictures you’ve ever taken in your life at Gyeongbukgong Palace, especially in Autumn!
Again, I always love heading up to the observation deck of the tallest building in town whenever I travel. That’s where Seoul’s 63 Building comes into play.
It was 250-meters high (819 ft.), gold plated, and had its very own SkyArt Gallery on its 60th floor which could be reached by a glass elevator.
I saw a large portion of Seoul near and far, and it offered a much better view of the city than Seoul Tower ever could.
I went during the day, watched the sunset, and was out about an hour after nightfall.
On to the 2015 Seoul Lantern Festival—another awesome Korean cultural extravaganza that I got a chance to visit by being at the right place at the right time.
There were lanterns of all types of sizes representing structures, symbols, national characters of international regions, logos, abstract designs, and even philosophical phrases.
As for the States, can you think of anything even remotely equivalent? There’s LA’s Rosebowl Parade, New York’s Thanksgiving Macy’s Day Parade, and … that’s all I know!
Seoul’s 2015 Lantern Festival was a great reminder of why I chose to teach English abroad—to travel, experience new cultures, and share my adventures with the world!
In the next day I’d wake up in the a.m. and made my way over to Busan for 2 days.
Day 5. Back in Seoul. I had read somewhere that Seoul’s Sungnyemun Gate was one of the coolest historical sites in town. Plus it was located right next to Namdaemun Market, one of city’s most popular places to shop.
As for the market? Eh. Souvenirs, household products, clothes, toys, flowers, hats, fabric, medical supplies, electronics, street snacks—I’d seen it all before. The only thing I did dig into my pockets for were some beauty products for my girlfriend back in China. She’d kill me if I came back without it.
And Sungnyemun Gate? Here was yet another one of these prominent ancient monuments located smack dab in a bustling modern city center.
To look up and spot this cool fusion of past, present, and future, perched right in the heart of the city was such an awesome cultural experience.
Alright, so I’m not exactly a fan of “going shopping," but having read that Seoul’s Myeondong was this kind of massive ‘shopper’s paradise,' that’s all I needed to know to make it the next stop on my adventure.
Crowded alleyways, thousands of neon lights, bright boutiques, luxury stores, and endless aromas oozing out of local street snacks. Can I say it again? Now this was South Korea!
In fact, I’d say that Myeondong was one of those best kind of places to get a good look at the people of the Korea, ie their fashion, lifestyle, and how they interact with expats and tourist.
And if anything, well, at least go for the Instagram pics. I mean c’mon, look at these photos!
Day 6. My last day in Korea. College kids, indie crowds, art festivals, underground bands—Hongdae was the last stop I made before I hit the airport in Seoul.
I’ve always love these kinds of areas. They’re teeming with youthful energy, good vibes, art, creativity, and lots of things to do.
Hongdae had its fair share of vendors, shops, boutiques, art galleries, cafes, bars, clubs, and karaoke lounges. It’s just too bad that I only had enough time to pick up a souvenir or two!
And just like that, my weeklong adventure in South Korea had come to an end. I had done all I could in the few days I was there, so much so that my legs were completely burnt out by the time I sat on the plane.
And what was my biggest regret of traveling in Seoul? Heck, I just wish I had stayed longer. Safe and happy travels!
Follow Don on Instagram at DonESLAdventure and Subscribe on Youtube at Don's ESL Adventure!