Seoul patrol: 9 awesome attractions in South Korea's capital
MANILA, Philippines – On my first night walking around Myeongdong, Seoul's bright and busy shopping district, I couldn't help but hear snippets of Filipino at every other stall. Kababayans were everywhere, haggling with sellers, hoarding cosmetics, and gasping at the abundance and variety of street food. This came as no surprise to me, because the second I stepped foot in South Korea's capital, I knew it was a tourist's dream.
I'd imagine large groups, from families and barkadas to companies interested in holding outings, meetings, and other events abroad, would love how easy it is to experience Seoul. A good number of locals are fluent in conversational English, shopping prices are decent (you can get a whopping 20 sheet face masks for less than P500!), and you will never get bored with the variety of attractions and activities available.
So, what can you and your squad do in Seoul?
1) Hanbok dress-up
My hands-down favorite experience in Seoul was getting to dress up in a traditional Korean outfit, or hanbok. There are many rental stores around the capital, where you can choose your own blouse-and-skirt combos and even get your hair and makeup done. Gents have their choice of spiffy tops, pants, and hats too! You can flounce around the city on foot in your fancy garb, or in my group's case, take a pedicab tour of traditional Korean homes.
2) Pedicab tour
The Artee Riders Club offers private pedicab tours, and you get to be driven by the most interesting young men and women! Our driver that day, Mugu, was a philosophy student in one of Seoul's universities. He said he loved feminist philosophy in particular, which had me grinning from ear to ear. Pair that conversation with getting driven around like royalty and it made for a grand afternoon.
3) Hands-on cooking class
Food, it goes without saying, is also a highlight in any tour of Seoul. If you love super flavorful (and often super spicy!) food, then the capital is your bet. But you can take your gastronomic adventure one step further by taking an actual cooking class with a Paris-trained chef!
At OME Cooking Lab, we got to cook dak galbi, a classic spicy chicken stew, and my personal favorite, japchae, sweet-and-salty stir-fried potato noodles! As someone who barely steps foot in front of a stove, I made some boo-boos here and there, but our chef focused on each one of us with care and helped make sure we cooked a tasty lunch for ourselves.
4) Old-school tea and sweets
Korean desserts and sweets are also a must-try. Sit down for some tea made from yuzu, a sweet citrus reminiscent of calamansi, and try the following: gangjeong, or squares made of puffed rice, nuts, and dried fruits; jeonggwa, or dried fruits soaked in syrup; yakgwa, or dough cakes sticky with honey; and deep-fried lotus roots, which are a lot like cassava chips!
5) Ice cream and other street food
Korean ice cream is also a crowd-pleaser, especially when they come in fanciful shapes and flavors! The rose-shaped ice cream cones below were available near shopping hotspots and came in green tea, strawberry, and yogurt flavors – the perfect light snack while hopping from one store to another. You can also try many other kinds of unique street food, from cheese-topped lobsters and all kinds of fish- and squidballs, to stringy and sugary "dragon's beard" sweets and giant strawberries wrapped in mochi.
6) Live theater
If you're tired of walking around and want to take in a show, I recommend The Painters: Hero, a performance I never would have predicted. Take four K-pop-approved young men, give them comic acting chops, slick dance moves and, most surprisingly, amazing drawing and painting skills, and you have an hour and a half of jaw-dropping entertainment. These guys drew complex images several feet high in lightning fast speed; I couldn't help but be impressed.
7) Seoul Sky
Another indoor activity you can do is visit Seoul Sky at the Lotte World Tower, which is the world's third highest observatory at 500 meters and 123 floors. Looking at it from outside, the building is both daunting and gorgeous, and is said to be shaped after the end of a traditional Korean paintbrush.
But if you have a fear of heights, you're going to have to brace yourself for its biggest attraction – the glass-bottomed observation deck on the 118th floor! If you don't mind being almost half a kilometer above a busy street, though, it's a dizzying thrill you have to try.
8) Gyeongbok Palace
And no matter how modern the city of Seoul may be, there are many spots perfect for history buffs, most notably Gyeongbok Palace, considered one of the grandest in the country. It's also a good place for a quiet walk if you want to get away from the bustle of the city. Try to get there in time for the changing of the guard, which is always a humbling sight.
9) Seoullo 7017
You can also cap off a busy day by strolling along Seoullo 7017, a stretch of green built atop a decades-old highway overpass. Take in the sunset while sitting by the small fountains and foliage (and maybe do a quick check of who else you need to get pasalubong for).
Those are only a few of the things you can do in the capital. Rest assured that no matter how varied your group's members may be, there'll be something to wow and entertain them in this energetic metropolis!
If you'd like to know more about touring Seoul, I suggest visiting Korea Tourism Organization Manila. They're very organized and can personalize tours for big groups. - Rappler.com
This familiarization tour was facilitated by Korea Tourism Organization Manila