Wouldn’t lie, the country was not exactly on my bucket list. Purely because of food and language. And while both the issues came up loud and clear, it was not as big a problem as I imagined it to be. This was an impromptu trip because one of my best friends was traveling to Seoul for work. My generation didn’t do the cool girls-trip or finding themselves by back-packing through Europe in their 20s thing. So this was a perfect opportunity to live that dream when we got the chance! Oh and as a bonus, check out the plotted map at the end of all the places to see in Seoul and Busan. Copy the map and arrange it as per your preference and make your own itinerary!
Mid-June weather is just perfect for enjoying Seoul. A few showers may happen every now and then. We were relatively lucky to not have only occasional quick showers that we could wait out. The weather was not too hot or too cold; just pleasant to be out and about. I packed summer clothes and sneakers and they served me well for sightseeing (and taking pictures of me because blogger life wink-wink!)
Since the population mainly does not speak English and many bus drivers, shop venders etc. also do not speak English, it is a good idea to have internet access at all times. There are various options available and this portable tiny Wi-Fi router is a brilliant solution. It is cost-efficient and easy to get.
You can book it in advance and pay online, then collect it at the airport on your way out. The same router is then returned at the airport on your way to catch flight back home! Unlimited internet as per your selected days, is a very good deal. They even give you a tiny power-bank for the router! Having internet made the trip super smooth and easy.
As always Skyscanner.com gave me the best options for flights. Korean Air offers direct flights to Seoul from major cities and it is a huge time-saver. I however had to choose other option for convenience and Singapore Airlines was a great option. Booking around 1.5 months before the trip wasn’t too bad in terms of prices either.
Booking.com did not disappoint. Even though the majority of the population do not appear to speak English, the hotel staff at most places speaks English quite well. They are also helpful and accommodating. We stayed at 3 different places, one of which was more like an Airbnb. All the hotels were absolutely perfect and comfortable. Most places are also well-connected by public transport.
I confidently walked out the door of my house when leaving for Seoul, telling the husband dearest that I absolutely do not need to shop and I totally wont! He obviously did not believe me. And rightfully so! It is a skincare HEAVEN! While the rest of the world is catching up with the sheet masks and the 10-step Korean skincare routine, the actual magic is happening in South Korea!
The skincare range is limitless. Set aside some time to check out and shop for skincare. I actually collected samples and used it for a day and two and then went back to buy the full size. Most stores will just give away sheet masks like candy (to encourage you to go in and check out the store)!
Commuting is easy and convenient. Everything is connected by subways and buses. South Korea happens to be the only country where Google maps do not work. Well, not entirely anyway. The walking and driving navigation on Google maps is disabled for South Korea.
Getting a T-Money card is a great option since it covers transport using subways and buses. Whatever is left in your card can be refunded at the airport CU convenience store. Saves the hassle of paying cash everywhere too.
Korea happens to be primarily meat-consuming population. It is not impossible but definitely hard to find vegetarian food. Most things would have fish/oyster sauce in the least. For meat eaters, this place an impressive food range. Korean street food is popular and available in the shopping areas so you get a wholesome experience as you shop.
Enter Indian in this situation. My friend came prepared with truckloads of snacks and ready to eat food! The instant noodles, poha, upma, and soup packets saved our lives and time. The trusted Theplas, chutney, khakhra and pickle were another fine addition. We had the option to just grab a packet of bread and use some chutney and veggies to make a quick sandwich. Protein bars and all kinds of grab and go snacks kept us happy while sight-seeing. So vegetarians go prepared with some back-up plan for food.
This site here provides a few vegetarian items that you could try from Korean cuisine. Also screenshot this information below that I found on this site here, and show to the food vendors to explain your dietary requirements.
No meat – eotteon gogiga eobs-seubnida
어떤 고기가 없습니다
No fish – mulgogiga eobsda
Can you make a vegetarian version of this dish – Hoksi i yorireul chaesikjuuijayongeuro mandeureo jusil su innayo?
혹시 이 요리를 (비건) 채식주의자용으로 만들어 주실 수 있나요?
The country and the culture are hugely into cute things. Colours, interiors, decors, items available for shopping, everything! As always, I did my homework on YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest to find the perfect places that interest us. Plotting them on google maps as usual, and breaking them into zones, helped plan itineraries for each day. Not to miss are their cultural and artsy villages, and at least a few of their amazing quirky cafes. Find instragrammable cafes on google and plot them on your map. As you go through your sights, if something pops up as being nearby, just go check it out!
Day-trip to Busan:
Since the trip happened because of my bestie travelling primarily for work, I was by myself for 2.5 days while she attended to her business. Making a day-trip to the city nearby was a good idea. Busan is about 2-2.5 hours train ride from Seoul. I used this site here to check what options I had and to book my tickets. The KTX runs efficiently for this service and has reserved seating and Wi-Fi on board.
My trip turned out to be a little unusual. I got in touch with a photographer in Busan via Instagram. She helped me explore the city while gathering content for the blog. Meeting new people and making new friends like this is absolutely the best value addition to any vacation! Do check out her work and her complete gallery of the shots we took together, here.
This day happened to be the worst for food because we did not have time to hunt for places that served vegetarian options. So I had to wait till 10 at night to get some hot food. Had to survive on protein-bars and snacks all day and I did not enjoy that at all. What I now realise in hindsight, is that I should always keep a disposable cup and one of the instant hot-food packets on me. Any café can provide boiling hot water and adding that to any of the soup sachets or something, could make an instant meal! Lesson learnt for next time.
One of the most popular places to visit in South Korea, Jeju Island is an 1 hour 10 mins plane-ride away from Seoul. Most sites advise that it is better to do the return trip from Seoul into Jeju Island than flying in and out internationally onto the island. We did not have the time to check this out but do check out here what the island has to offer and if it interests you!
The Koreans are extremely polite and helpful. When we needed directions, it happened more than a few times that people would just physically walk us to our destination. It is heart-warming and kind. In fact when the vendors did not vegetarian options for me, they would seem genuinely sorry and try to suggest other vendors who might have something for me.
Where’s the hygge?
Trips with your friends giving you a supreme kind of joy is not a thing of the movies. There is something to be said about how relaxing and heart-warming it is to spend quality time with your favourite people. Traveling is the best kind of activity; and a place like South Korea is just full of such happy and fun vibes. Not to mention the skincare delights the country has to offer, are a gift that keeps giving!