I apologize profusely for the lack of updates recently!
I returned to the United States in the middle of January and immediately began my last semester of grad school, so my thesis has been kicking my butt.
I feel terrible for Jared and his wife that I would make this itinerary back in January, but I just have completely lost track of time!
They are coming from Manila and are going to be in Seoul for a 17 hour layover this weekend.
They decided to book a room near Dongdaemun, so I will create an itinerary with that in mind.
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like me to make an itinerary for you! I just ask that you share the blog with your friends/family and possibly write a blog post for me about your trip!
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Tutorial: How to use free WiFi on Seoul subways
Korean Shopping Tips
Korea Travel Itineraries
5:15 pm - Arrive at Incheon Airport
6:15 pm - Get through customs, etc.
6:30 pm - Take the Airport Railroad (take it to Seoul Station and transfer to line 4, then take line 4 towards Hoehyun station for six stops, then you should arrive at Dongdaemun station) or Airport limousine bus (#6002).
8 pm - Arrive at hotel and check in
I'm guessing you will be hungry at this point. I recommend that you go back on the subway to get some food before doing a lot more exploring.
I recommend that, since this is your first time in Seoul, you check out Insa-dong OR go to Myungdong (line 4)
They are the most popular tourist areas.
Also, if you just take line 1 to Jonggak station, you will be near Cheongye Stream and if you follow the stream, there is a restaurant and bar area. Just as another option.
At that time of night, you can either have a full meal, or, something I have been craving a lot recently, chicken and beer. If you have never tried Korean fried chicken, I highly recommend it! I like oppa dak (http://maps.naver.com/local/siteview.nhn?code=17920833) and The Frypan. Both are easily found in this area.
This is information for the Insa-dong area (there are a lot of options for food in Myungdong already posted on this blog, so just take a look). Also, I gave some walking tour information at the bottom of this section, so if you go to Myungdong instead of Insadong, reverse everything.
Take the subway to Jongro-3-ga and transfer to the orange line 3. Then, take it one stop to Anguk Station.
Go out exit 6.
That area is Insadong. There are a ton of Korean restaurants, tea houses, and souvenir shops there. (The souvenirs are nice and traditional, but overpriced, but worth a look). There are also a ton of art galleries in this area.
Keep in mind that you should be back on the subway around 11:30, just to make sure that you can make the last train/connection back to your hotel
Otherwise, if you are okay with taking a taxi, there are plenty of taxis that offer free interpretation. Also, just to make sure you can get back, ask your front desk/concierge for the hotel's business card. So, if you get in a taxi, you can just show the driver your card.
I recommend that you try some of the restaurants around in this area. I am sure there are plenty of picture menus available. It all depends on what your food preferences are.
I have been to the original store of this restaurant 고궁 in Jeonju.
I don't think they have an English sign, so here's a link to a Korean blog, so you can see kind of what it looks like and what kind of food is available: http://blog.naver.com/PostView.nhn?blogId=shiphop0&logNo=110091377531
Jeonju is famous for bibimbap, Korean rice with vegetables and meat that you mix before eating. There's also the hot stone bowl bibimbap.
I prefer the hot stone one because I like to squish my rice to the side of the bowl to make the rice crispy, but it depends on your personal preferences.
The restaurant also serves some meat and fish options.
You can also try a variety of Korean side dishes.
It is located right next to the Ssamziegil shopping center.
You can ask any of the volunteer tourist information people wearing a red vest for directions to Ssamziegil and then you should easily find the restaurant.
I also recommend taking a walk around this area since it is near Gwanghwamun, Gyungbok Palace, and the City Hall/Cheongye Stream area.
The easiest way for you to find your way (if you will walk) is to go back to the Anguk subway station and then cross the street. There will be a concrete wall that goes around a school to your left. Follow that and keep following that road. You will eventually get to Gwanghwamun. Alternatively, you can take the subway one station to Gyungbok Palace Station.
It is a really beautiful nightscape! Then go across the street toward the large pedestrian/plaza area. This is full of other sights. There is a statue of a man sitting in a chair. It is King Sejong, the creator of the Korean alphabet. Keep walking straight to the end of this and then cross the street again, but stay on the left side of the street.
You will easily come across the Cheonggye Stream! Yet another great landmark of Seoul. There is a plaza here, too. There's a huge sculpture thing, not sure what it is supposed to be, but it kind of looks like a red and blue shell, but I don't know. This is another great night spot. It's kind of a date spot.
If you go back to the main road, you can continue walking straight and eventually you will come across the new Seoul City Hall building and the public library.
When I was in Seoul last, there was a cute umbrella exhibit near the entrance of the subway station and then there were also some inflatable bears around the outside of city hall plaza.
If you have never been to a Korean "bakery," I would recommend trying to find one somewhere in your travels and, since it'll be kind of late when you arrive, you can get a discount on the bread. I know there is a Paris Croissant in Insadong, but they will have the name written in Korean characters, just look for a place with a ton of bread. Other options include: Paris Baguette and Tous les Jours.
From City Hall station, take subway line 1 back to Dongdaemun.
OR, if you want to do some shopping or go to a café, you can make your way to Myungdong easily from City Hall. Just follow signs to Euljiro-1-ga or else take line 2 subway one stop, but...it's really close, so it is a waste of 1050KRW.
Myungdong station is also on line 4, so it will be easy to get back to Dongdaemun. If you go to Myungdong and feel like you want to try some Western food and have a beer or something, I recommend trying Battery Park (I wrote a post about it here). There are also a ton of options for my favorite foods in Korea - spicy chicken (닭갈비) and stewed chicken with vegetables and sweet potato noodles (찜닭).
Back in Dongdaemun:
So, I think some of the shopping centers near your hotel will be open until the wee hours of the night, so I definitely recommend taking a look around there. I am sure that the prices will be a lot higher than what you have been seeing in the Philippines, but I think it is a good experience nonetheless.
There are also some street food carts around there! I highly recommend trying Korean street food!
There should be Korean hotcakes (hoddeok) which are kind of like pancakes filled with sweet paste made from nuts, honey, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
I also highly recommend trying Korean spicy rice cakes (ddukbokki), Korean "sushi" rolls (kimbap), and Korean sausage (soondae).
There's also this really crazy concoction at Dongdaemun, it's a deep fried corndog wrapped in French fries. If you try it, report back and take pictures! (I don't eat hotdogs, so I have never tried it).
Then, in the morning, you can do some more looking around in Dongdaemun, since you will not really have that much time.
If you want to get to the airport 2 hours early, you should probably leave your hotel around 7 at the latest since it will take about 1 hour and 45 minutes to get back.
Tutorial: How to use free WiFi on Seoul subways
Korean Shopping Tips
Other Korea Travel Itineraries
Recommended travel books:
If you are traveling to Korea, while English is often available on signs and at tourist destinations, it may be wise to know a few phrases since oftentimes the staff at restaurants and other tourist destinations, bus stations, do not know English well. I have looked over multiple Korean phrasebooks and I recommend the Lonely Planet Korean Phrasebook & Dictionary for its small size (makes it great to carry around) and its ease of use.
It gives you a feel of all the different neighborhoods and districts of Seoul and a brief overview of what each district is known and how the city is laid out to help you plan the most efficient and fun trip!
I definitely recommend, if you get the chance, to get out of Seoul and really explore Korea. Each province and city has its own feel and personality. Plus, the country is about the size of Indiana and transportation options abound, so traveling around is definitely do-able.
Choosing the best country guide was a little more difficult for me. I am typically a Lonely Planet fan, but I found their guide to not be quite as current as this Frommer's guide.
Having an up-to-date guide is very important in Korea since things can literally change overnight!