Seoul is one of those cities that seems to downplay its significance, even as a travel destination. Home to over half of South Korea’s population, it’s where many titans of global technology and industry call home, including Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia. It’s also one of the world’s most advanced cities, where high-speed internet is available on all its high-speed railways. When I ask friends, Seoul is rarely mentioned as one of their top 3 destinations of places they want to visit, so it’s surprising to me that it’s actually the 9th most visited city in the world, even edging out Hong Kong.
This was my first visit to Seoul. I met up with my good friend Ilhan, who I know from my university days doing Taekwondo. It was great catching up. Even though we had not seen each other for several years, we picked it back up like no time had passed. He introduced me to a few of his friends in the entertainment industry. While there was a language barrier, I think it helped me strengthen my belief that good communication and connection really requires very few words.
I find it’s always great when travelling to have friends that can show you around and that especially rings true in Korea. Korea is so homogeneous, it’s very tough to get around and see the best, hidden stuff if you don’t speak or read the language. Yet conversely, I find it interesting that Korean soft culture is so strong and pervasive that almost all of Asia knows quite a bit about Korea and Korean culture. Just think K-Pop. In Asian entertainment, Korean stars and celebrities are probably the only ones that can find work in Mainland China, Japan, The Philippines, Indonesia… anywhere you can name really, quite easily and with just as big of a fan base. In Hong Kong, it seems you can’t get away as a TV station without playing a hit Korean sitcom or two to bolster ratings.
Until I witnessed it first hand I didn’t understand the significance that order and rank plays in all Korean relationships. If you’re older, everyone younger than you has to show you the utmost respect. From what I saw, if someone is older than you and asks you to jump, you only ask, “how high?” This goes down to even the way you pour a drink for someone.
I’d like to think we travel places to see new things and comes away with new experiences and Korea did just that for me. So on to some pictures…
Places to Sleep
Address: Suite 401, 685-6 Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Belle-essence Seoul Hotel
Address: 237, Teheran-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea
Places to Work
Hive Arena (Coworking Space)
Address: #502, 303, Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Savills Korea (Executive Office Space)
Address: Tower 8: 7 Jongro 5-gil, Jongro-gu, Seoul
Coffee culture is EVERYWHERE in Korea. I think it’s probably the most coffee crazed city I’ve seen in all of Asia. A couple cool ones I can recommend…
Address: Na myeong dong, Yongsan-gu
Address: -dong, 118-71 Itaewon 1(il)-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Foods and Restaurants to Try
Soondaeguk (Blood sausage soup) – Halmeoni Soondaeguk 할머니순대국
Address: 226-24 Jayang-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul
While this is a chain, I’d highly recommend it as it’s no frills, delicious, homely and the sesame herb powder they heap on top is pretty unique. The soup features a bunch of internal organs like liver, lungs, intestine, but the star of the dish is the soondae, or blood sausage. Like western sausages, many different kinds of soondae exist because the sausage fillings can be changed, but almost always, soondae will feature a vermicelli-type noodle mixed in with blood. Other things that can be added are different types of meat, veggies, soybeans, etc.
Yukgaejang (Spicy Meat Stew) – Dong Gyeong Jeun Tong Yukgaejang 동경전통육개장 강남역
Address: 635-4 Yeoksam 1(il)-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Yukgaejang is a spicy, soup-like Korean dish made from shredded beef with scallions and other ingredients, which are simmered together for a long time. While my pictures above really don’t do this place justice, this is probably THE place to get yukgaejang. The term “just like grandma used to make” isn’t hyperbole here – an actual grandma makes the soup! It was probably one of the most satisfying, warming meals I had in Seoul and it really feels like you’re eating at a friend’s house – the meal gives off an atmosphere full of warmth and love.
Korean Style Seafood – Jahmae Susan 자매수산
Address: 619-30 Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
This was a random place we stumbled upon just wandering the streets of Gangnam with packs of drunken club goers filling up the streets, but the restaurant was a pleasant surprise. Jamae Susan is a “Pocha,” roughly meaning “tent bar”. The decor of the shop is meant to give off the atmosphere of an old school Korean street food vendor. I love Korean food because it’s not about any BS presentation – it’s just honest food that tastes delicious and this place keeps it as low frills as possible. You get a communal soup, with white kimchi and a bunch of seafood, raw, fried and cooked to choose from, with some incredibly cheap soju to carry your conversations to the next level.
Korean Fried Chicken & Beer “Chi-Mc” – Hanchu 한추
Address: 549-9 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, 서울특별시 South Korea
Love for fried chicken in Korea is REAL. People in Korea even have outdoor fried chicken picnics parties late into the night. There are no shortages of Korean fried chicken restaurants in Seoul, so when you hear of a place ranked at the top of the list, you should check it out. News flash: THIS IS THAT PLACE.
The atmosphere right away is palpable. Once you walk through the door, you understand right away that most of the people are there to stuff and drink themselves into oblivion and are having a very good time doing so. The fried chicken itself is quite unique as it’s battered and fried with bits of green pepper. The slight, fresh veggie change in taste is subtle, but for me, it was enough to trick my brain and stomach into thinking that what I was eating wasn’t actually that heavy of a meal, allowing me to drink and eat more. To be honest, I can almost say I’ve had as good Korean Fried Chicken in Hong Kong (save for the awesome, authentic atmosphere), but I actually thought the meat stuffed peppers were the star of the show. They were so delicious, I couldn’t help thinking there should be an entire chain just dedicated to serving the peppers instead. My mouth still waters just thinking about them.
You’ll notice that I wrote very little about the temples, natural surroundings, and culturing things of Seoul. Yes, I checked out Gyeongbokgung (King’s) Palace. If you want to relax, I’ve also heard to check out Jeju Island and that Busan is a city that shouldn’t be missed. I also went to check out the park / beach area, but to be honest, I felt what Seoul does best and what was recommended to me was its awesome food, cafés, shopping streets, nightlife and city stuff. These are things that you think you can find in almost any major city, but the difference in Seoul is that the culture is so strong and pervasive, everything is done differently enough that it’s unique. It’s a slight thing that underscores everything – even your interactions with local Koreans but it makes all the difference.
Until next time, Korea.